Valerie Gillies’s The Spring Teller (2008) and Questions of Poetic Value

By Laura Severin.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The question of poetic value–how to define and assess contemporary poetry–is still a much under-theorized topic. Even in contemporary treatments, such as Poetry and Contemporary Culture: The Question of Value (2002), poetry is treated largely as an aesthetic object, with little consideration for the role that poetry plays in the world. Although Andrew Michael Roberts opens the volume by noting that one must ask “valuable for what?” in assessing poetry, this question receives little attention. Instead, the focus of the volume is on aesthetic considerations created by different mediums, including radio, television, and the Internet.
Interestingly, contemporary poets may themselves be the best theoreticians on this topic, and Scottish poet Valerie Gillies is one of the most challenging. She has created a dizzying array of poetic products, which often involve collaboration with other artists, including musicians, sculptors, photographers, and fiber artists. Her poetry constantly serves as a challenge to romantic notions of the poet as the inspired prophet, working in isolation. Instead, her works can be seen as arguing for an engaged poetry that creates a dialogue with the world, one in which the artist responds to contemporary issues in a variety of different ways–some poetic, some non-poetic. This paper examines her most recent collection, The Spring Teller (2008), on wells and the topic of water, as an example of poetic art that moves beyond the notion of formalist or political art into a new realm in which poetry is part of a community’s language and meaning. As such, poetry is transformed into a collaborative rather than solitary enterprise, which must be assessed not only through the poetic text itself, but through the text’s, and the poet’s, multiple interactions with the public.

Keywords: Poetic Value, Ecocriticism, Poetry and Society

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.265-274. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 635.923KB).

Dr. Laura Severin

Professor of English, Department of English, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

Laura Severin is a Professor of English at North Carolina State University, where she teaches courses in British literature and women’s studies. She is the author of Stevie Smith’s Resistant Antics (Wisconsin, 1997) and Poetry off the Page: Twentieth-Century British Women Poets in Performance (Ashgate, 2004), as well as a number of interdisciplinary articles on literature and performance, literature and the visual arts, and literature and music. Her current writing focuses on mixed media approaches and Scottish identity questions in the works of contemporary Scottish women poets, including Carol Ann Duffy, Kathleen Jamie, Valerie Gillies, Jackie Kay, and Liz Lochhead.


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