Devour Everything and ‘A Landscape of Mutability and Ferocious Life’: Mark Doty and Jo Shapcott’s poetics of illness
Stewart, Sarah Forbes
Devour Everything is a collection of poetry written and collated over a period of three years, in which I explore a wide range of topics, including but not limited to: illness and bodily frailty, suppressed female voices, the remote islands of Shetland and their rich dialect, anticipatory grief, class, and anxieties around performance. My work in this collection has been informed by the poetry of Mark Doty and Jo Shapcott, in that I pay close attention to tiny things (in my case, the pieces in a board game, the eye of a bird, the fleck of paint in a portrait) while wrestling with bigger themes. I write as a woman and a Scot who sometimes finds that the ‘right’ word cannot be found in English. My subjects are often historical or fictional characters, and I like to work from paintings, or imagined artworks. Several poems explore the parallel themes of creation and destruction. The collection also plays with metaphysical imagery through its use of illusions, mesmerism, and visitations from the dead. I hope the collection’s themes of disappearance and loss are counterbalanced by humour and surprise. In the accompanying critical thesis, I explore the poetry of Mark Doty and Jo Shapcott as they navigate the unpredictable experience of sickness. Though Doty and Shapcott are stylistically dissimilar, I focus on their points of coherence. Through close readings, this thesis probes the recurring preoccupations shared by both poets, exploring these in broader biographical and historical contexts and considering their implications for the critical medical humanities.