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Touching the untouchable: the language of touch in the poetry of Michael Symmons Roberts

Kratz, Martin Ulrich (2016) Touching the untouchable: the language of touch in the poetry of Michael Symmons Roberts. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis analyses the language of touch in the poetry of Michael Symmons Roberts. A single-author study, it uses key tropes in Roberts’s poetry (shell/spark, ghost/machine, body/soul) as points of engagement with the wider concerns of contemporary poetry discourse. The mechanics of contact are explored through the investigation of the limit of the conceit and the trope of the ‘edgelands’. The thesis concludes with four case studies in which touchable touches on untouchable in Roberts’s work (‘voice-print’, care, contamination, ‘metaxu’). The tactile textual analysis of Roberts’s poetry is read in relation to the writings on touch of Jean-Luc Nancy and Jacques Derrida in order to explore the various aspects in which touch is meaningful as a critical and poetical concept. Specifically, this thesis draws on their writings to demonstrate the insistence on separation as a condition of contact in Roberts’s poetry, an emphasis which allows Roberts to create alternatives to traditional, Cartesian binaries of the touchable and untouchable. Furthermore, the language of touch draws attention to the shared concerns in Roberts’s poetry and different poetic traditions, in particular Metaphysical poetry and Modernism. A central concern of this thesis is the extent to which Roberts’s poetry represents a metaphysical poetry of the twenty-first century. This thesis contributes to the existing discourse on Roberts’s writing, by extending and critiquing the engagement with his work to date. This thesis ultimately suggests that Roberts is a model poet of the contemporary period for the way his poetry negotiates contemporary events and social developments, and for the way his underlying poetics resonate with contemporary thinking in other disciplines such as theology and philosophy.

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