Visual Poetic Memory : Ekphrasis and Image-Text in Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and Wopko Jensma

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of English, Stockholm University

Abstract: This dissertation traces ekphrastic and image-textual references to European, African and Caribbean visual memory in the work of the three Anglophone poets Seamus Heaney (Northern Ireland), Derek Walcott (St. Lucia) and Wopko Jensma (South Africa). Visual poetic memory, which affords a comparative lens through which to explore political and aesthetic aspects of poetry, refers here to mentions, evocations and prolonged ekphrastic and image-textual interpellations of visual art and artists. The introduction details the main conceptual framework and argument of the dissertation, namely that ekphrasis and image-text can be understood as intermedial, politically-oriented, material and art-historical tools for analysing visual memory in the work of the three poets. The first chapter explores historical consciousness and responsibility in relation to paintings by Goya in Seamus Heaney’s North (1975) with the help of Walter Benjamin’s concept of “constellation” in the first half, while in the second part, I delve into Heaney’s more process-oriented and personal view of memory and responsibility in Station Island (1984). The second chapter is concerned with following notions of problematic visual memory inheritance in Walcott’s illustrated poetry volume Tiepolo’s Hound (2000). I elaborate on issues of marginalisation encoded in the memory regimes of museums using Spivak’s concept of the postcolonial “double bind”, and chart Walcott’s reparative readings that highlight race and the Caribbean within art history. The third chapter is concerned with the multiple visual and verbal ways in which Wopko Jensma eschews hierarchical comparisons by bringing together European and South African artists in his illustrated poetic work in i must show you my clippings (1977) and Sing for Our Execution (1973). Jensma’s engagement with expressionism is the main theme analysed in the chapter’s first half. It plays a part in his critique of apartheid racial commodification in a comparison with George Grosz’s artistic philosophy, and is used to commemorate the plight of black South African expressionists in the late 1960s. In the second part of the chapter, Jensma interpellates the figure of Vincent van Gogh in two poems and a photographic installation to chart the embattled positions of visual artists critical of apartheid and marginalised by society.