Total Poetics – an Intro

An Introduction to Poetics in the Age of Total Media

University of Helsinki, Department of Art Research / Comparative Literature, November/December 2009

Mtlhrt Silence full
“Silence”, Andreas Lindholm 2001

This course provides a foundation for understanding literary texts and how they do what they do. This is called a POETICS, and is crucial for those interested in literature, whether they understand themselves as potential scholars or practicing artists (i.e writers). But since there is a little bit of fiction and poetry in everything, POETICS is also crucial (or so this course argues) for those interested in understanding or engaging our social reality through advertising, law, journalism, design, digitization, performance, the visual arts, or music.

David Arnold, from Situations
David Arnold, from Situations

There is no absolute science underlying or explaining any art, but there are the fundamental invariables in how we experience anything and pull it together to make meaning. Over the intensive 5 weeks of this workshop, we study what happens in the experience of a literary text that makes it literary. We connect this to basic concepts and terminology that have come to us through the tradition of literary and philosophical poetics. And we do a couple of short writing experiments to make sure we can locate and relate to these concepts and terms in our own experience, as producers of texts, whether literary or not.

"Silencio", Eugen Gomringer 1954
“Silencio”, Eugen Gomringer 1954

An important point of this course is to discover that POETICS, if taken seriously as a theory of how we experience meaning, is not just about poetry or literary writing. Rather, POETICS applies generally to the problem of understanding how the meaning of an experience is constructed. For this insight, visual poetics is a gate way concept. In this course, we encounter visual crafts of expression as a challenge to the verbal bias of traditional POETICS, and open our thinking to other possibilities for writing and the art formerly known as “poetry”.


The course takes place over 5 weeks. We meet twice a week for the first four weeks, and the fifth week is dedicated to an intensive workshop whose goal is the “writing” or production of the final project. The first four weeks consist of lecturing, background reading, short exercises, and discussion, while the workshop in the fifth week focuses on a practical assignment which must be completed in a mix of media (e.g. verbal writing and visuals, but also possibly performance, installation or other modes). Total 20hrs.

The Interdepartmental version:

The optimal version of this workshop would involve a collaboration with students of visual communication from a Graphic Design department. Combining specialists in verbal and visual language, the workshop would involve the formation of intermedial teams to complete a creative/scholarly task that takes both groups out of their normal field of study, and exposes them to the practical challenges and possibilities of an intermedial, or even TOTAL POETICS.


Stéphane Mallarmé: Un coup de dés; Preface to Un coup de dés, selections from Divagations and Igitur

Adlington, H.D. & Pound: Imagist statements, texts

William Carlos Williams: On Meter; Imagist selections

Franz Mon: Articulations, essays

Steve McCaffery: Parapoetics a Soft Manifesto

Wolfgang Iser: Act of Reading, Chapter 5 Grasping a Text

Charles Olson: Projective Verse, passages from Maximus and lyrics

Lyn Hejinian: Rejection of Closure; Person texts, My Life

Ron Silliman: The New Sentence

Adrian Pilkington: Poetic Effects

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