Aww-Struck Poetics: Deer and poems as ‘cute objects’

Caroline Harris

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This practice-based PhD develops and critiques a cute poetics of deer, drawing on the emerging field of Cute Studies, Anglo-American cuteness and Japanese kawaii. The critical component begins from Sianne Ngai’s provocative characterisation of avant-garde poetry as ‘cute’ and employs cuteness as a critical tool in reading a selection of works that feature deer. The creative component consists of material poetries including artist’s books, typewritten ribbons and poetic tarot cards.
Starting from the figure of Bambi and concept of Disneyfication, the first chapter offers close readings of poems by Pascale Petit and introduces my bookwork Cut-out Bambi, which underlines the simultaneous cuteness and killability of deer. I investigate typewritten and textile poetries, then return to Bambi to inquire into how cuteness might be subverted by re-stitching the novel’s pages. In Chapter 2, I map the margins of the aesthetic-affective category of cuteness, its complications and flipsides, with reference to psychoanalytic abjection. In the similes of Alice Oswald’s Memorial, I find linkages between the pastoral and the purificatory cute. Reflections on my pamphlets Canine Or and Deer Leg emphasise excess as a quality of not-cuteness and how cuteness and its opposites, such as disgust, can also merge. Chapter 3 extends the application of cuteness as a critical tool, proposing the ‘cuteness’ of the medieval hunt and reading the deer-hunt scene in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for aspects including taming and the enclosed chivalric space. My translation of the hunt scene in r/aww deer experiments with how a ‘cutified’ poetics could act as advocacy. From readings of poems by Joy Harjo, the final chapter seeks escapes from enclosure and cuteness. It proposes mapping as a type of critical reading, while the practice employs forms of typographical escape. Differentiating between linguistic and cosmological indeterminacy, I test where cuteness might break down.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Olsen, Redell, Supervisor
  • Sands, Danielle, Advisor
Award date1 May 2024
Publication statusUnpublished - 2024


  • poetics
  • creative practice
  • deer
  • Joy Harjo
  • Alice Oswald
  • Pascale Petit
  • poetic practice
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • cute studies
  • artist's books
  • sculptural poetry
  • Sianne Ngai
  • aww-struck
  • aesthetics
  • Joan Retallack
  • indeterminacy
  • Bambi
  • Caroline Bergvall
  • Julia Kristeva

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