On the Threshold: The Polyphonic Poetry Sequence

Elizabeth Bahs

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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On the Threshold: The Polyphonic Poetry Sequence

Although the polyphonic poetry sequence has become a popular form of poetry, it has been widely neglected in contemporary critical discussion. The last major work to focus on the poetry sequence was Rosenthal and Gall’s The Modern Poetic Sequence (1983), which makes little reference to the approach that polyphony brings to the genre. This thesis traces polyphony from its origins in music, to Bakhtin's use of the term as a literary metaphor, before moving to a primary focus on the poetry sequence. The chapters examine specific techniques and characteristics of the polyphonic poetry sequence: the layering of two or more distinct voices, the juxtaposition of poetic parts and speakers to conjure simultaneity, and the creation of a unified whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
In parallel with the research, three sections of poetry are included. The first, ‘Polyphonic Sketches’, is comprised of poems that experiment with polyphony through juxtaposition, refrain, and the number and placement of speakers in poems that appear to use only one obvious voice. The second, ‘Composition’, is a sequence of sixteen portraits of family members that explores polyphony through voices residing inside and outside of the scenes. The third section, ‘The Calling’, is the re-imagining of a Hebridean mermaid myth, a sequence that employs signposting and countermeasure in the progression of its four voices.
My practice-based approach to polyphony has informed the research of this thesis; as such, the arguments are illustrated by a close analysis of three sequences with polyphony at the core of their constructions: Jackie Kay’s ‘The Adoption Papers’, Amanda Dalton’s ‘Room of Leaves’, and Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s ‘Circus Fire, 1944’. As a unique contribution to knowledge, my poetry and critical arguments therefore address the following key question: What are the distinguishing features of the polyphonic poetry sequence?
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Shapcott, Jo, Supervisor
  • Kreider, Kristen, Advisor
Award date1 Oct 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Creative Writing
  • creative-critical
  • Narrative
  • Bakhtin
  • polyphony
  • poetry sequence
  • Jackie Kay
  • Amanda Dalton
  • Gabrielle Calvocoressi
  • Music
  • Brian McHale
  • John Shoptaw
  • Rachel Blau Duplessis
  • feint
  • lyric
  • Robyn Sarah
  • dialogic
  • mermaid
  • composition
  • Practice-based Research
  • reader response
  • Iser
  • segmentivity
  • countermeasure
  • dramatic monologue

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