'Pennyfields' - a volume of poetry; and 'Two Best Friends: Reading as a Writer in Elizabeth Bishop and May Swenson' - a critical thesis

Dominic McLoughlin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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'Pennyfields' – the volume of poetry in the creative section of this thesis – explores the notion of living in something that is already an artwork or a memory or film. The poems often display an interest in doubles and twins, and in the reversed priority in artistic production between original and copy. The question of reading and how it is integrated into creative work is central both here and in the critical section of the thesis that follows.

The critical thesis adopts the term ‘best friends’ to examine the work of Elizabeth Bishop and May Swenson, two poets who particularly matter to me. This term is used by Bishop to distinguish between poets to whom one is personally drawn and others who may be more generally seen as worthy of admiration. In order to explore this idea of ‘best friends’ and, more particularly, the professional relationship between Bishop and Swenson, I use the idea of ‘reading as a writer’ as opposed to reading as a critic. I consider what is meant by reading as a writer in the institutional context of creative writing pedagogy, but I focus more particularly on my own engagement with Bishop and Swenson — and their reading of one another. There is no attempt to create an entire theory of reading as a writer, but rather, I pay scrupulous attention to its place in the relations between Bishop and Swenson and how it operates in my own case. I view the dynamics of these exchanges in terms of D.W. Winnicott’s object-relations theory and his concepts of the ‘transitional object’ and ‘potential space’, ideas which I introduce in Chapter One.

Bishop’s engagement with Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of her chosen ‘best friends’, is the focus of Chapter Two. This leads into accounts of how contemporaries Bishop and Swenson read one another in Chapters Three and Four. I argue that what is distinctive about their relationship is the quality of carefulness in their mutual responses, akin to exchanges in a workshop. In Chapter Five I focus on the work of Bishop that chimes with my own poetics, and in the final chapter I discuss poems in 'Pennyfields' which seem to have learnt most from Bishop and Swenson. Chapters Five and Six thus present my practitioner’s reading of Bishop and how this reading has influenced my own work. Reading as a writer is used in a flexible way throughout the thesis to carefully examine how poets — who are appreciated from a practitioner’s point of view — might be considered as ‘best friends’
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Shapcott, Joanne, Supervisor
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Poetry
  • Creative writing
  • Elizabeth Bishop
  • Reading as a writer

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