Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (2.33 MB)

Narrativity and segmentivity in contemporary Australian and New Zealand long poems and poem sequences

Download (2.33 MB)
posted on 2021-11-15, 20:29 authored by Airini Beautrais

The PhD in creative writing comprises a critical and a creative component. This thesis explores how poets utilise verse form in order to support and/or undermine narrativity in long poems or poem sequences, and asks the question: what possibilities are offered by verse form that distinguish poetry from other literary narrative genres? Using Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s concept of segmentivity, I consider how segmentation at various formal levels, including sections within a book, poems within a sequence, stanzas, line-breaks, and metre, can affect the narrativity of a text. I also consider segmentivity in relation to the ways in which a text may be narrativized, and to the interactions between narrative and other text types such as lyric and argument.  The theoretical framework for the critical component involves a synthesis of approaches from within the fields of narrative theory and literary criticism. The methodology used is a close reading and analysis of case study texts by six New Zealand and Australian poets, written in the period 1990-2010: Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask (1994) and What a Piece of Work (1999); Alan Wearne’s The Lovemakers (2008); Tusiata Avia’s Bloodclot (2009); Bill Sewell’s Erebus: A Poem (1999) and The Ballad of Fifty-One (2003); Anna Jackson’s The Gas Leak (2006) and John Kinsella’s Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography (2008). These texts range in their degree of narrativity from verse novels through narrative sequences to lyric sequences. The local and contemporary context has been chosen for several reasons, including the strong history of narrative poetry in both countries, recent trends towards long narrative poems and poem sequences, a relative lack of scholarship on the poetry of this region and time period, and because of the relevance to my own creative work.  This thesis argues that segmentivity can be used with or against narrativity in a long poem or poem sequence, with a range of possible results: from strongly narrative texts such as verse novels through to antinarrative texts and lyric sequences. Different levels of segmentation have different effects on narrativity, the division of a text into individual poems being the most important in the texts under consideration here. It is demonstrated that narrative as a text type can exist alongside other text types, and that segmentivity is important to this interaction, with a bearing on the overall narrativity of a text.  The creative component tests and extends the findings of the critical component. It consists of a poem sequence in three parts entitled Flow, on the subject of the Whanganui river. The sequence takes a discontinuous approach to narrative, varies in its approach to temporality, features interplay between narrative and lyric modes, and incorporates underlying arguments on environmental and social themes.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Creative Writing

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

International Institute of Modern Letters


Ricketts, Harry; Brown, James