Listen to the River
: attending to the unconscious for poetic production

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In this creative practice-based project, I explore ways of attending to the unconscious for writing poetry. My dissertation consists of a poetry collection, ‘Hive Mind’, and critical commentary, ‘Listen to the River: attending to the unconscious for poetic production’. I chose the metaphor of listening to the river because my writing process feels like paying attention to something outside of my conscious mind. My research question is: What processes can help me to draw on the unconscious to write poetry, and why do they work? I wanted to understand how I can generate poetry that is both innovative and resonant, and what difference these processes make to the resulting poems. I find research on the neuroscience of creativity is particularly useful in gaining insights into my processes. I apply the Default Mode Network (DMN) and Executive Control Network (ECN) models to analyse five clusters of poetry writing experiments. Opening spaces for the DMN generates a poetry of reverie and association. Responding to found images generates ekphrastic and pareidolic poetry. Cutting up and assembling found text generates collage and erasure poetry. Finding freedom through restriction generates constraint and procedural poetry. Breaking connections to make radical leaps generates rhizomatic poetry. These experiments, while varied, have key principles in common. I prime the unconscious to foster DMN functioning during the preparation and incubation stages of writing. I bring the ECN into play during conscious evaluation and revision. Understanding how these modes work in alternation makes helps me be more productive and original in my writing. These insights can be applied to any type of creative practice.
    Date of Award2024
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Aberystwyth University
    SupervisorMatthew Francis (Supervisor) & Neal Alexander (Supervisor)

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