Steven Toussaint

My thesis considered how the many compositional strategies that constitute the musician's art can be put, by way of analogy, to the service of writing poetry.

PhD awarded 2015

Originally from Chicago, Steven Toussaint came to New Zealand after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2010. His poems and other writing have appeared in numerous publications, including Court Green, The Cultural Society, Hue & Cry, Jacket2, SET, TYPO, and Web Conjunctions. He is also a regular contributor to the website Occasional Religion, an interdisciplinary forum for contemporary religious discourse. He operates a personal blog at to-forge-the-eye-is-a-mountain-in-the-empyrean.

In 2014 his chapbook Fiddlehead was published by Compound Press. His first book, The Bellfounder, was published by The Cultural Society in 2015. He was the 2016 University of Waikato Writer-in-Residence, and was awarded the 2017 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship, alongside fellow poet Gregory Kan. Lay Studies was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2019.

Steven writes: 'The sense of (or sensibility for) music in poetry was both my fascination and my task. A literary artifact has no literal volume or pitch. But a poem need not be spoken, sung, or performed to have musicality: a poem's sonic properties haunt the page, silently.

'Ezra Pound referred to this phenomenon as melopoeia, "wherein the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning." The central aim of my Ph.D. thesis was to explore how Pound's dictum has been interpreted and internalized by succeeding generations of poets. Specifically, I hoped to discover how structures in musical compositions have informed and continue to inform modern poetic practice. My particular interest lay with those poets who seek out musical exempla in order to revitalize poetic form; those whose experimentation leads them deep into the acoustic materiality of language. Approaching both individual poems and musical compositions from a broadly formalist perspective, I hoped to analyze their respective periodic forms and structures in order to discover where and how musico-poetic convergence might be possible.

'One supporting assumption of my critical dissertation was that it would be a practical study; that is, its findings, whatever the result, should be useful to practicing poets. After illustrating potential connections between compositional practices in the two art forms, I sought to perform my own melopoetic experiments. I was especially excited about the formal possibilities present in both medieval sacred music and contemporary minimalist and drone music, in which subtle variations in repetition and duration can produce such a wide range of effects, from continuity, ecstasy and meditation, to dislocation and doom.'

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