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Name: Hannah Cooper-Smithson

PhD: Creative Writing

Thesis Title: Patterns in nature: The use of poetic form in contemporary ecopoetry


Thesis Description:

This creative and critical thesis will examine experimental poetic forms based on mathematical patterns found in the natural world, exploring how they can be used to challenge our perception of the relationship between the human and the non-human environment. Consisting of a full collection of poetry (approximately 60 pages) and 40,000 words of critical prose, it will consider how poetic forms inspired by mathematical theory such as fractal geometry and chaos theory have been used in the work of three contemporary poets: Inger Christensen, Alice Fulton and John Hollander. Drawing on current critical scholarship (e.g. Birken and Coon 2008, Caplan 2005 and Macfarlane 2015), the thesis will consider mathematical patterns that appear both in the human body and the non-human natural world (e.g. branching trees and the anatomy of veins) to challenge the perceived distinction between the human and the environment.

While other anthologies bring together poetry and medicine (e.g. Salcman 2015), the link between poetic form and medical imaging remains neglected. Working at the intersections of creative and critical practice, and contributing to the development of the medical humanities, I will use my observations to analyse and perform themes of scale, perspective and iteration through poetic form.

This thesis builds on my undergraduate work in environmental ethics and my MA dissertation – a collection of ekphrastic poetry exploring repetitive forms inspired by the symmetrical and geometric structures in the graphic works of M.C. Escher. Whereas this dissertation focused on the manipulation of traditional forms, the proposed thesis will use innovative poetic form to examine our relationship with, and impact on, the environment.

The thesis is positioned within the context of emerging work on the Anthropocene, which is concerned with the dominance of human influence on the environment. Bristow (2015) argues that poetry challenges our perceived role in the ecosystem by drawing attention to concepts that extend beyond human interest. Building on existing work on the use of poetry as an aid for rethinking our relationship with the environment (Burns 2014, Garrard 2012, Plumwood 2011 and Ronda 2014), the thesis will offer new insights through its focus on the mathematical dimensions of human and non-human interactions.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Sarah Jackson (NTU)

Matthew Welton (UON)

Professor Haida Liang (NTU)


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

  • Woman in 'Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Anthology 2015' (Lyme Regis: Magic Oxygen, 2015)


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Fiction Editor for Nottingham Trent University MA in Creative Writing’s Black Balloon (Nottingham: Laundrette Books, 2015)

  • Presented 'What Shape is a Snowflake Poem?' at the Mathematics and Modern Literature Conference at the University of Manchester
  • Presented 'Writing Infinity: Ekphrasis, Escher and Eternal Poems (or, Impossible Representations and the Role of Poetic Intervention in Critical Discourse) at the Critical Reinventions Conference at the University of East Anglia.
  • Performed as a featured poet at LeftLion presents Write Lion Poets, as part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival


Other Research Interests:

  • Medical Humanities
  • Ecocriticism
  • The Uncanny
  • Spectrality
  • Trees


University email address: