Amelia Walker completed her PhD in 2016 for a thesis on creative writing’s value in contemporary universities. She is the author of four poetry collections and three books on teaching poetry in school settings (in Macmillan’s All You Need to Teach series). From 2018-2019, she served on the board of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP) as secretary. Amelia currently lectures at the University of South Australia, where she also supervises Honours and PhD research projects in the field of Creative Writing.

beyond words / when ‘nothing’ makes poetry happen

Visual writing, negative capability, and the un/thinkable

Charles Bukowski called poetry ‘what happens when nothing else can’. But what happens when poetry can’t? Through autoethnography and poetic inquiry, this article considers visual writing and alogia, which in psychiatric discourses represents paucity of speech and language indicative of thought disorder. I write as a poet who experiences mild alogia during bipolar depressive phases. While generally manageable, depression for me often forecloses my usual word-based writing practices. Visual poetry, however, remains possible; it becomes the poetry that ‘nothing’ (depression’s void) makes happen. Connecting this phenomenon with research into writing-as-thinking, where poetry facilitates various specialist thought practices, alogia and related negative psychiatric symptoms feasibly reflect thought processes exceeding word-based communication. Such ‘disordered’ thinking may thus be recognised as activating what Keats termed negative capability: poetic reaching through uncertainty towards the un/thinkable (the not-yet-thought, but thinkable). My article supports this argument through analysis of my own and other writers’ visual poems.

Keywords: visual poetry; assemblage; agencement; negative capability; writing as thinking; the un/thinkable