EJ Shu is an Australian-Canadian poet based in north west Tasmania. Her recent work appears in Cordite Poetry Review, Plumwood Mountain, Antiphon, Psaltery & Lyre, Poets Reading the News and elsewhere. EJ holds masters degrees in sociology and public policy, and in 2020 will commence doctoral studies at RMIT’s School of Media and Communication.

Extending the (scientific) document

Autophenomenography as a docupoetics of the natural history archive

This essay investigates what documentary poetry might bring to the scene of natural history. More specifically, it charts the emergence of a methodology for understanding how docupoetic praxis might work with the material instantiations of the natural history archives. The essay reflects on the production of a suite of documentary poems centred on the habitat dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History. The author undertakes this reflection via autophenomenography, deploying the ‘material phenomenology’ of French philosopher Michel Henry to explain how her research and writing practices were constituted in the archival encounter. The author shows that while the non-textual archives may at first seem unavailable to docupoetic praxis, a strategy for using these objects is made possible by understanding their phenomenality as coincident with the poet’s own affectivity. To this end, the paper includes fragments of the author’s poetry in development. After Michel Henry, the author suggests that the resulting poetry is not a representation of the archival object, but rather a presentation directed by the poet’s affectivity or ‘pathos’.

Keywords: documentary poetry; autophenomenography; Michel Henry; archives; natural history