'Getting into / Focus': Mapping the Influence of Cinema in Marginal British Poetry, 1927-1950

  • Imogen Durant

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis considers the many ways in which poetry produced in Britain between 1927 and 1950 responded to the art of film. By proposing a network between four marginal writers of this period, I challenge the popular understanding of it as a low-point in British poetic history. Instead, I show how the recovery of lesser-known writers can offer new insights into this period's literary and cultural history. H.D., A. S. J. Tessimond, Dawson Jackson and Lynette Roberts are four writers who have all, for various reasons and to different degrees, been overlooked. Now at different stages of reappraisal, these writers each offer valuable contributions in the reexamination of the British poetry of this period. Although my project does in some ways align with the expansive approach of the New Modernist Studies, I question the value of the term 'modernism' and its fundamental role in shaping the literary canon, which has contributed to the limited scholarly reception of the poets whom I attempt to recover. By choosing to discuss the ways in which their poetry responds to, and was shaped by, cinematic techniques and film culture, I demonstrate how close analysis of their work can contribute to the reconstruction of an alternative and rich cultural history of this very particular moment in Britain. These four writers employ cinematic techniques and the cinematic gaze in their work, whilst also interrogating and challenging them. In doing so, they both reflect and participate in contemporary discussions and concerns about the ways in which this new art form would shape modern society. H.D.'s verse displays this dichotomy. Celebrating an ideal form of cinema, H.D. critiques the actual cinema of the first half of the century, and its ability to fracture the female body. Tessimond and Jackson demonstrate the possibilities this new technological art form afforded to other mediums, whilst reflecting on the limitations of the camera lens. In displaying the dominance of the male cinematic gaze, they show how the use of this technique in their writing enables them to both critique and reinforce the hegemony of the subjective cinematic perspective. Roberts uses the poetic equivalent of aerial shots to capture images of height, flight and depth. Like H.D., Roberts displays a scientific interest in the new optics created by film and the ways in which modern technologies could be used to represent reality. By discussing the tension between reality and artifice in these four poets' work, I demonstrate how the rise of film changed our understanding of the representational quality of modern art. The reparative reading methods through which H.D.'s work was recovered in the 1970s will act as a model that can be applied to the work of poets who are now still unrecognised. By showing how these four poets each adopt the affordances of film in their poetry, I propose a network of forgotten poets which offers new insights into the ways in which vision and perception were increasingly mediated by modern technologies during the years 1927 until 1950.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Mcauliffe (Supervisor)


  • poetry
  • twentieth century
  • cinema
  • modernism

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