gutter texts

anglophone verse novels as minor cosmopolitan world literature

(monograph, publication due 2022)

In graphic narratives, the ‘gutter’ denotes the gap between panels that a reader has to imaginatively fill to generate narrative sequence. A similar ‘gappiness’ has become a hallmark of contemporary fiction as the loosely interlaced multistrand plot structures of influential ‘world novels’ (Bolaño, Mitchell, Powers) illustrate. While texts like these have been widely discussed, Gutter Texts shifts to the largely overlooked literary form of the verse novel that is marked at all levels by the tense constellation of “segmentive and sequential tendencies” (Brian McHale) and a conspicuously gappy texture.

Particularly prolific in the postcolonial world and among diasporic or minoritarian writers in the Global North, verse novels today offer productive alternatives to the dominant prose novel. This study concentrates on two of the most prominent areas in which verse novels ‘do the job’ of the novel with a difference: the figuration of a planetary imaginary, and the shaping of postnational imagined communities. In ‘planetary’ verse novels from the Caribbean, Canada, Samoa and Hawai’i, the central trope of volcanism evokes a processual rather than a complete and finished planet: a world in constant un/making. Post-national verse novels (discussed with a focus on Britain) modify the established paradigms of the imagined community not only by attending to the erstwhile excluded but by locating the post-nation in heterogeneous worldly timepsaces. A concluding chapter speculates whether the resurgence of verse novels correlates with the apprehension of inhabiting a world that has become unpredictable and dangerous but also promising: a ‘post-prosaic’ world.

Texts analysed include:

Michael Cawood Green, Sinking; Derek Walcott, Omeros; Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red; Abert Wendt, The Adventures of Vela; W.S. Merwin, The Folding Cliffs; Kae Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos; Bernardine Evaristo, The Emperor’s Babe; Patience Abgabe, Telling Tales; M. Nourbese Philip, Zong!

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