Since this project is interdisciplinary, it is important to lay out some basic terms and definitions that we’ll be working with. I often use Art Historical terminology and ways of thinking to describe works of literature with the understanding that while terms may be specific to a discipline, the ideas they reveal are not. Gesturalism, for example, is not practiced in writing, but “automatic writing” is, and it accomplishes the same goal as gesturalism in a necessarily different way.  That is, even though some terms may be associated with a certain discipline, the ideas they reveal and represent are very often applicable to both. I have taken care to use words that are productive in the discussion and analysis of both literature and visual art and not to inappropriately merge or confuse the two.


  • (Poetry) Text using words or verbal constructs that represent ideas rather than things (Turco, 185).
  • (Visual Art) Art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead uses shapes, colors, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect (Tate).

Symbol: A concrete trope that represents an abstraction (Turco 166).

Poemage: A digital program used for visual close reading. For more information, visit the About Poemage page.

Verbal-signifier: A word I made up to refer to a different idea or symbol.

Symbol-thread: A word I made up to describe a group of words that Auden uses throughout Spain  that relate to the same main symbol/idea. It also refers to the line Poemage creates connecting these words.

WH Auden: Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973), English poet, playwright, and critic. Auden is often associated with the Modernist movement, though his poems anticipate the breaking of boundaries accomplished by many postmodern destructionists– for example, his love poems to a gender-nonspecific subject.

“Spain” (1937): “Spain” is a poem written by Auden in 1937 about the Spanish Civl War, which inspired many artists of the time. This poem uses formal symbolism (not to be confused with the movement) as one of its main meaning-making agents, which is what made it so applicable to this project.

Abstract Expressionism/AbEx: The term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning in the 1940s and 1950s, often characterized by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity (Tate). It is unlikely that Auden knew AbEx painters personally, but he may have been familiar with their artwork, which became popular while he was living and working.

Working Title/Artist: Number 28, 1950 Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1950 photography by mma, DP135186.tif touched by film and media (jnc) 9_25_08
Jackson Pollock “Number 28” 1950.
Working Title/Artist: Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 70 Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1961 photography by mma 1979/96, transparency #1ad scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 12_02_04
Robert Motherwell “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 70.” 1971










Noumenon: Something that exists only in itself. It is important to note that “though the noumenal holds the contents of the intelligible world, Kant claimed that man’s speculative reason can only know phenomena and can never penetrate to the noumenon” (Britannica).

Phenomenon: Any object or fact, perceived or observed (Britannica).


  • (Methodology) A dynamic kind of painting that involves the spontaneous application of vigorous, sweeping brushstrokes and the chance effects of dripping and spilling paint onto the canvas in order to make an expressive mark free of traditional aesthetic, social, or political values (Britannica).
  • (Purpose) Pure expression; to show evidence of the artist’s experience as a being who creates (Smith).