All entries for September 2006

September 28, 2006

Oxford Conference: A Storm in a Teacup

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Someone has taken my summaries of the conference and transformed them into ‘DIRT DISHER WORLD EXCLUSIVECARNAGE @ THE OXFORD COMA-THON’ on thepoem forum. I have to say that I did have a good laugh at it, but there are a few notes that I would like to add:

1. I don’t ask for ‘poetic unity’ in the Longley entry, just tolerance. I don’t see why people have to get so heated beacuse someone is working in a different way to them.

2. Apparently I ‘smoulder a green-eyed flash, hinting at the wildcat within’, because I say, ‘I can only think that it emerges from the difficulties of being published and poet’s insecurities’. I didn’t mean to say that Longley was insecure, just that poets tend to be. That’s teh nature of teh beast. I’ll change this so that it’s clearer.

3. Maybe this is not clear, but Buxton is not attacking Muldoon in her talk when she describes how ‘a word, line or phrase is repeated to create a wearying monotony mimetic of tedium’, she thinks that this is a good thing, something that Muldoon is using for a specific effect.

4. Perhaps I was a little harsh when I stated that I was not reporting the final speaker’s paper in the Muldoon panel because of his rude behaviour, but I wanted to show my disapproval.

5. The conference was not particularly about men and women, it’s just that I am interested in gender and so those were the sessions that I attended.

Basically the post on thepoem is made of cut-up extracts from my entries chosen to provoke the most controversy and to misrepresent the conference, which was a very worthwhile event. However it warping of the entries and the conference is very funny and I did have a good laugh at it.

September 27, 2006

Hugo Chavez's Book Club

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September 26, 2006

Oxford Poetry Conference: Edna Longley on Anthologies

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Edna Longley’s talk on ‘Anthologising Contemporary Poetry: Traditions and Cults’ was something of a disappointment to me and I will explain why in a moment. Longley began her talk by citing Marjorie Perloff who states that the anthology is dead because poems have now become free on the web. Longley argues that this is not the case because anthologies till have the job of signalling tastes and positions.

Longley tells us that she is going to focus on two anthologies:
• Vanishing Points: New Modernist Poems (VP) ed. by Rod Megham and John Kinsella
• New British Poetry (NBP) ed. by Don Paterson and Charles Simic

Longley now begins to think about terminology, ‘contemporary’ for example. She notes how some ‘contemporary’ anthologies of the past have included dead poets. She notes how Yeats became an anthology staple in England in the thirties, but not until the sixties in Ireland. In NBP, Paterson is having dialogue with the English lyric and apparently, he is of the opinion that one cannot erase tradition. Kinsella traces a trajectory through Sydney onwards but his view, apparently, is not traditional but rather sees national, regional versions of poetry.

To suggest that an anthology is ‘international’ is suspect for Longley, because to her, it suggests a virtual space lacking in time. Longley believes that the phrase ‘international’ masks regional and national views of poetry. She wonders, for example, how Irish poetry can fit into the Anglo-American domination?

She also dislikes the label, ‘poetries’, since although it appeals to pluralism, it in fact, according to Longley, masks monism. The sectional or cult poetry in fact excludes the mainstream and works from negatives, exclusive doctrines, shunning, a sense of superiority and a sense of persecution. Longley picks out here Geoffrey Hill and J.H. Prynne who exist supposedly in ‘a desert of difficulty’. She also picks out Herd and Potts who favourably reviewedThe Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry. The author, Andrew Duncan, apparently studies conceptual poetry. Longley is anxious that formal play is too linked to the academy and the theoretical basis of such poetry. She notes how in VP poems are linked to a body of concepts.

Longley moves on here to discuss the aspirational blurring of poetry and politics. Poetry is described as a weapon etc. Could the political term ‘poetries’ be of value? Longley states that a critique of essentialism and multiplicity of practice militate against its value. Is ‘poetries’ simply an excuse for including bad poetry? In VP, Longley thinks that Mengham has a dilemma between not wanting to produce rivalry, but also to show the special value of the poets included. Roberts thinks that there can be singular or multiple values, where as Paterson prefers American free-wheeling.

It is at this point that Longley starts to set out her own values particularly concerning work that she considers to be anti-poetry. In these poems, the form is visual and there is no rhyme, voice etc. Longley here compares Prynne and MacNeice who both present formal clashes and subvert grammar etc. to cross boundaries. However Longley suggests that the grammatical risk taken in Prynne happens for its own sake. For Longley, ordinary words are stranger and hence more effective in MacNeice than in Prynne’s ‘theoretically informed poetry. Longley turns to Hill’s blending of the lyric and criticism drawn from the world of knowledge. Longley asks, is it a poem or a raid on a zeitgeist? Longley sees it as writing prescribed by academic readings. Poets are recruited by the academy in a Faustian bargain.

At this point she compared two poems, one by Prynne and one by MacNeice and proceeded to use MacNeice as a stick to beat Prynne with. I found this extremely ironic as she seemed to be doing something of which she accuses factional poetry groups: being negative, having exclusive doctrines, shunning, keeping a sense of superiority and a sense of persecution.

Basically, in her paper, Longley tries to show that some of the terminologies used by anthologists (poetries, international, contemporary) mask assumptions that in her mind are wrong. She is probably right here to some extent. However she ruins her own argument through her own intolerance and the presentation that ensues is sometimes a rant about poets that she dislikes. I don’t understand the lack of tolerance for other factions and group in poetry. I can only think that it emerges from the difficulties of being published and poet’s insecurities.

Oxford Poetry Conference: Leontia Flynn on Reading Medbh McGuckian

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Leontia Flynn here presents a talk that is mainly preoccupied with McGuckian’s intertextuality. She looks mainly at McGuckian’s collection, On Ballycastle Beach and she marvels at the amount of references in poems to writers such as Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva. Flynn wonders if these are simply arbitrary and notes that such references are invisible to the general reader. Flynn notes that Thomas Docherty sees such references as a sign of McGuckian’s phenomenology, but she sees such references as offering a reflection of our own misguided search for hidden meaning. In this reading, McGuckian constructs an argument against literal readings. One cannot solve the crossword puzzle, since the poem does not present clues but simply the words themselves. As Roland Barthes states, intertextuality can become a hall of mirrors.

Oxford Poetry Conference: Deryn Rees–Jones on Apparitionality

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Rees-Jones’ talk is entitled ’ “Not a Ghost at All”: lineage and apparitionality in the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy and Colette Bryce’. Using Terry Castle’s model of apparitionality in The Apparitional Lesbian , Rees-Jones extends this and wants it to become a model of poetic lineage. In TAL, Castle states that, ‘the archetypal lesbian fiction decanonizes, so to speak, the canonical structure of desire itself’. Castle continues:

It is an assault on the banal: a retriangulation of triangles. As a consequence, it often looks odd, fantastical, implausible, ‘not there’ – utopian in aspiration if not design. It is, in a word, imaginary.

Castle’s book was, of course, first written to show the failure to recognize lesbian desire, but it could signify something further according to Rees-Jones: a poetic model of inclusivity.

Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love is useful for Rees-Jones here. Benjamin states: ‘The focus on pre-Oedipal life has created a growing awareness of the force and validity of another striving, that for unity, symbiosis, fusion, merging, identification’. Benjamin seeks an alternative to an Oedipal model of human relations and she wants to find ‘bodily continuity with an other’. Rees-Jones believes that without stepping beyond the Oedipal in one’s mental life, one cannot really care for an other.

Rees-Jones believes that certain poems are going beyond the Oedipal using apparitionality to communicate with others. She uses a number of examples: Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Steam’, Colette Bryce’s ‘Tense’ and another poem by Bryce, ‘The Negatives’.

Oxford Conference: Claire Crowther on The Resurrected Line

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Claire Crowther gave a very interesting talk on ‘The Resurrected Line’ in poems about grandmothers. In poems where the figure of the grandmother is central to the poem’s intent, the grandmother stands in for the persona of writer. The grandmother can represent a desire for metrical inheritance and the rediscovery of work by women. Often grandmother pomes play with repetition. Peter Reading’s untitled poem below is repeated within different poems and different collections of poetry:

Grans are bewildered by post-Coronation disintegration -
offspring of offspring of their offspring infest and despoil.

Crowther looks at Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Mercian Hymns’ (XXV) in which the line is cut off regularly in the same place. She describes enjambment as the desire not to die at the end of the line and she notes how Watkin compares the horizontal nature of the line to a corpse or coffin. The flow of the line could then represent resurrection.

Hill also uses repetition in his grandmother poem and Crowther describes a certain kind of temporality in grandmother poems that is concerned with periodicity. Discontinuity in such poems represents the dying, dematerializing body of the grandmother. These poems represent disembodied being where the grandmother can be a matriarch or goddess. Here Crowther refers to Irigaray’s demand for a female divine that can present our perfection to us.

Crowther then analyses a number of illuminating example: Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Arraheids’. Ruth Fainlight’s ‘Divination by Hair’ and Lee Harwood’s ‘African Violets’.

September 25, 2006

Oxford Poetry Conference: Panel on Muldoon

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After some people dropped out, my paper was pushed into this panel, which was actually pretty useful. You can see my abstract here on my eportfolio:

The first paper on Muldoon was by Jonathan Baines of Hertford College, Oxford, who talked about the parenthesis in Muldoon’s poetry. He gave an entertaining talk describing what he called Muldoon’s ‘philo-parenthesism’ and he asked what is not a parenthesis in this state of affairs? He compared Muldoon to William Empson. The points that I picked out from the talk were:
  • that there is a Muldoonian proliferation of meaning;
    *that parenthesis on parenthesis combine to combine to create something rich and strange;
    *that there is stress between the finite and the unbounded;
    *that the parenthesis can also be a whim.

Rachel Buxton of Oxford Brookes University gave a paper on the refrain in Muldoon’s poetry. She described how in much of Muldoon’s poetry, particularly Moy Sand and Gravel, a word, line or phrase is repeated to create a wearying monotony mimetic of tedium. Buxton thinks that this is an intentional part of Muldoon’s poetics which is useful and effective. She noted how the refrain that states ‘I give way to you’ in Muldoon’s ‘As’ is the only certain thing in the poem. She stated that she found this poem to be too much like an exercise.

The final speaker talked on translations, but he did not have much time . My notes for his paper are incomplete.

Oxford Poetry Conference: Helen Farish

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Helen Farish talks about the difficulty and confusion of ‘I’. She criticises the way that some poetry is dismissed as ‘merely personal’ or purely personal’. Thinking about the Confessional Poets, she notes how Lowell is praised for his prosody, syntax etc. while Plath is damned and her poetry is described, to use that phrase again, merely personal. Farish describes the case of Olds, a poet that she gave a talk on at the Poetry and Politics conference at University of Stirling this summer. She writes how male critics find the baring of the woman’s body in Old’s poems disgusting and how they identify the speaker in her poems directly with her.

Farish criticises the postmodern phenomenon of the subject-in-process. She cites Nancy Miller who suggests that the gap left by the unitary subject raises questions of agency for women. Did women writers have a self to begin with? Farish describes how in her own practice she has dropped the dramatic monologue and given herself ‘permission’ to use the lyric. She uses the example of her poem, ‘Resurrection’, from Intimacies .

Oxford Poetry Conference: Vicki Bertram

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Bertram suggests that woman writers are never able to transcend sex specificity and that this leads to anxiety about or avoidance of the lyric ‘I’. She cites Sarah Maguire who suggests that the ‘fiction of a desiring I’ is difficult for women and that it contradicts femininity. Wordsworth’s phallic ‘I’ is not the answer. Neither is the confessional ‘I’ that becomes distorted. Helen Kidd describes the lyric voice as ‘the great masculine ‘I’ ’ while Jo Shapcott thinks of it as ‘the ‘I’ as Roman numeral’.

Bertram believes that women writers find the lyric ‘I’ coercive. They question whether they agree with what their lyric is saying, if it is embarrassing or if it wants something from them. The lyric is sometimes seen as indulgent presenting a hungry self that does not have space for readers. There is also the problem of display – how can a woman occupy a public space, or ask to be listened to? Isn’t this also sexualised display and how does one assert one’s right to speak in the public sphere?

Luce Irigaray writes of our culture as founded on a repression of the feminine. ‘He’ is equal to all humanity. Women are always different and metaphors for human suffering often use women’s experience. Bertram suggests that as a result we should use the terms ‘male poets’ and ‘female poets’.

Irigaray writes of a female divine much larger than the feminine self. The male divine is made up of male stories and histories and a female version is needed. Bertram suggests that Carol-Ann Duffy’s Feminine Gospels offers suprahuman female subjects that fulfil Irigaray’s demand.

Oxford Poetry Conference: Kate Clanchy

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Kate Clanchy spoke first about the difficulty for the woman poet or the male poet for that matter who writes about the female body. She read aloud Simon Armitage’s poem, ‘Roadshow’, from T-Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid . When asked by Clanchy, Armitage said that he intended this poem to be an account of a miscarriage, yet the review by Robert Potts in The Guardian read as follows:

In ‘Roadshow’, in a moment of (surely self-mocking) solipsistic hyperbole, ‘by pure chance, it’s precisely at this point / that the universe – having expanded since birth – / reaches its limit and starts to contract’, before the crowd ‘dopples past … inexhaustibly young and countlessly strong, / streaming away, always streaming away’.

Clanchy notes that the sections of the poem on the subject of the woman’s body are ignored: ‘We were heavy and slow, each footstep checked / by the pendulum of our unborn child – / a counterweight swinging from Susan’s heart.’

Another poem by Armitage dealing with miscarriages is ‘Birthday’ from The Univeral Home Doctor . However, Sarah Wardle has this to say in her review:

The book’s title comes from the scene in ‘Birthday’, where he finds his lover pouring over entries on infertility. It seems his infidelity has triggered her psychosomatic stony ground…’

The lines of the poem read as follows:

bent double, poring over
the Universal Home Doctor
that bible of death, atlas of ill-health:
hand-drawn, colour coded diagrams of pain,

chromosonal abnormaties explained,
progesterone secretion ,

cervical incompetance ...
Susan, for God’s sake.


The point of Kate Clanchy’s talk is that the female body is ignored and sidelined in the interpretation of poems and their reception, something that her collection Newborn suffered.


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