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September 26, 2006

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.

Kicking Daffodils: Panel On Voice

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The first paper on this panel is given by Renuka Rajaratnum of Manchester Metropolitan University and it is entitled ‘Contemporary poetics of inter-relationality and diversity in women’s poetry: A case for intertextual hermeneutics’. Rajaratnum asks how the woman poet ‘exists’ and her answer is that such existence is enabled by relationality and intertextuality. Rajaratnum traces the word ‘intertextuality’ through Bakhtin to Kristeva and drawing on Linda Hutcheon, she describes intertextuality in terms of dialogic or competing interpretations. She uses this model to analyse poems such as Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Standing Female Nude’.

The second paper by Sheree Mack from University of Newcastle concerns the border crossing poet, Patience Agbabi. Mack describes how by crossing borders in writing Agbabi manages to question the canon. Mack refers to Agbabi’s unusual upbringing in Wales by a Nigerian mother and notes how this enbaled Agbabi to move between cultures. Mack quotes Bernardine Evaristo on the difficulty for black women poets to gain critical approval. Interestingly, Agbabi was the only black or asian writer in the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation promotion. For Agbabi, labels exclude and she becomes a ‘word kleptomaniac’. Ultimately, Mack demonstrates with flair how Agbabi crosses formal and cultural boundaries. Mack is a writer herself as you will discover if you see her website:

The third paper analyses Alice Oswald’s Dart and is entitled ’ “She do the river in different voices”: Lyric Democracies(?) in Alice Oswald’s Dart ’. Kym Martindale of University College, Falmouth suggests that the river here is both poet and muse and that the relation of the human to nature is revisionary. She notes that there are two River Darts in the poem, that of the east and that of the west and that when they meet they are full of other brooks. The physical boundaries of the two rivers can be seen at first, but not when they speak in the poem. Martindale turns to Romanticism to compare its view of nature with that of Dart . She cites McGann who argues that Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey begs us, ‘not to fill the eye of the mind with external and soulless images, but with “forms of beauty” through which we can “see into the life of things”, to penetrate the surface of a landscape to reach its indestructible heart and meaning’. Martindale argues that this is not found in Dart , where there is unity rather than understanding. The river provides no morals or lessons but simply exists. However, Martyndale does note that in imagery of the two rivers, the West Dart is dominated by the East Dart as if they were lovers (not gendered ones though). In Dart, the walker is a Wordsworthian character yet he is less resigned than characters in poems like ‘The Leech Gatherer’. He is defiant and closer to Wordsworth’s more personal persona. However the walker’s voice is interrupted by the embryonic Dart and the voices struggle for authorship. The answer to the query of isolation that appears in ‘The Leech Gatherer’ becomes a rebuke in Dart.

September 07, 2006

Kicking Daffodils Reading

The line-up for the Kicking Daffodils Conference ‘Emerging Poets’ reading was: me, Zoë Skoulding, Helen Farish and Claire Crowther. The format of the event was unusual as each poet gave a ten minute statement of poetics and then a ten minute reading of their poems.

I was up first and for my ten minute talk, I chose to speak on the topic of ‘not confessing’ and I explained how in order to avoid the criticism that comes of writing confessionally as a woman, I have moved towards the mystery of poetry and the power of witholding secrets. Later, I recited poems using the Welsh and English languages, including ‘The Secret’.

Next was Zoë Skoulding, an excellent poet, who brought out The Mirror Trade , her first collection with Seren. Zoë and I tend to appear at poetry events together quite often and there is often confusion about who is who which causes much amusement. In her talk, Zoë wondered what it meant to be an ‘emergent woman poet’ carefully considering the different aspects of the conundrum. Her reading of new work preoccupied with the city-space was intriguing and demonstrated why her poetry has brought her considerable attention.

Helen Farish was bold and enthused in her speech about the difficulty of being a woman poet. Helen lamented criticism of so-called ‘personal’ women’s writing and she rightly pointed out that while critics may believe that the speaker of the poem and the poet are one and the same, often this is a misinterpretation and a simplification of the complex treatment of identity. Helen Farish’s poems are pioneering in their representation of the female body and her commentary on her own poems was illuminating. Helen published Intimates with Jonathan Cape and her collection was nominated for the TS Eliot prize.

Claire Crowther was next and in her talk she gave an illuminating insight into the difficulties for older woman trying to publish a poetry collection. By the end, we all agreed that the poetry scene is extremely ageist. Claire is a very accomplished poet who has been published widely in the TLS, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, PN Review and Ambit. She has a first collection coming out nmext spring with Shearsman called Against the Evidence . I look forward to it.

August 31, 2006

ABSTRACT FOR KICKING DAFFODILS: Strangers to Themselves: The Woman Poet in the 21st Century

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This paper uses a Kristevan model to explore the poetics of women poets. I use Wales as a case study in order to discuss the choice to move away from the privileging of traditional or familiar landscapes, cultural mores and literary tropes. The three writers to be discussed are Gwyneth Lewis, Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones, all of whom have an interest in creating a dialogue with landscapes, mythologies and tropes beyond or adjacent to their own culture.

My model derives from Julia Kristeva’s Strangers to Ourselves, in which she explores notions of the ‘foreigner’, ‘foreignness’ and the stranger within us. To Kristeva, it is important to recognise and empathise with the ‘foreigner’ or the ‘stranger’. When one realises that we are all strangers, the quality of ‘strangeness’, which causes fear, hatred and loathing, can be eliminated. As Kristeva states, ‘The foreigner is within me, hence we are all foreigners’. Through discovering the stranger in themselves, these Welsh women poets can write politically about difference.

The body of this paper explores the three poets in detail. First I compare three extracts from their statements of poetics and then I give a detailed analysis of a short poem from each poet. In ‘Dissociation’, Lewis explores how losing the Welsh-language and denying her Welsh self invokes a new identity Ė the archetypal mad woman artist. In comparison, I study how Petit projects her own poetic concerns into the biographical telling of the life of Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo (‘Henry Ford Hospital’). I juxtapose these with Rees-Jones’ poet-heroine of ‘Cemetery’, who projects herself into the persona of the English Victorian poetess. Finally I argue that these writers search for the strangers to themselves and in doing so, they create a poetics in which ‘every difference is significant’.

August 21, 2006

CALL FOR PAPERS: The Riddle of Devolutionary Identity

The Riddle of Devolutionary Identity: A One-Day Interdisciplinary Conference
University of Warwick, Humanities Research Centre (HRC)
~ Saturday 18th November 2006

Keynote Speakers: Prof. Michael Gardiner, Chiba University, Japan.
Prof. Stephen Knight, Cardiff University.
Prof. Susan Bassnett, University of Warwick.

Also: David Morley, poet and director of the Warwick Writing Programme.

Call For Papers
This interdisciplinary conference will bring together academics working within the fields of Scottish, Welsh and Northern-Irish literature, and Postcolonial Studies. The central aim is to tackle recent debates on whether the cultural, social and psychological issues can be explored using postcolonial theory particularly in relation to devolutionary literature.

The legacy of colonisation pervades Western culture, yet as international movements emerge at the hard-line of religion and politics, the factors of dissimilitude and difference tend to be ignored. In such a climate, how does one situate oneself as a subject of a minor culture, that of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland?

The organizers welcome a variety of approaches: historical, sociological, linguistic, feminist and textual analysis. The conference will deal with devolutionary identity in relation to three main themes:

1. The End of Britishness
Kirtsti Bohata writes of Britishness as “a misleading label that disguises English cultural hegemony and a project of assimilation”. What are the pressures on Britishness? Can one think of contemporary English Literature as “devolutionary” too?

2. The Limits of the Postcolonial
Who is ‘excluded’ from Postcolonial Studies? Various minority groups seem to be under-represented within the field of postcolonial theory. We are interested in proposals concerning British regions, but we would also welcome papers on the relatively neglected literatures of peoples such as Native Americans, Australian Aborigines and South Pacific Islanders, Indo-Caribbeans, the Roma nations of Europe. What is the current situation regarding hegemonic structures within the discourse of postcoloniality?

3. Difference and Complicity
In their definition of a minor literature, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that in order for a minor culture to represent itself it must subvert a major language by deterritorializing that language and imbuing it with a minor tradition. Are devolutionary literatures subversive and radical in
subverting linguistic tradition or are they more complicit with hegemonic Western values?

Details on the Plenary Speakers
Prof. Michael Gardiner works in British cultural studies at Chiba University, Japan. He has published widely on the topic on devolutionary literature and culture in studies such as The Cultural Roots of Scottish Devolution (2004), Modern Scottish Culture (2005) and From Trocchi to Trainspotting: Scottish Cultural Theory Since 1960 (2006). He has also published a collection of short stories entitled, Escalator (2006).

Prof. Knight is based at University of Wales Cardiff, where one of his main research interests is the Welsh industrial novel. He is the editor of British Industrial Fictions and his recent study in the Writing Wales in English Series, A Hundred Years of Fiction, has been extremely influential in considering the relationship between postcolonial models and devolutionary literature.

Guidelines for Abstracts and Papers
Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words for 20 minute papers. You can send by e-mail (in the e-mail body or by attached Word document) or by regular mail. The organizers details are listed below:

Zoe Brigley, English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of
Warwick, Coventry, CV47AL

Jonathan Morley, Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV47AL

Details of conference registration are available from Humanities Research Centre secretary Susan Dibben to whom enquiries should be addressed. Please send your name, faculty, institution and contact telephone number and if sending by e-mail enter the title “Registration” in the subject field. Registration closes on 1st November 2006.

Ms. S. Dibben, Humanities Research Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL

July 18, 2006

A Talk on Robinson Jeffers by Allen C. Jones, University of New Mexico, USA

Robinson Jeffers

‘Poetry and the Impossibility of Action’, 14th July, Poetry and Politics, Stirling.

Jones suggests that there are two aspects to Jeffers’ ‘inhumanism’: a commitment to astonishing beauty and a belief that mankind is not central in the world. This is very interesting and I think that it teaches a lesson about putting the human subject at the heart of one’s poetics. Jones thinks that Jeffers constructs a sublime, but not like that of Wordsworth where the human mind dominates nature. The sublime is not egotistical in Jeffers. I wondered here about later Romantics where the sublime is also less egotistical – could comparisons be made here?

Jones points out that Jeffers has two audiences: an environmental audience and an audience of high modernists. He then presents a whole poem:

‘The Purse Seine’

Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark of the moon; daylight or moonlight
They could not tell where to spread the net, unable to see the phosphorescence of the shoals of fish.
They work northward from Monterey, coasting Santa Cruz; off New Year’s Point or off Pigeon Point
The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color light on the sea’s night-purple; he points and the helmsman
Turns the dark prow, the motorboat circles the gleaming shoal and drifts out her seine-net. They close the circle
And purse the bottom of the net, then with great labor haul it in. I cannot tell you
How beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible, then, when the crowded fish
Know they are caught, and wildly beat from one wall to the other of their closing destiny the phosphorescent
Water to a pool of flame, each beautiful slender body sheeted with flame, like a live rocket
A comet’s tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside the narrowing
Floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up to watch, sighing in the dark; the vast walls of night
Stand erect to the stars. Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light: how could I help but recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together into interdependence; we have built the great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable of free survival, insulated
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all dependent. The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet they shine already. The inevitable mass-disasters
Will not come in our time nor in our children’s, but we and our children
Must watch the net draw narrower, government take all powers—or revolution, and the new government
Take more than all, add to kept bodies kept souls—or anarchy, the mass-disasters. These things are Progress;
Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps its reason? Or it lets go, lets the mood flow
In the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria, splintered gleams, crackled laughter. But they are quite wrong.
There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that cultures decay, and life’s end is death.

[Note: sadly the blog formatting is ignoring some of the spaces between words on the lines in this poem, but it gives an idea of what the poem is about.]

The apocalypse here is a beautiful scene and although it presents extinction, there is a feeling that man is not central. The fish are equivalent to humans. [Here I have written in my notes ‘Beauty>abyss’, but what did Jones mean here?]

Jones compares ‘The Purse-Seine’ to ‘Birds and Fishes’ in which the dying fish offer a world outside that of humanity. Jones is adamant that Jeffers purpose is to remake the sublime via the terrible beauty and purity in nature. Yet where does this leave the human subject who must extinguish the self for beauty?

In one poem, Jeffers desires to be a deer laid down as a carcass for death. Yet he cannot reach ‘that beautiful place’ and answering the question of whether humans can be actors, Jeffers peruses the bones of the deer and realises that ‘I must wear mine’. Can poetry here become poiesis?

A Short Biography of Robinson Jeffers
As a boy Jeffers tried to fly using homemade wings. As an adult he wrote many poems describing birds or referring to the myth of Icarus; his favourite symbol was the hawk. While a student at the University of Southern California, Jeffers met Una Call Kuster, who was three years his senior and married to a well-respected attorney. After an intense affair that led to public scandal and Kuster’s divorce, the couple married and raised two boys. The family lived in the famous Tor House in Carmel, California, built by Jeffers own handsafter he learned stone masonry. The unusual structure of this monument to Kuster was inspired by Jeffers’ fascination with medieval literature. The house has Gothic arched windows, a secret stairway and even a sunken dungeon. Because his wife was enchanted by the sea, Jeffers also constructed the forty-foot Hawk Tower by hauling huge stones from the beach, stacking and cementing them by hand. A hawk soared overhead as talisman every day-and then vanished on the tower’s completion.


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