Joshua Adams. Editor, Chicago Review.
Poetic Thinking: A Critique.
What does it mean for a poem to think? Three contemporary British poets — J.H Prynne, Simon Jarvis and John Wilkinson — have all recently written on the cognitive work done by and in poems. The terms used to describe or explain this thinking are not always clear. They diverge from accounts that come from the philosophy of mind and from cognitive science, accounts that link thinking to reason and representation, and to the formation and manipulation of concepts; they also differ from the customary account of thinking in literary criticism, i.e. the appeal to an author's intention. What are we to make of this distinction? Is there a special kind of extraordinary thinking that happens in poems? I will suggest that, for these poets, thinking means something particular, and particularly historical: a reevaluation and rejection of an oppressive society. This thinking is utopian in its aspiration and formal in its means: non-semantic features of poems reveal a consciousness of, or a desire for, another world. Thus thinking as imagined by these poets refines the account offered by Shelley in The Defence of Poetry. I will raise a few critical questions about what I think are the risks and potential blind-spots of this utopian formalism — including the problem of interpretation, and a reliance on an already poeticized Heideggerian account of thought — before suggesting that poetic thinking, while perhaps not a special kind of thinking, might be a historically desirable and useful form of criticism.
Vincent Broqua. Université de Paris Est Créteil.
The Political Nothing, Caroline Bergall’s letters to the community.
One of the side/sites that Caroline Bergvall’s work explores is that of the letter and its performance through space and sound. Letters scribbled, spaced out, singled out trace the legacy of modernism in her work. Indeed, Bergvall’s work operates partly on the paradigm of the “transformational energies of language”. And yet, it never remains closed upon itself as purely self-referential language but opens on a political practice of nothingness directed towards and at the community.
Though her work is by no means entirely scripted by nothingness, it takes such a notion as a central one to be addressed and critiqued. In her case, nothing does not amount to nihil. On the contrary, it is to be understood in the French sense of “rien”, coming from res, meaning “thing” etymologically. So what is this paradoxical nothing which also proposes something?
The purpose of this paper is to study Bergvall’s political use of nothing in two installations Say Parsley and Middling English.
In Say Parsley, she looks for the locus of linguistic alienation in a shibboleth, which she finds in just one letter: the letter and the phoneme /h/ in English. She proposes an installation (now re-sited three times in Exeter, in Liverpool and Bristol) and a series of texts as well as a wealth of audio and video files to confront the viewer with the question of his/her linguistic practice and who gets excluded; the sparseness of the installation is a place where our body senses what happens to the body when it is cast away as that of the barbaros of the community, with potentially tragic consequences, such as in Dominican Republic in 1937 when the mispronunciation of the letter /p/ led to the massacre of the Haitian immigrants.
In Middling English, her more recent show, the letter “o”, which could also be read as the figure “0”, was spelled on one of the walls of the Hansard Gallery, thus becoming a concrete wall poem, as well as a sign that the viewer was to make sense of this nothingness and connect it with another text on the other side of the wall, from which the “O”s had been subtracted. This and other minimal features in the show, such as a barely visible quotation of Glissant’s Poetics of relation, draw attention to the hinges of language in which and through which the community questions its togetherness.
Though these two shows should not be reduced to their sparseness, the apparition of letters on the walls ghost-write our own relation to otherness and opens onto the paradoxical notion of an interrupted community, which coheres in distancing itself from total and totalitarian togetherness.
Cris Cheek. Poet/artist in residence at U Ohio.
Before I am Anything Else: provisional transatlantic communities in poetic performance.
"The concept of one voice scarcely making use of the physical possibilities of body - almost disembodied - reading with attention only to intellect and syntax to an audience ranged in rows, gives way to a new concept of complex bodily movements and mobile vocal-body sounds in space, - moving in space and sensed in different intensities and from different directions by an audience who may, in the event, become participants, and who may also be scattered in space ..." [Bob Cobbing, 1972]
the performance we wait for “gives imperfection reference” (the opening of the field) Robert Duncan
I want to foreground here some notable transatlantic developments in poetic performance; chiefly in live exophonic performance, and in particular moves towards multi-voice, plurivocal, performance during the 1970s (Bob Cobbing, Jackson Mac Low, Hannah Weiner, jgjgjgjgjgj. . . . among those), that provide grounds for pertinent debate in respect of the stability of the textual object, final versions thereof and provisional communities thereby occasioned. The period between 1968-1982 (roughly) provides a flowering of experimentation in poems written to be sounded or understood as for more than one voice, not in the sense of the “the voice of the poet” but in the sense of voices often overlapping to synchronous or polychronous effect. Not that such poetic compositional tropes do not persist, just that until now this was the time when they most occurred and they occurred as part of a distinctively transatlantic conversation.
Jennifer Cooke, Loughborough University.
‘“They’re safety matches, sir, / And they light only on the knowledge box ”: danger and desire in the discourses of knowledge within Andrea Brady’s Wildfire’.
The above quotation, embedded into Andrea Brady’s Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination (2010), comes from the satirical Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Princess Ida (1884). The ‘safety matches’ are the women being educated in Princess Ida’s all-female university; the pun rests upon the well-worn metaphor of setting alight the sexual fires, in this case deemed to have been dampened so that knowledge is the only flint for these females, as one male interlocutor explains to another. Wildfire is culturally, historically and poetically a knowledgeable poem-sequence resulting from research into the history of Greek fire (white phosphorous) and ballistics, their deployment, and their geo-political ramifications. It references the history of alchemy and conventions of love poetry: the rhetorics of fire and desire. At the same time, it is a poem about the practices and products of research: what appears neutral can turn incendiary; knowledge, so inevitably desirable, can be lethal. Wildfire’s two forms, book-version and web-version, the latter complete with hyper-links to the sources that it references and embeds, puts its knowledge on display and shows how Brady poetically incorporates and transforms her research. This paper seeks to investigate the ways Wildfire addresses, uses, represents and reproduces knowledge. I will be identifying the different ways the poems do this, and, more widely, I wish to think about this as specifically a poetic endeavour, as well as a political and ethical one. What does Wildfire tell us, I will be enquiring, about what poetry can do with and to knowledge?
Sara Crangle. University of Sussex.
"with tongue spouting, soaking": Poetry & Spit.
Spit has long been tied to self-definition. Ancient scholars argued that individuals were determined by their productions of blood, bile or phlegm; a phlegmatic character is observant, curious, kind, and satisfied with the status quo. In the wake of psychoanalysis, theorists like Kristeva and Bourdieu tell us that abjection and disgust are integral to individual development. Here mucous plays a vital role, lubricating the mastication that binds us to the world, even as it facilitates our ejection of the distasteful, thereby shoring up our sense of self.
In his collection Pearl (1995-1997), the British poet Barry MacSweeney presents his reader with an unabashedly romantic poetry sequence in which the beloved is idealised almost to the point of cliché. I will argue that it is MacSweeney’s interrogation of spit as the lubricant of language, and indeed, love, that facilitates the pathos and power of the poem. In the process, I will compare Macsweeney’s presentation of spit with that of modernist poets such as Mina Loy, for whom sex is comprised of “rivers [that] run no fresher / Than a trickle of saliva”. What I want to suggest here is that from modernism forward, writers evince a movement away from an individualistic rejection of the body’s abject productions to an acceptance of disgust as a foundation of intimacy.
Emily Critchley. University of Greenwich, London.
Marianne Morris: Tutu Muse: prophylactic poetry for the last generation.
I would like to propose that Marianne Morris’ Tutu Muse: prophylactic poetry for the last generation is a poetic ‘commitment to grasp contemporary society & to probe the place of poetry within it’ par excellence.
Written & set in (pre-crash) London in 2007 in that hubristic world capital of ‘[in]ethical consumption’ & trade – i.e., methods of exchange that we now know to be good money after bad ‘dead frogs’ whose skin was toxic, not simply dead & bad – & unembarrassed consumer greed, Tutu Muse peers through London’s ‘collective skin’ & shows us just how much that city’s post-modernist espousal of surface over depth, spectacle over substance, is missing. (The skin motif that pervades the collection is apt; it is very much the ‘smeared glass’ of London’s superficial epidermis that TM reels from in disgust, vs. the real organs that everywhere pump & spew, gorge & bleed.)
If the ‘characteristically modernist reading experience is’, to quote Peter Barry (writing on Allen Fisher’s Place) ‘a reciprocal process […] in which we read the sources in the light of the poem and the poem in the light of the sources’, & if modernist poems – take Eliot’s The Waste Land and Fisher’s Place as two nicely London-based examples – are built out of vertical echoes & references, like archeological digs back through history – Tutu Muse’s quoted material is all horizontal & surface & that, I believe Morris is positing, is the problem with ‘culture’ today, for, ‘we are not all made in the absence of depth’.
Tutu Muse holds a mirror up to a dystopic present in which Lyotard’s call that all knowledge be digitalizable has been realised, & upends Baudrillard’s refutation of Debord’s claim that we live in ‘the society of spectacle,’ by pointing out the headlines & deadlines that engulf contemporary existence in this city, with its obsession for commercialized surfaces & ‘cash experience[s]’ – share prices, PR, advertising, fashion, ‘added value’ – its lack of concern for ‘injustice on a world scale’, let alone any particular individual, or the wrenched gap between language & ‘truth’ that pervades the collection.
The place of/for poetry (or any other ‘authentic’ experience) in the face of the very ‘commercialization of language’ is a question that’s put desperately to many of the poems by their own titles – we are promised rhythms & haiku, rhymes & odes – but these never appear, as if to underline the gap between form & content. I hope, in my paper, to provide a few answers to this and many of the other pertinent contemporary questions, formal, political, ethical & philosophical, asked of itself & its readers by this collection.
 ‘Seabass Skin On Glass’
 'De Sade’s Law’
 ‘Portrait of the Self as Death’
 ‘Seabass Skin On Glass’
 ‘Allen Fisher and “content-specific” poetry in New British poetries, The scope of the possible, ed. Robert Hampson and Peter Barry (Manchester University Press, 1993)
 ‘La Langue S’Abandonne’
 ‘Bad Grammaer (pron. ‘bad grammar’)
 ‘La Langue S’Abandonne’
 'De Sade’s Law’
 ‘La Langue S’Abandonne’
Ian Davidson, University of Northumbria.
Sean Bonney's Commons: Familiarity and Repetition.
This paper examines the use of familiarity and repetition in Sean Bonney's Commons, and the ways that formal elements in the poem support a reading of the work as a complex critique of the politics of contemporary culture and society. Commons consists of a series or sequence of fourteen line sections, characterised by the use of repetition of particular words or phrases and material that combines a private urban experience with the public spaces of the city. There are full and half rhymes, rhyming couplets both within and at the end of particular poems and the repetition of particular words at particular times. Any aspect of regularity in Bonney’s work, however, also becomes a source of irregularity and patterns are dispelled as soon as they are formed. Bonney’s Commons sequence uses these formal aspects of the poem to interact with time and space in complex ways, while the material of the poems draws on the collective folk memory of the ‘Child’ ballads, a nineteenth-century collection of Ballads from England and Scotland.
Commons remains hard to define. It is, in some ways, a poem about poetry that foregrounds the materiality of language and the artifice of poetic process, as well as a poem about history, that talks about the ways we are and how we might have got here. It is also a poem that consistently questions relationships between representation and commodification but does so through a poetics of urgency in a tone that is hard to ignore. Through detailed readings of sections of the Commons this paper seeks to demonstrate how the poem is not only about relations between things, but also seeks out the materiality of things themselves.
Jeff Hilson, poet, Roehampton University.
Having a larf/Getting a larf: British Innovative Poetry & Humour.
In a recent thread on the UK Poets List discussing happiness in poetry, John Wilkinson wondered how its pursuit might differ from "'having a larf' - that aim of so much British social interaction." This set me thinking about the role of humour in British innovative poetry. With stand-up comedy elevated to a position of almost unrivalled cultural popularity and so much of it little more than a social palliative, how does humour in contemporary innovative poetry operate and who are its adherents. Is it a viable tool of social critique? What is its affective range? How is it received by readers and, in performance, by audiences?
Whilst humour in poetry has arguably a more settled and varied home in US innovative poetry (vide the New York School(s), Language Poetry, flarf), British innovative writing often seems uncomfortable with, even embarrassed by humour. Perhaps the need periodically to define itself against a legitimised/legitimising mainstream has produced a default adversarial position where humour is seen as ineffective, a distraction, or as simply entertainment. Further, are the 'serious' and the 'difficult', recurrent terms in the so-called poetry wars, merely versions in an innovative context of poetic agon in which humour has no place? Finally, given the varying degrees of silence with which much contemporary innovative poetry is met (both from inside and outside the 'scene') and the ensuing anxieties this produces, "getting a larf" at least confirms that the writing is being heard.
Romana Huk,University of Notre Dame
New British Schools
Keith Tuma begins his provocative essay on American poetry today – called “After the Bubble” – in a recent issue of Chicago Review by saying: “There are no ‘schools’ [anymore], except of course the universities that employ poets…. The idea of the ‘poetic school’ is anachronistic, editor David St. John [co-editor of the new Norton anthology, American Hybrid] writes, ‘an archaic critical artifact of times gone by’” (55:3/4, 100). Labeled “post-avant,” the mix-and-match inspirations and projects of the new generation in the US take instead “the rhizome [as] an appropriate model,” as Cole Swenson [the other co-editor of American Hybrid] suggests, claiming that they therefore – and happily, in her view – resist mapping. Commenting on Craig Dworkin’s related suggestion, in his introduction to The Consequences of Innovation: 21st Century Poetics, that critical commentary should therefore most appropriately address “isolated singularities” through a “local, focused, specialized and ad hoc criticism,” Tuma objects that “giving up on the effort to characterize, however partially, the larger field, is exactly the wrong thing to do now” – “the danger” being “losing sight of the institutions that shape poetic and critical practice” (102).
On the other hand, it seems that what for U.S. readers characterizes “avant-garde” UK writing at the moment is its schools and movements – one of the best examples being the one named the “New British School” by, among others, American and British contributors to the exhilaratingly-transatlantic journals Chicago Review and Cambridge Literary Review (the term playing, in part, on the movement’s contested roots in the “Cambridge School” and the latter’s admiration of the “New York School” before them). I want to think in this short paper – destined to become a chapter on “The View from America” for a forthcoming OUP companion to postwar poetics – about this striking difference, and even about the term “school,” quite literally, in that avant-garde poetry’s relations with academe (blamed for the above developments in US poetry by some – only some – of those who lament them) have been among the most inflammatory and yet least well examined issues of recent years. From within this frame I’ll also compare what I consider complicit phenomena: emerging constructions in new British poetries of what John Wilkinson and others call, by various names, “political lyric,” comparing their development with what in the States Lynn Keller, also in the pages of Chicago Review, calls the “widely-touted rapprochement between Language writing and lyric in the first decade of the twenty-first century” (55:3/4, 83).
Xavier Kalck, Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV).
Quoting from Legacy: Anthony Barnett's Citations followed on.
Reclaiming the modernist tradition has become as much of a common goal as disclaiming it once had been. In the midst of competing agendas aiming at a general reappraisal of twentieth-century literary periodisation, one is very soon at a loss to know where to turn. Take the Cambridge Literary Review for instance - a venue which stems from whatever was subsequently called the Cambridge School and in retrospect hopes to shape such a tradition. Delving into the details and ramifications of so many different poetries presents us with a much better chance at making sense of British poetry today than would conflicting interpretations yearning to duplicate the however successful editorial campaigning of Language poetry. Sacrificing clarity and accuracy in favour of simple strategy serves very short-term goals, and I would contend that while much of the confusion depends on who thinks who belongs where, and no matter what your pantheon of choice may be, poetics can use careful study of the facts as much as polemical play.
This paper means to discuss British poet Anthony Barnett's 2010 Citations followed on with a view to question some of Marjorie Perloff's conclusions in her 2010 essay Unoriginal Genius: Poetry By Other Means in the Twentieth Century. In so doing, I am hoping to outline an analytical perspective that will clarify the connections between British and American readings of the legacies of modernism. Understanding how different these may be can prove a significant step in confronting some of the categories we use all too readily when trying to characterise the poetry we choose to read.
David Kennedy (University of Hull) and Christine Kennedy (Poet and Independent Scholar).
"I Predict a Riot": Affect, Praxis, and Revolution in Jennifer Cooke's Steel Girdered Her Musical.
The representation of British women's experimental poetries after 1970 has suffered from limited critical language; a narrow focus on a few poets; and a lack of engagement with post-war history. The reproduction of terms such as 'irresolvable', 'multiple', 'provisionality' and 'unfixability' and discussion of the same few poets (the late Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Maggie O'Sullivan, Denise Riley) has worked to obscure the real achievements of an important body of contemporary writing. Finally, criticism has paid little if any attention to the fact that post-war British women's experimental poetries have been written through the period when whole generations have discovered that, in the words of Carolyn Steedman (1986), 'the central interpretative devices of our culture don't quite work'.
This paper surveys the critical landscape outlined above and then focuses on a recent work which we argue exemplifies the challenges and rewards of British women's experimental poetries. Jennifer Cooke's musical collaboration Steel Girdered: Her Musical is a narrative of revolution that combines a complex language world drawn from advertising and international commodity consumption with fast changes of dialect, mood and pace to produce something that is reminiscent of a graphic novel. Denise Riley has argued (1989) that 'the separations between what counts as the social and the political' are one point of origin for gender. We would argue that Cooke's work shows how such separations are also the origin of desire-in-women's writing, a desire that has sought new political and social articulations after 1970 and reimagined poetry as a space for radical positions.
Michael Kindellan, Université de Montpellier.
“That dolt E. P.”: J. H. Prynne, Ezra Pound and emphatic language.
As critics such as D. S. Marriott, Keston Sutherland and Anthony Mellors have shown,1 the cultural and poetic work of Ezra Pound affected the “late modernist” English poet, J. H. Prynne in a variety of important ways. Though Prynne shares and perpetuates many of Pound’s own concerns, it may be said that Pound’s influence is most evident where Prynne also is most vigorous in his contestation of Pound’s ideas and methods. As Prynne wrote to Charles Olson—incidentally, another poet as deeply impressed by Pound as he was keen to move beyond his sphere of influence—in a 1963 letter: “that dolt E.P. whose local ignorance is unsurpassed: wrong about Chinese syntax, and hopelessly stupid about the modern scientist’s shapeless ‘mass of force’. If he really thought that ‘even his capacity to differentiate it to a degree never dreamed of by the ancients has not led him to think of its shape or even its loci’, why in hell didn’t he look for the facts? […] It would take more than a certain precision of reference to disentangle this, and without such modest care all speculation is reduced to the merest complaint: shrill tone of the man without valid personal grounds”.2 Drawing largely upon some unpublished letters from Prynne to Olson, many of which deal directly with Pound or with the consequences of his aesthetics, in my paper I will try to gather together and organise some of Prynne’s criticisms of Pound; to say something about what Prynne suggests as alternatives; and to show how these alternatives might be seen operate in some of Prynne’s later work. I am particularly interested in Prynne’s argument that Pound’s speculations proceeded without “modest care” and so became “merest complaint”, as well as in what Prynne means when he says Pound lacked “valid personal grounds” (not least because valid personal grounds are things Pound seems so tireless in asserting). One of the things at stake here, I want to suggest, is the use and abuse of emphatic language. What is it, what are the grounds upon which poetic utterance can establish its forcefulness, how are they to be established, and more importantly, how are they to be validated?
Sam Ladkin, University of Sheffield.
Lyric versus Audit in the Virtual Society: the case of Chris Goode.
This article relates properties of lyric (immediacy, longing) to similar properties in our behaviour as influenced by the Internet or virtuality. It diagnoses two key effects: the Internet alters our experience of sociability, and our experience of our bodies. Marilyn Strathern’s differentiation of audit cultures from ethnography reads virtuality as abstraction: the virtual is communication and information reified from social relations, and is therefore structurally analogous to economic activity. The rise of the virtual shares with post-Fordist economies this reification of sociability. A reading of Chris Goode’s work via the “queer phenomenology” of Sara Ahmed concludes with a critique of the Internet’s refusal of distance (its myth of immediacy), of disorientation (its straightening and bureaucratization of our lives), and of syntax (memory).
Joe Luna, Sussex University.
Pixo-Transcendentalism, Digital Immortality and Pop Poetics: Hyper-Romantic gestures in some ultra-recent British Poetries.
"Is that an extra code for something? Cuz my generation doesn’t deal with direct sarcasm" (Ryan Trecartin)
"Access denied" (Milton, Paradise Lost, IV: 137)
Will Montgomery, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Balsam Flex: poetry and cassette culture.
One remarkable nexus of British Poetry Revival activity that has received very little attention to date is the cassette series Balsam Flex, which ran to more than 100 releases during the late 70s and early 80s. The series was run by Erik Vonna-Michell, a poet and artist who published a little in this period but later disappeared from view. The Balsam Flex series includes performances by Vonna-Michell himself, Bob Cobbing, Lawrence Upton, cris cheek, Allen Fisher and Clive Fencott, among others. The work is clearly influenced by Fluxus, sound poetry and the London improvised music scene (Cobbing’s New River Project reading series took place at the headquarters of the London Musicians Collective in Camden). The cassettes document performances by poets that might also be interpreted as sound art or performance art. The open-ended, improvisatory, lo-fi spirit of the cross-media experiments of this period is captured in these recordings. A different picture of the period emerges to that captured in the anthology Floating Capital (eds Adrian Clarke and Robert Sheppard), which focuses more narrowly on the poetry of the 1980s. My paper, which will be accompanied by extracts from the Balsam Flex recordings, will combine descriptive material with a discussion of the relationship between poetry and sound, both in this work and in contemporary practice.
Neil Pattison. St John's College, Cambridge.
This paper principally considers the work of two poets: Andrew Lawson, a little-known writer who from 1986-1998 published widely within the British small press scene; and the widely-known and esteemed Denise Riley, who also last published original work in the 1990s. It explores the ways in which these poets came up against an insuperable limit in their sense of poetic vocation, considering the end of their poetry in relation to the dynamics between the coterie formations in which they worked and the social communities they addressed. The paper contextualises this relation in the history of lyric’s address to power, arguing that their dilemmas and commitments, finally realised in their abjuration of lyric itself, profoundly express the external and internal pressures through which the British modernism of the late twentieth century worked.
Simon Perril, Leicester.
“A tutelary poison we all breathe”: Contemporary British Poetry at the tomb of the Poète Maudit.
This paper will examine the legacy of French 19th century poetry as it is interrogated by contemporary British poets, paying particular attention to the significance of the figure of the Poète Maudit. A “younger” generation of poets have shown a marked interest in this area, as is evidenced by Peter Manson’s versions of Mallarmé, and Sean Bonney’s intertextual connections to Verlaine and Rimbaud, and his almost forensic ‘translations’ of Baudelaire (the poet to whom Peter Nicholls traces the roots of Modernist tactics of irony and distance as defences against modernity). This paper’s investigation of the trope of the “accursed poet” , infused by Baudelaire’s account of “spleen” and his accompanying sense of the Satanic nature of commerce, will prompt discussion of the nature and politics of poetic outrage, hope, and disappointment. Key texts will include Sean Bonney’s Poisons, their Antidotes and Baudelaire in English, Peter Manson’s Before and After Mallarmé, Denise Riley’s “Problems of Horror”, Barry MacSweeney’s The Book of Demons, and Anna Mendelssohn’s Implacable Art.
Robin Purves, University of Central Lancashire.
WHICH poetry: WHAT to do.
The paper will analyse some of the most recent and ‘futural’ discourses on poetry and, in particular, polemical texts (or passages) by the young British poet, Keston Sutherland, concerning just what a poem needs to be, what it needs to do, what it must not do, and what it must have, in our immediate and global contemporary contexts. What goals do these polemics organize themselves around? What prosaic means do they employ? What poetic means do they recommend, given that the poems themselves never seem closed to any particular kind of discourse or formal manipulation? What relation do the poems which might meet these requirements have to the thetic prescription by their authors or their thetic translation by their readers? The paper will in particular consider the rhetorical function of the value of ‘impossibility’ in the prose texts and will attempt partial close readings of particular poems by Sutherland and one or two of his contemporaries, to gauge how successfully these poems can embody and continue the prose polemic, and how easily they might travesty it. The analysis will be informed by ‘shapes’ drawn from Lacan’s theory of the four discourses (in Seminar XVII: L’envers de psychanalyse) in order to assess the efficacy of contemporary poets’ attempts to split, derange and expropriate the logic of capitalist economies.
Luke Roberts, University of Cambridge.
Barry MacSweeney and the Soviet Union.
This paper aims to describe and evaluate Barry MacSweeney’s interest in the literature of the Soviet Union and the more general theme of unionism throughout his work. In his earliest writing, found in the English Intelligencer and The Boy from the Green Cabaret Tells of His Mother, MacSweeney consistently champions, and makes allusions to, the work of Mayakovsky, Voznesensky, Pasternak and others. I argue that this was a deliberate attack on the Black Mountain poetics that MacSweeney believed the Intelligencer exemplified. Examining the context of strikes and union activity in Britain in 1967, I also present a challenge to the idea that MacSweeney’s early poetry is devoid of political content or significance. Nevertheless, MacSweeney’s early poetry was politically immature: MacSweeney declares allegiance to distant ‘Unionists in Verse’ in order to undermine a local common possibility. I want to examine how this contradiction resurfaces and changes during MacSweeney’s later writing and activities. During the 1970s he uses a distinctly Black Mountain ‘style’ in the long poem of that decade, Black Torch, which is about the 1844 Durham Miners Strike and, implicitly, MacSweeney’s own Union activity as both a journalist and a poet. I want to present some of the problems I have with Black Torch, and to assess to what extent later poems correct or abandon its inconsistencies and ethical shortcomings. This will include passing reference to MacSweeney’s important work of the 1980s, but will primarily consider the poet’s reaction to New Labour and the laments for Nationalised Industry, Unionised Workers, and Revolutionary Communism in the uncollected poem ‘I am Lucifer’ (1998) and Horses in Boiling Blood (2004). These are neglected areas of MacSweeney criticism and will, I hope, point towards some of the problems facing politically engaged poets today.
Sophie Robinson. Royal Holloway, University of London.
‘DOLLY (in bits)’: The Queer Body in Caroline Bergvall’s Poetry.
My paper will focus on the relationship between queerness and experimentalism in the work of Caroline Bergvall. Looking specifically at three texts, Éclat, Goan Atom and Cropper, I wish to examine instances of linguistic queerness within the work which mirror the condition of queer posthumanism. I will be drawing parallels between Bergvall’s quering of the body through language and contemporary philosophical and cultural thinking around queer corporeality and spatiality. Furthermore, I will be placing Bergvall’s writing within a queer modernist and neo-modernist canon, examining the similarities between treatments of the body in Bergvall’s work and that of Gertrude Stein and Claude Cahun.
I will begin by examining instances of queer spatiality in Éclat, arguing for the reciprocal relationship between straight bodies, hegemonic space and heterosexual linguistic communication. I wish to demonstrate how Bergvall queers all three by introducing a non-heterosexual foreign body into the hegemonic spaces of the home and the book.
I will then discuss Bergvall’s appropriation of Hans Bellmer’s ‘Doll’ in Goan Atom, arguing for the ‘dolly’ figure as a queer, posthuman exploration of social identity. I will be comparing Bergvall’s linguistic and visual presentation of the fragmented body to the hermetic body parts and sexual codes present in the work of Gertrude Stein and Claude Cahun. Finally, I will discuss issues of sexuality and citizenship and linguistic stuttering in Bergvall’s recent publication Cropper.
Through analyzing Bergvall’s use of multiple languages, linguistic and spatial experimentation, and deconstruciton of heterosexual bodies and space, and furthermore through comparing these techniques to those of queer modernist writers and artists, it is my hope to both draw attention to the cultural implications of Bergvall’s work, and to place her work within a canon of the queer avant-garde.
Lacy Rumsey. Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon.
The Atypicality of Jeff Hilson.
The paper will propose a reading of the poetry of Jeff Hilson based on a variety of formal elements in his recent work, and seek to suggest ways in which his poetry is valuably distinctive. The starting point will be Stretchers (2006), and in particular its use of line-break, which Hilson defends in a postface with the argument that it is not, in fact, a line-break at all, but a “frayed right margin”, stating that “I have tried whenever possible to avoid the ‘effects’ which a line ending can produce”; it will be argued that Hilson seeks, here and elsewhere, to avoid that semantic or meta-poetic motivation which characterizes many of the formal gestures of contemporary non-mainstream poetry. The counterpart to Stretchers’ ostensible retreat from ‘effect’, and the ground cleared thereby, is the adoption, in In the Assarts (2010), of some apparently very simple formal principles – a lineation which follows syntax, and the sporadic recourse, albeit at times with the alibi of pastiche, to an unusually powerful metricality. Such visual and rhythmic features, which do more than parse meaning or stake a position, make the poems of In the Assarts atypically corporeal, among non-mainstream poetry, in their effect on the reader. Both as poet and anthologist (The Reality Street Book of Sonnets), Hilson is one of the most interesting actors in the rethinking of form with which experimental British poetry is currently engaged.
Nandini Ramesh Sankar. Cornell University.
Complicity and Cambridge Poetry.
This paper examines the theme of complicity that preoccupies several Cambridge poets through an analysis of the poetic and metapoetic works of J.H. Prynne and Peter Riley. The acknowledgement of complicity in social, political, and economic injustices has been central for poets influenced by J.H. Prynne, and the resulting poetry, often difficult and alienating, nevertheless seeks to give lyric expression to the historical burden of being at the dispensing end of global violence. Using samples from Prynne’s early and late poetry (The White Stones, To Pollen), I argue that in spite of its tortured performance of complicity, the poetry also constantly explores ways in which a genuine freedom can be imagined from the inverted vantage of fallenness. Peter Riley’s work, on the other hand, consistently seeks an ethical position that also includes a real possibility of opting out of exploitative and violent historical tendencies: complicity here is emphatically within the ambit of volition. By juxtaposing these two major but very different figures from the Cambridge poetic circle, I shall suggest that their differences are mostly a matter of emphasis rather than of kind: in Prynne’s work, the dialectic of freedom and unfreedom remains unresolved into any reassuring synthesis; in Riley’s work, despite the more cautious approach to poetic freedom, the presentness of hope and vigilance favours freedom’s brief.
Keston Sutherland, University of Sussex.
Poetry and “monstrous accumulation”.
Marx begins his critique of political economy not simply with an analysis of the commodity, but with the judgment that modern societies are defined by its “monstrous accumulation.” This is more than just a figure of speech. What sort of accumulation is capable of monstrosity, and how might the analysis of the commodity-form depend on the judgment that its accumulation is monstrous? Is monstrous accumulation paradigmatic for capitalist economies of value? Materialist criticism since Benjamin has gone some way in explicating the meaning of reproducibility for art, but the meaning of accumulation for art remains obscure. This paper will investigate Marx’s judgment and its analytic potential for an account of contemporary poetry in particular, by experimentally reconceptualising the “irony” of echoic, mock citational, cleverly allusive, parodic and self-advertising uses of traditional poetic devices in recent British poetry as metacommunicative judgments about the availability of truth and beauty for an historically specific order of accumulation, the “monstrous accumulation” of capitalist societies. The paper will offer minutely close readings of some recent poetry in order not simply to propose a meaning for “monstrous accumulation” in large outline, but to track the beginnings and unfoldings of judgments about accumulation in their most intimate musical and prosodic apparitions. Its aim is to illuminate the specifically capitalist metastases of repetition in poetry, by showing how a cadence, rhyme or emphasis may be accumulated rather than simply reproduced, borrowed or echoed. The paper will conclude with some reflections on the possible significance of its analysis for any truly contemporary account of the moralism of verse technique.
Scott Thurston. University of Salford.
Talking Poetics: Dialogues In Innovative Poetry.
In 2009-10, I conducted a series of interviews with four innovative poets in Britain and the USA as an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project. The poets were Andrea Brady, Caroline Bergvall, Jennifer Moxley and Karen Mac Cormack. The aim of the project was to identify key issues of concern for these writers, to explore their creative practice in detail, and to reflect on the interview as an occasion for articulating and developing poetics. During the course of these conversations, we touched upon many of the key topics of the conference: the position of women’s writing, engagements with literary history, the materiality of texts and bodies, and the role of performance. In addition to this, our actual meetings also constituted an exploration of the relation between various national identities – British, North American, Canadian, French-Norwegian – and their entangled cultural affiliations.
As co-editor of the first UK academic journal to be devoted to innovative poetry: the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, and as author of a recent article which presented ‘Innovative Poetry in Britain Today’ by reading the work of Bergvall and Brady alongside that of Robert Sheppard, I am committed to assessing the usefulness of the term ‘innovative’ in relation to these poetries – a term discussed at length in the interviews.
My proposal for ‘Legacies of Modernism’ is to present the key findings of this project as a means of surveying a variety of positions in contemporary British poetry (and beyond), and to focus in particular on the discussions around poetic innovation – its poetics and its politics.