Victorian Poetry Special Issue:
Victorian Periodical Poetry
Alison Chapman and Caley Ehnes
University of Victoria, Canada
Until recently, poetry published in Victorian periodicals was simply ignored. Dismissed as “filler”, devalued as sentimental, and denigrated as popular verse, periodical poetry languished behind serial fiction and the more respectable poems published in single-authored collections and anthologies.
But the fortunes of periodical poetry have swiftly and dramatically changed. With the consolidation of the periodical as a central component of Victorian studies, renewed attention has been given to the place of the poem in the periodical.
Kathryn Ledbetter’s Tennyson and Victorian Periodicals: Commodities in Context (Ashgate, 2007), for example, powerfully argues that Tennyson’s contributions to periodicals were critical to his career, in that they were part of the circulation, marketing and advertising of Tennyson’s status as a poet. In addition, they were very lucrative. Tennyson’s own complaints about publishing in periodicals may have contributed to that venue’s scholarly neglect, but Ledbetter shows how many Victorian poets were profoundly conflicted about the necessity of periodical publishing: on the one hand, periodicals offered a wide readership (at a time when publishers were shy of committing to volumes of original poetry) and often paid handsomely, but on the other the periodicals themselves were seen as ephemeral, feminised, and were associated with low-brow popularity. Thus, integral to periodical poetry are questions of value, taste and aesthetics. Ledbetter’s follow-up study, British Victorian Women’s Periodicals: Beauty, Poetry and Civilization (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), argues that periodicals empowered women poets and enabled them to contribute to debates about affect, taste and education.
Another key intervention is Linda K. Hughes’s 2007 article for Victorian Periodical Review, “What the Wellesley Index Left Out: Why Poetry Matters to Periodical Studies”, which is a compelling call to embrace poetry’s engagement with serial print culture. Hughes argues that periodicals mattered not just to poets, but that “the more pressing questions, in my view, are why original poetry mattered to Victorian editors and readers and what poetry can tell us about Victorian periodicals as a whole” (p. 91). In this special issue, we wish to broaden and deepen this fundamental point, so powerfully put by Hughes, and ask for contributions not only on why poetry matters to Victorian periodicals, but why Victorian periodicals matter to Victorian poetry.
In addition to the formative studies by Ledbetter and Hughes, there are a host of other critics working on Victorian periodical poetry, such as Eileen Curran (on the poetry published in Bentley’s Miscellany), Florence Boos (on working-class poetry), and Michael Sanders (on Chartist periodical poetry). But there to date there is no collection of articles or chapters engaged with the topic, and we feel a special issue will be timely in not just offering new primary and critical material on periodical poetry, but also on reflecting what periodical poetry tells us about Victorian poetry as a whole. Central questions will include: whether and to what extent Victorian periodical poetry challenges the conventional account of Victorian poetics, prosody and genre; the relation between periodical poetry and serial fiction; and what new or revised models of poetry readership are suggested by periodical poetry. Thus, the special issue will welcome articles uncovering and assessing the importance of neglected periodical poetry, but also asking
probing questions about what challenges and revisions Victorian periodicals bring to the understanding of poetry. These issues are particularly pressing with several digital initiatives that will increase the accessibility of periodical poetry (including our own Victorian Periodical Poetry Database [as part of the Victorian Poetry Network], the project of adding poetry to the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, as well as the Yellow Nineties), but also with the huge amount of periodical poetry recently made available through such ventures as the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition and 19th Century UK Periodicalsdatabases. In this light, the special issue will also address questions of digitizing Victorian periodical poetry.
Some topics that a special issue on Victorian Periodical Poetry will address:
- Periodical poetry, illustration and the issues of materiality (e.g. layout, margins)
- The poetics of periodical poetry
- The relation of periodical poetry to questions of time and periodicity
- The relation of periodical poetry to serial fiction
- Sentimentality, sensibility and taste
- Lyric, narrative and the periodical poem
- Popular verses high-brow poetry; acculturation
- Education, gender and issues of readership
- Digitising and indexing periodical poetry
- Newspaper poetry and journalism
- The representation of poetry in the periodical press: reviews, advertisements, etc.
We invite the submission of essays of 20-25 manuscript pages by 30 April 2013, for publication in Victorian Poetry (Spring 2014). Please follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. Early expressions of interest and proposals of topics are also welcome; please contact the editors: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.