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Reminder: Poetic Genre and Social Imagination: Pope to Swinburne (1/15/2014; 5/9-10/2014)

University of Chicago
May 9-10, 2014
Deadline: January 15, 2014

Scholars of English and American poetry have recently called for a new historical poetics capable of analyzing relations between culture and poetic form (including meter and rhyme as well as specific verse forms like the sonnet, ottava rima, the Spenserian stanza, etc). Two approaches have dominated this conversation. The first recovers lost ways of thinking about form—in prosody manuals, recorded performance, private correspondence, newspaper reviews, and so on—and reads them back into cultural history. The second historicizes poems from the inside out, making evident social affinities and antagonisms in literary form by comparative description. These approaches begin with different premises, but both demonstrate that the conventions of twentieth-century formal analysis—foot-substitution prosody, for example—have obscured the range of formal effects that have at different times been available to poets and readers.

This conference proposes further consideration of these issues in terms of genre. Genre was one essential feature of historical poetics when Russian critic Aleksandr Veselovsky first used the term over a century ago, but its potential for a contemporary historical poetics has not been fully explored. Our focus will be Great Britain during a period of staggering poetic and social reinvention, between the ages of Pope and Swinburne (roughly 1700–1900). We are interested in the development and proliferation of genres (and subgenres) themselves, as well as the dynamics between formal and generic attributes. Most importantly, we aim to foster new ways of thinking about how form and genre relate to the broader social imaginary. Special priority will be given to papers that demonstrate this relation.

During daytime sessions, the conference will feature two-scholar panels organized by topic or theoretical approach. These presentations will be followed by a third scholar’s formal response, then by open discussion. The keynote talks will be held in the afternoon. A poetry reading by Tom Leonard and Simon Jarvis will be held on Friday evening.

Some questions that papers may address include:
  • How stable are the conventions of genre—the link between lyric and subjectivity, for example, or between epic and empire—over time?
  • What can we learn about form and genre from discussions of these topics in the period by both canonical critics (Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt) and the popular press?
  • What is the significance of imitation and translation exercises in the schools for thinking about form, genre, and class in the period?
  • How should we regard genres that are also metrical or formal designations (e.g., elegy)?
  • How do poets adapt prose genres, like the essay or the novel, for their poetic purposes? And what about the inverse? What does the adaptation  do to the social or political potential of the original genre?
  • What does satire expose or conceal about its objects, and what are its deeper social functions?
  • What influence did parallel developments of poetic genre in other European countries have on genres in Great Britain?
  • Is nonsense verse an affirmation or a critique of poetic norms, and how (if at all) does it relate to actually existing social conditions?
  • What is the special status of a genre located within another genre (lyric in epic or novel; lyric or ballad in drama; epigram or epitaph in lyric or ballad)?
  • Is the “composite art” of figures such as Blake and Dante Gabriel Rossetti a genre unto itself?
  • What can study of genres for child readers tell us about social life in the period?
  • What is the function of genre in poetic translation? How can we understand the questions of genre that arise in the major poetic translations of the period? How should we understand the difference, especially in social and/or class terms, between translation from classical and from modern texts?
  • Is the rise of coffeehouse and newspaper culture evident in the generic innovations of Pope and his contemporaries?
  • Was poetry in the eighteenth century closer to conversation than poetry that followed, as J. Paul Hunter has argued?
  • Are there unique formal features of erotic poetry (that of Swinburne, for example) that suggest a clear relation to social norms?

Please send brief proposals (no more than 300 words) for twenty-minute presentations to popetoswinburne@gmail.com by January 15, 2014.

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