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CFP: Poetry, Memory and Performance (10/1/2014; 3/23-24/2015)

Homerton College
University of Cambridge
March 23-24, 2015
Deadline: October 1, 2014

“Poetry, Memory and Performance: Exploring Memorization, Performance and the Embodied Knowledge of Poetry”

Catherine Robson, Professor of English at New York University: Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem
Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist, philosopher and literary scholar: The Master and his Emissary 

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together researchers, educationalists, poets and performers with the aim of opening dialogue about the place and value of memorisation and recitation. The conference follows on from the Poetry By Heart national recitation competition finals, also held at Homerton College, on March 21–22, 2015. This should provide a stimulating context and a point of reference for discussion, and the organizers hope that many conference delegates will take the opportunity to attend some of the competition finals beforehand.

Poetry memorisation and recitation, once inscribed in British education and woven into the fabric of cultural life,  declined dramatically over the course of the twentieth century. In recent years, however, there has been an evident rekindling of interest in both practices. Within formal education, poetry memorisation has been reinstated in the primary curriculum for England, whilst national competitions in England, Ireland, Canada and the USA have reintroduced recitation to many secondary schools. Outside education systems, signs of revival include the publication of anthologies and apps for memorising poetry, and attention from the media.

This timely conference will bring together researchers, educationalists, poets and performers with an interest in this area. The committee’s aim is to open dialogue about the place of memorisation and recitation both within and outside formal education, and to think together about a number of vital questions, such as:

  • To what extent do these embodied ways of knowing offer distinctive forms of understanding and appreciating a poem?
  • What critical perspectives are useful for developing practices of memorisation and performance. How might we theorise these processes, and what terms should we use?
  • Can the interpretation of a poem in performance be seen as a form of critical interpretation, and how does that relate to textual criticism? Are there other ways of positioning recitation and performance?
  • How can the evaluation of poetry performance be approached?
  • What is the value of memorisation and recitation, psychologically, culturally and historically?
  • What is the meaning and significance of these modes of engaging with poetry within our current culture?
  • Where can a poem be said to exist?

The organizers welcome proposals for papers of 20 minutes duration (with a further 10 minutes allowed for questions) on any aspect of the memorisation, recitation and embodied experience of poetry, and from a variety of perspectives, including:

  • performance
  • education
  • historical and cultural
  • literary
  • psychological

Because no sessions will run in parallel, space for papers will be limited. In the event that we receive more proposals than we are able accommodate, we will select papers that are most clearly relevant to the aims of the conference, and that combine to offer a range of complementary perspectives.

Proposals should be 300–500 words and be accompanied by a brief biography, to include current affiliation or position. Please submit your proposal by October 1, 2014 to Debbie Pullinger: dp371@cam.ac.uk  The organizers will let you know our decision by 1st November.

Registration and fees
The conference fee is yet to be finalized, but it should not exceed £95. This will cover the cost of attendance, lunches, coffee and tea on both days, and a conference dinner on Monday 23rd.  Online registration for the conference will open in November. Accommodation in College will be available to book separately.

Poetry By Heart
The Poetry By Heart national finals on 20th and 21st March will see more than 40 young people compete to become the poetry recitation National Champion. Ticket details will be available at conference registration. Further details at poetrybyheart.org.uk

Further information about the conference will be posted on this website, as it becomes available. If you have any questions in the meanwhile, please contact Debbie Pullinger: dp371@cam.ac.uk

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