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CFP: Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads: 150th Anniversary Conference (2/29/16; 7/29-30/2016)




St John's College, Cambridge, 29-30 July 2016.


William Michael Rossetti writes in his defence of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads that 'If Shelley is "the poet for poets", Swinburne might not unaptly be termed "the poet for poetic students"'.

A century and a half later, Swinburne’s poetry continues to prove divisive for readers. While few fail to recognise Swinburne’s technical achievement, technique remains a central area of controversy: students of poetry continue to wrestle with the status of Swinburne as the 'prosodist magician'.

This conference proposes further consideration of Swinburne’s achievement. By focusing on his most notorious work, the aim is to foster new ways of thinking about the significance of this collection to the development of English poetry during a period of staggering metrical experimentation. It is for this reason that we papers are being solicited which look first and foremost to address questions of technique, which will include all aspects of form, genre and the 'lyrical'.

Possible guiding questions for papers include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How stable are the conventions of genre (the link between lyric and subjectivity, for example, or between epic and empire) over time?
  • What can renewed attention to /Poems and Ballads/ teach us about Swinburne’s apprenticeship to poets such as Baudelaire, Shelley, and the troubadours, and his interest in medieval forms?
  • How did /Poems and Ballads/ influence subsequent generations of poets as diverse as Hardy and Hopkins, Yeats and the Rhymers’ Club, H.D. and Eliot, Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Dylan Thomas?
  • In what sense might /Poems and Ballads/ present a 'crisis' in the lyric mode?
  • How far can /Poems and Ballads/ be considered a test-case for the existence of the 'Pre-Raphaelite' poem?
  • How do the poetic techniques of /Poems and Ballads/ engage questions of religion and theology, secularity and anti-theism?
  • What can we learn about form and genre from the discussions of /Poems and Ballads/ in the period, by both canonical critics and the popular press?
  • What is the significance of imitation and translation for the forms, genres, and metres of /Poems and Ballads/ and subsequent responses to it?
  • What influence did parallel developments of poetic genre in other European countries have on /Poems and Ballads/?
  • What is the significance of this collection for /fin de siècle/, modernist, feminist or queer receptions?
  • What is the function of poetic translation in Swinburne’s 1866 poems?
  • Are there unique formal features of erotic poetry (that of Swinburne, for example) that suggest a challenge to social norms?

The hope is that this conference will bring together established scholars, early career researchers, and graduate students working on or in relation to Swinburne. Attendance by graduate students will be encouraged by means of a reduced fee.

Please send proposals of no more than 500 words to:


Proposals should be received no later than 29th February 2016. Please attach abstracts in a separate .doc or .pdf file, without name or affiliation. You are welcome to include a brief biographical note in the body of your email.

CONFERENCE WEBPAGE: https://swinburne2016.wordpress.com

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