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

Charles Algernon SwinburneOn the 150th anniversary of the publication of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s seminal collection, the Poems and Ballads of 1866, an international conference will be held at St John’s College, Cambridge.

The conference will particularly seek to address questions of form, style, genre and technique, which continue to provoke and inspire readers, scholars and poets.

Herbert Tucker (University of Virginia)
Peter Nicholls (New York University)

Laura Kilbride (Peterhouse, Cambridge)
Orla Polten (St John’s College, Cambridge)
Alex Wong (St John’s College, Cambridge)

DEADLINE: Please send proposals of no more than 500 words to poemsandballadsat150@gmail.com no later than 29th February 2016.

Abstracts should be attached to the email 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.

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”’:

His writings exercise a great fascination over qualified readers, and excite a very real enthusiasm for them: but these readers are not of that wide, popular, indiscriminate class who come to be moved by the subject matter, the affectingly told story. Mr. Swinburne’s readers are of another and a more restricted order… [who prize] the beauty of execution (Hyder, 1970: 71-2).

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 itself remains a central area of controversy – variously admired for its own sake, dismissed as ‘mere virtuosity’, or considered significant only insofar as it contributes to ‘larger’ arguments about theme, narrative or social context. 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 conference aims to foster new ways of thinking about the significance of this collection to the development of English poetry during a period of staggering formal experimentation. It is for this reason that organisers are soliciting papers which look first and foremost to address questions of form, style, genre, and technique.

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 earlier poets such as Baudelaire, Shelley and the troubadours, and his interest in medieval and classical 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 these poems, and subsequent responses to them?
  • What influence did parallel developments of poetic genre in other European countries have on Poems and Ballads?
  • What is the significance of the 1866 poems for fin de siècle, modernist, feminist or queer receptions?
  • What is the function of poetic translation in Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads?
  • Are there unique formal features of erotic poetry (that of Swinburne, for example) that suggest a challenge to social norms?

The organisers hope that the 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.

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