Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Contemporary Lyric: Absent Presences, the Secret & the Unsayable. A participatory symposium for practitioners and interested parties

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Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre

Who this event is for

  • Everyone


Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, 6, Redlands Road, Reading, RG1 5EX



By focussing on some key issues in the theory and practice of lyric, this one-day symposium will explore possibilities for poetry now. A rich array of practitioners (poets, critics, and interested parties) will be in dialogue so as to address themes and concerns by reflecting on their own practices, as well as those of others. Crucial to the event is its outward-looking, international dimension, as it will feature in its panel-discussions practitioners from Australia as well as those who are UK-based.

There will be four panel discussions: (1) Present absences & absent presences. In his ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’ Wordsworth suggested that poets were particularly susceptible to the presence of things absent, which might then entail their capacity for creative detachment and absence from present circumstances too. In this session we will explore such paradoxes at the heart of lyric poetry’s powers and predicaments. (2) Keeping a secret by saying you’ve got one. Speculating about Shakespeare’s tactics in trying to make Hamlet work on stage, William Empson suggested that the thing was for the main character to keep a secret by saying he’s got one. Is this not exactly what modern and contemporary lyric poets have done to invite a sustained and returning attention to their work? (3) Ambiguous, ambivalent, and open utterance. Though the last century of Anglophone poetry in all its varieties has, for the most part, not had to survive under the kinds of oppressive regime that would require a political verse written in code, it has nevertheless tended to be oblique in utterance and cryptically significant. In this session we will look at the how and why of such seemingly ubiquitous strategies, and at reasons for counter-trends to write ‘in clear’. (4) Showing the Unsayable. ‘Show don’t tell’, as they say in creative writing classes, but does that mean we should show what we would otherwise be able to tell, but think it’s a better poetic strategy not to do so, or are we to show, or try to show, what we can’t otherwise put into words? Such a question goes to the heart of issues concerning poetry’s contribution to a language and its cultures. 

Each panel set up to discuss these issues will be composed of a mixture of UK-based academics and writers and academics/poets associated with the International Poetry Studies Institute, Canberra (IPSI). Each panel member will give a short position paper on the topic, and then the floor will be opened up for discussion. Although we have an exciting line-up of speakers, the topics have been chosen to appeal to a wide range of poets and critics, and we will be warmly encouraging all attendees to contribute their thoughts during the panel discussions.

The day will finish with a poetry reading by some of the poets taking part. You can download a full programme for the day via this link.

Everyone is welcome, but places are limited. To book a place, please e-mail Professor Peter Robinson: p.robinson@reading.ac.uk

The contributors include:

Cassandra Atherton (writer, academic and critic, IPSI)
Conor Carville (poet and academic, University of Reading)
Susie Campbell (poet and prose writer)
Kate Coles (poet, novelist and editor, IPSI)
Claire Dyer (poet and novelist, convenor of the Poets’ Café, Reading)
Isabel Galleymore (poet and academic, University of Birmingham)
Sarah Hesketh (poet, editor and researcher, University of Roehampton)
Paul Hetherington (poet, editor and Head of the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) at the University of Canberra)
Steven Matthews (poet and academic, University of Reading)
Paul Munden (Director of NAWE, the National Association of Writers in Education and poet, IPSI
Niall Munro (Director, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre)
Natalie Pollard (literary critic and academic, University of Exeter)
Lesley Saunders (poet and classicist)
Jack Thacker (poet and research student, University of Bristol)
Jen Webb (poet, Distinguished Professor and Director, Creative and Cultural Research, University of Canberra and IPSI)

For more information about MERL and how to get there: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/