Congrès de la SAES 2023 Rennes : Poets and Poetry Panel
‘What are these pylons or the high speed through
The tamed and thewy earth?’
(Will Burns, ‘Transmission’, Country Music, 2020)
It would seem that transmission, the theme of this year’s SAES Congress, is intrinsic to the art of poetry in different ways, depending, naturally, on how the word is interpreted. What exactly do poets and poetry transmit—send across or through the poem to the reader as well as to (other) poets? How and where does the poem carry out such transmission? And what are the potential tensions inherent in the topic? Here are some possible aspects of the conference theme which participants may consider:
Sites of poetic transmission extend from the topos of the sacred wood (cf T.S. Eliot’s volume of criticism of the same name, 1920) to the utopia of the classroom (Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘In Mrs Tilcher’s Class’, Stephen Romer’s ‘The Professor of Ideas’, the Scottish Library anthology of poems for teachers To Learn the Future, which has a foreword by Jackie Kay) as well as non-lieux such as the Underground with the Poems on the Underground project. Structures and sites of poetic transmission might comprise public readings by, and interviews with, poets, creative writing workshops, awards ceremonies, lectureships like the Oxford Poetry Professorship, keynote speeches/readings at conferences, poetry contests, poetry festivals, dedicated centres like the Queen Mary Centre for Poetry at the University of London, the Maison de la Poésie in Paris, and the National Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre and other poetry archives, and initiatives like the Poetry Project at St Mark’s Church in New York or the Barbican Young Poets showcase in London, poets in residence at universities and cultural centres, and the study of, and research into, poetry, including genetic criticism. The BBC remains a reference with radio programmes such as Poetry Please. Nor has Internet replaced periodicals like the TLS or The Poetry Review: such periodicals, says Eliot in The Sacred Wood, are ‘instruments of transport’, that is, of transmission.
Intergenerational transmission, and poetic influence. How does poetry celebrate or critique intergenerational transmission, including the transmission of life itself: ancestry, motherhood, parenthood, childhood, fatherhood (cf. Seamus Heaney’s poems about his father, ‘Digging, ‘Follower’ and ‘Mid-Term Break’), heritage, inheritance, life lessons? This category might include hieratic conceptions of poetry, the idea that poetry is a body of sacred knowledge handed on or down (cf. the Welsh bard; the Scots Makar, currently Kathleen Jamie, taking over from Jackie Kay) as opposed to more demotic kinds of transmission. The idea of poetic transmission perhaps naturally leads to the question of legacy and influence: the influence of one poet upon another suggests transmission and possibly instruction (one poet learning from another).
Emotion, affect, ideas. Poetry is perceived by many readers as being able to offer—to transmit—solace: witness the popular success of Neil Astley’s tetralogy of Bloodaxe anthologies (Staying Alive, 2002; Being Alive, 2004, Being Human, 2011, and Staying Human, 2020). In fact, the transmission of emotion or affect is one of the key elements of many kinds of poetry, not only lyric but also epic and saga. Poetry also can be a vector of ideas and ideology. US poet Carolyn Forché (born 1950) writes a “poetry of witness” which consciously attempts to blend the personal and the political. A poem may also transmit almost unawares an idea or vision, such as Larkin’s vision of England and Englishness in ‘The Whitsun Weddings’. Conversely, how does transmission work in the face of the ineffable, unspeakable or apophatic?
The poetics of transmission: form, prosody and rhetoric. How do rhythm, metre, rhyme, stanza form, and rhetorical devices effecting displacement such as the metaphor—that is, trans-port, thus etymologically similar to transmission—contribute to the latter? Interpretation and the establishment of meaning or meanings can be seen as a co-construction in the work of transmission. The transmission of poetic form—for example the sonnet—raises the question of transgression: the sonnet as an inherited form which poets have often treated with huge creative flexibility (e.g. Hopkins’s curtal and caudated sonnets).
The technology of poetic transmission. Poetic transmission is pragmatic when it shifts, for example, from oral recital and performance to silent or solitary reading. Internet makes the transmission of poetic production virtual and sometimes ephemeral. Aside from speech and script, the art of song can be a vehicle for the transmission of poetry (to take but three—hard rock—examples drawing on Romantic poetry: Iron Maiden, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, Rush, ‘Xanadu’ (channelling ‘Kubla Khan’), The Verve, ‘History’ (channelling Blake’s ‘London’). One might also mention both cinema (from Splendor in the Grass to Dead Poets’ Society and Paterson) as well as the film-poem of which Tony Harrison is a practitioner.
Voice as transmitter and transmitted. One crucial element in poetic transmission is that of voice. Who or what speaks in a poem? The poetic voice can be both the transmitter of the poem and one dimension of what the poem itself conveys. What is the role of sound archives—as well as manuscript ones—in the preservation and transmission of poetry, the latter depending on the accessibility of such archives?
Translation has a part to play in the transmission of poetry, whether it be from a foreign language into English or, for instance, poems in Middle English such as Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Simon Armitage into contemporary sometimes colloquial English. Does untranslatability in poetry signal a failure in, or merely a challenge to, transmission?
The canon and transmission. Can a poetic canon be envisaged outside the framework of cultural hegemony? As playwright and occasional poet David Hare has pointed out, the “state of poetry” and the fact that “there is obviously a poetry establishment” in Britain do not always facilitate the transmission of new poetic voices. Can poetry be a vehicle of transmission for neglected, decentred or marginalised languages and cultures?
The above may be taken as non-restrictive, possible suggestions. We welcome paper proposals from any critical or theoretical vantage-point, in line with the theme of the congress. Please send 150-word abstracts and a brief bio to Adrian Grafe (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Claire Hélie (email@example.com) by December 10.
Site du congrès: Congrès SAES 2023 (saesfrance.org)