“So you drive on to the frontier of writing…”

Seamus Heaney, from ‘From the Frontier of Writing’, The Haw Lantern, London: Faber, 1987, p. 6.




Jennifer K. Dick, from ‘Boundary’,

What would a border look or sound like in poetry, and what would crossing such a border mean? One should not forget that Eliot’s ‘We shall not cease from exploration’ (‘Little Gidding’, 1943) depends on passing through a kind of border, the ‘unknown, remembered gate’ as baffling, though as inviting, as the ‘place’ into which it opens. Our panel wants to explore the border as a luminal space which offers multiple opportunities for dislocation and reflection.

Establishing borders. Of James Fenton’s poetry in the New York Review of Books, Seamus Heaney wrote that it “re-established the borders of a civil kingdom of letters where history and literature and the intimate affections would be allowed their say.”

Stretching borders. Against Fenton’s humanistic perspective on the active welcome held out to history and literature in his “civil kingdom of letters”, the contrary idea can be set, according to which borders, in poetry at least, exist to be crossed if not transgressed, or pushed back at least. Powerful poets have always attempted to stretch the frontiers of poetic form, with Hopkins for example extending or diminishing the length of the sonnet (cf his curtal and caudated sonnets), or Geoffrey Hill in his Triumph of Love (1998) sequence of 150 poems in various styles and of varied lengths, unlike The Orchards of Syon (2002), composed of 68 24-line poems and in which Hill evokes a dream of a ‘place, its forever/boundaries re-sited,/re-circuited.’ Aren’t all technical and formal constraints in poetry ‘arbitrary’?

The frontiers of poetic expression. Hill is also concerned, in his essay ‘Poetry and Value’, with the question of where the ‘speakable’ ends and the ‘unspeakable’ begins, in connection with Adorno’s question about the possibility of writing lyric poetry after the Shoah. The line between the speakable and unspeakable had been evoked by Eliot in ‘East Coker’ in the phrase ‘a raid on the inarticulate’, the same military metaphor being used shortly afterwards by Virgina Woolf (cf below).

Prosody, page lay-out, and content. Whether it be prosodically or content-wise, frontiers, borders and boundaries have always held a key role in poetry. Is the line-break enough to justify the frontier between prose and poetry, and how do prose poems fit with such an albeit basic notion? Robert Frost’s (overly?) well-known adage, ‘writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net’ corresponds to the idea of the boundary between the two forms of writing, and in this respect the boundary is a constraint that some poets (like Frost himself) like to respect. With regard to the poem on the page, the white space around the poem acts as a border to the poem: one might imagine a metaphorical displacement in this respect, shifting from the margin on the left of the poem to the question of poetry as a marginal or liminal literary space. This leads us to:

Concrete poetry, and the combination of the written and the visual. Such a reflection also puts one in mind of concrete poetry, and the use of the white space of the page in the physical shaping of the poem: one thinks of George Herbert’s ‘Easter Wings’ or Dylan Thomas’s ‘Vision and Prayer’. Virginia Woolf described Roger Fry (in her 1940 biography of the latter) as making ‘raids across the boundaries’ of different kinds of expression, written or visual: how would this apply, if at all, to a painter-poet such as William Blake (Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath were also both poets and artists)?

Class barriers. One thinks, too, of poetry’s response to boundaries between social classes, and how both class boundaries and upward social mobility can be a – fruitful – source of poetic tension, as in Tony Harrison’s use of the vernacular.

Translation. The activity of the translator seems to tally with the conference topic: the breaching of boundaries, be they of language, class or culture, in order to render a text (a poem) in another language, and to give the reader of the latter a sense of the original. However, rather than crossing borders one might also think of translation as opening up borders into new poetic territories.

The ‘language barrier’. Especially since high Modernism, poetry has exploited the possibilities of polyglossia, the use of more than one language in a single text, opening up the potential of the latter’s sounds and rhythms. Albeit in utterly different ways, Stephen Romer’s and Jennifer K. Dick’s works offer outstanding examples of this multilingual poetic inheritance.

Physical/geographical boundaries. Perhaps much poetry is drawn to boundary zones, much like Philip Larkin’s river drifting “where sky and water and Lincolnshire meet” and even a “street of blinding windscreens” constitutes a boundary to be “crossed” (‘The Whitsun Weddings’), or Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl From the North Country’ in which the singer looks nostalgically to that wild place where love offered consolation ‘Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline’ – the borderline of the poet’s roots between Minnesota and Canada, but also between past and present.

The poetry of philosophical or physiological liminal or transitional states. Possible suggestions would be Keats’s ‘negative capability’ and the poetics of uncertainty; the (supposed) circumstances of Coleridge’s composition of ‘Kubla Khan’; and Edward Thomas’s poem ‘Lights Out’ which begins: ‘I have come to the borders of sleep,/The unfathomable deep/Forest…’

Medial and intermedial boundaries. What kinds of boundaries – if such they are – exist between poetry and song lyrics (what makes a song lyric acceptable as a poem?), or between page and stage (or video or audio recording)? One might consider instapoetry from within this broad perspective. Simon Armitage’s poem ‘in Praise of Air’ (2014) is printed within the Sheffield cityscape on pollutant-absorbent material on the side of a building, while Jacob Poelley collaborated with Dutch musicians Strijbos and Van Rijswijk to make the poetry and sound installation ‘To Travel and to Matter’ (2017). Caroline Bergvall’s 2017 ‘Drift’ project goes, as she writes, ‘back and forth between writing, vocal strategies and performance and historic research’.

Boundaries and geopolitics. Stimulatingly but perhaps over-systematically, Natasha Sardzoska and Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly write in their introduction to A World Anthology of Border Poetry (2022; “In poetry every boundary is crossed, breached, reinvented, reversed, abolished, or established”. They discuss the idea of the border as capable of calling for a political response in poetry. The relevance of the congress topic to the ongoing war in Ukraine is evident, and Vyacheslav Konoval is a Ukrainian poet from Kiev who has written some poems on the war in English

Questioning frontiers.The last line of Jo Shapcott’s sonnet ‘Era’ is marked by ‘places where all the frontiers end with a question’ We hope that as many scholars as possible will want to relocate, if only for the duration of one of our sessions, to such a place and push back – or forward – the frontiers of research and knowledge by asking questions of the poets and poetry they discuss.

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, including close readings of specific poems. Please send 150-word abstracts for 20-minute papers, along with a brief bio, to Adrian Grafe ( and Claire Hélie ( by November 30th 2023.

Citer ce billet
The LOOP team (2023, 18 octobre). CONGRES DE LA SAES 2024 NANCY / POETS AND POETRY PANEL / CFP. LOOP. Consulté le 23 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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