Poetry as a means of self-expression has fascinated writers throughout the ages and cultures. Early cases in point are ancient authors such as Catullus and Ovid, whose Latin poems Carmina and Tristia treat questions of lives faced with controversy and exile. In the Middle Ages, French and German troubadours such as Chrétien de Troyes and Walther von der Vogelweide sought to cultivate a courtly mode of self-fashioning in their songs. Likewise, ever since the Renaissance, eminent writers have penned some of their most important works in the form of autobiographical poems. Dante’s Vita Nuova, Petrarch’s Canzionere, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Goethe’s Sesenheimer Lieder, Wordsworth’s Prelude are but a few, crucial milestones of the genre. Autobiographical approaches to considering the self are located at the very centre of lyrical expression: whether in love poems, religious poetry, historiographic or epic poems, to name but a few, the poet is often intertwined with the text in an approach to telling selfhood. In the 20th and 21st centuries, autobiographical poetry has also been widely practised throughout the literatures, with Modernists and Postmodernists such as Arthur Rimbaud, Gottfried Benn, and the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet (“Otobiyografi”, 1961) stretching the boundaries of life-writing in verse.
Yet scholarly approaches to the art of autobiographical writing are typically focused on prose narrative forms rather than on poetry. It is often overlooked that the long history of life writing has spawned a rich corpus of self-portraits in versified, rhythmic, or otherwise deliberately bound language.
This conference, a collaboration between the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Faculties of English and Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, brings together researchers interested in autobiographical poetry or the ‘writing of the self’ in lyric forms, raising major questions about non-narrative means of self-articulation and self-portraiture and forms of life-writing specific to poetry. Aspects addressed in the keynote papers include the use of names in poetry, the articulation of gender, poetic ‘masks’, and voicing and the ‘sound of the self’. With scholars from both English and Modern Languages drawn from four countries among the participants, our conference will provide a rare opportunity to compare current theoretical positions in different national contexts and disciplines and refine our methodologies through dialogue.
9-11 April 2017, St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Convenors: Dr Martin Kindermann, Dr Johannes Görbert, Marie Lindskov Hansen (FU Berlin), Dr Georgina Paul (St Hilda’s College, Oxford)
Photo by Álvaro Serrano (CC0 1.0)