Conference “The Self in Verse. Exploring Autobiographical Poetry”

A common observation in autobiographical studies today is that poetry, and in particular lyric poetry, has yet to be investigated to its full potential. The conference entitled The Self in Verse. Exploring Autobiographical Poetry, held at St Hilda’s College, Oxford from April 9-11 2017, attempted to responded to this desideratum, which may come as a surprise to some given the very personal and emotional sentiments that lyric poetry is supposed to communicate. A collaboration between the University of Oxford (St Hilda’s College, Oxford Centre for Life Writing, Faculty of English Language and Literature and the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages) and the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School for Literary Studies (FSGS) at the Freie Universität Berlin, the three-day conference brought together some of the leading international literary scholars in the field. Amongst the participants were Jutta Müller-Tamm (Berlin), Patrick Hayes (Oxford), and Dieter Burdorf (Leipzig), who gave keynote speeches, as well as other scholars from the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Poland. In the productive atmosphere of St Hilda’s College, the conference paved the way for further investigations into the topic of autobiographical poetry.

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Poetry as a means of autobiographic self-expression has constantly fascinated writers across the ages and cultures. Early examples are ancient authors such as Catullus and Ovid, whose Latin poems Carmina and Tristia relate the stories of lives spent in 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 and Wordsworth’s Prelude represent just a few crucial milestones of the genre. As we can see, autobiographical approaches are located at the very heart of lyrical expression: attempts by poets to represent and narrate the self, and thus achieve ‘selfhood’ (poetically at least), have played as integral a role in historiographic and epic poems as they have in the more intimate domains of love and religious poetry. Since the nineteenth century, the boundaries of autobiographical poetry have been tested and pushed time and time again by modernists such as Arthur Rimbaud, Gottfried Benn and the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet (“Otobiyografi”, 1961), or via the confessional poetry of Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath and the multi-layered lyrics of certain modern singer-songwriter poets. Prominent examples of the latter are texts by singers like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, the 2016 laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The prevailing term “autofiction” and an increasing tendency towards self-expression, as well as self-staging through performance or various forms of trans- and intermediality, have broadened the artistic and aesthetic possibilities of the autobiographical genre not only for novelists but also for poets.

Within this broad historical frame, the conference participants presented on different forms of poetical self-portrayal from the medieval to the present time, with an emphasis on 20th and 21st-century literature. Over the course of the conference, autobiographical poetry was analysed and discussed amongst other things in relation to poetical multiplication of the self, paratextual references and functions, biographical facts, constitution of the lyrical self, the poem as an independent entity in an embryonic state, lyrical life-writing from a feminist perspective, autobiographical poetry as digital performance, and the emerging tendency of autobiographical and autofictional poetry. Collectively, the conference presented an initiatory mapping of the scholarly field of autobiographical poetry, which until now has been an underrepresented research area. Differences between autobiography in epic and lyric form were widely discussed, as well as the dialogic references connecting the different poems presented and analysed by the conference’s participants. What does it mean for literature, especially poetry, to thrive on unveiling and/or concealing personal matters and how do we as scholars tackle this literary interplay between author and text? Thanks to this successful collaboration between the University of Oxford and FSGS, these and other important questions of current literary theory were raised, revealing the plethora of potential that exists for future (diachronic as well as synchronic) investigations. A publication of the contributions is currently in preparation.

Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies is a structured programme for doctoral candidates, which has been funded by the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments since 2007. The Graduate School belongs to the Freie Universität Berlin and in 2012 Humboldt University joined the programme as an important co-operation partner. The FSGS promotes and supervises theoretically and conceptually outstanding PhD projects in the field of Literary Studies analysing texts of European and Non-European origin. The Graduate School strives for the advancement of genuine research perspectives of Literary Studies, which cross single-language borders and challenge the technologies of globalization, last but not least by locating past and present phenomena of cultural practice within a broad historic horizon.

With this imminent conference on autobiographical poetry, we are happy to have strengthened our partnership with the University of Oxford and our colleagues at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.

We would like to express our gratitude to Georgina Paul for her outstanding co-organisation and last but not least we would like to thank the director of FSGS, Jutta Müller-Tamm, for making this conference possible.

2015-Marie-Lindskov-Hansen

Marie Lindskov Hansen, was born in Copenhagen, and studied Scandinavian and European Literature at the University of Copenhagen and the Humboldt-University in Berlin. Currently she is a PhD-fellow at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Freie University Berlin doing research on Autofiction as a literary and theoretical construct. 

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New creative life-writing collaboration launched by CLHLWR and REFRAME Sussex

Life Writing Projects is is a new collaboration between The Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research (CLHLWR) and REFRAME.

“Our contributors, who include new and established writers, artists and poets, embrace the concept of life-writing as a project. They work here within a set of self-imposed constraints, in order, as Michael Sheringham puts it, ‘to allow something unforeseen to happen’.”

The project includes Oxford Centre for Life-Writing visiting scholar Katherine Collins’s piece, Back to the Beach, first presented at a TORCH Environmental Humanities seminar.

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From ‘Back to the Beach’, by Katherine Collins

In Wardrobe Diaries Louise Kenward grieves for her grandmother by working with her dresses and old wardrobe; Tanya Shadrick connects her grandmother’s loving and playful care for her as a child with her own newly discovered capacity to be creative. Jenni Cresswell’s Three Green Dresses threads together past, present and future.

Tom Ottway works through his own and his mother’s grief for his father in Negative Spaces: Postcards Home, and Nirmal Puwar laments not only the loss of close relatives but austerity’s legacy of neglect and deterioration in inner city Coventry where she grew up and lives again now.

In The Uses of Photography, Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie make a literary project out of their erotic relationship and Annie’s treatment for breast cancer, defying death and grief.

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Similarly, in the poetry, prose and photographs of Breastless: Encounters with risk-reducing surgery Clare Best tracks her journey through grief and loss to a new physical shape and powerfully creative identity.

In The ‘Campus’ Blouse, Lyn Thomas describes the uncertainties and disorientation of arriving in Oxford from a working-class background, and the pleasure of at least looking the part.

In the Books section of the site, pieces explore the role of encounters with books and reading in life history narratives, including an audio recording of bookshop browsers’ memories of favourite books made at independent bookshop Much Ado Books in Alfriston, Sussex.

In Desperately Seeking Susan, Lyn Thomas reflects on her childhood reading of Jane Shaw’s Susan books, and her return to them in later life.

Life Writing Projects was devised and is edited by Professor Lyn Thomas and was designed by Dr Tanya Kant.

Wilfred Owen and Beyond, call for papers

Poppies

The Oxford Centre for Life Writing, in partnership with the Western Front Association and the Wilfred Owen Association, is pleased to be hosting a conference to mark the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s death.

Owen’s life was tragically short. Any study of his life is by definition overshadowed by his death and the bitter irony of its timing, at the very end of the war. Unlike some of his lesser discussed contemporaries, such as Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg, Owen’s poetry has been appreciated and analysed by many scholars in previous decades. It remains enduringly popular, and has lost little of its capacity to move and shock its readers. It is taught across the country as part of the National Curriculum, and has become the lens through which we view what, with Owen’s help, has been dubbed the most literary war in history.

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Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918)

This conference is concerned with Owen’s afterlife. How has his work been received, and how has it changed our view of the war? What effect has his verse had on writers, composers and other intellectuals, and how has Owen himself been portrayed, appropriated and discussed posthumously?

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on the theme of Wilfred Owen’s legacy. Please send a 250 word abstract and a mini-biography (50-100 words), to Dr Kate Kennedy at oclw@wolfson.ox.ac.uk (all other queries about the conference, including registration of interest in attending, should be sent to vivien@vivienwhelpton.co.uk).

You can find more information on the call for papers, programme, how to register, and venue details on the conference webpage.

The closing date for submissions is Friday 20 October 2017.

Javier Cañada

Oxford DNB research bursary recipients, for 2017-18

Originally posted by Oxford University Press.

We are delighted to announce the recipients of the Oxford DNB/OCLW research bursaries for 2017/2018. This time, OUP has awarded two bursaries in association with the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing: they go to Dr Katherine Collins, an academic and creative writer working across the disciplines of sociology and life writing, for her project on British expatriate communities in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries; and Alice Little, DPhil candidate in Music at the University of Oxford, who will study the unacknowledged musicians contributing to J.B. Malchair’s music collection in the 18th century.

Katherine and Alice will use the Oxford DNB as the focus of their research and will work closely with academic staff at the Oxford DNB and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. Find out more about their projects below:

Dr Katherine Collins (Wolfson College, University of Oxford)

Brexpats: British Expatriate Communities in Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Katherine will undertake a prosopographical survey of the ODNB to identify individuals that belonged to a British expat community in the 19th or 20th centuries, to draw connections between those individuals temporally and spatially, and to place them in an historical and social context. She will focus particularly on how living abroad may have influenced their work and its subsequent reception in Britain.

The project seeks to contribute new data to the ODNB by consulting primary sources in The Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague, which carries a collection of life writings, photos, letters, digital material and secondary sources from the late 19th century to the present day, created from donations by expatriates and their families. It will provide a deep historical and cultural context to this highly topical and important work, enriching our understanding of the lives of expatriated Britons in Europe at various times in the British past, in various locations and political climates.

Dr Katherine Collins is a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing and Associate Lecturer in the Social Sciences Division at the University of Oxford. From September she will be a researcher on the U.K. in a Changing Europe funded project “BrExpats: Freedom of Movement, Citizenship and Brexit in the Lives of Britons Resident in the European Union” at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Alice Little (Music Faculty, University of Oxford)

Unsung Musicians of Eighteenth-Century Oxford

Alice’s research focuses on the collecting practices of the band leader and artist John B. Malchair, who collected ‘national music’ in Oxford from ca. 1770 until his death in 1812. In her project, she plans to uncover the network of previously unacknowledged – or ‘unsung’ – musicians who contributed to his collection. Using the ODNB to research these figures will make it possible to identify for the first time a group of people involved in musical networks in Oxford in the 18th century who did not necessarily have any connection to the Oxford Music Room or the University’s School of Music.

Alice’s research responds to the need to reassess our understanding of music collecting, how music was shared, and its social and cultural function in 18th-century society. She will use digital technology to visualise her findings, showing Malchair’s network of contacts and their chronological and geographical coincidence in Oxford and at the Oxford Music Room, which she plans to make available as an online resource. Ultimately, her project will make an essential contribution towards a biography of Malchair, which Alice is in the process of writing.

Alice Little is studying for her doctorate at the University of Oxford’s Music Faculty. She writes her thesis on eighteenth-century collecting practices, focusing on the music collection of J.B. Malchair. Her research interests include 18th- and 19th-century traditional music; folk music; the history of collecting; and musical instruments.

Mademoiselle Mercandotti, Hughes Balls Hughes, and the (scandalous) uses of a Green Room

On 8 March 1823, the Spanish dancer, Mademoiselle Mercandotti was due to dance for a packed house in a performance of Daniel Auber’s ballet, Alfred. The audience were expectant: Mercandotti, who had arrived for the 1822-1823 season, had been dubbed ‘The Andalusian Venus’, and the manager of the King’s Theatre, John Ebers (c. 1785-c. 1830), ‘was pestered from morning to night by young men of fashion anxious to obtain an introduction.’ But when the moment came she failed to appear, and manager Ebers came on stage to announce her indisposition.

But it was later revealed that she had in fact eloped with a ‘young man of large fortune’, revealed to be the immensely wealthy Hughes Ball Hughes (1799-1863), nicknamed the ‘Golden Ball.’ As Walter Scott later commented: ‘few events in the fashionable world… excited more attention’, and it became one of the great scandals of the age. How the whole thing was accomplished remains obscure, although it is clear from his presence as a witness at the wedding that Ebers must have been involved.

This paper for Dancing Lives returns to these events, examining the circumstances of the elopement and its place in Mercandotti’s career, its position in the history of the King’s theatre and its troupe, and the building of the theatre’s first Green Room for the dancers. It will focus on the work of the caricaturists, to whom this (biographical) event offered a ‘golden’ opportunity to the satirists.

Michael Burden is Fellow in Music at New College, Oxford, and Professor in Opera Studies in the University. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, and his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He has served on the Council of the Royal Musical Association, is a patron member of the American Society for Eighteenth-century Studies, a trustee of Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM), and is currently the Past President of the British Society for 18th-century Studies. He is Dean of the College, and also holds the offices of Chattels Fellow and Portraits Fellow. He served for some years on the University of Oxford Committee for the Museums and Scientific Collections, and is currently a Visitor of the Ashmolean Museum.

seabass creatives

Berto Pasuka: a dancing life of colonialism and diasporic culture

This paper for Dancing Lives looks at the way Berto Pasuka’s dancing embodies his life experiences. Pasuka was born in Jamaica in 1910 or 1911 and moved to London in 1939, founding his company Les Ballets Nègres there in 1946. The performances he gave in his ballets with this company exemplify an opposition to colonialism through re-encountering and restaging of Afro-Caribbean traditions of dance and drumming. This paper explores the ways in which an account of the physicality of Pasuka’s dancing and choreography can be used to show how this embodies his life experiences.

Ramsay Burt is Professor of Dance History at De Montfort University, UK. His publications include The Male Dancer (1995, revised 2007), Alien Bodies (1997), Judson Dance Theater (2006), Writing Dancing Together (2009) with Valerie Briginshaw, Ungoverning Dance (2016) and British dance: Black routes (2016) with Christy Adair. With Susan Foster, he is founder editor of Discourses in Dance. In 1999 he was Visiting Professor at the Department of Performance Studies, New York University. In 2010 he was Professeur Invité at l’Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, and he is a visiting teacher at PARTS in Brussels.

Tim Gouw