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Poetry and Politics


13 avril 2022


Prof. Guillemette Bolens, UNIGE

Dr Devani Singh, UNIGE


Prof. Michael Schoenfeldt, University of Michigan


This event centres on the relationship between poetry and politics. It will consist of a one-hour lecture by Prof. Schoenfeldt, followed by a lengthy question time, in the course of which the PhD students will be asked to engage with issues addressed during the lecture (2 hours); and an interactive workshop, led by Prof. Schoenfeldt (3 hours). The relationship between poetry and politics is invariably perplexing. Most great poetry tends to abrade or even defy the very conventions on which it depends. Poetry can praise or castigate, sometimes in the same vocabulary. It is not a mode of action, but can stir a people to action. As Adrienne Rich remarks in "Dreamwood," "poetry / isn't revolution but a way of knowing / why it must come." We will closely examine the complex relationship between poetic accomplishment and political order over the course of a single tumultuous century in England. Beginning with a bold statement of the Divine Right of Kings, and concluding with the inception of a limited parliamentary monarchy, the seventeenth century is a period of immense political, social, theological, and intellectual upheaval. A cultural conflict between those loyal to the monarch and those who imagined other forms of government erupted into that cruel oxymoron known as "Civil War." Even personal style was drawn into this conflict: while the Cavaliers represented a Britain of aristocratic panache, indulgent pleasure, long hair, conformist liturgy, and monarchy, the Roundheads favored modesty, discipline, Parliamentary rule, short hair, and long sermons. Focusing on this century allows us to think in depth about the circumstances that foster or discourage great poetry. We will be interested in how we get from the studied obscurity of John Donne to the hard-won clarity of John Dryden, from the efflorescence of erotic and devotional lyric in the early part of the century to the ascendency of caustic satire at the end. In the middle of this century, Abraham Cowley, himself a poet, laments that "A warlike, various, and tragical age is best to write of, but worst to write in" (Preface, Poems 1656). We will hope to take stock of the poetry of this cataclysmic century, perhaps as a prelude to considering the conditions for aesthetic achievement in our own tragicomic era. While Prof. Schoenfeldt's lecture will focus on English poetry of the seventeenth century, anyone with an interest in how politics relate to the literary texts they are interested in will be welcome to and profit from this event, and will be able to have their work-in-progress discussed.





Deadline for registration 12.04.2022
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