The ethics and politics of poetic attention
Poetry and the Deed of Reading: Forms of Attention and Immersion (Dr Sarah Kennedy)
Fellow in English, Downing College, University of Cambridge
How does the close reading of poetry speak to the dialogic character of literary studies? How might we articulate the pedagogical function of reading and interpreting poetry in our contemporary, attention-starved moment? And by what means can we incorporate the incantatory power of the human voice, and the deep relations between speech, memory, and the body, into our reading and teaching practice? This paper investigates the ethical possibilities of the absorbed attentiveness of close/deep reading, exploring concepts of play as well as recent developments in phenomenologically-inflected reading. This paper draws on Geoffrey Hartman’s insight that “myth and metaphor are endued with the acts, the gesta, of speech; and if there is a mediator for our experiences of literature, it is something as simply with us as the human body, namely the human voice.” How might we, students, teachers, and readers, enter into a dialogue with those elements of texts that speak back to and through a variety of utterances and echoes? Situated at the disciplinary crossroads of aesthetics, pedagogy, and philosophically-oriented literary criticism, this paper argues for a vision of poetry as an embodied play-function for ethical enquiry about social life.
Elitism, Populism, and Attention in the Difficult Poem (Dr Bridget Vincent)
Lecturer in English, University of Nottingham
The interactions of the terms ‘elite’ and ‘populist’ have recently come under particular pressure with the rise of Trump, Brexit and European far-right movements. This paper proposes that useful resources for examining the nuances of this unstable term can be found in the contemporaneous debates taking place around elitism and accessibility in poetry. Working from the framework of Geoffrey Hill’s conception of democratic difficulty and the particular mode of attention it engenders, I will consider the fraught definitions of ‘elitist’ and ‘democratic’ underpinning discussions of accessibility in new digital and spoken forms of poetry. I will pay particular attention to the changing inflections of the therapeutic and the confessional as categories, with reference to the critical reception of figures as diverse as Carol Anne Duffey, Warsan Shire, Hollie McNish, Rupi Kaur, and Kate Tempest.
This is a two paper session because it aims to build in a shared reading and Q&A section, in which audience participation will be actively sought. Attendees at this session will be asked to reflect on how the category of attention manifests itself in their own work and connects with the discussion in the panel.