The Poetic Sequence as Genre: A New Look (NeMLA 2018)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
William Waddell, St. John Fisher College
contact email: 

Back in 1983, M.L. Rosenthal and Sally Gall identified the poetic sequence as a kind of invented genre, and a notable, even defining achievement of the first half of the twentieth century (or first half plus a few years: Robert Lowell’s Life Studies was one of their important examples). They saw the sequence as a form a number of poets converged on, largely independently, but ultimately one that offers, according to their Foreword, “an inner history of modern poetry written in English.”

For this panel, I want to leave approaches to poetic sequences as open as possible, and I hope to hear from poets as well as critics and scholars. Naturally, the panel would welcome investigations of individual poets’ achievements in modern or contemporary poetic sequences—the form’s history and its continuing vitality. After, for example, Wallace Stevens’ meditations (“Notes,” “Auroras,” “Credences,” “Ordinary Evening”), after T.S. Eliot’s and H.D.’s mythic narratives (thinking of the Quartets and Trilogy), after Mina Loy’s and Robert Lowell’s impressionistic memoirs (“Songs for Johannes,” “Life Studies”), after Muriel Rukeyser’s imaginative journalism (“Book of the Dead”), after Adrienne Rich’s neo-epic (“Atlas of the Difficult World”), how have poets extended or adapted the poetic sequence, if they have, in this new century? What aims have poets chosen poetic sequences to serve? (These are admittedly idiosyncratic characterizations, and I’d welcome papers focusing on any of these named poems as well as on newer work.)

Equally welcome would be inquiries into the varieties of organizational principles available to the form. Is a narrative line alone enough to constitute a poetic sequence? Can a poetic sequence be conceived as a series of impressions, analogous to Monet’s paintings of the Reims cathedral? Can one, staying with the visual, try refraction, as in a verbal version of Duchamps’ “Nude Descending a Staircase”? Catalog as sequence? Archive? Can we, however tenuously but in keeping with the conference theme, see poetic sequences as a means to suggest a complex, imagined space? Even questioning the basic practicability of defining the sequence as a form is possible: is the designation too elastic, finally, to be very useful?

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Submission deadline, Sept. 30, 2017. NeMLA Conference, April 12-15, 2018, Pittsburgh, PA