Poetry Conference: Finding a Language

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Université d'Artois, Arras, France
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Université d'Artois, Arras
Research Group Textes et Cultures (EA 4028)
5-6 JUNE 2014
Organised by Adrian Grafe and Nicolas Wanlin

Rimbaud asserted that the poet's mission was to 'find a language'. Poetry in this respect would be equivalent to a laboratory of fully modern language, while the poet 'would define the degree of newness awakening in his lifetime in the universal soul'. Rimbaud thus thrusts the poet's work towards some utopian horizon, since 'the time of a universal language will come!' (letter to Paul Demeny, 15th May 1871). As for Mallarmé, he considers language as the inheritance of the mysteries of times gone by and sees the poet as 'granting a purer sense to the words of the tribe' (cf 'Le tombeau d'Edgar Poe'). Are we then to understand that poetry irremediably turns its back on current language or rather that it manifests the truth of such language?

Many poets, explicitly or otherwise, have examined the particular status of poetic language and the relationship between their poetry and their language. This relationship lies in a blend of linguistic inheritance and transformation, filtering-down and enrichment. In this respect 'finding a language' is finding or rediscovering what exists already, what has as it were settled, but also what is new and unheard-of.

On a more practical level, this symposium aims at examining whether there is such a thing as inchoative poetry: the way in which a poet finds his own language or idiolect, since each true poet invents his own unique form of expression. Hence we will inquire into poets' beginnings, their early work, even their juvenilia (often those poems which criticism has tended to overlook), in order to discern the signs of what would later become the marks of the poet's own style.

Paper proposals may deal with the relationship between poetry and language through monographical or more general approaches, historical or theoretical ones, or through close readings of individual poems. Particular points to consider might be the following:

- The definition of poetic language as an ideal one, pure or purified; linguistic purism; and, conversely, the question of 'impure poetry', Louis MacNeice's term with which he sought to counter the influence of Mallarmé, Valéry and their followers in English poetry, and which Michael Edwards uses to qualify Geoffrey Hill's poetry;

- The idea of poetry as 'the language of the gods';
- Lexical and syntactic exclusion(s) in poetry;
- Poetry as sociologically 'distinguished' language;
- Poetic juvenilia;
- How a poet's style evolves from his early work into his distinctive voice;
- Poetry as the creation or regeneration of (the) language;
- Foreign-language poetry e.g. Eliot's early poems in French, Cesare Pavese's poems in English;
- Poetry as appropriation of a foreign language, be it that of the colonizer, the land travelled through, or the translated text;
- The inclusion of scientific or technical languages or terms in poetry;
- A poet's choice of linguistic register, be it literary, familiar, or vulgar, including swearing, obscenity and scatology;
- Hermeticism in poetry;
- Dialect poetry and the tension between the latter and the standard language;
- Etc.
Please send 150-word proposals for 20' papers to Adrian Grafe (grafe.adrian@wanadoo.fr) by December 15th, 2013.There is a planned publication of papers arising from the conference, selected by a peer-review committee.