CFP: Twentieth Century Poetics of Simplicity (9/15/06; NEMLA, 3/1/07-3/4/07)

full name / name of organization: 
Waddell, Bill
contact email: 

Northeast Modern Language Association March 1-4.
2007, Baltimore, MD =20


Call for papers: "Earth, Air, Water, Fire: Twentieth Century Poetics of


Much of the best known and most widely admired poetry of the last
hundred years displays, even flaunts, its bookishness, its elaborate and
often thrilling systems of allusion and symbology, its theoretical
sophistication. The best of this work, from the high modernists to the
language poets, is both dazzling and exhilarating. We love this stuff,
for itself no doubt, and rightly, but possibly also for the way the
arcana make us feel useful to our students.


This session aims at description, investigation, assessment-at
appreciation, in all its senses-of strains of modern and contemporary
poetry built significantly on more direct and basic experience of life
on our planet. In the title, I've offered Empedocles' ancient version
of the elements as a kind of shorthand for such a perspective, and they
may bring the work of some poets to mind immediately: much of Bishop,
say, or Levertov, Ammons, Snyder, Oliver. But Empedocles' more
manageable periodic table should not be taken for a limit. The panel is
not only open to but actively encourages other constellations of
"simplicity," such as those, perhaps, suggested by the handling of voice
in the work of Langston Hughes, or the street vernacular based work of
some spoken word poets.


Papers for this session might explore such questions as these:

What is the residual mythic power of such basic appeals (or, in a
different vocabulary, materials, imagery, or tropes), and how have
individual poets evoked it? =20

What may be the limitations in using language to create an illusion of
unmediated experience?

Is poetry informed importantly, even primarily, by sensory experience of
our world inevitably limited to ecological interpretation or
significance? Or limited to "nature poetry," when that phrase might be
considered almost pejorative in a world from which nature retreats (or
is driven) and in which history, politics, and technology advance?=20

How has the fundamental grammar of such a perspective been enlisted in
the development of other kinds of concerns, other genres (e.g. dramatic

Is the poetry of simplicity really absent from the world of high
modernism, or even from the lexicons of language poetry? What can we
learn from (re)discovering it there?

How, in teaching poetry that seems in many ways straightforward, do we
help our students to register the complexity that is there, too?


Please send proposals (500 words, maximum) by September 15, 2006.
E-mail submissions preferred, and attachments usually work fine. Anyone
is welcome to submit a proposal; accepted panelists must be or become
members of NEMLA by November, 2006, in order to present at the


William Waddell

English Department

St. John Fisher College

Rochester, NY 14618

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Received on Sat Jul 01 2006 - 07:14:16 EDT