Robert Graves and The ‘60s: “All You Need is Love”? || MLA 2024 Philadelphia
CFP: Robert Graves and The ‘60s: “All You Need is Love”?
British writer Robert Graves (1895-1985) associated with multiple counterculture movements, including the modernist vanguard and anti-war poets, made forays into Eastern mysticism, reimagined the Classical period, contemporized ancient myths and rituals, experimented with hallucinogens, and managed to publish over 140 books, including what some might term his magnum opus, The White Goddess, an encyclopedic work he subtitled “A historic grammar of poetic myth.” Above all else, he is remembered as a poet of Love, exploring the subject across his long career in its many iterations: romantic, allegorical, ritualistic, the literary—the coupling of Poet and Muse.
During the ‘60s, writing from his adopted home on the Spanish island of Mallorca,Graves became a countercultural hero and influencer as the freedoms he celebrated as a poet were taken up and reinterpreted by hippies and other young people seeking lifestyles that rebelled against established models. As airplane travel developed, some of them flocked to Deyá where one could live cheaply and without the inconvenience of a cold winter. Celebrities, too, numbered among his visitors: Kingsley Amis, Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Caine, Ava Gardner, Alec Guinness, Julian Huxley, Ralph Vaughn Williams, to name but a few.
For Graves, this was a decade of international acknowledgment and acclaim: From 1961-1966 he held the Chair of Poetry at Oxford (where his daughter, Lucia, was a student), received the Gold Medal for Poetry from Queen Elizabeth II, and was made "Adopted Son" of the village of Deyá. While not awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was shortlisted, together with Lawrence Durrell and John Steinbeck (the eventual winner). Additionally, Graves lectured around the world and published several volumes on literary theory and poetics: Oxford Addresses on Poetry (1962); Poetic Craft and Principle (1967); On Poetry: Collected Talks and Essays (1969).
However, the poems of the period after 1965 are often viewed by scholars as a falling off, containing at best flashes of his former incendiary genius. The great scholarly works of the 1950s would never be surpassed, and although a productive novelist (despite his protestations of diffidence toward the form), Graves gave up novel writing in 1957. Yet, while biographers tend to emphasize the downturn in his creativity, Graves remained remarkably active and influential in various intriguing cultural venues, as his letters document. His involvement in literary, religious, and anthropological conversations continued to prove influential. Ever the iconoclastic polymath, while Graves was mingling with the hippies, inspiring witches like Derick Boothby and Gerald Gardner (as Grevel Lindop and Stephen Stroud have noted), enjoying non-conventional mutually erotic relationships, he was also collaborating with serious scholars, reviewing intellectually ambitious books by classicists like Moses Hadas, and participating in international cultural events, such as the Mexican Olympic Games of 1968, where he won the Gold Medal for Poetry.
For a guaranteed panel at the 2024 MLA convention in Philadelphia, “Robert Graves and the 60s: ‘All You Need is Love’?” seeks paper proposals that explore/enlarge/complicate some of the less chartered areas in Graves’s oeuvre, the contributions he made during the ‘60s to various disciplines, and aspects of his creativity and thought that have been undervalued or understudied.
All paper proposals must be received no later than March 15, 2023. Notifications will be sent out no later than two weeks after that date. Because of the enormous spectrum of possible paper topics, papers will also be chosen on the basis of how well they relate to other accepted papers so the panel can be seamless and robust. Worthy paper proposals that do not make the cut will be recommended for publication in the journal, The Robert Graves Review. We are planning to accept three papers but should circumstances allow, we might accept four papers, so please be prepared to speak for 12 minutes or 28 minutes. Proposals should be no more than 300 words. Presenters whose papers extend beyond the limit will be asked to stop, as the MLA requires every session have a fifteen-minute period for Q & A.
Some suggested paper topics and texts to reconsider:
Reassessments of Graves’s love poetry across the decades (Man Does, Woman Is (1964); Beyond Giving (1969); Green Sailed Vessel (1971); the "Love Respelt" series.
Graves and ‘60s feminisms: While a champion of the primacy of woman, Graves’s characterization of women diverged significantly from 60s’ feminist attitudes. A successful paper might seek to contrast or reconcile Graves’s liberationist theories of the superiority of women with feminist ideology articulated by second wave feminism.
Gender and sexuality: As distinct from Graves and second wave feminism or Graves and love, a discussion of Graves’s sexuality in the context of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s might also make a successful paper. (For more biographically oriented papers see below.)
Literary criticism and theory: Evaluations of Essays on Poetic Craft, and how Graves’s views on craft ripen or change in the ‘60s.
Reviews: Graves continued to be an active reviewer in the ‘60s, although a comprehensive discussion of his reviews has never been attempted. A successful paper might look at the reviews of the ‘60s in comparison / contrast with contemporary tastes, or in the context of his other writings.
Graves’s collected short stories: A paper might evaluate Graves as a short story writer keying on stories of the ‘50s and his Collected Short Stories (1964).
Graves’s children’s poetry and children’s books: Although Graves began writing poems for children during WW1, he didn’t publish books for children until 1960, when he published two books of poetry and three picture books. (A fourth, written earlier, was published in 1980s.)
Collaborations & translations: The Hebrew Myths with Raphael Patai; The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam with Omar Ali-Shah.
Middle Eastern mysticism: The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, and its relationship to Graves’s own thought and poetics of the period. (See also The Sufis, by Idries Shah, with Graves’s introduction .)
Graves and Witches: A correspondent of several people prominent in the modern Wicca, Graves was directly and indirectly influential in the movement.
Comparative mythologies & Classical revisionist histories: A paper might discuss Graves’s studies in classicism and mythology during this period, looking at one or several substantive works: Food for Centaurs (1960); Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (with Raphael Patai) (1964); Mammon and the Black Goddess (1965). Another approach might be to survey the works of mythology Graves published for children and young adults: Greek Myths and Legends (1968), Greek Gods and Heroes (1960); Myths of Ancient Greece (1961); The Siege and Fall of Troy (1962); Greek Myths and Legends (1968).
Bibliography: Fred Higginson’s A Bibliography of the Works of Robert Graves,appeared in 1966. Any paper considering Graves’s bibliography or the problems inherent in producing a comprehensive bibliography for Robert Graves will also be considered.
Graves and Science. During the ‘60s, Graves gave several addresses to scientific bodies.
Papers might also look at seminal events in Graves’s life in the ‘60s with reference to his poetry and correspondence. Here are some recommended paper topics.
Graves in Mallorca: Tributes to his adopted home (Majorca Observed, 1965). Deyá began to change significantly in the 1960s. A paper on Graves and the changing scene in Deyá would surface some of the conflicts that began to emerge in Graves’s life in this period.
Graves on Tour during the 60s: lectures in and invitations to England, the U.S, Hungary, Russia, Australia, Greece, Mexico, Israel.
Graves in New York: Repeatedly visiting NYC after 1957, Graves belonged to a circle of friends including choreography Jerome Robbins, poet and New Yorker writer Alastair Reid, and artist Len Lye. It was here that Graves sampled psychedelic mushrooms with Robbins and R. Gordon Wasson.
Beat culture: While in many ways the bohemian lifestyle Graves adopted, which included extra-marital relationships and the use of hallucinogens, resembled the lifestyles of the Beat Generation, in many ways they were quite different. For example, Graves scorned “free love.” A comparison between Graves’s complication notions of individual freedoms and social responsibility and the ethos of the Beat Generation might make a successful paper.
‘60s Correspondence (new expansion of the Graves digital letters archive): Graves was an indefatigable correspondent. A paper might look comparatively at Graves’s as a letter writer during the ‘60s, or, more practically, choose a specific correspondence to discuss.
Graves as Interviewee: A paper might review surviving television interviews from the ‘60s to explore his evolving public persona and self-mythology.
The Robert Graves Society is an Allied Organization of the MLA and, as such, this panel holds guaranteed status.
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