A Sea-Change: Contemporary Poetry and the Coastline (Public lectures, 4th October)

Photograph of a lighthouse on a cliff, looking out to seaThe ever-shifting sea has offered inspiration for the movements of poetry through the ages. And in a modern age when we are alert to the impact of man on the natural environment and climate, the coastline has become an increasingly prominent metaphor for change and transformation. Follow the (shore)lines of modern poetry with our two expert panellists at this free Late Summer Lecture on 4th October at 17.30 in Alington House, Durham

‘Only a sea-change: experiences of flux and transformation at the coastline in modern British poetry,’ by Phillip Jones

The coastline is a geography that is constantly shifting. Changes in tides make mapping the area difficult while erosion in one section of the coast can be met with the depositing of new material in another. Yet this geographical flux often occurs within predictable patterns. The rise and fall of tides are a daily occurrences while processes of erosion happen at coastlines heavily managed by human intervention.

This paper wants to explore the ways several modern British poets have responded to these patterns of change and return, examining how they enter the poetry not just at the level of ideas but in the form and language of the text themselves.

Firstly this paper will outline the long history of cultural representation of the coast as a place of change and metamorphosis, extending from Homer’s Odyssey to twentieth century writers like W. S. Graham. This section will also touch on wider social experiences of the coast as site of difference and transformation.

Having established this background, the paper will then move on to explore a range of contemporary poetic responses to this cultural lineage. The paper will look at Alice Oswald’s invocation of Proteus at the end of Dart, Peter Riley’s negotiation of change within predictable patterns of family holidays in Sea Watches, and Wendy Mulford’s experience of storms and the suddenly shifting east coast in The East Anglia Sequence.

This paper will show how contemporary poets have responded to the long cultural association of the coast with change and metamorphosis, elaborating how they have adapted these ideas, images and experiences within contemporary contexts.

‘Becoming Sea: A Blurred Lyric of the Ocean,’ by Sarah Hymas

This paper investigates how applying the phenomenology of myopia to Delueze’s concept of becoming can re-make our relationship to the sea, dissolving the duality of terrestrial and marine existences. From the perspective of a creative practitioner, I use poems from Jorie Graham’s 2008 collection Sea Change to illustrate how the lyric is able to enact the process of becoming. I consider how shifting subjectivities create entanglements between the self and other to disrupt notions of authority and fixed anthropocentric perspective; and explore the ways in which deterritorialization of language and form open up the lyric as a site of discovery for its protagonist and reader. The paper examines the lyric occasion as an individual and cultural response to the sea as simultaneously distant and embodied, visible and invisible, certain and precarious.

This is the final talk in the Late Summer Lectures series for 2017, but you can still listen to podcasts from previous lectures in the series. 

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