The elegy may be a traditional form of poetry, but it is also one that has evolved and continues to change through time. This one-day conference at Durham University, with keynote Professor Stephen Regan, will reflect on the current state of research.
Elegy, as Jahan Ramanzani observes, is the ‘mimesis of mourning’. It is the poetic form and distillation of our common response to loss, meeting the need for consolation and renewal in the face of death. It fulfils several cathartic requirements: the expression of grief, anger, and disbelief; the idealisation of what is lost; and the preservation of its memory. Elegy’s catalyst can emerge as the death of a loved one or exemplary figure (often a fellow poet, as in Alfred Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’), the loss of love itself, or the loss of values that have receded from the cultural consciousness.
Traditionally considered as a mode of consolation and reassurance, in modernity these tendencies have sometimes been questioned and rejected. How can the elegy function effectively, for example, in the era of police brutality and Black Lives Matter, or in the aftermath of the recent mass shootings at US high schools? Conversely, can elegy as a genre of response open up new ways of thinking about socio-political issues – can the homoerotics of certain Roman Love Elegies, for instance, help us explore the grief reaction to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s? For this conference, we seek papers that investigate new approaches to the elegy in its many forms, be it the elegies of the Civil Rights Movement, responses to political violence (such as the hauntingly beautiful poems of Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley), elegies of Diaspora, or the prominent elegies in the English tradition. We also welcome papers that consider the elegiac response as something that exceeds the poetic lyric: a diary entry of Woolf’s, for example, deliberates whether ‘elegy’ should supplant ‘novel’ when describing works such as To the Lighthouse, and traditions of ritual mourning such as keening can be approached as intersections of social and literary conventions. Our aim is to foreground these ‘texts’ as elegiac in their own right and to showcase recent research in this area.
This conference is envisioned as a forum for reflection on the current state of research on elegy and on potentially fruitful directions for future exploration. The organisers are especially keen to elicit proposals pertaining to new and emergent areas of interest, and/or which take an interdisciplinary approach to the subject. We also welcome proposals relating to elegies outside of the Anglophone tradition, although for the purpose of this conference all presentations must be delivered in English.
We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on the theme of elegy and the elegiac, broadly considered. Please send a 250 word abstract and a mini-biography (50-100 words) to Dr Laura McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org by July 15.