More Poetry, Please?!

If you’re interested in taking another poetry-related course with me, here’s information about English 471, which is running next semester and still has spaces. Hope you can join us!

From “Old Tongue”, Jackie Kay
When I was eight,
I was forced south.
Not long after, when I opened
my mouth, a strange thing happened.
I lost my Scottish accent.
Words fell off my tongue:
eedyit, dreich, wabbit, crabbit
stummer, teuchter, heidbanger,
so you are, so am ur, see you, see ma ma,
shut yer geggie or Ill gie you the malkie!

English 471: Scottish Women Poets

Special focus: politics of gender and language; Scottish nationhood; sentiment and song; social class; the sense of place; and with an emphasis on student digital projects. No prior knowledge of Scots, and no Scottish passport, required. January-April 2013, Mon & Thur 11.30-12.50


Getting Ready for the Exam

English 386 S01: Victorian Poetry

Dr Alison Chapman



2 hours

Section 1: Close Reading (2 x 20 marks = 40 marks)

Identify and analyse TWO of the following FOUR extracts or whole poems from the literature we have read this semester. You should include the name of the author correctly spelled (1 mark), the title of the text (1 mark), the relation between the text and issues of Victorian poetics (5 marks), and should discuss the passage’s themes, style, rhetorical strategies, formal devices, and critical terms (13 marks). In your brief discussion, if this is an extract, you will want to consider the passage in relation to the longer text from which the excerpt is taken. You may also want to situate the passage in relation to other writers, texts, ideas, or events we have discussed in class.

Section 2: Definitions (20 marks)

Define in ONE sentence the following TEN terms from the course (1 mark each) and identify an author associated with the term, correctly spelled (1 mark)

Section 3: Essay (40 marks)

Respond to ONE of the following essay questions. Do not repeat material from your wiki and research essays or from Section 1 above, but you may draw on your close reading assignments. In your answer, you are expected to discuss a range of appropriate texts.


Close Reading, Distant Reading, Vicarious Reading….



…and not reading at all?!

You’ve worked hard these last few weeks with the two close readings (where you honed your close analysis with poetry) and the wiki (where you learned to use descriptive prose). I mentioned briefly in class yesterday that there was another approach to reading currently much debated in the humanities: distant reading. And I promised you some extra reading (feel free to read it distantly! — this is something extra to the course syllabus and I post information for interest only).

The main proponent of distant reading is Franco Moretti. He founded the very innovative Stanford Literary Lab. See the write-up in the NYTimes, here. Moretti talks about distant reading in his book Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (UVic call number PN3331 M67) as well as an essay “Conjectures on World Literature” in the New Left Review. See a review of his approach in the Inside Higher Ed, here.

What do we do with all the literary texts offered up to us through digital initiatives like Google Books? Moretti’s approach is macro-reading, a quantitative analysis of literary texts based not (or not necessarily) on reading texts but on using digital tools to see trends and synthesize data. Visualization of the results is important and often distant reading depends on the graphs and maps of his book title.

Is distant reading more literary history than literary analysis? How accessible is distant reading to student participation? What does distant reading have to say about poetics? And would you be interested in doing an assignment in the future on distant reading?

There are a number of open-source, user-friendly, digital tools available to allow for such a macro-approach to literature. For example, see the Digital Research Tools Wiki.

Getting ready for wiki entries

The deadline to submit your wiki entry to me is 24 October (when you must email me the wiki before the class).

Most of you have by now been in touch with me about your proposed wiki topics and have received feedback. If you have yet to narrow down the focus after my suggestions (I got many submissions on gender, the dramatic monologue, prostitution…) please get back in touch with me as soon as possible for guidance.

Here are some important reminders about the wiki entries:

  1. Remember the genre of the wiki: as we discussed in class, the wiki entries are a different genre of academic writing from your other term-time assignments for me (the close reading and the research essay). The wiki entry should be informative, reliable (more about this below), factual, descriptive, focussed. It should read like an encyclopedia entry NOT a mini research essay or close reading. In other words, the wiki entry is not an interpretation or a close reading (although it can cover the critical debates about a topic).
  2. Examples of types of wiki entries (not exhaustive): biographical (such as the life and literary career of a poet); focussing on a school or type of poetry (such as the Pre-Raphaelites, aestheticism, Chartist poets, working-class poets, the poetess); focussing on a genre (e.g. lyric, sonnet/sonnet sequence, elegy, homage poem, dramatic monologue); on a key term from Victorian poetics (e.g. poetry of sensation/reflection, subjective/objective poetry); on a critical approach to Victorian poetry (e.g. feminist, historicist, cultural neo-formalist, psychoanalytical); on the publication of volumes of poetry (e.g. the background to and reception of Goblin Market and Other Poems) or on poems in other print contexts (e.g. periodical poems, annual poems); on key Victorian cultural/social/political/economic contexts for poetry (e.g. the Reform Bills, the Contagious Diseases Acts, post-Romanticism); on illustrations of poetry and verbal-visual relations (e.g. D. G. Rossetti’s poems and pictures; illustrations to periodical poems).
  3. Remember to be specific: it is much easier (and more effective for the wiki overall) to write a wiki entry on, for example, the Contagious Diseases Acts that on Victorian gender
  4. Examples of good practice: see the wiki in its old incarnation at Victorian Poetry Network (remember we are moving to a new platform at wikispaces here)
  5. Good resources are crucial: please consult the homepage of the wiki for a list of key resources. The success of your wiki entry depends on using great, authoritative references. If you are unsure about any sources, please consult me!

Genre, Poetics, Contexts


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In our recent classes we’ve been discussing in depth the importance of understanding a poem’s form in relation to Victorian debates about poetics and other Victorian contexts. In the class today, for example, we will turn to the dramatic monologue and think about  the relation between the “dramatic lyric” form and Victorian ideologies, with a focus on fallen women and prostitution.

Here are more resources to help you frame the debates in class about form:

  • Key essays on the intersection of Victorian culture and literary form:
          • The debate in Victorian Studies (49: 1, Autumn 2006) between Herbert Tucker, Caroline Levine and Carolyn Dever
          • Herbert Tucker, “The Fix of Form: An Open Letter”, Victorian Literature and Culture 1999, 27: 2, pp. 531-5
          • Anne Hartman, “Doing Things With Poems: Performativity and Cultural Form”, Victorian Poetry, Winter 2003, 41: 4, pp. 481-8
  • Recent examples of poetry criticism on form and culture:
          • The very latest issue of Victorian Poetry (50: 2, Summer 2012) has essays in genre and on poetics, about poets we cover in our course
          • Victorian Poetry (Spring 2011) has a special issue devoted to prosody
          • Jason Rudy, “On Cultural Neoformalism, Spasmodic Poetry, and the Victorian Ballad”, Victorian Poetry, Winter 2003, 41: 4, pp. 590-6
          • Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins, “Lyrical Studies”, Victorian Literature and Culture, 1999, 27: 2, pp. 521-30
  • Need to know more about Victorian poetic form? See:

Treasure Hunt!

In our seminar today we met in the library and I gave the class a tour of the material related to Victorian poetry. While we genteelly perspired in the basement compact shelving and the mezzanine level of floor 3, and while we wafted past the cool air-conditioned room of the Special Collections, I wondered what treasures you were all going to find in the periodical poetry challenge I’d dropped on you!

For the next class, please bring along, and be ready to share, your periodical poem and your thoughts on reading poetry in its original context.

Our next class meets in the Special Collections classroom (A003), where we’ll continue our examination of Victorian periodicals and its poetry.

The Poetess

Is Tennyson a poetess? Or, rather, how does Tennyson’s early poems and poetics, especially as represented in Hallam’s review, connect him to poetess poetry?

This is how I first introduced poetess poetry to you, in a quip during the class on Tennyson. Now that you’ve looked at some examples of poetess poems, how do they relate to other Victorian poems that you’ve studied? Can you think of some continuities and discontinuities?

There are several really interesting digital projects on the poetess: for example, The Poetess ArchiveThe Forget-Me-Not: A Hyper-Media Archive, and The Keepsake for 1829.

What is it about the figure of the poetess and poetess poetry that lend themselves to the digital age and hyper-media?

Radical Poetry: Robert Browning

We had a great discussion in our class, linking ideas about poetry as politically and poetically radical with Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”.

I’d like you to continue connecting a poem’s genre experimentations with Victorian contexts, and to keep asking questions about the relation of genre to poetic voice.

Can you trace a development in the shifting role of the reader, through the poems we’re studying on the course? How does, for example, “Mariana” figure the act of reading in a way different from “Porphyria’s Lover”?

We talked also in the class about the importance of print culture for poetry, especially in terms of the original print context for both Browning’s poem and the Mill poetics text that we paired with it: The Monthly Repository. (This serial title is, by the way, available online through the library). What would our course anthology looked like if it represented the original print context for the poems — and how would it capture this context?