The Cultural Place of Nineteenth-Century Poetry
proposed special session for MLA 2011, Seattle
In a caustic 1869 Temple Bar review essay, the critic and poet Alfred Austin snubbed Tennyson by claiming that his most ambitious poetry would never endure except "in an academical sense only." The barb raises an intriguing set of questions about the cultural place of poetry. Nineteenth-century poets had huge readerships by today's standards, and Tennyson himself enjoyed a rock star-like celebrity. Nowadays, by contrast, poets are quickly consigned to niche markets and associated with elite or academic settings. And this holds true retrospectively, as well: even the most enduringly popular poets from the nineteenth century (Whitman, for instance, or Dickinson) owe a good deal to the academy for their ongoing cultural influence. How, then, should our scholarship on historical poetics endeavor to theorize or otherwise to represent its salience in earlier cultures? And how much should poetry's presently rarefied position matter to scholars of historical literature?
Please send abstracts and short CVs by Friday, March 18, 2011 to Charles LaPorte: firstname.lastname@example.org.