A poem for Stephen Lawrence, 25 years on

Matt Jacobs reads ‘Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum’ by Josephine Corcoran in remembrance of Stephen Lawrence, 25 years on.

When asked about the poem, Matt Jacobs said:

It is now 25 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent Macpherson Enquiry into the police investigation that revealed the extent of institutional racism that infused the workings of the Metropolitan Police Force. Since that time, it seems that little has changed. Just last year, Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council accepted the findings of the IPCC report on the murder of Iranian refugee, Bijan Ebrahimi, that said officers showed “hallmarks” of racial bias against Mr Ebrahimi. A further independent report commissioned by Safer Bristol revealed Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council were responsible for a “collective failure” and that “institutional racism” was evident in the case; institutional racism that ultimately led to the death of Mr Ebrihimi.

These issues have long been known, felt, and lived by People of Colour in Britain. Yet, is seems that we White British people are unable to accept responsibility for our part in this. Yes, we may express outrage, shock, and words of apparent support for the cause of racial equality, but what do we actually do about addressing it? This poem speaks to this issue by highlighting the institutional neglect in not teaching our children about the murder of Stephen Lawrence and by emphasising our responsibility as individuals, as parents, to teach our children that Black Lives Matter.

Matt Jacobs is a PhD Researcher at the University of Bristol. Matt is researching how ‘Whiteness’, ‘masculinity’ and ‘middle-classness’ combine in the identities of White British, middle-class men, and how they perform these identities in post-Brexit/Trump/#MeToo/Black Lives Matter Bristol.

Further information

This reading is part of the Commemorative Poem Initiative run by the Bristol Poetry Institute.

Poetry, Plagiarism and Other Matters

The poet and artist, Ira Lightman

Date: 17 April 2018, 6.15 PM – 17 April 2018, 7.15 PM

Speaker: Ira Lightman
Venue: LR1, Arts Complex, 3-5 Woodland Road

Ira Lightman is known to many, and feared by a few, as the great ‘plagiarism sleuth’ of contemporary poetry; the results of his investigations are chronicled in the Guardian and elsewhere. Ira has made public art throughout the North East and also in the West Midlands and the South West. He made a documentary on Ezra Pound for Radio 4 last year. He is a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb and has been profiled on Channel 4. He is a professional storyteller. He won the Journal Arts Council Award for “innovative new ways of making art in communities” for his project The Spennymoor Letters. His new chapbook is called “Goose”. He has been described by George Szirtes as “Harpo Marx meets Rilke”.

Contact information

For further information please contact william.wootten@bristol.ac.uk.

A poem for the first day of Spring

To celebrate the first day of Spring, John Lee reads ‘A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now’ by A. E. Housman.

To mark the first day of Spring, Dr John Lee, Senior Lecturer in English, reads A. E. Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now’.

Of his choice of poem, John Lee said:

Housman’s poem about cherry trees blooming was published in A Shropshire Lad in 1896. Many readers have found it immediately memorable. Some of its charm derives from the rather mysterious way that cherry trees flower before they have leaves. (They are, to use the technical term, ‘hysteranthous’.)  If this were not the case, they could not precisely be said to wear white; and their being able to wear white, with its implications of marriage and new generations, chimes in nicely with the description of the season as Eastertide, a naming which invokes the miraculous resurrection of Jesus, in Christian tradition. Those mysterious and miraculous renewals are salted by the speaker’s own clear sense of mortality. He is an onlooker, twenty years old, and so, he presumes, only has another fifty years of observation; and after those seventy years, there may be no more new beginnings to be observed or, perhaps, experienced – in his personal life Housman declared himself a ‘High-Church atheist’. Critics of Housman have decried his poems’ simplicity, and have seen it as the companion of a childish pessimism. His defenders have pointed to a complexity of presentation, noting the gaiety with which dark matters are presented in the poems.  Such curious mixes of life and death are found in many of the best poems of Spring, and whichever side one takes in the battle of the critics, there is in ‘Loveliest of Trees’ a captivating musicality which plays with and against both the felt shortness of human life and the seasonal recurrence of Nature.

Dr John Lee is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English. His main areas of research interest are Shakespeare, English Renaissance Literature, Literature and Medicine and Rudyard Kipling. His publications include, Edmund Spenser’s Shorter Poems: A Selection (London: Everyman, 1998) and Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and the Controversies of Self (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000).

Further information

This reading is part of the Commemorative Poem Initiative run by the Bristol Poetry Institute.

A poem for International Women’s Day

Sumita Mukherjee reads ‘The Pardah Nashin’ for International Women’s Day 2018.

To mark International Women’s Day and the centenary of (some) women’s suffrage in the UK, Dr Sumita Mukherjee, Senior Lecturer in History, reads ‘The Pardah Nashin’ by Sarojini Naidu.

Sarojini Naidu published three books of poems, written in English, in the early 20thcentury. She was also a leading campaigner for Indian independence and votes for women in India.

Dr Mukherjee’s research focuses on the movement of men and women from the Indian subcontinent to other parts of the world, and also their return back to India, as well as the activities of Indian campaigners for the female vote. Her first book, Nationalism, Education and Migrant Identities: The England-Returned, was published in 2009. Her current research will appear as the book, Indian Suffragettes: Female Identities and Transnational Networks, from Oxford University Press, later this year.

Further information

This reading is part of the Commemorative Poem Initiative run by the Bristol Poetry Institute. More detailed information about Sumita Mukherjee’s research can be found here and here. For more information about International Women’s Day visit internationalwomensday.com.

A poem for Valentine’s Day

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, Genevieve Liveley, Senior Lecturer in Classics, reads her selection from Ovid’s Amores.

Of her choice of poem, Genevieve Liveley said:

As Valentine’s Day is supposed to have its roots in the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia (also celebrated in mid-February), it seems appropriate to have a Latin poem to celebrate the occasion. This elegy from the Roman poet Ovid’s Amores (Love Songs) is more than 2000 years old, yet in both tone and content it feels like the work of a contemporary. There is almost a cinematic quality to Ovid’s description: the soft-focus lighting that spotlights the bed upon which Ovid rests, his lover’s dramatic entrance, the slow striptease which reveals her naked body – and then the cut away to a final shot of the couple, post coitus, relaxed on the bed.

Dr. Genevieve Liveley is Senior Lecturer in Classics and academic lead for the Bristol Classics Hub, a project that develops the study of Latin and Greek in schools and colleges. Her research interests lie in ancient (especially Augustan) narratives and narrative theories (both ancient and modern). Her recent publications include a monograph for OUP’s Classics in Theory series on Narratology and two books on Ovid: A Reader’s Guide to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Ovid’s Love Songs.

Further information

The Comemmorative Poem Initiative was established in 2017. The project is run by the Bristol Poetry Institute.

Cian Murphy selected in 2018 Best New British and Irish Poets Anthology

BPI poet, Cian Murphy

Cian Murphy’s poem, ‘At the Clinic’, will be published in the 2018 Best New British and Irish Poets Anthology.

‘At the Clinic’ was selected by the American poet and writer Maggie Smith-Beehler. The poem will be published in April by Eyewear Publishing as part of their forthcoming anthology of the 50 best new British and Irish poets.

Cian Murphy was born and raised in Cork. He is Senior Lecturer in Public International Law at the University of Bristol, where he also sits on the board of the Bristol Poetry Institute. His poetry has appeared in Ink, Sweat and TearsThe Honest Ulsterman, and Envoi.

Further information

For further information on the Bristol Poetry Institute, please contact: poetry-institute@bristol.ac.uk.

Jack Thacker wins first prize in international poetry competition

Jack Thacker’s poem, ‘The Load’, has been judged by Sir Andrew Motion as the winner of the 2016 Charles Causley international poetry competition

Jack Thacker’s poem, ‘The Load’, has been judged by Sir Andrew Motion as the winner of the 2016 Charles Causley international poetry competition.

The Load by Jack Thacker (PDF, 174kB)

Jack Thacker grew up on a farm in Herefordshire. He lives in Bristol, where he is studying for a PhD on contemporary poetry and agriculture at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter. His poetry has appeared in PN Review, The Clearing and The Literateur and has been commissioned

by the Bristol and Bath Festival of Nature and the Bristol Nature Channel. He is the co-founder of the University of York-based poetry magazine Eborakon and is a board member of the Bristol Poetry Institute.

Making my final decision about the poetry prize, I wanted to balance my admiration for risk and the spirit of adventure with my liking for poems that obey their own laws of organisation. I felt ‘The Load’ managed to get the best of both these worlds, and in the process to achieve something at once clear and suggestive.

— Sir Andrew Motion, Chair of the Judges

As part of his first prize award, Jack Thacker will receive £2,000 and a week long residency at Cyprus Well, the former home of Charles Causley, in which to work on his writing and explore North Cornwall.‌

Further information

This year’s entries to the Charles Causley poetry competition came from a diverse range of poets, both established and emerging. There was a considerable increase in the number of international entries, and the panel of shortlisting judges – Dr Kym Martindale, Dr Luke Thompson, and Charlotte Walker, writer-in-residence at Cyprus Well, spent a day at Charles Causley’s house reading and discussing the poems before selecting a shortlist to send to Head Judge, Sir Andrew Motion.

For more information on the Charles Causley Trust please visit www.thecharlescausleytrust.org.

Danny Karlin to give 2016 Clarendon Lectures

Danny Karlin at the site of Henry James’s house in Boston, MA, 2015.

Daniel Karlin, Winterstoke Professor of English and founding Director of the Bristol Poetry Institute, will give the prestigious Clarendon Lectures at the University of Oxford this Michaelmas term.

Professor Danny Karlin will give the career-defining Clarendon Lectures at the University of Oxford later this term.

In delivering the Claredon Lectures, Danny Karlin will join a line of exemplary writers and critics to have received the honour. Previous Clarendon lecturers include, Frank Kermode, Stephen Greenblatt, Elaine Showalter, Christopher Ricks, Margaret Atwood, Stanley Fish and Quentin Skinner.

The subject of Danny Karlin’s Clarendon lectures will be ‘Street Songs’. The lectures will expatiate around the appearence of street songs and street singers in literary texts, such as Proust’s narrator hearing the cris de Paris in La Prisonniere, the one-legged sailor growling out ‘The Death of Nelson’ in Ulysses, or the old woman singing outside Regent’s Park tube station in Mrs Dalloway. The lectures will concentrate on how authors use street songs in their work.

Danny Karlin is known particularly for his work on the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. His first book, The Courtship of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett (1985), brought about a decisive shift in the way the ‘myth’ of the two poets’ courtship was viewed, and is cited as a standard work in almost every subsequent biography and critical study. Browning’s Hatreds (1993) exemplifies his critical practice, based on the close reading of literary works, richly contextualised by reference to biography and to literary and linguistic history. His most recent monograph, The Figure of the Singer (2013), demonstrates the range of scholarship for which Professor Karlin is celebrated among his peers.

Textual scholarship is another major interest. With John Woolford and, latterly, Joe Phelan, Professor Karlin has edited four volumes of Browning’s poetry for the acclaimed Longman Annotated English Poets series, with a further volume in preparation; a substantial paperback selection appeared in 2010. He has also edited a successful selection of Browning’s poems for Penguin. His knowledge of the wider field of Victorian poetry is evidenced in the Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (1997), which includes the work of 147 poets, many of whom had never been anthologised. Other editions include Kipling’s Jungle Books, Rider Haggard’s She, and, the first fully annotated Scholarly edition of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Most recently he published a selection of Kipling’s Stories and Poems for Oxford University Press (2016).

Professor Karlin has a long-standing interest in American literature; he gave the Chatterton Lecture at the British Academy in 1987 on Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems, and has published on Bob Dylan (whom he has nominated for the Nobel Prize, and who he still thinks should get it). His edition of Henry James’s The Bostonians will shortly be available from Cambridge University Press.  He is a fluent French speaker, and in 2005 published Proust’s English, an innovative study of Proust’s use of English words and phrases.

Besides his continuing work on the Browning edition, Professor Karlin regularly publishes on British and American literature of the long nineteenth century, with a concentration, especially but not exclusively, on poetry.  Recent essays include, ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’ and other poems of love and marriage’ and ‘Editing Poems in Letters’. During his career, Professor Karlin has made a point of engaging with research supervision across the gamut of English Literature from the Early Modern period onwards. In his time at Bristol he has supervised PhD projects on P. B. Shelley, Victorian poetry and fiction, and nineteenth-century American literature. His current research supervision includes a PhD on Bob Dylan by Craig Savage.


Further information

The 2016 Clarendon Lecture series will take place at the University of Oxford on the following days:

  • 8 November 2016
  • 10 November 2016
  • 15 November 2016
  • 17 November 2016

A full list of Danny Karlin’s publications can be found here.

Professor Charles Tomlinson, 1927-2015

Charles Tomlinson photographed by Norman McBeath

Charles Tomlinson, Professor Emeritus in the Department of English and an internationally acclaimed poet, died on 22 August 2015 aged 88. His colleague and friend, Professor David Hopkins, offers a remembrance.

Charles Tomlinson was one of the most distinguished and celebrated members of Bristol’s English Department. He was born in Stoke on Trent in 1927, and grew up in the smoky industrial environment of the Potteries, where his interest in literature was first fostered not in English lessons but by a teacher of Modern Languages, a wartime Jewish refugee from Germany.

Charles maintained throughout life a competence and fluency in several European languages, and a sustained devotion to continental European literature. It was also at school that he met his future wife, Brenda, who was to be his lifetime companion and adviser, and with whom he shared the full range of his human and artistic interests. Charles went from school to read English at Queens’ College Cambridge, and Brenda to read History at Bedford College, London, followed by graduate work in Art History at the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, where her teachers included Ernst Gombrich and Anthony Blunt. Charles and Brenda were married shortly after graduation.

Charles had been disappointed by the poor teaching he received during his earlier time in Cambridge, and even contemplated leaving the University to pursue an artistic career. Brenda, however, persuaded him to stay on, and his spirits were eventually revived by the return to Cambridge after war service of a young academic, Donald Davie, who was appointed Charles’s supervisor, encouraged his writing, and became a lifelong friend and champion.

Charles did not immediately enter the academic world on graduation, but spent some time as a schoolteacher in London, exhibiting his graphic work in galleries, before travelling to Italy to work as the private secretary to the man of letters and former friend of Henry James, Percy Lubbock. This arrangement did not work out, but Charles and Brenda stayed on for a few months, consolidating a love of Italy which remained for life.

Charles eventually returned to England on a research scholarship to Royal Holloway, University of London, where he completed a Master’s dissertation on DH Lawrence. In 1957 he was appointed to a lectureship in English at Bristol, where he stayed for the rest of his professional life, being promoted to a personal professorship in 1982, and retiring, after 36 years’ service, in 1992. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, by the University in 2004. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1974, and was awarded the CBE for services to literature in 2001.

Charles developed through his career an international reputation as a lecturer, critic, editor and anthologist. His essays on American literature were published as American Essays: Making it New (2001) and his writings on translation, including the Clark Lectures given in Cambridge in 1982, were collected asMetamorphoses: Poetry and Translation (2003). He edited anthologies of critical essays on Marianne Moore (1969), and William Carlos Williams (1972), and compiled two superb anthologies of translated verse, The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation (1980) and Eros English’d: Classical Erotic Poetry in Translation, from Golding to Hardy (1992).

But it was for his poetry that Charles first made his mark, and is perhaps most widely known in the larger literary world. He was one of the first English men of letters to appreciate the great achievements of the American poets of the mid-20th century, particularly the work of William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Yvor Winters, Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen – all of whom he came to know personally – and his poetry showed from the start, particularly in its versification, a strong American influence.

From early days, Charles travelled with his family to the USA on a regular basis, holding several visiting professorships and fellowships at distinguished American universities, and his second major collection of poems, Seeing is Believing (1958) appeared in the USA two years before its publication in this country. Charles’s verse – fastidious, meticulously observant of the human and natural world, carefully crafted, but never matter-of-fact or abstract – constituted a radical break with the extravagance of Dylan Thomas and the New Apocalypse poets who were fashionable in his student days. In a poetic oeuvre which spanned over five decades (his collected poems run to over 700 pages, with a volume of translations from Russian, Spanish, French, and Italian originals [1983] containing over another 100), he established himself as one of the leading English poets of his generation. ‘Only in the greatest poets,’ wrote Donald Davie of Charles’s work, ‘is content so intimately married to form’. ‘His poems,’ wrote Hugh Kenner, ‘are among the best in the English language in this century’.

Charles was a very special colleague and friend. Though one of the most distinguished and respected literary intellectuals of his day, he was entirely without pretention or misplaced vanity. One sometimes forgot that one had someone so famous in one’s midst. The inevitably rather trivial and myopic business of department meetings was, however, always freshened with a new blast of reality when one realised that across the table was someone who had met Ezra Pound, had read The Waste Land aloud in the presence of TS Eliot’s widow, and had perhaps just returned from a weekend with his close friend, the Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, or a rendezvous with the Nobel Prizewinner, Octavio Paz.

Charles’s teaching was, it hardly needs saying, inspirational for more able students, but he was also patient and kindly to those with more modest gifts. Though he was a genuine citizen of the world, forever flying off (always with Brenda) to France, Italy, Mexico, the USA and elsewhere to lecture, read his poetry, or receive one of the literary prizes which were regularly showered on him, he was never happier than when at home, surrounded by his family, his books, his music, and his artworks in his remote Gloucesteshire cottage. On my arrival in Bristol, he made himself immediately known to me (we shared an interest in the translator-poets of the 17th and 18th centuries, and a passion for opera and chamber music) and we soon became good friends, visiting one another regularly en famille, and meeting up in the gods at the Bristol Hippodrome for performances by Welsh National Opera. My son and daughter have the fondest memories of walks with Charles and Brenda in the Ozleworth woods to see the local badgers’ setts, of conversations with Charles about fishing – and of Brenda’s delicious teas.

The last few years were not kind to Charles. Two failed cataract operations left him virtually blind (a cruel blow for someone with such an acute visual sense), and a heart condition, combined with memory loss, made him increasingly unable to enjoy most of his literary, and even his musical, pleasures. Brenda, though by no means in robust health herself, displayed selfless devotion in making Charles as comfortable as possible towards the end, and was able, together with her two daughters, to organise things so that he was able to pass away peacefully at home.