Thanks to some superb recent conferences and publications in Britain and the U.S., the study of the proliferation of old and new metrical forms in 19th-century poetry in English has shown itself to be anything but ahistorical formalism—not least by emphasizing the historicity of meter’s mediation of voices and conditioning of ears. And we can see and hear more clearly now that the metrical history of English poetry is, among other things, an intersectional history of English-speaking nations and regions. Indeed, the last few years have brought major advances in the dialectical framing of the transatlantic “traffic in poems” between Britain and the U.S. Yet the Anglo-American binary continues to predominate, and the more broadly transnational, transformational circulation of 19th-century poetry in English remains largely to be charted. For this special issue of Victorian Poetry, we invite articles that extend this work throughout the Atlantic world and beyond: for example, to the Caribbean and North Africa; to South Asia and Australasia; to Canada and Hawaii; to sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. We would welcome submissions on the dispersal of Victorian meters into British provinces from Wales to Bengal; on poetry and the global rise of English; on “world literature” and the global constitution of the sounds of English poetry; on ethnographies of rhythm; on poetic meter and the rhythms of labor and migration; on the metrical dimension of translating poetry from and into English; on the poetry of pidgins and creoles; on the dissemination of English hymnody and other verse forms; on the racialization and deracination of rhythms; on comparativism and the institutionalization of the study of poetry; on prosody and colonialism; on pedagogical uses of meter; on metrical notation, transcription, and recording; on performance, syncretism, and acculturation.

Initial proposals and inquiries, which are welcome but not required, may be sent to the editor at Article submissions of five to seven thousand words, prepared in accordance with The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., will be due November 30, 2010, and should also be sent to


Distressing English

submitted by Michael Cohen (Louisiana State University) on Thu, 2010-12-02 14:02

This has been a fun discussion to read, and I’m looking forward to this special issue, Max. Recently I've been reading one of the authors on your list—Walter Scott—and just finished Ivanhoe, probably the most popular and widely circulated of his texts in the nineteenth century. The book, whatever its political or aesthetic flaws, has an account of the origins of English that seems relevant to this discussion.

At the novel’s conclusion, Scott describes English as a “mixed language,” the emergence of which signals the end of hostility between Normans and Saxons. I find compelling his de-familiarizing attention to the postcolonial origins of English, which Scott performs in the book through his notoriously imprecise antiquarianism. The style of language spoken by the characters may be a synthetic blend of Shakespeare, Chaucer, the Bible, and bad Saxon archaisms, but it works to make English a little foreign for everyone (as it was for him, a Scots speaker).

An equally compelling aspect of Ivanhoe is its attraction to extra-territorial forms of affiliation, in the characters of Bois-Guilbert (a Templar), and Rebecca (a Jew). So if the novel sutures the colonial antagonism between Norman and Saxon through linguistic amalgamation, these non-state actors destabilize that national-linguistic identification. As Rebecca says at one point: “I am of England, Sir Knight, and speak the English tongue, although my dress and my lineage belong to another climate.” A little later, speaking of Richard the Lionhearted, Rebecca says “God assoilzie him of the sin of bloodshed!” As a footnote to my edition informs me, “assoilzie” is a Scots term for confessional absolution. In the mouth of Rebecca it is at least doubly out of place: a contemporary Scots word spoken by an English-speaking Jew in a synthetic romance about the Middle Ages. This may be another of Scott’s mistakes, but it again enforces the point that language is always somewhat out of place.

What does this have to do with meter? Maybe nothing, but what I take from it—and what interests me about this special issue—is that nineteenth-century colonialism (which seems to be the issue’s field of concern) may not so much stress meters and languages as reveal how meters and languages are always stressed, or distressed. If the institution and instruction of English language, English poetry, and “English meter” (however understood) is one arm of the colonizing project, such metrical imperialism will also (I think) necessarily display the phoniness of national claims to a language, a genre, or a meter. Colonial institutions like the school or the anthology would therefore be good places to examine the constructedness—the unnaturalness—the fakery—of iambic meters or genres like the ballad as the form and deform or stress and distress English.

Transnational Treasuries

submitted by Devin Griffiths (University of Pennsylvania) on Sun, 2010-11-21 11:53

Max’s post about John Runcie has inspired me to submit some of my thinking about Crouch’s A Treasury of South African Poetry and Verse (1907).  It is a collection that marks the uncertainty of bardic nationalism in the context of the fragile unity of a “South Africa” – then under active negotiation between the former Transvaal Republic and Britain.  Hence the occasion of Crouch’s Treasury demanded a kind of transnational and transpositional editorial practice (to pick up Chris’s point), one that the collection struggles to achieve.  Thomas Pringle serves Crouch in much the same fashion that Tennyson had served Palgrave– as the “father of South African poetry” and a figure for a (nascent) national tradition.  Though Pringle, as a native of Scotland, is not also included in the ­Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry (1941), the fact that some poets, like William Henry Ogilvie, were anthologized under different nationalities of the MacMillan Golden Treasuries  (he appeared in both the Scottish and Australian (1909) Treasuries), highlights the uncertain place of folk nationalism in the colonial context.  In Crouch’s collection, this instability seems particularly evident in both the extensive and explicit invocation of Scottish ballad poetry, and in the political tendentiousness of some of the pseudonymous contemporary poems that Crouch collected.

Ian Duncan Colvin, a journalist and assistant editor of the Cape Times during most of the seven long years of negotiation that led to the Union of South Africa, authored four of the poems as “Rip Van Winkle.”  The tetrameter couplets, feminine rhymes, and promoted third-beat prepositions which Colvin favors support a generally comic and satirical effort – as in the anti-Semitic “Salt of the Earth.”  And yet, the four-beat lines eschew the heroic couplet and emphasize the popular cast of his poems, first published in the Cape Times.  (In a preface to his also pseudonymous Parliament of Beasts, dedicated to "fellow progressives," Colvin apparently thanks himself as one of the “editors of the ‘Cape Times’” to whom he offers his “best thanks for their kind permission to republish.”)

In “Holie Jamie’s Prayer,” included in the SA Treasury, Colvin's double rhymes are often displaced into interspersed dimeter lines four and six of a sestet, inducing an effect I'm tempted to describe as either a limping alexandrines or ghostly fourteeners, as in these opening and closing stanzas (offered “With apologies to Burns”):

O Lord, Thou’st gi’en me gear an’ gold;

Wherever I hae bocht an’ sold

Thou’st heapit profits manifold:

            To Thee the glory!

So twa three matters I mak’ bold

            To lay afore Ye.

The Party I wud like to wreck,

An’ wring the sneering Doctor’s neck.

Guide me, I pray, to this effec’,

            Is my petition,

An’ troth, I’ll gie a thumpin’ cheque

            Tae Kirk or Mission!

The poem produces a meliorist interpretation of folk culture per Scott, as liturgical forms and folk specificity encourage reinvestment in a model of civic humanism coordinated by partisanship within a firm party system.  The complicated machinery of authorship, in-grouping, creolization and topical reference underlines the tenuous status of a nation under active political and poetic negotiation.  As such, the ambitions of Crouch’s collection mirrors in English the contemporary efforts to institutionalize Afrikaans as a language – a point recognized, perhaps, by Crouch’s inclusion of what he describes as the “Dutch Old National Anthem”; “Een boer is maar een arme ding” (which I haven’t been able to track down).  The final line of that Georgic-themed poem (which celebrates the labor of the Dutch farmers) runs roughly, “So a farmer [boer] is now as happy a one, as if he were an Englishman.”  (I’d really like to know where Crouch drew this “anthem” from….)

Transnational Dutt

submitted by Chris Foss (University of Mary Washington) on Sat, 2010-11-20 20:16

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the concluding section to my Critical Introduction for the Ancient Ballads wiki that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

--A pair of 2003 PMLA articles by Paul Giles and John Carlos Rowe on transnationalism and nineteenth-century American literature suggest yet another possibility when it comes to positioning Dutt and Ancient Ballads.  Rowe argues for a comparative transnationalism for nineteenth-century American studies that would “extend[] transnationality [back] to the heyday of United States nationalism.”  For Rowe, “if we identify transnationalism only with postmodern forces of globalization or with resistances to them, such as creolization and hybridization, then we are likely to forget the roots of these postmodern economic and cultural practices in modernization.”  His elaboration on his comparative transnationalism that follows not only involves re-thinking and re-presenting works by canonical figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Jacobs, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but also involves expanding our conceptions of the American canon to include lesser-known writers such as Native American John Rollin Ridge and Asian-American Lee Yan Phou.  For Giles, American literature is “interwoven systematically with transversals between national territory and intercontinental space.”  “To problematize the geographical integrity of America” is thus to “challenge circular, self-fulfilling definitions of American literature” by “seek[ing] various points of intersection . . . where cultural conflict is lived out experientially.”

--In discussing Li Xiaojiang’s articulation of “an ethics of transnational encounter,” Shu-mei Shih suggests that “the key to transnational communication is the ability and willingness to situate oneself in both one’s own position and the Other’s position, whether on the plane of gender, historical contexts, or discursive paradigms,” and that transvaluation “is the result of such transpositionality, since to position oneself in the history of the Other is to be given the opportunity to see how a given system of value production works and thus to be exposed to the mechanisms of value-coding and knowledge production as political, material, and affective acts.”  Ancient Ballads is potentially the result of a similar sort of transpositionality.  I would thus suggest that one may posit Dutt as a writer who, to some extent, already has fulfilled Shih’s concluding charge to “border-crossing intellectuals and scholars,” that they “must use their radically multiple positions to destabilize the production and circulation of value from any one given locational standpoint as preparation for transpositional dialogues in transnational encounters.”  That is, Dutt’s “ability and willingness” to speak from the multi-locational spaces present in Ancient Ballads allows one to explore how Indian and European “value-coding and knowledge production” work (separately, as well as in conflict or in dialogue with one another), which in turn allows one to read her poetics as effecting the sort of transpositional dialogue that seems one of the more hopeful possibilities transnationalism contains.

--D. N. Rodowick’s discussion of a new cosmopolitanism sees the mobility associated with transnationalism as “by no means qualitatively positive” owing to the all-too-evident negative effects of dis-location and exclusion, but he also feels it “opens possibilities for contestation and critique.”  For Rodowick, “The mobility of deterritorialized transnationals must be characterized across several levels”--including “the transformation of identity as a set of complex cultural and political allegiances that unite as well as divide local communities subnationally, nationally, and transnationally.”  One arguably may find such a transformation of identity, again, in Ancient Ballads.  This is not to claim, with K. R. Ramachandran Nair, that Dutt effects a rapprochement between East and West; instead, it is to suggest that her poetry fosters an awareness of regional (subnational), national, and global (international and/or transnational) spaces--and to suggest that this awareness, in containing possibilities for both new unity and the same old (and/or further) division, above all productively foregrounds rather than forecloses the question of space(s) in both nineteenth-century Indian and nineteenth-century British literatures.

Railroad lines and Oil Stains

submitted by Daniel DeWispelare (University of Pennsylvania) on Mon, 2010-11-15 10:36

I was very excited to learn about this discussion and upcoming edition.  As we deepen our understanding of English metrical history as an "intersectional history of English-speaking nations and regions," I am reminded of some observations from Deleuze's Milles Plateaux about just what language is and how it spreads. "Il n'y a pas de langue en soi, ni d'universalité du language, mais un concours de dialects, de patois, d'argots, de langues spéciales."  Deleuze's "throng of dialects, patois, argots, and jargons" is a helpful place to think about the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anglophone linguistic field.  If a Deleuzian rhizome is a field with multiple non-hierarchical entry and exit points, any one of these dialects can come into contact with any other.  A Connaught Irishman meets an Edinburgh Scotsman on an East Indiaman stocked full with English luxury goods bound for Calcutta.

I am also fascinated by Deleuze's conception of the politicized sites of intersections between these varying forms of language: "Il n'y a pas de langue-mère, mais prise de pouvoir par une langue dominante dans une municipalité.  La langue se stabilise autour d'une paroisse, d'un évêche, d'une capitale.  Elle fait bulbe. Elle évolue par tiges et flux souterrains, le long des vallées fluviales, ou des lignes de chemins de fer, elle se déplace par taches d'huile." One of the things Elfenbein's Romanticism and the Rise of English does so brilliantly is historicize the "prise de pouvoir" of an anglophone acrolect, a privileged and pedagogically stabilized dialect that was organized in the capital and distributed far and wide through a network of "stems, underground flows, river valleys, and railroad lines," just like so many "taches d'huile" stretched out on a piece of fabric.  If we think about the many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century narratives of learning English, we know that is in fact true, language spreads as an oil stain, a splotch here and a splotch there, or, to give an example linked directly back to Elfenbein's theorization, a small grouping of metropolitan standard speakers exist suspended within a much larger and more heterogenous linguistic mixture, not just of dialects, but of other languages as well.

All of this to say that I am looking forward to seeing what kinds of sites the literary phenomena we are discussing here congeal around.  What new lines of transmission will be turned up and what sorts of linguistic interactions can be identified as a subtext to poetic developments?  I also wonder what level of self-consciousness we will see when these transmissions and interactions take place.  Defoe is an interesting early influence for this entire discussion: "From this amphibious ill-born mob began / That vain ill-natured thing, an Englishman. / The customs, surnames, languages, and manners, / Of all these nations are their own explainers : / Whose relics are so lasting and so strong, / They've left a Shiboleth upon our tongue : / By which with easy search you may distinguish / Your Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman-English!" Ignoring the fact that the poet might well have appended "Celtic-" to the beginning of his list, or infixed "-Hebrew-Greek-" somewhere in the chain, "Roman -Saxon-Danish-Norman-English" evokes an astonishing self-consciousness about the multiplicity of language from a philological and historico-cultural standpoint.  Since we are looking at a later period, I am fascinated to learn what writers are arguing for what additions to Defoe's list, how they are doing it, and when.

I thought I would also recommend a great piece of background reading although many probably already know it: Alok Yadav's Before the Empire of English: Literature, Provinciality, and Nationalism in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

English, Another Indian Language

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Wed, 2010-11-10 08:30

Suvir Kaul shares this link to a fine BBC Radio 4 production, “The Poet’s Indian, The Words Are English,” hosted by poet Daljit Nagra.  The half-hour program sketches the story of poetry and Indian identity in English from the early 19th century to the present, highlighting poets such as Henry Louis Derozio, Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Rabindranath Tagore, Nissim Ezekiel, and contemporaries such as Meena Alexander and Jeet Thayil.  Also noted is the commentary tradition on Indian poetry in English, extending from Arthur Symons and W. B. Yeats to contemporary scholar Ananya Kabir.

Settler Prosody

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Mon, 2010-11-08 15:20

Rereading Crouch’s Treasury of South African Poetry and Verse (1909), I’m struck anew by the brilliant, rough, scarily gorgeous fourteeners of John Runcie’s “Crossing the Hex Mountains.”  Largely implicit in this poem is the context of the Second Anglo-Boer War, and one may for that reason be more likely to hear in the phrase “those who guard the line” a reference not only to soldiers—and perhaps also to the newly precarious direction of imperial thought at the turn of the century, to which Duncan Bell refers in The Idea of Greater Britain (Princeton 2007)—but also to an imperial poetic consciousness in a state of alarm.  The complex relation of Runcie and his poem to that imperial poetic consciousness seems as much a subject of “Crossing the Hex Mountains” as is the war or the earlier engineering solution to the problem of the Hex River Pass itself:


At Tweefontein in the moonlight the little white tents shine,
And a cry comes out of the darkness from those who guard the line;
The panting heart of the engine pulsed through the resting cars,
And beyond are the quiet mountains, and above are the quiet stars.

Sinister rise the mountains, jagged and bleak and bare,
Cloven and rent and fissured by fire and torrent there;
But the moon is a tender lady that loves not sights like these,
And in her spell transfigured, all things must soothe and please.

Far on the veldt behind us shone the steel-drawn parallels,
And beneath was the famished river fed by the famished wells,
And behind the shuttered windows, and beneath the hooded light,
Folk in the train were sleeping through all the wondrous night.

But I was out on the platform waiting the whistle shrill
That would break in a lustre of echoes right on the face of the hill;
Break on the face of the mountain and lose themselves in the pass,
Where the rails are like threads of silver, and the boulders smooth as glass.

Forth with the grinding of couplings, the hissing and snorting of steam,
Till the rails spun out behind her like spider-threads agleam,
Till she roared at the foot of the mountain, and brawled through the echoing glen,
Roaring, rocking, and ringing out her paean of conquering men.

Right to the edge of a boulder, ominous, big, and black;
Plucking our hearts to our parching throats with fear for the open track;
Then forth like a driving piston straight from its iron sheath,
Till the wind stormed down on our faces, and we could not see nor breathe.

Looping, climbing, and falling, panting and swooping she sped,
Like a snake at the foot of the mountain, with her great white lamp ahead;
Shouldering the heavy gradients, heedless of breathing spells,
And racing away like a maddened steed down the sloping parallels.

Then out of De Doorns she thundered, and over the starved Karoo,
Dwindling the hills behind her, farther and farther she flew;
And I know not which to praise the more—these moonshot hills of God,
Or the genius of the men who planned and made the glorious road.

More Dutt

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Sun, 2010-11-07 18:35

Chris Foss has provided this link to his annotated on-line edition of Toru Dutt's Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan.

Toru Dutt at MLA Los Angeles

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Sat, 2010-10-30 10:06

I just received the program for the upcoming MLA Convention in Los Angeles (6-9 January 2011) and was excited to see that there will be a special session (#557) on Toru Dutt, convened by Christofer Craig Foss with papers by Kellie D. Holzer, Alison Chapman, and Sheshalatha Reddy.

Elfenbein Model

submitted by Meredith Martin (Princeton University) on Fri, 2010-10-29 13:35

I loved Elfenbein's book when it came out, not only because it made a case for the re-examination of philology as a crucial subject of historical study, but because of the way he went back to the books that put prosody on the map. That is, the grammar books. Though I find Elfenbein's account far from complete, I appreciated the historical scope of his first two chapters and I used these as a model for my own book, _The Rise and Fall of Meter_ which is now under review. In _Rise and Fall_, I trace the way that "prosody" moved in the 19th century grammar book as one of many overlapping prosodic discourses. In my own work, I use Elfenbein's model to show how the history of poetics is largely inseperable from the history of linguistic nationalism in the 19th century -- the nationalist enterprise both of defining the English language once and for all in the NED, of both welcoming foreign words and rhythms into the language (as long as they could be named and codified) as well as keeping some decidedly out, and many other crucial narratives in the development of our concept of the English language that powerfully influenced the ways that poets and prosodists approached the "English" part of English meter. Rather than a "fit" though, I argue that philology and prosody had a lot in common as well as a lot that they did not have in common. The question you ask, Max "What is the fate of prosody in the long 19th century, specifically in relation to the steep escalation of the stakes of linguistic determination?" is the very question that my book tries to answer, so I won't give anything else away here, but those who know what I've been working on have been in contact with me about this. Your final question, however, is one that I had little room for and has become perhaps the central crux of the issue whenever I present material on prosody -- that is to say, the problem of performance. When I say, at conferences or when I'm giving a talk, that prosody (in the grammar book) was always divided into two parts -- pronunciation and versification -- and that we tend to focus on the second with little regard for the first historically, folks get uncomfortable. That is, I don't assume that I know how something is pronounced and base my analysis on the way a poem "sounds." Rather, like prosody, philology, elocutionary science, I try to bear in mind that the study of "sound" itself was a concept that was changing, that the signs for sound and pronunciation were evolving and changing, and that if we retroactively stabilize these concepts with our 20th century understanding of them, we are perhaps missing an important part -- indeed most of -- the bigger picture. 

Standardization and Globalization

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Sun, 2010-10-24 10:00

One of the most important historical and conceptual frames for this special issue is the frame provided by the English language itself—from its mid-18th-century standardization to the ongoing, exponential increase in the number of its speakers throughout the Hobsbawmian long 19th century and beyond.  Thus, the question of philology—and especially, for present purposes, the question of the relation of philology and prosody.  Andrew Elfenbein begins to broach this question in his book Romanticism and the Rise of English (2009), concerned chiefly with Romantic writers’ confrontation with “fully standardized English” (7).  In disciplinary terms, Elfenbein asserts, “philology’s autonomy threatens literary criticism” (4), and his book essays a defusing of that threat by demonstrating that the distinctive histories these disciplines trace can, in fact, be excitingly told in relation to one another.  Most relevant for present purposes is Elfenbein’s chapter on “Sounding Meaning,” which begins to restore to view some of the period’s institutional and performative encounters between elocution and prosody.

Building on Elfenbein’s work, how could we further improve the “fit” between philology and historical poetics?  What is the fate of prosody in the long 19th century, specifically in relation to the steep escalation of the stakes of linguistic determination?  When and how does meter trump elocution and vice versa?—and in answering this question, what are the implications for the ways in which English poetry is both recited and written around the world, including as elements of basic language instruction?  How do the elocutionists’ rules and diacritical and other typographical markings comport and compare with those of the prosodists?—and how do we make clear that this sort of question, in particular, is far less dusty than it seems?

That Promiscuity, That Riffing

submitted by Virginia Jackson (Tufts University) on Thu, 2010-10-21 10:55

Thanks, Max, for starting this conversation!  One thing that I see emerging from the recent wave of historical prosody studies is the difference between modern notions of scansion (Attridge, et al) and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century forms of generic and prosodic recognition.  The more I read, the more I think that large generic patterns were what common readers saw, but by "common" I don't mean unsophisticated--in fact, the common reader recognized so many generic patterns in so many combinations that prosodists by the mid-nineteenth century began trying to straighten out the promiscuity of verse cultures.  But it's that promiscuity--that riffing--that made prosody such a generative set of discourses for post-colonial, indigenous, african-american, caribbean, francophone, diasporic, hemispheric poets.......So how do we as contemporary critics develop a vocabulary for those historical forms of recognition?  That seems to me the really interesting and really hard question at the moment.......

Victorian Prosody

submitted by Meredith Martin (Princeton University) on Wed, 2010-10-20 13:43

I'm excited to have an online format to discuss some of these ideas. The special issue of _Victorian Poetry_ on Victorian Prosody (summer 2011) was missing these questions, though there are many issues that we also came across. Whose meter is native and whose is foreign, or example, and how that changes. How meter and class become bound together in late century and signalled in different ways. Matthew Campbell just gave a lovely paper about meter and translation at the recent BAVS conference, and I think his new work intersects in important ways with these broader issues; we should invite him to post on the blog. Questions that I always find myself asking is how the concept of "meter" is utterly different in different times and at different places; that is, where Classical meter may have been taught, an understanding of English "meter" based on Classical meter may have also been taught, but what about in a colony where English is the second or third language? I'm interested in this in the post-colonial educational context, particularly, and am reminded of many poems by Derek Walcott that address meter as a hegemonic, colonial structure -- removed from the shaky origins and perhaps enforced more rigorously because of the insecurity hiding (not so well) behind its authority. 


submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Fri, 2010-10-15 15:27

Picking up on my previous post, here's a list of just a few of the dozens and hundreds of 19th-century poets who may be ready for reconsideration in the present context:

Bliss Carman (Canada, 1861-1929); Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (India, 1809-1831); Michael Madhusudan Dutt (India, 1824-1873); Toru Dutt (India, 1856-1877); Adam Lindsay Gordon (Australia, 1833-1870); Henry Lawson (Australia, 1867-1922); William Topaz McGonagall (Scotland, 1825-1902); Thomas Moore (Ireland, 1779-1852); Banjo Paterson (Australia, 1864-1941); Charles G. D. Roberts (Canada, 1860-1943); Sir Walter Scott (Scotland, 1771-1832); Ram Sharma (India, 1837-1918); Robert Louis Stevenson (Scotland, 1850-1894); Rabindranath Tagore (India, 1861-1941); Annie Louisa Walker (Canada, 1836-1907); Oscar Wilde (Ireland, 1854-1900)

Some Key Questions

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Thu, 2010-10-14 15:09

Picking up on my previous posting, here are some of the questions that might occupy us:

How do meters *move*, in both senses of that word: 1) how do they move in space, spanning and defining distances between persons, figures of address, regions, nations, continents, etc., and 2) how do they resonate, physically as well as psychologically, in writers, readers, and reciters of poems?

-How do recitation and elocution function as particularly important 19th-century mechanisms of "moving" (and following) meters--locally? transnationally? globally?

-In what ways is meter itself an *event*--a condition of enunciation, a citing/siting of consciousness, a call to action, an assertion of authority, a challenge to the status quo, etc.?

-What were Anglo-American negotiations with non-"western" as well as "western" meters like?  In a recent paper on Tennyson and African-American print culture presented at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Daniel Hack highlighted the juxtaposition of Tennysonian dactylics/trochaics and Congolese chant, demontrating how conventional 19th-century African-American geographical and linguistic frames could be challenged and reconceived through closer attention to meter and other sound effects.

-The 19th-century had a massive discourse of plagiarism.  Can meter be plagiarized?

In my next posting: some poets ready for reconsideration.

Blog Away!

submitted by Max Cavitch (University of Pennsylvania) on Tue, 2010-10-12 11:48

As the call for papers notes, this special issue of Victorian Poetry is designed to further expand and complicate the already brilliantly revitalized field of 19th-century historical poetics.  The invitation to go beyond the Anglo-American binary certainly does not mean to leave it behind, as if we were done with it, but rather better to deconstruct it—by attending more closely to other ways of conceiving of the worlds of 19th-century English-language poetry.  There have already been some important recent efforts along these lines, including Sheshalatha Reddy’s “The Cosmopolitan Nationalism of Sarojini Naidu, Nightingale of India” (Victorian Literature and Culture 38.2 [2010]); Aamir Mufti’s “Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures” (Critical Inquiry 36 [2010]); Suddhaseel Sen’s “The Art Song and Tagore: Settings by Western Composers” (University of Toronto Quarterly 77.4 [2008]); and Andrew Elfenbein’s Romanticism and the Rise of English (Stanford 2009).  It’s also time to revisit earlier work such as Michael Echeruo’s Victorian Lagos (Macmillan 1977).

Contributors to this blog—whether or not they are potential contributors to the VP special issue—are warmly invited to comment on and help expand this growing critical bibliography.  The briefest and most informal comments are just as welcome as more sustained critique and meditation.  What are the questions you want to pose?  Who are the authors ripe for reconsideration?

In my next posting, I’ll offer up some questions and some authors I’d like us to pursue, with the hope that others will do the same.