London-Paris Romanticsm Seminar: Mina Gorji, Friday 16 November 2018, Senate House, London

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The next meeting of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar will be held on Friday 16 November in the Bloomsbury Room (ground floor, G35), Senate House, University of London, starting at 5.30. As our guest speaker, we are delighted to welcome Mina Gorji of the University of Cambridge, who will present a paper entitled Romantic Listening: John Clare’s Sympathetic Ear. This will be followed by discussion and wine reception. The event is free and open to everyone.

Mina Gorji is a Senior University Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Pembroke College. She is also co-director of the Cambridge Centre for John Clare Studies. She has written on rudeness, dialect, weeds, poetic awkwardness, Robert Burns’ allusions, Christina Rossetti’s prepositions and the poetry of John Clare. Her published books include John Clare and the Place of Poetry, Rude Britannia (ed.) and Class and the Canon: Constructing Labouring-Class Poetry and Poetics, 1780-1900, which she co-edited with Kirstie Blair. She is a practicing poet who has published in a number of journals and magazines as well as Carcanet’s Anthology New Poetries V. She is currently working on a new monograph, Romantic Listening, which explores the forms and significance of listening in Romantic period poetry and asks what kinds of listening these poems invite. It traces the changing conceptions of listening in the 18th and early 19th centuries, investigating the era’s new aural technologies, cultures and practices, from microphones and stethoscopes to concert and lecture halls. It considers why the figure of the listener is so central in poetry of this period, and asks how an understanding of the forms and histories of listening might help us to become better readers of, and listeners to, Romantic poetry.

Regarding the subject of her talk, Mina writes:

‘In this paper, which comes out of my larger project on Romantic Listening, I explore the dynamics of listening in John Clare’s poetry and set this in relation to a number of Romantic contemporaries. I argue that Clare was an especially sensitive listener, alive to the diverse and often neglected sounds of the natural world, many of which he brings into print for the first time: the pink of a chaffinch or the quawk of a crow, the crump of boots on snow, suthering (which means to sigh), gulch, which means to fall heavily upon wet ground -all these words have, according to OED, their first poetic use in Clare. But Clare’s listening was not simply a way of identifying particular birds or ground conditions or weather patterns, nor was it solely a form of aesthetic enjoyment: it was also, I will argue, a form of sympathetic imagining. We know that Clare was unusually sensitive to sound: in a letter he wrote to the Physician Doctor Darling in 1834, describing his declining health, he explains how “sound affects me very much.” In this paper, I explore what this might mean. Sensitive he may have been, but his listening demonstrates a particular kind of sensitivity, not just in terms of the pitches of sound he could hear, but also in terms of what we might call an acoustic sensibility. I offer detailed readings of a number of poems, especially his middle period sonnet “The Fern Owls Nest”, paying attention to its sound textures and auditory environment. I argue that the poem’s particular focus on sound and echo gathers to itself a wider exploration of sonic subjectivity and demonstrates that Clare’s listening was a form of sympathetic imagining.’