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CFP: Poetic Measures conference

Poetic Measures: Variable measure for the fixed

University of York, 1-2 July 2016 

How do we measure poetry? The words ‘measure’ and ‘meter’, with their shared etymological origin in the Greek metron,have a long history of being used synonymously. When William Carlos Williams wrote that ‘[t]he key to modern poetry is measure, which must reflect the flux of modern life’, however, he proposed ‘measure’ as an alternative to the metrical foot in response to ‘the flux of modern life’ that demanded measures of more fluid and unstable permutations.

The ‘formless spawning fury’ of ‘this filthy modern tide’ compels W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘The Statues’ to search alternative measures from other art forms. Describing ‘the lineaments of a plummet-measured face’, the poem aligns itself formally with solidity and precision of sculpture, and rearticulates measurement in terms of spatial, rather than temporal, co-ordinates. Giorgio Agamben, for one, measured the ‘lineaments’ of a poem’s form by the tension between the line break and the sentence to define the lyric poem, a tension Jorie Graham described as ‘the pull from the end, the suction towards closure, and the voice trying (quite desperately in spots) to find forms of delay, digression, side-motions which are not entirely dependent for their effectiveness on that sense-of-the-ending, that stark desire’. These ‘side-motions’ of a poem’s lineation resist the linearity of the sentence, using ‘forms of delay’ not to heighten suspense, but to bypass conventional expectations of closure.

Although Eliot, in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, may have claimed that poetry can only be ‘measured’ against the ‘standards of the past’, his contention has to accommodate increasingly diverse and contested versions of both the past and the present. We thus welcome papers analysing the disparate measures modern poetry takes in a period of accelerated change, but also in a period symptomizing pervasive continuities in structures of privilege: papers investigating how we might count out poetry, but also how ‘measured language’ and its different uses might make poetry count. 

Areas of investigation may include, but are not limited to

  • form and genre
  • scale in poetry
  • brevity and length
  • poetic sequences
  • units of measurement in poetry
  • form, proportion and balance
  • the immeasurable and/or non-measurable in poetry
  • beginnings and ends
  • poetry and other art forms: music, visual arts and/or craft; ekphrasis
  • poetry and architecture
  • poetry and mathematics
  • modernism and canon formation; periodization


Please send 300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers or panel proposals by 1st February 2016 to, and a separate biography of no more than 100 words. The biography should be written in the third person. Please attach the biography and abstract as two separate Word documents.

Poetic Measures_CFP

Poetic Measures Poster