Call for Papers

Poetic Measures: a variable measure for the fixed

 University of York, 1-3 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. However, when William Carlos Williams wrote that ‘[t]he key to modern poetry is measure, which must reflect the flux of modern life’, 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 measures poetry takes in response to an idea of modernity has compelled looking beyond the generic edges of the poem to other art forms. In response to the ‘formless spawning fury’ of ‘this filthy modern tide’, W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Statues’ ends with the aspiration to ‘trace / the lineaments of a plummet-measured face’, rearticulating measurement in terms of sculptural outline, rather than duration of sound. Construing the poem as a coordinated interrelation of spatial measurements, as well as a temporally continuous pattern of sound, these ‘lineaments’ also evoke the silhouette of the poetic line as a visual limit in the structure of the poem. Giorgio Agamben, for one, used this 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.

If Eliot in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ claimed that poetry can only be ‘measured’ against the ‘standards of the past’, poems are also increasingly measured against the times from which they originate. We thus welcome papers analysing the 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:

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
  • 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.