Poetry and Violence

Poetry and Violence

Compose ways of confronting acts of violence

From Walt Whitman to Mahmoud Darwish, poetry has often explored violence. In our present moment, the world feels increasingly violent, and the imperative to witness and consume it through images and videos more pervasive than ever. After being tortured by the French in Algeria and witnessing his fellow inmates die, the journalist Henri Alleg wrote that ‘it is almost indecent to talk about oneself’; he was compelled to write about his experiences in spite of his survivor’s guilt. In Scenes of Subjection (1997) Saidiya Hartman outlines how the reproduction of scenes of extreme violence can uncritically ‘immure us to pain’.

These quotations stake out a set of problems for poetry; as an art form that explores the expression of selfhood, how can poetry express an opposition to violence? What are the ethical problems with the reproduction of relations of witness and victim? Can poetry ever represent scenes of violence without unnecessarily reproducing these relations? How can these relations be critiqued through style and form? What is the ethical obligation for poetry to, as Adorno put it, ‘lend a voice to suffering’? Does poetry that avoids these questions fall short? Can any poet ever truly come away with clean hands? These questions draw upon notions of complicity that lie at the heart of human existence. They will be asked through an exploration of an array of poets, including J. H. Prynne, Warsan Shire, and Verity Spott.

This course is a half-day workshop running 2pm – 4.30pm on Friday 12 April and is part of our Tutor Academy week.

About Ed Luker View Profile

Ed Luker is a poet and a writer. He teaches a course on poetry at the Bishopsgate Institute. Based in London, he has published four books of poetry. His most recent book, Heavy Waters, is forthcoming on The 87 Press. He has recently finished a PhD on the poetry of J. H. Prynne from Northumbria University. He also hosts the semi-regular reading series Rivet and the radio show Rivet Radio on Comet FM.

‘Having had some difficult times in the past few years, I have found great diversion and support from every class I’ve been to. My confidence has increased and my interest in and knowledge of poetry has improved as well. The standard of engagement and tutoring is very high.’

– Summer 2018 survey response

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