Explode the established literary canon, and unearth new multiplicities

Humans are animals that like to tell stories about themselves. A literary canon is a story writers like to tell about other writers they like. This seems the most obvious, least offensive way of putting it (to the angry-voiced man at the back of the room shouting about objective merit and ‘great’ literature standing ‘the test of time’, maybe ask yourself why you feel so threatened). The canon, historically, has done something more than just reflect taste: it’s been a way for white men to preserve the story of their own literary evolution. The story runs from Chaucer (or the Beowulf-poet or Spenser or whoever) to (implicitly or not) ‘me, writing this now’, via a panoply of other men who (mysteriously) look and write like ‘me’. Having accepted that we like to tell stories, I feel like – and this seems inoffensive too – a variety of stories is good. Who wants to hear the same story every night? Over the five sessions of Un-Canon/Ca-NON, I want us to listen for different stories, to make new connections across time and place. Because encountering different voices, or properly attending to the different voices already among us, improves writing. More importantly, it reminds us that literature doesn’t exist (does it exist at all?) as a chain of individually great figures – gleaming from their vellum fortress – but as a tangled, endlessly open web.

5 fortnightly sessions on Tuesdays, 6.45pm – 8.45pm. 7 May, 21 May, 4 June, 18 June, 2 July.

All classes will be in our offices at 1 Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, Canada Water, SE16 2XU. The venue is a 2-minute walk from Canada Water Station. Take the ‘Lower Road’ exit from the station onto Surrey Quays Road, then walk straight ahead, crossing over Deal Porters Way, and the Dock Offices come up on the left. The door for the school is at the far end of the building.

More information about how all our face-to-face courses work can be found on the Face-to-Face courses page.

Image credit: Anne

About Will Harris View Profile

Will Harris is an Anglo-Indonesian writer, based in London. An editor at The Rialto and fellow of The Complete Works III, his poems are featured in the Bloodaxe anthology Ten: Poets of the New Generation. He is the author of the chapbook of poems, All this is implied (HappenStance, 2017), joint-winner of the LRB Bookshop pick for pamphlet of the year 2017, and the essay, Mixed-Race Superman (Peninsula Press, 2018). ‘SAY’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018, and other work has been published in the Poetry Review, Granta, the Guardian and elsewhere.

‘Poetry School is invaluable. I have M.E. which means traditional writer’s groups are inaccessible for me. Being able to be part of a community online, being able to learn from such excellent tutors and having the opportunity to learn alongside others is wonderful. It’s given me back some confidence both in writing, and on a wider scale.’

– Autumn 2018 survey response

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