Call for papers

The deadline for proposals has now passed. 

Poetry and the Essay: Form and Fragmentation

6–8 December 2017, Victoria University of Wellington

“They forsake narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation.”
John D’Agata on the lyric essay.

“… some people might think it’s not poetry. Well …”
Jenny Bornholdt, from “Fitter Turner”

This three-day conference will bring together poets and scholars to explore the space where poetry intersects with the essay. Essay poetry has a long history, from classical poets, through Alexander Pope and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and in more recent years the lyric essay and other poems that explore ideas essayistically are pushing at the edges of the form. Some key contemporary practitioners include Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, Eliot Weinberger, Alice Oswald, Claudia Rankine, Joshua Clover, Roger Horrocks, and Jenny Bornholdt.

We are seeking proposals for scholarly papers (20 minutes) and panel discussions. We are also seeking expressions of interest from poet-practitioners to read (and perhaps discuss) their own essay poems, either as a 10-minute reading or a 20-minute paper.

Topics and questions we would like to see addressed include:

  • Boundaries of form – what is an essay, what is a poem, what happens when the two meet?
  • Lyric theory and the essay: what does it mean to read the essay as lyric? Can lyric poetry approach the form of the essay?
  • Different types of essay poems: defining the sub-genres.
  • Forms used – prose poetry, found forms, tercets, couplets, quatrains; the place of rhyme and/or metre.
  • Language: polyvocality and code-switching, formal/informal language, voice.
  • Audience, in and out of the poem; the addressee and the reader.
  • Arguments and answers, questions and uncertainty. Logical and other modes of thinking, such as association, metaphor, lateral, subjective and experiential thinking.
  • The tensions arising from melding the forms – prose versus poetry, fact versus imagination, information versus art.
  • The lyric essay/essay poem as a literary tradition, from Horace to Pope to Shelley.

Before sending a proposal, please read our guidelines.

Proposals should be sent to the organisers Helen Rickerby, Angelina Sbroma and Anna Jackson by 17 July 2017. They can be emailed to

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