Sunday, 5 December 2010
Dead Man's Ember
Silence here this last month, not for want of things to say - if only! - but due to all sorts of time pressures and deadlines and, ahem, life changes, personal and professional, all of which managed to organize themselves to fall together all at once.
One fun pressure, though, was organising with Liam McIlvanney a symposium down in Dunedin for St Andrews day, on poetic relations between James K Baxter and Robert Burns.
I had such a good time down there, and the symposium was as good an event as I could have imagined it being. Important details first: the day was free and open to the public, thanks to the generosity and democratic ideals of the folk running the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies. That makes for a tough, well-read and exacting audience, all the more so given Dunedin's historical connections with both figures. It’s also, it seems to me, like free and open publishing online, one of the material pre-requisites enabling the kind of work - and audience - we need in the humanities.
All the speakers were stimulating and left me with plenty of pondering to be getting on with. There was so much research and reflection supporting all the presentations, and they fed into one another in useful ways. I’m grateful to them all for the obvious work they’d put in, and the effort of engagement that went in to the day and the conversations surrounding it. There were writerly reflections; on national bards and poetic form from Ian Wedde (about whom I’ve enthused over earlier); on debt and influence from Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, on Burns and animals from Keri Hulme. We had careful scholarship from critics John Dennison (whose JNZL piece on cross-cultural poetics you should read if you haven’t yet), Paul Millar, Lawrence Jones and Geoff Miles, and historical work from John Stenhouse and Penny Griffith.
Oh, and on Burns: do look up the latest International Journal of Scottish Literature, a special issue on Burns at 250. It’s another free and open venture, in keeping with today’s theme. All the articles are worthwhile; I want to draw your attention in particular to Liam McIlvanney’s editorial, which rehearses a few of the points he made during the symposium, and Jeffrey Skoblow’s two talks on Burns, the first of which is a particularly fine and free-wheeling set of reflections on song and the nation.