Contemporary French Poetic Practice: an interdisciplinary approach

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Languages Cultures Art History & Music


Poetry is often treated as a genre set apart and hard to access, but recent poetic practice in French, in very diverse ways, demonstrates that poetry is inseparable from other genres of writing, and other arts, media and disciplines:
- poets work with visual artists, photographers and musicians on collaborative productions;
- poets are themselves performers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, philosophers, and translators;
- developments in poetry have influenced philosophy and political thought, translation practices, film-making and other visual arts;
- new technologies have changed the media in which poetry is created and distributed.
The project will explore poetic practice from an interdisciplinary perspective. It will aim at producing new methods appropriate to the study of contemporary work, along with new definitions of 'poetic practice', and it will develop future research agendas. It will include the active involvement of practitioners to encourage greater interaction between research and practice.
This will be achieved by establishing an international network of academics and practitioners. Many of the academics have established research records, but there will also be a significant number of early-career researchers. Vital to the network will be practitioners who will include both internationally-recognized and innovative young poets, artists and performers. The network and its activities will be coordinated by Emma Wagstaff (University of Birmingham) and Nina Parish (University of Bath).
The network will meet for five themed workshops to consider differences in approaches and work towards a future research agenda. The workshops will be accompanied by open-access activities that will showcase the work of practitioners and disseminate it to a wider audience:
- workshop 1: Poetry and the visual arts at the University of Cambridge, accompanied by an exhibition of works produced in collaboration by poets, artists and photographers.
- workshop 2: Poetry and new technologies at the University of Bath, accompanied by a virtual exhibition of digital poetry.
- workshop 3: Poetry, philosophy and politics at the University of Oxford.
- workshop 4: Poetry, music and performance at the University of Birmingham, accompanied by a performance by musicians and a performance poet.
- workshop 5: Poetry and translation, at the Centre International de poésie Marseille, France, accompanied by a practical poetry translation workshop led by translators.
The outputs for the project include publications that will be informative for academic researchers and practitioners, and an open-access website that will include summaries or podcasts of the papers presented and examples of poets' work. It will also act as a hub for future discussion and research, bringing together links to practitioners' sites and to the research of other groups working on similar themes in different language areas.

Planned Impact

The rationale for this project is that far from being a niche field, poetry is central to much contemporary cultural practice and even political engagement. Outputs and dissemination will bring French poetic practice to a wider audience and highlight its importance beyond the area of French literature.
Immediate impact:
Dissemination aiming at immediate impact will be achieved by the open-access events accompanying the workshops:
- The exhibition (workshop 1 in Cambridge) will target regular gallery-and exhibition-goers. It will tie in with an exhibition of French avant-garde artists' books likely to be mounted at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 2013, through the exchange of publicity and recommendations between the two projects. A successful previous exhibition was held at the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2001, and smaller exhibitions attract regular visitors, including, for instance, an exhibition of the work of Henri Maccheroni, Michel Butor, and other writer/artist collaborations in 2007. In addition, Magdalene College, the venue for the workshop, will be hosting a Festival of the Image including talks on related themes.
- The virtual exhibition (workshop 2 in Bath) will be showcased at the workshop, but will be by definition widely accessible. The university Modern Languages department maintains connections with French civilization groups in the city, which offers opportunities to involve active community members. Students following 'A'-level modules in modern cultural practices will be able to see examples of the use made by poets of multimedia technology.
- For the poetry and music performance (workshop 4 in Birmingham), various interest groups include the audience for musical performances attracted by regular events at the Barber Institute (which has a developing reputation for avant-garde contemporary music), and local French alumni (there was significant attendance from this group for a recent literature and translation event organized by the French department).
- The translation workshop (workshop 5 in Marseilles) will not be held at an academic institution, but at the Centre international de poésie, which regularly attracts audiences from the Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence region. The practical translation workshop will benefit non-academic participants, and will build on the considerable experience this centre has in the field of poetry and translation. The workshop will also address the issue of book production practices in France and the UK, making use of the experience of the Centre's staff in publishing. The workshop will also be publicized within the Marseille European Capital of Culture 2013 initiative.
Medium-term impact:
Participation by translators, poets, performers, artists and photographers will aid their understanding of the other fields with which they interact. The new connections they make are likely to influence their future practice, which members of the public will encounter when reading their texts and translations or attending exhibitions and performances of their work.
Long-term impact:
The aim is to set a future research agenda and to allow for links with projects in other language areas. This will involve further collaborative projects within and beyond the area of French Studies. It is envisaged that collaboration with the Centre international de poésie Marseille will be extended to include its publishing activities, with links being made to UK publishers of poetry in translation such as Carcanet and Bloodaxe.


10 25 50
Title Bilingual poetry anthology 
Description The PI and Co-I were invited to guest edit a bilingual anthology of contemporary French poetry by Enitharmon Press, which appeared in 2016. It includes both previously published and specially commissioned translation, including one each prepared by the PI and Co-I. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact We have been asked to present the translation and editing activity at a research seminar at Oxford University (27/01/16). 
Title Music inspired by the work of Yves Bonnefoy 
Description Music inspired by the work of French poet Yves Bonnefoy, and featuring his voice, was composed by Thierry Machuel. It was improvised upon by Machuel, and by Caroline Chassany, Jean-Luc Tamby and Emilie Yaouanq Tamby in a concert on 11 July 2014 at the University of Birmimgham. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Members of the public attending the concert were exposed to the poetic work of Bonnefoy as well as the music. Academic participants in an associated workshop learned about the composer's creative response to the poetry from discussion with him. 
Title Poetry readings / performances 
Description Poetry readings and performances by: Jean-Marie Gleize, Maison Francaise d'Oxford, 26.4.13; Sabine Macher, Maison Francaise d'Oxford, 26.4.13. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact An audience member who did not know Macher's work made contact with her and is now presenting and publishing on her poetic performances. 
Description We have made the following discoveries:
- contemporary French poetic practice is a vibrant creative are that goes beyond the confines of the published book to engage with other genres, media, disciplines and arts.
- the role of translation in understanding and disseminating contemporary French poetry is key in the global creative and publishing worlds.
- new technologies are explored by practitioners and are influencing poetic forms.
- there has been relatively little contact between French and British poetry in the second half of the twentieth century and in the twenty-first century, in contrast to well-established links between the French and American poetry scenes.
Exploitation Route - further research on the work of contemporary poetic practitioners.
- invitations to practitioners to read or perform in the UK.
- translation of contemporary French poetic texts.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Description - An invitation by us to a composer to produce a new musical work led to the composition and performance in Birmingham of a piece inspired by contemporary French poetry. - We were invited to guest edit a bilingual anthology of contemporary French poetry by Enitharmon Press, which appeared in 2016..
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural
Description Collaboration with the centre international de poesie Marseille 
Organisation Poetry International Center of Marseille (Centre international de poésie Marseille)
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The centre international de poesie Marseille is our international partner for this grant, and offered us space to host a study day on 19-20 September 2013. We organised an academic study day and a practical translation workshop that was open to study day participants and to the public, and was led by two professional translators. As a result of the practical workshop, the cipM has suggested further collaboration on annual translation workshops, and we will seek funding to facilitate this.
Collaborator Contribution The cipM hosted our workshop free of charge and provided technical support, and has offered to host future events.
Impact Practical translation workshop.
Start Year 2012
Description Concert 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact The concert was a premiere of music created especially for the occasion, in which the composer responded to the work of a contemporary poet, and the musicians improvised. The audience consisted of participants in the associated study day and members of the public. It was followed by discussion during which the composer and musicians answered questions about the creation of the project, the poet who inspired it, and their working practices.

Members of the public who attended reported having no previous knowledge of French poetry and, enjoyment at hearing the music, and approval that cultural activities of this kind took place on the university campus.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Poetry and the visual arts: exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Exhibition of text-and-image books relating to French poetry mounted to accompany study day on poetry and the visual arts, 4 April 2014, in the Gallery, Cripps Court, Magdalene College, Cambridge. Viewers encountered previously unknown works and were able to discuss them with the poets/artists present.

The works of art and books exhibited were the result of poets' engagement with the visual arts, or artists' engagement with poetry. The writers, artists and scholars who contributed books included:

Philippe Beck, poet

Geneviève Guétemme, photographer

Jacques Jouet, poet

Nina Parish, scholar

None as yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Poetry reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact A poetry reading by Philippe Beck was organised to accompany the study day on poetry and the visual arts held at Magdalene College, Cambridge in April 2014. It was followed by discussion between the poet and the audience.

The network PI was invited by Beck to contribute an essay on him to a collected volume.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Poetry readings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Poetry readings/performances by Jean-Marie Gleize and Sabine Macher, 26/4/13, followed by discussion. The audience consisted of academics attending the associated study day and members of the public interested in French culture.

One academic participant made contact subsequently with Sabine Macher (they had not been in contact before) and she is now presenting and publishing on Macher's work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Practical translation workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Participants included academics, local and international PG students and professional translators. They were led in a group translation activity by professional translators Jennie Feldman and Stephen Romer. Some of the translated poems were subsequently published on the network's website.

The PI and Co-I have been approached by a publisher to guest edit a volume of bilingual contemporary French poetry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Translation workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the University of Birmingham 'Book to the Future Festival' in October 2016, which brings members of the public onto campus for a range of literature-related activities, Emma Wagstaff led a translation workshop. She opened with a presentation of translation activities that formed part of the funded network, then presented the anthology she co-edited with PI, and finally participants engaged in translation activities inspired by the poets featured in the anthology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description frenchpoetryand website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The website set up for the network contains practical information about the workshops as well as the speakers' abstracts and some recordings of events. It also includes two previously unpublished texts given by a poet, digital poetic works given by another poet, and links to other related sites of interest.

Poets and scholars with whom we had had no previous contact emailed us and asked either for their work to be linked to via the site, or to collaborate with us in various ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012