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Research English At Durham

Research English At Durham

By Research English At Durham
READ gives you an insight into the groundbreaking literary research from Durham University’s world-class Department of English Studies. Our podcasts feature lectures by our researchers, as well as poetry readings and interviews with authors. Visit our blog and follow us on social media, or find out more about the Department of English Studies.
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Space, choreography and royal iconography at the English court
For diplomats coming to the court of Charles I, it was more than a case  of knocking at the door and being shown in. In this Late Summer Lectures  podcast, Kimberley Foy uses the experience of visiting ambassadors to  show how attending the court of Charles I involved a carefully  choreographed set of moves, through particular spaces. For more information and an accessible transcript, visit our blog.
December 11, 2020
Rousing the vox populi in James Shirley’s The Politician
In this podcast from our Late Summer Lectures series, Kathleen Foy from  Durham University explains how James Shirley’s 1639 tragedy The Politician reflected the court and politics of Charles I. For more information and an accessible transcript, visit our blog.
November 27, 2020
Birds and Embodiment in Shelley and Keats
In this podcast from our Late Summer Lectures series, Dr Amanda Blake  Davis of the University of Sheffield takes us on a flight through birds  and embodiment in the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. For more information, and an accessible transcript, visit:
November 20, 2020
The Autobiographical Pursuit of Happiness in Eighteenth-Century Literature
In this podcast from our Late Summer Lectures series, Alex Hobday  (University of Cambridge) examines how eighteenth-century culture sought to answer that eternal question: what is happiness, and how can we achieve it? For more information, and an accessible transcript, visit:
November 13, 2020
In Conversation with Jane Smiley
In a wide-ranging interview, Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley explains  how literary characters take on a life of their own, reflects on the  representation of the body in literature, and examines her own status as  a female novelist emerging in the 1970s. This conversation between Dr Jennifer Terry and Jane Smiley was recorded at the Literary Dolls conference in 2014. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
June 19, 2020
An Evening with T.S. Eliot
The Centre for Poetry and Poetics held an evening to celebrate the poetry and influence of T.S. Eliot.  Dr Gareth Reeves and Professor Jason Harding, two scholars who specialise in Eliot’s life and works, read from Eliot's own poetry and that of later poets such as Donald Davie and Hart Crane who were inspired by him. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
June 12, 2020
John Clegg’s first collection, Antler,  features prehistoric landscapes, folk tale and myth. John’s  reading includes a history of a city in four stanzas, and the story of  an “ice road trucker.” John Clegg’s poetry is published by and copyright  of Salt Publishing. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
June 05, 2020
To Hell with Paradise
Gareth Reeves’ third collection, To Hell With Paradise: New and Selected Poems,  has just been published by Carcanet. In this reading from the  collection, Gareth adopts a range of intriguing perspectives and voices,  including that of a cash machine looking at a man trying to withdraw  his money, and Dimitri Shostakovich thinking about bird droppings.  Gareth Reeves’s collection is published by and copyright of Carcanet. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
May 29, 2020
The Challenges of Researching and Writing Poetry
Two of the Department’s published poets, Gareth Reeves and his PhD student John Clegg, explore how their writing of poetry relates to  their research.  They explain how they began writing poetry rather than writing about poetry, and discuss how writing poetry gives them unique insights into  the forms and methods employed in the work of other poets. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
May 22, 2020
The Poetry of W.B. Yeats
A century and a half since his birth, the Irish poet W.B. Yeats is one  of the best-loved in the English language, known for his lyric poems  such as ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’ or for romantic poems like ‘He  Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.’ Throughout his literary career,  though, Yeats wrote in a range of styles and on diverse subjects. His  poems reflect his Irish nationalism, reinvent traditional genres, draw  inspiration from Irish myth and legend, and push into innovative  symbolism. Stephen Regan and Michael O’Neill take us on a journey  through the varied landscape of Yeats’s verse. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
May 15, 2020
Celebrating the Brontës
Celebrate the literature and legacy of the Brontë sisters in this  podcast, recorded around the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth,  which features readings from and commentaries on their ground-breaking,  powerful, and influential novels and poems. Works featured include Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette alongside the poetry and prose of her sisters, Emily and Anne Brontë.  The readings also reflect the creative reimaginings inspired by the  Brontës’ fiction in the literature of later women writers, such as  Sylvia Plath and Jean Rhys. The podcast mentions a short art film by Jade Monserrat, called Peat Bog, which reinvokes the spirit of the moors; a short version can be viewed below. The readers are Professor Michael O’Neill, Dr Jennifer Terry, and Dr Sarah Wootton.
May 08, 2020
Becoming Sea: A Blurred Lyric of the Ocean
We humans are creatures of the  land, who usually observe the sea from above its surface. Beneath the  surface, though, the sea looks, sounds and feels like a distinct and  unique environment.  The poet Sarah Hymas invites us beneath the waves,  to perceive the sea and the interrelationship between sea and land,  between it and us, in deep and immersive ways. Find out more at
May 01, 2020
Albion: The Brut Chronicle
Albion. Today that word conjures impressions of a lost, utopian version  of Britain – but the story of Albion as it was originally told in the  middle ages is anything but beautiful. According to the early Brut  chronicle, Albion was first discovered by a group of sisters who then  propagated with the wandering devils they found there, spawning a race  of giants. This was the strange land then conquered by Brutus, who gives  his name to modern Britain.  Madeleine Smart of the University of  Liverpool continues the story in this podcast, which was recorded during  the series Late Summer Lectures organised by the Department of English Studies at Durham University.  Find out more at
April 17, 2020
Alfred the Great Through History
A king sits by the fire in a peasant’s cottage, brooding on the problems  of his kingdom. Suddenly the smell of burning fills the air. The cakes  left there by his host have been ruined. The king, of course, is Alfred  the Great. But this apocryphal story is just one of many not entirely  true tales that have surrounded this Anglo Saxon monarch through the  ages. David Barrow of the University of York suggests that these stories  tell us less about the king himself, and more about the ideas and  constructions of Englishness in the societies that have told them.  This  podcast was recorded during the series Late Summer Lectures in 2017,  organised by the Department of English Studies at Durham University.   Find out more at
April 10, 2020
Tics in the Theatre: The 'Quiet Audience' and the Neurodivergent Spectator
Do you get annoyed when people  rustle their crisp packets or check their mobile phones in the theatre?  If so you’re probably not alone – but you might be surprised to learn  that the convention that audiences should be quiet is a relatively new  one. It's also a norm that may exclude spectators who can't help but  fidget and make noise. Hannah Simpson (University of Oxford) invites us  to think carefully about how the etiquette of the theatre might be made  more inclusive, with benefits for everyone. Find out more about this podcast at
April 03, 2020
Eugenics in Utopian Literature
The idea of genetic engineering  may conjure visions of futuristic horror, such as mutant human beings  with peculiar powers. But some novels and stories, particularly within  utopian literature, imagine more positive trends in human development,  whether driven by science or natural evolution over time. In this  podcast, Sarah Lohmann considers the complexity of approaches to  evolution and eugenics in utopian fiction, and suggests that the genre  itself has evolved in its depiction of these issues over time. Find out more at
March 27, 2020
When Masters Became Tragic Heroes
In 1592 the face of theatre  changed forever. From the death of Julius Caesar and its wide political  ramifications, to the love between Antony and Cleopatra played out on an  epic scale, tragic drama had traditionally been associated with the  lives of noble characters drawn from a ruling elite. But the anonymous  play The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham enabled playwrights to  conceive of the stage as the setting for more intimate, family dramas.  Iman Sheeha, of the University of Warwick, treads the boards of the new  domestic tragedies around the turn of the sixteenth century. This  talk was recorded as part of the series Late Summer Lectures in 2017,  organised by the Department of English Studies at Durham University. Visit   to find out more.
March 13, 2020
(S)he’s just not that into you: Resisting Love in Medieval Romance Literature
The word ‘romance’ conjures images  of men and women meeting one another and falling helplessly in love.  But if we trace the literature of ‘romance’ back to its roots in the  medieval period, we encounter many stories where chivalric knights and  ladies refuse or fail to conform to convention. Hannah Piercy takes us  on a tour through some of this historic writing of the heart – though  she starts with an example that is much closer to home. For more information visit
February 21, 2020
Registers of petition in the holograph manuscripts of Thomas Hoccleve
Durham University’s Palace Green  Library is home to many medieval manuscripts, but among the most  precious is one of just three surviving collections of poetry written by  the hand of one Thomas Hoccleve – fourteenth-century civil servant,  letter writer, and poet. Laurie Atkinson puts some of Hoccleve’s  literary output under the reading lamp, as he argues that this  disremembered figure deserves to seen in his own right rather than  hidden in the shadow of his immediate poetic predecessor, Geoffrey  Chaucer. Find out more at
February 14, 2020
Poet Caroline Bird Speaks to the 98 Percent
“Poetry doesn’t ask you how old you are at the door”, says Caroline Bird, reflecting on the fact that her first collection, Looking at Letterboxes, was published when she was aged just 15. Since then, Caroline has authored four more collections, won numerous awards, and been the official poet of the London Olympics – great hallmarks indeed, but in this conversation with Suzannah V. Evans, recorded at StAnza Poetry Festival in 2019, she reveals why her poetry can also be identified by analogy with a frozen duck. Caroline reads three poems at the end of the podcast: ‘A Peace of Stained Glass in a Lonely Church’, ‘The University Poetry Society’, and ‘Patient Intake Questionnaire’. For more information visit READ: Research English At Durham. Caroline Bird author photo credit: Fabrice Gagos
February 12, 2020
The Stream of Consciousness in William Wordsworth and James Joyce
Imagine yourself immersed in a  beautiful landscape, and being moved by the view before your eyes. To  remember the experience, perhaps you might take a photograph. But while a  photograph can snap a single moment, a still image doesn’t really  reflect the way your original experience unfolded through time. Can  writing achieve something different? Both William Wordsworth and James  Joyce were interested in the problem of how to represent the continuous  stream of conscious experience. Adam James Cuthbert trains his eye on  the poetry and fiction that they produced, and suggests that their  literary efforts can be understood through an analogy with the camera. For more information see
February 07, 2020
The Geographic and Linguistic Identity of the American Midwest
Do you walk on a sidewalk or a pavement? Eat fries or chips? The differences between American and British English can seem trivial at times, but they point to a deeper debate around language and identity that has been fought in the literary sphere as well as in everyday life.  What differentiates American writers from their English literary counterparts? And even looking within America rather than across the Atlantic, since America is a diverse and huge nation comprising many different forms of speech, how can one writer ever hope to represent the ‘American’ language or a quintessential American self?  Molly Becker charts how the American Midwest ended up as the pin at the centre of a complex map of language and identity. This region was memorably treated by writers such as Sinclair Lewis, whose novels of midwestern small town life, such as 1920’s Main Street, came not unproblematically to be seen as representative of the nation in the mainstream. Find out more at READ: Research English At Durham.
February 05, 2020
Inscribing Identities in Childhood and Deathbed Scenes
There can be few things in life more tragic than the death of a child. Not surprisingly, when this is represented in literature, the deathbed scene will surely be poignant, empathetic and emotionally memorable. But as Morven Cook and Oliver Hancock discuss in conversation together, nineteenth-century and twenty-first-century texts are very different in their approach, moving away from representations of the child as the angel of innocence to a more realistically human portrayal. For more information visit 
January 24, 2020
Beginnings and Endings in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
“Vivam!” “I will live.” The final  word of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, proclaiming the poet’s hope that he will  continue to be known through his great work. It’s a prediction that of  course turns out to be true, as we’re still reading and influenced by  the Metamorphoses 2000 years after it was written. In this podcast,  Simona Martorana helps us to appreciate why the cast of mythical  characters that inhabit the Metamorphoses still survive in our  imagination and culture today. For more information, visit
January 17, 2020
Shakespeare, Henry VIII, and the day the Globe burned down
When we say that a theatre  performance ‘brought the house down’, we usually don’t mean that  literally. But in the case of Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, or as it’s  sometimes known, All is True, the phrase really does apply. In a  performance in 1613 a stray spark from a cannon ignited a fire that  burned the Globe Theatre to the ground. In fact, throughout its  chequered history of performance, this play has suffered or enjoyed a  variety of different climaxes. All of which makes Laura Jayne Wright  (University of Oxford) wonder: just what is the real ending of a work  of drama? For more information see
January 10, 2020
Classical Music, Conflict, and Identity in the Contemporary Novel
When we listen to classical music, some of us might think we hear a story in the melody - but others will not. Some of us might know about the life of the composer and project their biography onto the piece – but others will listen with ears unbiased by context. The problem is that meaning doesn’t actually live anywhere that can be pinpointed in a particular sound or melody. Novels, on the other hand, tell us a story both about the characters within the text, and the music they listen to. So what happens when we read about music in their fiction? Can novels also help us to imagine the story of a tune? Does it change our interpretation of the novel if we already know the song being referred to and ‘hear’ it in our mind as we read? These are difficult and perhaps ultimately unanswerable questions, but Katie Harling-Lee invites you to try in this composition of words and music. Listeners are advised that this podcast includes some discussion of conflict and violence. Due to copyright restrictions, we’re unable to integrate some of the music directly in the podcast and the talk has been edited accordingly; however, you can listen to the relevant extracts, which will be indicated at the appropriate time in the talk. Shostakovich, Symphony Number 5, Movement 1 (00:09-01:22) Shostakovich, Symphony Number 5, Movement 3 (00:06-01:22) Shostakovich, Symphony Number 5, Movement 4 opening extract (00:09-01:22) Shostakovich, Symphony Number 5, Movement 4 closing extract (09:25-10:52) For more information about this podcast, visit READ: Research English At Durham.
January 10, 2020
Snake Women: Crafting Power in Medieval Origin Stories
Think of a medieval romance, and  you might imagine brave courtly knights dashing to the rescue of women  held captive by monstrous beasts and dragons. But think again. Olivia  Colquitt introduces us to the 14th-century Mélusine story, in which the  beautiful woman is not all that she seems and it is the man who ends up  in need of a rescuer. For more about this podcast, visit
January 03, 2020
A Short History of Interactive Narratives
Which breakfast cereal do you prefer: Frosted Flakes or Sugar Puffs?  It’s the sort of decision many of us face, bleary eyed, each morning.  But if you watched Netflix’s interactive film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,  you might recognise that this is the first choice that viewers have to  make when deciding how the story of the protagonist will unfold. While  the ability to choose what happens next will have seemed like a novel  innovation to some, fictions that hand over power to the reader date  back to the 1960s. Do you want to time-travel back over six decades?  Then hit play and continue to listen to George Cox as he guides us through the labyrinthine history of interactive adventure. Find out more at
January 03, 2020
Dickens's Ghosts: An Altered Perspective
"Marley's ghost bothered him  exceedingly.  Every time he resolved within himself, after mature  enquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a  strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same  problem to be worked all through, 'Was it a dream or not?." Scrooge's  internal debate accurately reflects the mid-Victorian dichotomy on  Spiritualism, mesmerism and the supernatural. Claire Horton, of  Loughborough University, explains how in Dickens’s time the ability to  see ghosts was linked to mesmerism, a practice that fired the  imagination of the Victorians. For more information about this talk, see
December 23, 2019
Rachael Boast on the Language and Sound of Poetry
As a poet, if you cooperate with language you end up ‘saying things  you didn’t know you were thinking.’ So claims the multi-award-winning  poet Rachael Boast, in this interview with Suzannah V. Evans.  But although poetry may emerge from somewhere unconscious, the course  of their conversation draws to the surface Rachael’s life and works.   Read more about this podcast on our blog.
December 11, 2019
Brexit and the Democratic Intellect
The debate surrounding Britain’s vote to leave the European Union  exposed, among other things, a suspicion of ‘experts.’ How did  intellectuals become alienated figures? And how might citizens and  academics come together in order to better understand the attitudes and  experiences of the other? English lecturer Simon Grimble reflects on why  despite being in the position of an 'intellectual' he failed to engage  with the democratic process and discussion. This podcast was recorded at a workshop organised by Durham University Department of English Studies, in 2017. For more information visit
December 05, 2019
Will Harris on Becoming a Poet
It can seem dauntingly difficult for a young poet to gain a name  and to get published by a respected press or magazine. But that’s  exactly what Will Harris has achieved with his 2017 pamphlet All this is implied, a collection that explores the complexities of being a person of mixed Anglo-Indonesian heritage.  In this conversation with Suzannah V. Evans,  recorded at StAnza poetry festival in 2018, Will shares some advice for  up-and-coming writers, borne of his own experience as an editor and now  established author. They discuss creative writing degrees, the value of  poetry magazines and the challenges and benefits of reading so much of  the work of other poets when learning to be a writer. They also have a  look at trends in contemporary poetry in the UK and the US.   Will reads three poems at the end: ‘Self-Portrait in Front of a Small  Mirror’, ‘Identity’, ‘With Cornflowers’. These come from his collection All This is Implied, published by HappenStance.  
November 13, 2019
Future Memory and Circular Time in Charles Dickens' 'The Signal-Man'
On June 9th of 1865, sitting comfortably on his train home from Paris,  Charles Dickens had a brush with death. Workmen on a bridge had failed  to signal that a section of the track was missing. Several of the  carriages plunged into the river below, with Dickens’ own carriage left  teetering at the top. The following year, Dickens would publish his most  haunting ghost story, ‘The Signalman’. Claire Ashworth shows how this  inspired tale is a representation of repressed trauma, that both looks  back to Dickens’ own experiences but also anticipates the work of later  psychological theorists. For more information visit
November 08, 2019
The Classical Underworld as a Memoryscape
In reality death may be a one-way trip, but literature allows us to  travel imaginatively to and from the afterlife, visiting the ghosts of  the past, often encountering them  in that strange meeting room  represented throughout Western culture as the underworld. Dr Madeleine  Scherer (Warwick University) is our guide to spectral depths from  classical Greece to contemporary Ireland. For more information visit
November 01, 2019
Polly Atkin on the Places of Her Poetry
Polly Atkin published her first full length poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, in 2017. Like her two pamphlets before it – bone song (2008) and Shadow Dispatches (2013) – Basic Nest Architecture won critical acclaim, including New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize. Suzannah V. Evans  chatted with Polly about the roots of her poetic life in places like  Cumbria, where she now lives, as well as within the StAnza poetry  festival, where this interview was recorded.  Read more about this podcast on our blog.
October 16, 2019
Time and Place: Bakhtin and Shakespeare
All the world’s a stage – one of Shakespeare’s more famous sayings, and perhaps now almost a cliché. However, Helen Clifford uses the work of Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin to cast a new light on how Shakespeare’s stage and language are indeed bounded to coordinates in the world. His metaphors often ask us to imaginatively look up or down to heaven or hell, and to visualise where different symbolic spaces might exist in the actual theatre – something that different venues and theatre companies have exploited over the centuries. For more details, visit
September 30, 2019
JL Williams on the Origins of Her Poetry
When she was growing up in rural New Jersey, JL Williams  wrote a play about pirates. Today, Williams is best known as a poet,  but she has continued to sail across various genres, including visual  arts, dance, theatre, and, most recently, opera. Although Williams may  have put pirates long behind her, associations with the sea, and the  dramatic portrayal of a vividly realised world, still run deep in her  poetry, as Suzannah V. Evans discovered when she caught up with her at StAnza poetry festival in 2018. Read more about this podcast at our blog.
September 18, 2019
Wandering Across Scandinavia in Egils Saga
An island nation that wants to be involved in the politics of wider  Europe, but also removed from it. A fractious debate over power,  sovereignty, the rule of law. The experiences of emigrants and  immigrants. Not a potted summary of twenty-first century political  events, but rather of the themes raised by the thirteenth-century  Icelandic poem, Egil’s Saga, and the travels and travails of its eponymous hero. Kate Marlow tells a tale that gives us a tantalising glimpse into identity, place and history. Find out more at
September 16, 2019
Gillian Allnutt on a Life in Poetry
Gillian Allnutt is the author of nine collections of poetry, the most recent of which, Wake, was published by Bloodaxe in 2018. Ahead of its publication, Suzannah V. Evans  caught up with Gillian Allnutt at the StAnza Poetry Festival in St  Andrews, to reflect on her career in writing and to hear her read from  some of her earlier work. For more about this podcast, visit our blog. 
August 21, 2019
Sounds Unreal
Sound is part of our everyday life experience, but it’s hard to understand and define its meaning and workings; sound can feel strange or unfamiliar when we try to put it into words. Professor Helen Abbott, a specialist in nineteenth-century French poetry and music at the University of Birmingham, introduces us to various ways we might grasp on what sound is, especially through its relationship with voice and language. For copyright reasons we are unable to include the music recordings themselves in this podcast. However, you can listen to most of the missing tracks via Helen Abbott's Spotify playlist. For more information visit
August 13, 2019
Liz Berry's Locations and Locutions
The title of Liz Berry’s first, multi-award-winning poetry collection, Black Country, signals her place of birth - and unsurprisingly the book was described by reviewers as a ‘sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands’. A more symbolic place is visited in her second pamphlet, The Republic of Motherhood, which maps the transformative experience of giving birth and raising her children. Suzannah V. Evans explored Liz Berry’s personal landscapes in conversation at the StAnza Poetry Festival.  For more information visit
August 07, 2019
Aurélia Lassaque on Poetry Across Languages
Listen to Aurélia Lassaque, a French poet and performer who writes, sings, and speaks in French, English and Occitan – a language spoken in parts of Southern France, Northern Spain and Italy. In this podcast you’ll hear her different uses of voice as she reads and sings her work, and then an interview with Suzannah V. Evans in which they discuss the imaginative experience of writing poetry across multiple languages, and the relation between poetry, sound and music.  Find out more at
July 25, 2019
The Pleasures and Challenges of Contemporary Literature
Meet Arya Thampuran and Katie Harling-Lee, two PhD researchers who have particular interests in contemporary fiction, and who have set up a new network to draw you into the conversation as well.   For more information visit   and 
July 19, 2019
Crash and Burn: A Poetry Reading in Memory of Michael O’Neill
In December 2018 we lost our colleague, teacher and friend Professor Michael O’Neill. Just before he died, Michael had completed his fifth collection of poetry, Crash and Burn and so, at a poignant poetry reading, we were able to remember Michael by celebrating the launch of this posthumous new work, while also looking back at his earlier poetry and the poetry he cared for by other writers.  This podcast is an edited version of readings and reminiscences from Dr Sarah Wootton, the poet Jamie McKendrick, and Michael’s colleagues Professor Stephen Regan, Professor Jason Harding and Professor Mark Sandy.  For more details visit
March 21, 2019
Philosophy and Literature
Are philosophy and literature two distinct disciplines, divided by a common language? Emphatically not, according to Michael Mack and Barry Stocker, editors of the new The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Literature. In this podcast, we caught up with Michael and Barry to learn how the power of the imagination, literary uses of language, and an interest in ethics link the two approaches together.  For more information see
February 16, 2019