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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

A Sea-Change: Contemporary Poetry and the Coastline

4th October 2017, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Philip Jones and Sarah Hymas

The sea is a constantly shifting force - and a powerful inspiration for the movements of poetry. Follow the (shore)lines with our two panellists at this free public event. Part of our Late Summer Lectures Series.

About 'Only a sea-change: experiences of flux and transformation at the coastline in modern British poetry,' by Phillip Jones

The coastline is a geography that is constantly shifting. Changes in tides make mapping the area difficult while erosion in one section of the coast can be met with the depositing of new material in another. Yet this geographical flux often occurs within predictable patterns. The rise and fall of tides are a daily occurrences while processes of erosion happen at coastlines heavily managed by human intervention.

This paper wants to explore the ways several modern British poets have responded to these patterns of change and return, examining how they enter the poetry not just at the level of ideas but in the form and language of the text themselves.

Firstly this paper will outline the long history of cultural representation of the coast as a place of change and metamorphosis, extending from Homer’s Odyssey to twentieth century writers like W. S. Graham. This section will also touch on wider social experiences of the coast as site of difference and transformation.

Having established this background, the paper will then move on to explore a range of contemporary poetic responses to this cultural lineage. The paper will look at Alice Oswald’s invocation of Proteus at the end of Dart, Peter Riley’s negotiation of change within predictable patterns of family holidays in Sea Watches, and Wendy Mulford’s experience of storms and the suddenly shifting east coast in The East Anglia Sequence.

This paper will show how contemporary poets have responded to the long cultural association of the coast with change and metamorphosis, elaborating how they have adapted these ideas, images and experiences within contemporary contexts.

About 'Becoming Sea: A Blurred Lyric of the Ocean,' by Sarah Hymas

This paper investigates how applying the phenomenology of myopia to Delueze’s concept of becoming can re-make our relationship to the sea, dissolving the duality of terrestrial and marine existences. From the perspective of a creative practitioner, I use poems from Jorie Graham’s 2008 collection Sea Change to illustrate how the lyric is able to enact the process of becoming. I consider how shifting subjectivities create entanglements between the self and other to disrupt notions of authority and fixed anthropocentric perspective; and explore the ways in which deterritorialization of language and form open up the lyric as a site of discovery for its protagonist and reader. The paper examines the lyric occasion as an individual and cultural response to the sea as simultaneously distant and embodied, visible and invisible, certain and precarious.

About Phillip Jones

Philip Jones is in the final year of his PhD at the University of Nottingham. His thesis explores the way contemporary British poets construct and understand coastal landscapes in their work. He is more broadly interested in the relationship of poetry to space and place and how literature might aid in the production of new kinds of geographic knowledge.

About Sarah Hymas

Sarah Hymas is a poet researching a practice-led PhD at Liverpool University. Funded by AHRC, she is investigating the potential of the lyric to communicate the interdependence between people and the sea; focusing on the intersection of poetry, marine and climate science and phenomenology. Her writing has appeared in print, multimedia exhibits, lyrics, pyrotechnical installations, on stage and as an improvised opera. Host is published by Waterloo Press (2010). Her artistbook Lune (2013) was featured in The Guardian Books Blog as an excellent example of the form. She continues to make artistbooks, as well as site-specific audio pieces. Find her online at or on twitter @sarahhymas.

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