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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.

'The Borders between Words in the Poetry of George Oppen' and 'Borders and Liminality in Caryl Phillips’ Crossing the River'

5th December 2018, 17:30 to 19:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Andrew Park and Pauline Hortolland

Join us for the final Inventions of the Text seminar of Michaelmas term, a postgraduate panel of two papers on the theme ‘Borders’.

The Borders between Words in the Poetry of George Oppen, with Andrew Park (Durham University)

This paper will consider the nature and function of different aspects of spatial and temporal organisation in the poetry of the twentieth-century Objectivist poet George Oppen. The words of Oppen’s poem-texts are bordered by spaces of various length and breadth: diversely-sized spaces that act as borders between words, between lines, between verse paragraphs, between numbered sections. But what are the varying poetic functions of these borders? What is the precise nature of the poetic work they (are intended to) perform? And how considered and consistent is Oppen’s poetic rationale in the construction of these borders? Through interpretations of a selection of Oppen’s poems I will venture provisional, competing answers to these challenging but crucial questions about the nature of this aspect of Oppen’s prosody. I will consider Oppen’s poems in both their written and sonic forms (through listening to recordings of Oppen reading his own poems aloud), considering the nature of this formal border. There is a striking dissonance between the way we expect Oppen to handle the spatial borders of the written poem in his spoken performance, and the way in which he actually, compellingly does. Additionally, I will venture a consideration of this form of critical comparison (between the written and spoken poem) as both productive and problematic; a consideration of the nature of the hermeneutic border between close reading and close listening, in specific regard to Oppen’s poetry.

Borders and Liminality in Caryl Phillips’ Crossing the River, with Pauline Hortolland (Durham University)

While borders are generally understood as official, clear-cut demarcations that separate two areas, this paper will focus on the border as a physical representation of liminality, so as to define it as a threshold rather than a mere boundary. In Crossing the River, Caryl Philips remaps the history and the geography of the African diaspora, so as to give a voice to the anonymous victims of the Middle Passage, and demonstrates that borders are not only physical – between two continents or two American states – but also social and mental, as Martha experiences it in the second part of the novel. Consequently, the fact of physically crossing a border rarely leads to salvation, but rather to a fragmentation of the self, who is torn between the two banks of the river and trapped in a state of liminality. The first section of this paper will therefore examine the dislocation and the uprootedness implied by the act of crossing a border (or a ‘river’). The second part will focus on the link between liminality and spectrality in the novel, which raises the question of the agency of the characters and of their literary incarnation. Finally the third section will show how the novel itself, as a ‘multitongued chorus’, transcends physical, generic and cultural boundaries in a form of poetic syncretism and hybridization that can be seen as a poetic enactment of Paul Guilroy's concept of the Black Atlantic.

After the Seminar

The seminar will be followed by drinks in The Victoria Inn and the option of dinner at Ristorante Capriccio. If you would like to join us for dinner, please contact us at

Contact for more information about this event.


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