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Yearly Archives: 2014
I’ve been a bit quiet on this website for the last few months – my poetry and editing hat have rather taken over while my academic one has been gathering dust. This week, these things have turned around, partly because my tour has finished for the year, and partly because I’m off to the Paris archives tomorrow, to work on my monograph Staging Satire: Theatrical Metaphors in Prints of the French Revolution which is nearing completion. I’m very excited about this – my thesis has been hanging over me like a Damocles sword – and I’m glad that my gamble to take time off from regular paid work has worked out for the best where this is concerned!
The other two bits of news that are bringing me back into the academic arena are that firstly my copy of the special issue of Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies on the Clair-Obscur has landed on my doorstep, and that secondly I am frantically transforming a conference paper into an article for the Actes du Colloques: Théâtre et charlatans dans l’Europe moderne to be published by the Presses Universitaires de Rennes.
I feel like a bit of a rogue academic sometimes, so this is a nice reminder that my research is of interest. Now, anyone fancy hiring me?
Here is a quick glimpse into my ‘other’ life as a poet. I’m about to tour across the UK The Shipwrecked House, a show based on my poetry collection. More details on tour dates here.
It’s such an honour for me to be on Kim Moore’s blog, of which I am a huge fan. As well as being an excellent poet herself, the blog is always full of exciting poems and interesting thoughts both about poetry and brass bands. Highly recommended.
Evening folks – another extra blog post that I hope will counter the last rather negative and depressing post about The Wordsworth Trust. This is the first in what I hope will be a random series of guest blog posts. I’m going to hand over to Claire Trévien in a minute to explain how her first collection ‘The Shipwrecked House’, longlisted in the Guardian First Book awards came to be transformed into a touring show. This seems an amazing achievement to me – surely the poetry equivalent of a novel being turned into a film? And if there was a poet that would be likely to do such a thing, it would be Claire who seems always to be doing something exciting with poetry – recently writing a 100 poems in one day to raise money for Refuge for example.
Claire Trévien is one of those people who frequently puts her…
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I was back in the British Library for the first time in a while yesterday having decided over the last few months that I can’t afford a career in French academia. Working long hours for free or a pittance, spending a fortune on travelling and conference fees, not to mention the cost of image rights and publications have taken their toll, so I’m concentrating on the bright lights of poetry…! Yesterday reminded me however of the upside, the sheer joy of finding out new things, of diving headlong into a rabbit hole… I love research, of course I do!
The thing that prompted my return was an unexpected day free of rehearsals for The Shipwrecked House to prepare a talk I agreed to give at a one-day conference next week: Popular Reaction to Napoleon’s 100 Days: Print, Satire, Song and Theatre. The whole day is completely up my alley, as my thing is popular culture! My thesis was on popular culture during the French Revolution, particularly satirical etchings but also songs, plays (both performed and not), pamphlets, etc. What’s new this time around is the Napoleonic setting.
Now, I think I’m a bit territorial about my thesis and will argue until the cows come home that French Revolutionary prints are the best thing.
Goodness me do I love Napoleonic prints too, especially ones featuring the man himself: dressed as Pierrot, riding a lobster, eating snakes, falling off a cliff, being a bossy boots,… They’re gloriously vivid.
For the conference, we’ve each been asked to pick an object from Napoleon’s 100 days (i.e the 100 days in 1815 in which Napoleon escaped from Elba, made a grab at power and was eventually defeated at Waterloo). The one I picked is this splendid print of Napoleon’s return to France:
Isn’t it great? Even better are the two members of the anxious Bourbon party wearing extinguishers on their heads. It refers to a term, ‘chevaliers de l’éteignoir’ used by the satirical paper Le Nain Jaune to mock those belonging to the old French regime. Quite literally, they are trying to extinguish the flames of enlightenment! Le Nain Jaune was pro-Napoleon so this depiction is rather apt.
Here are some more éteignoirs, just because:
What drew me to this print however is that I recognized in it a leitmotif found in two French Revolutionary prints from 1791:
Not so flattering, eh? The first one depicts Marie-Antoinette escaping the Tuileries palace, the other Catherine II of Russia taking a conquering stride. Both are rather lewd, in the first the comtesse de la Motte-Valois (of the affair of the diamond necklace) holds up a necklace up Marie-Antoinette’s skirt which is both a reference to the affair and to sexuality (jewels in French refers to female genitalia), Catherine II is bare-breasted, and in both cases everyone is looking up their skirts.
Whereas in the case of Marie-Antoinette and Catherine II female agency is seen as a negative trait to be mocked, it is celebrated in Napoleon. Some things never change, eh?
While my taste in anglophone poetry has always been contemporary, my taste in francophone poetry has always been decidedly more 19th and early 20th century. My reasons for this are potentially nostalgic, in spite of spending two of my adult years in Paris, I more readily associate France and its literature with my childhood and tweens, when romantic and fin-de-siècle literature was a school and college staple, and England with my growing into adulthood and discovering the contemporary poetry scene.
Yet, I have been making a concerted effort in the last few years to find francophone poetry that engages me. Being bilingual is my USP to many publications and I have reviewed my fair share of translated contemporary poets, but these have rarely excited me in the same way that, say, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Clare Pollard, or W.N. Herbert might (to choose three very different voices). This, I should add, was not through lack of persistence; I have yet to find a French bookshop with a good selection of poetry. A few, thank goodness go beyond Gallimard and its promotion of said dead white poets, and if you have any recommendations (of either bookshops or poets), I’d love to hear about them.
When I was asked by Oxford Brookes to design a semester-long module of textual commentary of French texts, my immediate fall back was to return to the authors that I love in some sort of nostalgia-fest: Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Edmond de Rostand,… It quickly became apparent to me however, that they were a) men b) white and c) dead. These are three things that I try to avoid in my ‘poetry’ life, or at least balance out as much as possible, so why wasn’t I doing the same thing here?
I did an emergency twitter call out for people’s favourite non-male and/or non-white, contemporary francophones, and got an amazing array of suggestions, though mostly of fiction and non-fiction. Accompanying this, I reinstated my subscription to the wonderful Modern Poetry in Translation and scoured the Printemps des poètes for gems.
Here are some favourite poets that emerged from this search:
Libanese-born Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s poetry spoke to me from the start. I fell on her by chance, clicking her name on the Printemps des Poètes, and her highlighted poem was like a lightning bolt. It features a father whose anger is so strong that it has overturned the house, where life is described as a straight line of noises, where the dead grow old like paper…. I brought it to my students and it got an uncharacteristically warm reception:
il y a très longtemps
la colère du père renversait la maison
nous nous cachions derrière les dunes pour émietter ses cris
la Méditerranée tournait autour de nous comme chien autour d’un mendiant
la mère nous appelait jusqu’au couchant
ça devait être beau et ce n’était que triste
les jardins trépassaient plus lentement que les hommes
nous mangions notre chagrin jusqu’à la dernière miette
puis le rotions échardes à la face du soleil
She’s been translated by Marylin Hacker many times, you can find one of her translations here alongside a fairly comprehensive biography.
I recommend Nettles, which is the work I bought, in which you can see the French and English side by side.
I stumbled upon Haitian-writer Frankétienne in my copy of MPT, which I then found on the Poetry Translation website, also translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely:
Chaque jour, j’emploie le dialecte des cyclones fous.
Je dis la folie des vents contraires.
Chaque soir, j’utilise le patois des pluies furieuses.
Je dis la furie des eaux en débordement.
Chaque nuit, je parle aux îles Caraïbes le langage des tempêtes hystériques. Je dis l’hystérie de la mer en rut.
Dialecte des cyclones. Patois des pluies. Langage des tempêtes. Déroulement de la vie en spirale.
To me, there is something wonderfully muscular to this poem, it’s visceral in a way that feels earned. I would even venture that there is something a bit Ted Hughesque about the way Frankétienne is content to let everything hang out.
Tahar Ben Jelloun
Another Printemps des poètes discovery, whose take on what makes a town speaks to my own aesthetics:
Il ne suffit pas d’un tas de maisons pour faire une ville
Il faut des visages et des cerises
Des hirondelles bleues et des danseuses frêles
Un écran et des images qui racontent des histoires
Il n’est de ruines qu’un ciel mâché par des nuages
Une avenue et des aigles peints sur des arbres
Des pierres et des statues qui traquent la lumière
Et un cirque qui perd ses musiciens
Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in Morocco, and like Vénus, eventually found his way to France. What I love about this pile up of images of what makes a city is the way that they are alternatively fragile, surrealist, and moving.
While I was trying to avoid dead white men, I hadn’t set out to find poetry written by folk born outside of France and yet, these are the voices that spoke to me, perhaps because I myself am the product of uprooting. There is something vibrant about all three poets, even though none of them are in their first youth (born 1937, 1936, and 1944, respectively). I see much of contemporary French poetry as either over-intellectualized or soaked under water by spleen and its abstract nouns. Compared to the minimalism so favoured by many of their peers, their bright jagged lines and surrealism are a breath of fresh air. I look forward to discovering more of their ilk.
‘Mais le voilà donc ce prétendu égoïste, cet homme dur, cet impitoyable misanthrope, que ses lâches ennemis déchirent plus que jamais après sa mort!’ (Mirabeau to Marie Thérèse Sophie Richard de Ruffey, marquise de Monnier, on the subject of Rousseau’s acts of kindness during his lifetime.)
Today marks the 223rd anniversary of the death of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, the comte de Mirabeau. A courter of controversy, Mirabeau is famous for being a nobleman who joined the third estate for the Estates General and became rapidly popular thanks to his oratory skills. He died of a suspected inflammation of the diaphragm, on 2 April 1791, though some did question the rapidity of the illness and wondered if he had been poisoned. Other than for a few individuals, such as Marat, who publicly rejoiced at his passing, Mirabeau’s death seems to have been overall a source of sorrow, provoking numerous displays of affection including prints…
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I have vague memories of first stumbling on the word ‘procrastination’ as an undergraduate, thinking it sounded like a very sophisticated way of labelling an unsophisticated activity. Many of my friends have found ways to at least bring healthiness to their lives via procrastination: they clean the house, they bake cookies, they knit jumpers, they go for a run. None of these things have ever appealed to me, even at my worst levels, because doing domestic or healthy chores will always be far lower in the food chain than the thesis. My weakness is, I think, far more dangerous because it does not have a clear ending: poetry.
I should probably elaborate: poetry projects.
There is a reason, other than passion (and it is there, obviously), why I often find myself juggling poetry projects. For the same reason why a baker-procrastinator may choose a workspace far removed from a kitchen, I deliberately tried to put a lid on projects during the writing up phase of my PhD. I even handed over the reins (temporarily) to Sabotage Reviews so that the distraction of copy-editing and promoting reviews wouldn’t be my excuse for wasting the day. Did that work? Not entirely, Penning Perfumes was thought up, organized, and launched as an anthology.
Why am I sharing this? I normally try to keep my two worlds, poetry and academia separate, but they do find a way to overlap, and this is a struggle I am facing currently. When I laid out my ambitious plan to revise one chapter a week, I completely neglected to take into account my poetry commitments. Currently I am juggling several projects including the creation (and funding application) of my one-woman show based on my poetry collection The Shipwrecked House, planning the launch of the next issue of Verse Kraken, planning the impending Saboteur Awards as well as the day to day admin of copy-editing and organizing reviews, juggling several writing commissions, planning writing courses, and a new exciting anthology of contemporary poetry inspired by history.
This isn’t a list of excuses, truly, it isn’t, but I am still working out ways in which to make both sides of my life compatible and productive. Things that I’ve realized during this teething phase of the revising process, and which may be useful to others, are that the following things work:
- waking up at dawn (5/6am) and going into a different room to work on the thesis. No one is online, the house is quiet, and a bonus is the wonderful feeling of having achieved something by 9am. The danger lies in allowing the smugness take over the rest of the day.
- jotting down thoughts immediately instead of acting on them. This has made a world of difference. Where before I’d suddenly remember ‘oh I forgot to reply to so-and-so’, go on emails, do it, then fall into the vacuum of the internet, this way I get to plough on reassured that I won’t forget. This also goes for enthusiastically thought-up poetry projects.
- setting aside days or chunks of days to get things out of the way. This may seem like a cop out, but if you get built up guilt like me, it works a treat.
Any other tips?
I’m definitely not saying I’ve worked out a way to balance things well yet, but over the last few days I finally feel like progress is made. At long last my mammoth chapter can be put to (sort of) rest, which was the main structural change I wanted to operate. The work is far from over, I feel like both the introduction and conclusion need some serious work done to them, while the other chapters also deserve some attention. It’s a milestone of sorts though.
I’ve long been fascinated by prints of the construction of the Fête de la Fédération of 1790 (i.e the first 14th July celebration). The construction, sometimes called journée des brouettes, took place over a fortnight during which hundreds of Parisians of different backgrounds worked together to create the venue for the Fête de la Fédération itself. The work involved erecting a large amphitheatre capable of containing eight hundred thousand citizens. This collaborative effort was heralded as a symbol of a nation working in harmony to achieve its Revolution, but what I particularly enjoy are the rather irreverent early responses to it by etchers depicting noblewomen, monks, soldiers, and children, all chipping in to make sure the construction is achieved in time for the Fête.
The construction itself is quite an entertaining nose-up to officials who were proud of the perfectly sober long procession, mass, and oath-swearing ceremony they had organized for the day itself. The Chronique de Paris reports for instance the police and civil servants’ numerous attempts to discourage citizens from volunteering to aid the construction. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us, their attempts to harness the enthusiasm of the populace failed miserably, and there are now at least twenty different print representations of the construction, not counting depictions achieved in different mediums or the numerous copies in which the original prints were slightly modified. This is a significant number. By comparison, contemporary depictions of the Fête approached sixty different representations (including plans of the site and allegories).
One of my favourites is ‘Aristocrates vous voila donc F…’ (Aristocrats you are now f…), a rough hand-coloured etching which has possibly been made and sold whilst the festivities of the Fête de la Fédération were still ongoing. We know it’s popular as it survives in several copies (one of the few markers we have for a print’s success is how often it’s been plagiarized). The print depicts a few workers in a close-up study of a production line, with a particular emphasis on smartly-dressed female workers engaged in various manual tasks.
The most obvious festive element in the print is in the text, with lyrics of songs included within and above the image. Damning anti-aristocratic lyrics appear above the image: ‘Aristocrates vous voila donc F… / Nous baiserons vos femmes / Et vous nous baiseré le C…’ (Aristocrats you are now f… / we’ll fuck your women / and you’ll kiss our ar…..). Within the print, variations on the refrain of the Revolutionary anthem ‘Ça ira’ follow the workers. The lyrics are superimposed on the workers giving the impression that the artist wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the works as infused with singing (which would be accurate according to the reports). In this sense, the print went beyond a simple portrayal of the event by urging the viewer to hear the event happening, and perhaps even to perform a representation of it themselves. There is also a sense that the print mocked as much as it praised these ladies—the derogatory song above the image clashes with the text below eulogizing the efforts of the various volunteers.
In crowd scenes such as ‘Vue des Travaux’ (possibly made by Pierre Gentot), the focus is on the joyful disorderliness of the workers. This print is slightly more elaborate in execution, using aquatint as well as etching but it doesn’t dampen the energy. The eagerness of the workers is such that they are displayed tripping and falling over each other in their attempts to help. The image contains many characters and storylines cohabiting within a single frame, such as the woman who has been knocked off her wheelbarrow and is exposing her buttocks, or the vainqueur de la bastille turning up in costume….
What strikes me when looking at these prints created closest to the event is that they captured a recklessness and immediacy lacking in the more high quality scale engravings, such as the ‘Travaux du champ de mars pour la Fédération’ from the Tableaux Historiques de la Révolution Française, drawn by Jean-Louis Prieur and engraved by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault (delivered circa 1793-1796). In Prieur’s engraving, the construction is carefully framed and depicted from a remote vantage point. Respectability led to the viewer’s removal from the crowd. However, it is significant that the earlier prints were anonymous, whereas Prieur put his name to his work. With anonymity came greater freedom of expression. This realization is enhanced by the knowledge that Prieur, an active Revolutionary, was guillotined on 7 May 1795 in the aftermath of a popular uprising. His offense, according to James Maxwell Anderson, was to draw ‘the heads of those accused by the Revolutionary Tribunal (of which he was also a member)’ covered in blood. His claim that he had only been sketching ‘silly things’ was not considered a strong enough basis for acquittal, and his patriotism and links to Robespierre further secured his post-Thermidor fall. This emphasizes the dangerous nature of caricatures in a time where political power constantly shifted under the feet of artists.
Emile Campardon, ed., Le Tribunal Révolutionnaire de Paris, 2 vols. (Paris: Plon, 1866).
Chronique de Paris, 5 July 1790, 11 July 1790.
Claudette Hould, ed., La Révolution par la gravure : les “Tableaux historiques de la Révolution française”, une entreprise éditoriale d’information et sa diffusion en Europe, 1791-1817 (Paris: Musée de la Révolution française, 2002).
James Maxwell Anderson, Daily life during the French Revolution (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007).
Warren Roberts, Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Louis Prieur: Revolutionary Artists: the Public, the Populace and Images of the French Revolution (New York: State University of New York Press, c2000).
Claire Trévien, ‘Le Monde à l’Envers: the Carnivalesque in Prints of the Construction of the Fête de la Fédération of 1790’, French History 26.1 (March 2012), 34-52.
This week has been very much about remembering the nuts and bolts of my thesis, re-reading it, typing up notes I’ve made over the last year and a half, reading the books that have been piling up, doing a sweep of new books that might be relevant to my research, and so on and so forth. I’ve also been busy on the application front, for funding and conferences.
It’s wonderful to know that I finally have the spare time to attend conferences without having to use up my precious holiday days. On the downside, being in the no-man’s land means that you have to pay full-whack for conference fees and without the support a full-time position gives, there are very few places you can apply for conference funding. Wonderful as it is to see so much support for Postgraduates, it would be a huge financial relief to see more opportunities for help for ECRs too.
Overall, it has been a busy week, not least as it’s my penultimate week in Oxford so I also have to juggle making time for friends and tying up loose ends alongside my other creative projects (giving a reading in Reading tonight for instance, and planning my one-woman poetry show). I remember relishing the variety of my projects during my PhD, but I must admit that after a year and a half of 9-5, my sudden freedom is something I’m still learning to adjust to.
My plan to work on one chapter a week did not work out, mostly as I realized there was extra reading and research I wanted to delve into first. I have high hopes for having something more concrete to report by next week however (if the move doesn’t get too much in the way of course!)…. Fingers crossed!
I am, as the excellent Nadine Muller puts it, in that twilight zone between the end of the PhD and the academic job.
I went straight from my PhD into full-time employment and sometimes it feels as if I took a year and a half break from academia. However, when taking a step back I realize that working full-time didn’t stop me from publishing my first critical edition of a text, a brand new thesis-unrelated chapter in a forthcoming book, reviewing for French History and revising a previously submitted article. I’ve maintained my goal to be Impact-heavy with blogs for IB Tauris and the Voltaire Foundation, as well as a series of videos explaining my research. There is the fact too that my work was in the eighteenth century (i.e my field), and for a world leader for eighteenth-century scholarship, so it’s not as if I swapped footnotes for something radically different. In fact, I think that working on other people’s research and being more disciplined with referencing has been a positive for my own practice. I have also made the most of my workplace’s flexibility to gain more teaching experience as an associate lecturer for Oxford Brookes one day a week. Lining up these cold facts makes the year and a half look more active on the academic front, but it doesn’t shake off the feeling that I’ve been prioritising short-term deadlines over the more pressing need to transform my thesis into a monograph.
So here we are now, just me and the thesis with nowhere to hide. I have a spring deadline to resubmit it to the publisher so have taken the gamble to cut down on all paid work outside of the lecturing and the occasional poetry gig and just knuckle down into re-working it. What I want to do to it is clear to me: give a greater thread of unity to four very different chapters, re-work the introduction and conclusion to make them less thesis-like, hack half of a chapter off as it is already published anyway and is taking all the limelight away from the other half.
I can’t help but feel that there is something missing in my thought-process. You often hear the phrase that the thesis and the monograph are two radically different things but finding a precise way to explain that difference has been hard to find.
Here are some websites that I found useful:
- The Postgraduate Online Research Training website has got a great section on publishing your thesis. The ‘re-writing as a book’ section is particularly useful. I will especially bear in mind the advice to ‘Embed the references to critical literature more naturally within your argument: the rather crude form of the critical survey or literature review, so necessary to the PhD, is perhaps the single thing that will need most work.’
- An excerpt from William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book was enough to convince me to buy his book. It’s written in a very engaging style and I like the fact that it’s open to various types of monographs: ‘ An idea for a book can be quiet, noisy, insidious, overheated, cool, revisionist, radical, counterintuitive, restorative, synthetic.‘
- The website PhD2Published has been often recommended to me. It seems mostly aimed at ‘first timers’ as it says, with very useful advice for submitting to journals and so on. It might not have the exact information I need but it is an excellent community and has given me ideas for other aspects of my career, so not one to be sniffed at.
Do you have any others to add?
My goal then, to keep myself accountable, is to write a weekly report of my progress, outlining what I’ve achieved, anything useful that I’ve found in the process, etc. I’m going to try and dedicate a week per chapter, and then a week for the intro and conclusion, followed by a fortnight of tinkering with references and checking the monograph holds up. This is wildly over-ambitious, so wish me luck!
Fantastic news today that the French Revolution Digital Archive is now live thanks to a partnership between the BnF and Stanford University. I am surely not the only researcher to have spent frustrated hours at the Département des estampes, manipulating the unwieldy videodisc system, peering fruitlessly at the poor quality screen…. Thankfully, those days are over, thanks to a highly efficient online catalogue.
Better yet, the images are free to use so long as it’s not for a commercial end.