Welcome to Poetry Matters


On a scrap of paper in the archive is written
I have forgotten my umbrella. Turns out
in a pandemic everyone, not just the philosopher,
is without. We scramble in the drought of information
held back by inside traders. Drop by drop. Face
covering? No, yes. Social distancing? Six feet
under for underlying conditions. Black.
Just us and the blues kneeling on a neck
with the full weight of a man in blue….

We’re out
to repair the future. There’s an umbrella
by the door, not for yesterday but for the weather
that’s here. I say weather but I mean
a form of governing that deals out death
and names it living…. We are here for the storm
that’s storming because what’s taken matters.

-- From Claudia Rankine, “Weather”

Theme for 2020-21: Poetry and Reemergence

Poetry Matters is an initiative based in the Department of English at McGill University in Montréal, Québec. Inspired by figures from the history of McGill’s Department of English—such as Canadian poets Louis Dudek and Leonard Cohen—we seek to build from existing resources at McGill toward developing an enhanced culture for poetry. With the support of SSHRC, the Montreal International Poetry Prize, McGill English, and the Mordecai Richler Writer in Residence Program, our project establishes a research community around poetry to support faculty and student work. More generally, we seek to foster conversation on poetry among members of different communities, at the university and beyond—through events, workshops, and collaborative projects.

Working together, we explore how and why poetry matters in the contemporary climate. As Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor suggests, poetry is integral to the building of culture, ideas, and identity. This is especially true at a moment when many of the cultural areas associated with the work of poetry (such as exploring questions of subjectivity and self-expression, finding language for non-dominant experiences, and considering social justice from new perspectives) are often subordinated in the wider culture. Cued by poet Jennifer Bartlett, who writes from a disability perspective, we recognize poetry as a way of being in a world not made for everyone – as offering languages for re-making worlds.

Our members consider how poets from a broad range of backgrounds rediscover the political power of poetic form. To explore how verse forms and figures cross temporal and cultural borders, we draw from scholars whose expertise engages global poetries, diverse histories, and issues of cultural and linguistic translation. Our investigations examine how Englishes take shape in different global contexts; how to bring together western and non-Western voices; how to reconcile literary lives and afterlives; and how to account for questions of difference, individual and collective.

Images of poetry-inspired artwork by Berta Golahny appear courtesy of the Golahny/Kopley family.

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