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Forms of Memory: The Sonnet in Contemporary British and Irish Poetry

Grace, Stephen (2019) Forms of Memory: The Sonnet in Contemporary British and Irish Poetry. PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis explores the extraordinary profusion of the sonnet in contemporary British and Irish poetry, focussing in particular on the work of Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Don Paterson and Alice Oswald. Drawing on critical interventions by Steph Burt, who characterises the sonnet in terms of its longevity rather than any technical feature, and situating the contemporary form within the long durée of its late-eighteenth century revival (especially in Wordsworth’s work), I argue that contemporary poets have taken the sonnet up as a way of writing the past. Chapter one explores the sonnet’s fraught commemorative role in the work of Hill in the 1960s and 1970s in particular in which the form becomes a type of ‘belated witness’ to violent historical traumas. Chapter two considers Heaney, whose early sonnets are also commemorative and historical, but also increasingly, under Wordsworth’s influence, frame their commemorations in more personal, private terms, a shift that culminates in the more spiritual outlook of Heaney’s later sonnets. Chapter three focuses on Muldoon, whose relentless experiments with the sonnet mark him out as perhaps the most significant sonnet writer of the second half of the twentieth century. I read his mix of invention and obsession in relation to the form as an instance of Freudian repetition in which the past is both omnipresent and elusive. Chapter four examines Paterson, and tracks his sometimes contradictory investments in Scottish history alongside his more speculative metaphysical interests, partially derived from his translations of two crucial twentieth-century European sonneteers, Rainer Maria Rilke and Antonio Machado. The fifth and final chapter explores Oswald’s ecological commitments in sonnets marked by the influence of John Clare and Sir Thomas Wyatt. As these disparate examples indicate, the sonnet does not articulate just one past, but multiple overlapping and sometimes competing pasts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.805468
Depositing User: Mr Stephen Grace
Date Deposited: 22 May 2020 15:39
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2020 09:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26008

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