Fellowship Inaugural Lecture - Dr Ahren Warner

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U005, Brockington Extension

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Dr Ahren Warner - School of the Arts, English and Drama

Certain Very Bold Instructions: Poetry, New Media and the Lyric Idea

In the late nineteenth century, the French poet Stephane Mallarmé wrote that his latest, and most revolutionary, poetic work – A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance – was still a little “timid”. Mallarmé justified such timidity by writing that “it is not for me, save by a special pagination or volume of my own, in a periodical so courageous, gracious and accommodating as it shows itself to be to real freedom, to act too contrary to custom”.

As generations of thinkers and critics have written on Mallarmé’s poetry, so some of the greatest minds – from Jacques Derrida to Alain Badiou – have come back to Mallarmé’s essential use of the white space of the page to amplify the effects and possibilities of poetic “syntax”, of how words and phrases are articulated to and against each other to produce what Badiou called “an Idea of which both the object and objectivity represent nothing but pale copies”.

In this talk, I want to primarily discuss my own practice-based research, to show a poem or two that happen to occur within digital media, and to keep one eye on these philosophical and literary historical contexts. Yet, as both a poet and literary critic, my interests lie in how the expanded potential of media other than the page and book might not simply open up new avenues for the dissemination of literature, but might also offer up new forms and new ways of using words to affect the reader.

From a historical perspective, the slow pace of literature’s embrace of new media, compared to the parallel history of visual art, will also offer up a way to talk about how my own creative research is interested in an ‘expanded’ model of poetry, that – drawing on filmmakers like Chris Marker or fine artists such as Harun Farocki – allows lyric language to operate across media, as well as into and via other literary and cultural forms.


Ahren is a poet, editor and critic. He completed his PhD – on twentieth-century poetry, the commodity fetish and continental philosophy – at Queen Mary, University of London in 2013. His books of poetry include, Confer (2011), Pretty (2013) and Hello. Your promise has been extracted (2017), and have received awards including an Arts Foundation Fellowship, Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award and Royal Society of Literature J.B. Priestley Award. Ahren’s poems, essays and criticism have appeared in journals such as The Guardian, Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and Granta, whilst he is also the Poetry Editor of Poetry London. Recent interdisciplinary work has been exhibited at the Newcastle Poetry Festival and the Great North Museum, and he is currently working on both a series of creative research projects and a longform critical film exploring the parallel histories and effects of new media on twentieth-century poetry and fine art.

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