On February 23 1821, a young English poet died of TB in Rome. Uncelebrated by the literary establishment during his lifetime, John Keats is today one of English literature’s most beloved figures, famed for the beauty of his poems, his lively, philosophical correspondence and the ineffable poignancy of his short life.
Two hundred years to the day after Keats’ death, The Poetry Society welcomes a circle of poets and Keats scholars to reflect on his enduring place in our literary imaginations in an evening of poetry, thought and discussion.
A way to think about poetry is through poetry. In collaboration with Keats House, The Poetry Society has commissioned three poets to respond to their favourite Keats works. Ruth Padel will read her new poem inspired by ‘Ode to a Nightingale’; Will Harris, his in response to ‘Hyperion’; and Rachael Boast, hers answering ‘When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be’. And coming to Keats by another route, a gathering of Romanticists will share 5 minute lightning lectures on their areas of specialist study.
Richard Marggraf Turley says ‘I will explore the meaning of Keats’s death – and [his friends] Clark’s and Severn’s experiences of tending him – in a year when our culture is awash with lives cut short. Although we’re sceptical of universalising Keats’s life, which was of course anchored in the material and intellectual culture of his own age, his experiences in Rome nevertheless help to illuminate and frame our own struggles and fears in an age of pandemic.’
Lucasta Miller: ‘As we commemorate Keats’s death, I would like to speak briefly on how his letters bring him so much to life, and to explore the nature of the encounter they can offer us today.’
Nicholas Roe: ‘I shall be talking about Keats, medicine, and the sound of poetry.’
Laila Sumpton: ‘How does slavery and the East India Company link to Keats? I have been investigating the links to colonialism in the Keats House collections and in Keats’ own life and circle. I lead the Arts Council funded education project Poetry Versus Colonialism, which brings together schools, poets, museums, artists and academics, and my work with Keats House is a part of this.’
Sarah Wootton: ‘From the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 to Jane Campion’s film, Bright Star, in 2009, the visual arts have shaped Keats’s cultural reception. I will explore the significance of various artforms in how we approach and understand Keats and his poetry two hundred years after his death.’
… and we’ll draw the evening together with an audience Q&A.
About our Speakers
Rachael Boast’s first collection, Sidereal, was published by Picador in 2011 and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. Her second, Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador, 2013), was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and her third, Void Studies (Picador, 2016), was shortlisted for that year’s T S Eliot Prize. She is co-editor of The Echoing Gallery: Bristol Poets and Art in the City (Redcliffe Press, 2013) and The Caught Habits of Language: An Entertainment for W.S. Graham for Him Having Reached One Hundred (Donut Press, 2018).
Will Harris’ debut poetry book RENDANG is published by Granta in the UK and Wesleyan University Press in the US. It won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2020 and was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize 2021. He co-edited the Spring 2020 issue of The Poetry Review with Mary Jean Chan.
Richard Marggraf Turley is Professor of English Literature at Aberystwyth University, where he teaches English and Creative Writing. He is author of several books on John Keats, including Keats’s Boyish Imagination (2004) and Bright Stars (2009), and editor of Keats’s Places (2018).
Lucasta Miller is the author of The Brontë Myth and L.E.L.: the Lost Life and Mysterious Death of the ‘female Byron’. She has recently published a short introduction to Keats, Keats: a brief life in nine poems and one epitaph.
Ruth Padel is an award-winning British poet and author. She began life as a classicist studying ancient Greek, and has spent much of her life in Greece, especially Crete. She is a passionate wildlife conservationist and also a musician. She now lives in London and has published twelve poetry collections, seven non-fiction works and a novel. Ruth is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London, and Professor of Poetry at King’s College London.
Nicholas Roe is Wardlaw Professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews and the author of John Keats. A New Life. He is Chair of the Keats Foundation.
Laila Sumpton has been working with Keats House since 2010 as a Keats House Poet and is now working on a residency with them for the Keats200 celebration. As an educator, performer and editor she has worked with many organisations including Historic Royal Palaces, The Royal Free Hospital, The Ministry of Stories and the Tate Modern. Her work has been published in numerous collections and she has a forthcoming publication with The Arachne Press, with whom she is also editing an anthology of poetry and stories by BAME writers alongside Sandra A. Agard.
Sarah Wootton is Professor of English Literature at Durham University. She is the author of Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century Representations in Art and Literature (2006) and Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation (2016). Most recently, she has edited a collection of essays on Keats in 1819 to be published in the journal Romanticism.
For those that would like subtitles, the event will be auto-captioned. If you haven’t been to an autocaptioned event before, Zoom enables a service which adds a live AI generated transcript to an event.
This event is part of The Poetry Society’s Keats200 programme. Keats200 is a celebration of Keats’s life, works and legacy, beginning in December 2018 through to February 2021 and beyond. It is led by three major partners – Keats House, Hampstead, The Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association – and is open to all individuals and organisations who have an interest in Keats or poetry. The bicentenary of Keats’s most productive years as a poet, and the period when he found inspiration, friendship and love, is an exciting opportunity to (re)discover and enjoy his works as well as engage with poetry and its ongoing relevance to us all today.