Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata


Poetry and TV, a one day conference exploring the meeting of two art forms at the University of Birmingham, July 13th 2018.

Keynote speakers will be announced in the coming weeks: watch this space, and follow our Twitter handle @poetryandtv for more information.

Please get in touch with any questions and queries!

From John Betjeman’s Metroland (1973) to HBO’s Def Poetry (2002-2007), and from Don Draper quoting Frank O’Hara to poet Jo Bell appearing in adverts for Nationwide, the place of poetry on television has a varied and evolving history. Poetry is found in reverent documentaries (BBC’s A Poet’s Guide to Britain) and in goofy game shows (Len Goodman’s Partners in Rhyme). In recent years a slew of sitcoms – Peep Show, Norsemen, Chewing Gum, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – have used characters who are poets, or dabbling in poetry, to take shots at a range of familiar cultural images of the art form as elitist, outdated, affected or embarrassing. But outside of the Anglosphere, reality shows including Chinese Poetry Conference and Abu Dhabi’s Million’s Poet have achieved large audiences and mass appeal.

On the other side of the screen, poets have regularly written about television culture. Roald Dahl may have diagnosed the medium’s deadening effect on the creative spirit – ‘IT ROTS THE SENSES IN THE HEAD!/IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!’ – but in the last decade alone, publications like Roz Goddard’s The Sopranos Sonnets and Clinic’s anthology of poems on the Simpsons, Can I Borrow A Feeling, have shown the depth of engagement TV shows and characters can elicit. Sam Riviere dissects reality and celebrity in the collection Kim Kardashian’s Marriage; Hollie McNish inadvertently generates a small culture war by critiquing a couple on Grand Designs who eat nuts from a bowl ‘carved straight out of a tree.’

Reaction to McNish’s poem gets to the heart of the issue: poetry and TV as media have always been implicated in a wider debate about ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. The BBC’s mandate to inform led to high-profile interviews – Edith Sitwell on Face to Face, W. H. Auden on Parkinson– but the question of how to reconcile high-quality literary programming with the market imperatives and the democratic reach of broadcasting has been an ongoing concern. With a changing broadcasting landscape, however, this might well be changing. Shows heralded as part of the ‘Golden Age of Television’ – Mad Men and Breaking Bad, for example – incorporate poetic quotation, while the recent explosion in spoken word culture suggests a growing audience for poetry as public entertainment. Is TV, in the terms of Robert Pinsky, a ‘tub / of acquiescence’ for poets, or a ‘terrarium of dreams and wonders’ — or both? When Oregon Shawcross in Channel 4’s Fresh Meat stakes her claim to cultural capital by blowing student union money on a lucrative literary prize – ‘I’m bringing poetry back. Hard.’ – should poets pay particular attention to her failure to do so on the small screen? Can these two seemingly opposing forms meet somewhere, and if so, where?

The first conference of its kind, ‘Poetry and TV’ will take place on July 13th at the Muirhead Tower, University of Birmingham. The organisers invite papers and creative proposals on any aspect of the relationship between poetry and television, historical or contemporary. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Biographical presentations of historical poets as characters in drama, comedy and drama-documentary formats (Byron, Upstart Crow, Drunk History)
  • Poetry as a subject of humour in sitcoms, sketch shows, and panel formats (e.g. BBC4’s The Book Quiz). What space do these formats provide for ‘good poetry’ vs. poetry as the butt of the joke?
  • Television and the creation of literary value: how are certain poets or styles of poetry canonised, championed or marginalising by programming and presentational choices?
  • The TV poetry documentary and the relationship between the written and the visual
  • The poet as guest performer, pundit, or interview subject
  • Intersections between democracy and elitism in the commissioning and reviewing culture of both television and poetry
  • Intersections between poetry and television in non-English speaking contexts
  • Poetic quotation in the ‘Golden Age of Television’
  • The uses and purposes of poetry TV advertising
  • Poetry and the economics of broadcast
  • The cross-pollination of techniques: how has poetry been influenced by the perspectives and practices of TV? Has the influence gone both ways?
  • Poems and incidental references to TV; poets as watchers of TV; poems featuring TV-watching as an aspect of quotidian life
  • Poems and poetic sequences which respond to particular TV series or characters; the kinds of series or characters to which poets have been most significantly drawn
  • The role of poetry in the ethos and history of public service broadcasting
  • Poetry in educational, competition, and reality formats
  • YouTube and other online media platforms as alternatives venues for broadcasting poetry
  • How poetic technique has influenced TV production.

Please send your abstracts of no more than 300 words to poetryandtvconference@gmail.comby 14th May 2018. We are happy to consider themed poetry readings and reading panels alongside traditional academic papers. For creative submissions, please send abstracts of 150-300 words describing your reading and explaining its relevance to the conference topic, as well as at least 2 samples of your work. Please note that all proposals should function as 15 minute readings.

~ Please note that, while the relationship between poetry and film and poetry and radio is also a topic of significant interest, these areas of overlap have been more widely addressed in the scholarly literature; we therefore invite contributions focusing solely on television, or streaming video, for this one-day event. ~