Poetry, Memory and Performance Conference 2015


This interdisciplinary conference brought together researchers, educationalists, poets and performers with an interest in this area. Our aim was to open dialogue about the place of memorisation and recitation both within and outside formal education, and to think together about a number of vital questions, such as:

  • To what extent do these embodied ways of knowing offer distinctive forms of understanding and appreciating a poem?
  • What critical perspectives are useful for developing practices of memorisation and performance. How might we theorise these processes, and what terms should we use?
  • Can the interpretation of a poem in performance be seen as a form of critical interpretation, and how does that relate to textual criticism? Are there other ways of positioning recitation and performance?
  • How can the evaluation of poetry performance be approached?
  • What is the value of memorisation and recitation, psychologically, culturally and historically?
  • What is the meaning and significance of these modes of engaging with poetry within our current culture?
  • Where can a poem be said to exist?

The full conference programme is here. Resources for conference delegates may be found here (password required).


Catherine Robson, Professor of English at New York University, whose acclaimed historical study, Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem, examines recitation in British and American elementary education in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the vital connections that were once forged between memorised poems, individuals and their communities.

Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist, philosopher and literary scholar: his ground-breaking book The Master and his Emissary argues that the divided structure of the brain affects all our relations with the world, ourselves and our bodies, and has profound implications for our understanding of language, music and poetry.