Speakers: Fran Brooks (York), Catherine Evans, Hannah Armstrong and Rebecca Drake.
This roundtable will turn to the muddy, oozy spaces of estuary, fen, sea floor, and tideline. Work on the Blue Humanities has often prioritised wide oceans, but more recently Lowell Duckert (2017) and John Brannigan (2014) have focused attention on the places where land and sea combine. These environments are at times unappealing and inhospitable to human life, shifting and protean, characterised by their mixed nature. This roundtable discussion will see four new and emerging literary scholars, working from the medieval to modern, examine these spaces of decomposition and consider the materials that they have provided for literary (re)making, including in our own creative practices. We ask:
- How do tidal landscapes engage writers with, and across, time?
- What can Premodern Studies learn from contemporary ecocriticism, particularly the Blue Humanities, and vice versa?
- How do spaces of decomposition complicate the division between the human and the natural?
- How are our critical impulses shaped by our creative desires, and how might we undertake creative research alongside critical research?
Catherine Evans explores the spots where the ‘tide doth wash on the slimy beach’ in John Donne’s works (1572-1631). In Donne’s sermons, the mud of the sea stores aeons of epochal change, as he repeatedly asks “in what corner, in what ventricle of the sea, lies all the jelly of a Body drowned in the general flood?”
Hannah Armstrong presents work on another clergyman writer, Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), best known for collecting ballads and folklore, but also one of the most prolific (but unpublished) Old Norse saga translators of the 19/20th century. Baring-Gould focused on his own retellings of the sagas, remarking that he was disinterested in “servile translations”. These creative recompositions emphasised and embellished the sagas’ ecological details to better suit 19th century romantic ideas of “authentic” medieval archipelagic landscapes.
Francesca Brooks’ current project looks at the writing of two late modernist Anglo-Welsh writers, Lynette Roberts (1909-1995) and Brenda Chamberlain (1912-1971), and their recomposition of medieval literature in landscapes at the water’s edge. In the tidal Welsh spaces of Chamberlain’s Tide-race (1962) and Roberts’s Gods with Stainless Ears (1951), these writers find early medieval voices resurfacing from the Old English elegies to Y Gododdin. Brooks will also draw on her own practice as a creative writer for whom the sea edge has loomed large, particularly during the pandemic lockdowns when remembered or imagined coastlines were a site of longing.
Rebecca Drake’s doctoral research peers between the texts of Middle English and Old Norse-Icelandic romance to understand late-medieval authors and audiences’ lived relationship with the maritime environments of the North Atlantic. As poet-in-residence at the Maritime Museum in Hull, an important medieval port connecting England and Iceland in the fifteenth century and an imaginative backdrop for the Middle English romance Havelok, Drake applied her knowledge as a medievalist to write a series of poems retelling the museum’s objects, re-situating them in the surrounding memory-laden ooze of the Humber.
IHR Seminar Series: People, Place and Community