Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Finding meaning in poetry

The Oxford Dictionary defines poetry as a piece of writing expressing feelings and ideas that are given intensity by particular attention to diction. Poetry at its core is a uniquely personal form of expression. To honor National Poetry Month, we’re sharing what poetry means to the writers of the Pavilion Poetry Series, including a sample from Nuar Alsadir’s new collection Fourth Person Singular. Maybe it will inspire to explore what poetry means to you.

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From early photography to the Instagram age

In our contemporary moment, as our digital spaces are saturated with feeds and streams of images, it’s clearer than ever that photography is a medium poised between arresting singularity and ambiguous plurality. Art historians have conventionally focused on the singularity of the photograph and its instant of capture. But the digital turn has prompted many scholars to reconsider photography in its many serialized incarnations.

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Paris in Translation: Eugène Briffault’s Paris à Table [excerpt]

“When Paris sits down at the table, the entire world stirs….” Eugène Briffault’s Paris à Table captures the manners and customs of Parisian dining in 1845. He gives a panoramic view of the conception of a dish (as detailed as the amount of coal used in stoves) to gastronomy throughout the city—leaving no bread roll unturned as he investigates how Paris eats. The below excerpt from Paris à Table (translated into English by J. Weintraub) provides statistics to capture the magnitude of the Parisian way of life.

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Reverse-mullet pedagogy: valuing horror fiction in the classroom

Are you familiar with the mullet? It’s a distinctive hairstyle—peculiarly popular in continental Europe in the 1980s—in which the hair is cut short on the top and sides but left long at the back. Whatever the aesthetic gravity of the mullet, it comes with a philosophy. The philosophy of the mullet is this: “Business in the front, party in the back.” I’ll argue that the reverse holds true for the horror genre, didactically speaking. Horror fiction is sexy. Horror has zombies. It has ghosts and vampires. It has Hannibal Lecter and Jigsaw, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Leatherface. It has cannibal hillbillies and crazed college kids.

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The modern Prometheus: the relevance of Frankenstein 200 years on

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s acclaimed Gothic novel, written when she was just eighteen. The ghoulish tale of monsters—both human and inhuman—continues to captivate readers around the world, but two centuries after Shelley’s pitiably murderous monster was first brought to life, how does the tale speak to the modern age? The answer is that the story remains strikingly relevant to a contemporary readership, through its exploration of scientific advancements and artificial intelligence.

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American Renaissance: the Light & the Dark

The American Renaissance—perhaps the richest literary period in American history, critics argue—produced lettered giants Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emily Dickinson. Much like the social and historical setting in which it was birthed, this period was full of paradoxes that were uniquely American.

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Editing Arthur Machen

f the challenges Arthur Machen presents to an editor, two, in particular, have shadowed me during the preparation of this new collection of his stories. The first is simply the special sense of responsibility one feels when curating the work of a deeply loved writer—for even when Machen’s reputation has been at low ebb (as, often enough, it has been), he has always had a hard core of devoted admirers.

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“Alas, poor YORICK!:” death and the comic novel

Tragedy provokes sorrow and concludes with downfall and death. Comedy elicits laughter and ends happily. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is one of the funniest novels of world literature. But does the work, overshadowed by death, end happily? Can death and comedy mix? “Everybody dies. If you are going to take that badly, you’re doing it wrong. So you have to take it as a joke.” The sentiments of the celebrated Spanish cartoonist Antonio Fraguas, Forges, who died on 22 February 2018, might echo those of Sterne, whose own death took place 250 years ago on 18 March 1768.

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How to spot ambiguity

Not long ago, a colleague was setting up a meeting and suggested bringing along spouses to socialize after the business was done. Not getting a positive reply, she emailed: “I’m getting a lack of enthusiasm for boring spouses with our meeting.” A minute later, a second, clarifying email arrived indicating that she “meant boring as a verb not an adjective.” She had spotted the ambiguity in the first message.

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In celebration of twentieth century African American literature

Since the first poems published by former slaves Phyllis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammon around the time of the American Revolution, African American literature has played a vital role in the history and culture of the United States. The slave narratives of figures such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Wilson became a driving force for abolitionism before the Civil War, and the tumultuous end of Reconstruction brought about the exploration of new genres and themes during the height of the Jim Crow era.

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Alain Locke, Charles S. Johnson, and the establishment of Black literature [excerpt]

In March of 1924, Charles S. Johnson, sociologist and editor of Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, approached Alain Locke with a proposal: a dinner was being organized with the intention to secure interracial support for Black literature. Locke, would attend the dinner as “master of ceremonies,” with the responsibility of finding a common language between Black writers and potential White allies.

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Facts about Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems

Of all Shakespeare’s great plays his most frequently published work in his lifetime his erotic poem, Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems may often feel less familiar than his plays, but they have also seeped into our cultural history. Within them, they reveal much about the Bard himself and include a number of surprises. Here are a few lesser known facts about Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems.

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Outreach ideas by librarians, for librarians

For university libraries, it can sometimes be difficult to get students—especially new students— comfortable with coming into the library and engaging with library staff. We asked some librarians how they get creative with their student outreach to welcome students to campus and to the library. By welcoming students back with these events every quarter, librarians remind them that they are the reason university libraries are here.

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Want to know the Latin for “true love”?

Then Ovid is your man – and woman, as the case may be … Fidus amor. That’s “true love” in Latin. Historically, such love is often claimed to have emerged with the troubadours of twelfth century Provence. The troubadours used the Occitan term fin amor for this kind of love rather than the more famous […]

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Sing, Ward, Sing

While the title of the latest issue of American Literary History, “What is Twenty-First-Century African American Literature?” is meant as a provocation to understand and define the key elements of a new literary period, there is an easier way to answer the question. Eighteen years into our new century key texts have already emerged as canonical. What is Twenty-First-Century African American Literature? Answers

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Why visit Vermeer?

An exhibition of paintings by Johannes Vermeer caused a frenzy in Washington DC in 1995. The National Gallery of Art was booked to capacity, and there were lines of hopeful visitors queued around the block, despite sub-zero conditions outside. Vermeer has just returned to Washington, and the gallery staff expects a full house, but have things changed now? Why would you bother to go to a museum to see great art? With the tap of a finger, you can see masterpieces up close on your screen; you can get nearer than any museum attendant would ever allow.

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