Saturday, November 03, 2007

Grasmere: the papers

I was fortunate enough to present my paper about a week into the conference, so I'd had plenty of time to get to know everyone. This made the experience approximately 60% less nerve-wracking. However, I was still nervous because some of the other presenters had gotten some really picky questions, and because I wasn't sure how a paper on Austen would go over at a Wordsworth conference. As it turned out, it went fine.

No one nodded off, and people did ask questions, but they didn't ask any questions I couldn't answer. I actually felt like some of the questions I got were softballs, but Sara said she thought the questioners were taking me seriously.

Most of the other papers were about Wordsworth (surprise) and the other Lake poets, and most of them were good. My favorites were J. D. Lopez’ paper on "Wordsworth and the New Spaniard," Nick Roe's lecture on "The Lives of John Thelwall," Joanne Parker's lecture on the cultural history of stone circles, and Nick Groom's presentation, which included a performance on the hurdy-gurdy. J.D. and Nick Roe had very different topics, but their work was the kind of thing that I would like to do: it addressed the complex nature of the dialog between literature of the Romantic period and the historical and cultural context in which it was written. I knew nothing about John Thelwall before the conference, but Nick Roe's paper convinced me that I ought to. Joanne's presentation was interesting and thorough, and had the advantage of being delivered in the shadow of Long Meg, which was just plain cool.

Nick Groom's presentation had something to do with Coleridge's "damsel with a dulcimer" from "Kubla Khan," but obviously the cool part was the performance:

One thing I found very interesting/educational about the papers was the nature of the questions they engendered. When the students presented, the questions were difficult enough, but seemed fairly straightforward. Some of the students, for example, got questions about which edition of a poem they had used as their text, and why. When the professors presented, though, they got some questions that seemed really ... obscure. Sometimes the questioner would speak for a minute or more without really asking a question, and sometimes the question seemed so multi-faceted or convoluted that it was hard to understand what the point was. The best answer I heard to such a question came from J.D., who got one of the not-really-a-question questions. He did give an answer, but prefaced it by saying, "Sometimes it's hard to improve on your questions by answering them."

1 comment:

Heidi said...

Fabulous. :-D That's the best response I've ever heard.