Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition AH5, based on Dr George Potts’ lecture on ‘Tradition and Innovation in Modern Poetry’. Below you can read the winning entries, as selected by our team of markers.
Building on the ideas covered in the taster lecture, write a short response (no more than 300 words) about how a twentieth- or twenty-first-century poet makes use of literary tradition and past literature in their own work. Your response can look at one of the poets discussed in the lecture or at a poet from your own wider reading.
Lauren’s winning entry
Tim Turnbull takes influence from literary tradition in his work. This is made apparent in Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn, which alludes to Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. Turnbull utilizes fixed verse, a traditional poetic form which constrains his poem to five stanzas of ten lines. Additionally, Turnbull writes in iambic pentameter, a long-established device typically used to elevate the subject and create a distinguished tone. This reflects the form of Keats’ poem and other pieces of past literature, which would be considered rigid in comparison with contemporary free verse poetry. Therefore, Turnbull’s mastery of form is highlighted and his work is placed in the same literary canon as Keats.
However, he also subverts literary tradition. Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn is rooted in modern culture, littered with references to brands and pop-culture. The poem contains colloquial language such as “burberry clad louts”, which creates images wholly related to modern society and current representations of youth in the media. This is in stark contrast to Ode on a Grecian Urn which is decorated with images of “pastoral” ancient Greece, a scene of “pipes and timbrels” further evoking a historical landscape. Turnbull’s subversion extends into the language used to describe the urn. Both poets personify the urn, however, Keats’ uses this technique to express reverence; describing it as an “unravish’d bride of quietness”. This has connotations of purity and illustrates his respect for high-brow culture. Conversely, Turnbull describes the urn as a “garish crock”. This demonstrates his lack of respect as the adjective “garish” suggests vulgarity or the provocative nature of the piece, which juxtaposes against the traditional virginal purity of Keats’ interpretation.
Supriya’s winning entry
Keaton St. James is a 26-year-old Christian gay trans poet. As a teenager he restyled himself after his favourite poet, Keats, whom he describes as the ‘love of [his] life’, and began to write, calling upon the heritage of intense and heady Romantic poetry that he admired so much. Drawing upon his LGBT identity to vividly colour the world around him, he is often compared to famed gay poet Richard Siken due to that frenetically dissecting gaze that’s so appropriate for a modern rendering of Romanticism as a movement that worshipped an untainted nature that is disappearing even faster now than in the Romantic heyday of the 19th century. St. James imbues Keats’ romantic depth of feeling and fragile masculinity with a new dimension via an exploration of what an author’s masculinity means for his connection with the world and beyond. His poetry re-defines tradition, writing often about the homoeroticism implicit in the life of Jesus and his disciples; rather than using this for juvenile shock-value, he uses it to further a typically romantic exploration of religion: when asked why Judas loved Jesus he replied, ‘I think ‘in love’ doesn’t cover the scope of it.’ As a trans man the divine act of creation is infinitely important – in one poem he discusses ‘the way you hunger for me to unmake myself into clay / to be as red and malleable as the word girl’, in another, ‘god says…. I sculpted your atoms out of river clay’. Keats, similarly struggling with the gods as he nursed his dying younger brother, sought the same validation in the act of creation in ‘Hyperion’ – “But cannot I create?… Cannot I fashion forth Another world…?’. St. James’ vulnerable poetry gently and enduringly informs the perception of Keats’ ever-questioning, ever-insecure, ever-fragile life, masculinity and poetry.