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Douglas Kerr


27 October 18


Kate Kennedy


Wilfred Owen and Beyond, 26-28 October 2018

Keynote: Douglas Kerr, 'Owen, Elegy, and Oxford' (chair: Elleke Boehmer)

Since the time of Matthew Arnold, poets associated with Oxford have shown a particular
affinity with the genre of elegy, the poetry of mourning. Wilfred Owen (who did not go to
Oxford, much to his chagrin) considered the title English Elegies for his first collection of
poems. Subjecting this classical genre to the trauma of industrial war, he challenged its
conventions and tropes, revising and extending its possibilities, so that we can speak of an
Owen tradition, or of post-Owen elegy. In this talk I will point to the presence of Owen in the
elegiac work of a number of Oxford-educated poets of the twentieth and twenty-first
centuries to show how, as Auden himself wrote in an elegy, “The words of a dead man / Are
modified in the guts of the living”.


Any study of Owen's life is by definition overshadowed by his death and the bitter irony of its timing, at the very end of the war. Unlike some of his lesser discussed contemporaries, such as Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg, Owen’s poetry has been appreciated and analysed by many scholars in previous decades. It remains enduringly popular, and has lost little of its capacity to move and shock its readers. It is taught across the country as part of the National Curriculum, and has become the lens through which we view what, with Owen’s help, has been dubbed the most literary war in history.

This conference is concerned with Owen’s afterlife. How has his work been received, and how has it changed our view of the war? What effect has his verse had on writers, composers and other intellectuals, and how has Owen himself been portrayed, appropriated and discussed posthumously?