The Theory and Practice of Poetry 2013

Styles of StilesStyles of stiles by Tom Lee and Geoff Tonkin, image credit Zoë Sadokierski.

November 8th 2013

Convenor- Gavin Smith (Writing and Society doctoral candidate)

The purpose of this symposium is to consider the relationship between poetic theory and practice. Theorising about poetry has been around almost as long the practice of writing it; trying to make sense of what Sidney calls the most ancient art has spawned its own academic industry. But, it must be added, many poets, especially since the 19th century, and most notably in the 20th, have applied their theoretical faculties to making sense of poetry and the experience of poetry in critical, analytical, and abstract ways. The fact that poets like Wordsworth and Eliot have found value in poetic theory is evidence of its broader value.


Read the call for expressions of interests for this event (opens in a new window)(PDF 210KB)

Questions of Theory and Practice

There are a number of points of entry one can take to understanding the relationship between poetic theory and practice.

We can look at the history of poetic theory: from Plato to Aristotle to Horace to Sidney to Shelley to Eliot to Brodsky. We can ask the question: Is there a dominant theoretical framework that guides the practice and understanding of poetry in any given period? Or is theory always catching up?

We can apply theoretical insights to practice: is it possible to “test” poetic theory through practice? Can we test theoretical insights of one time period against the practice of another? Or one poet’s insights against the practice of another? Is it possible to prove theory through practice?

Can poetic theory be considered a single, coherent discipline? Is there a “philosophy of poetry” in the same way that there is a “philosophy of mind” or a philosophy of language”? Poetic practice is itself not a single, coherent artistic discipline; how do we make sense of a disparate and contestable art form? How do we answer the question “what is poetry?”

This symposium will cover a wide range of topics regarding poetry and practice. It is by no means limited to the questions raised here.

Read an extended introduction (opens in a new window)(PDF 195KB)


The event began with the keynote address by Dr Jacob Edmond from the University of Otago. This was followed a panel of presenters, including Tom Lee and Fiona Burrows.  In the afternoon a roundtable and forum discussed ideas raised during the day.

Download the event program

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