Jerome Rothenberg spoke as part of the 2017 seminar program on Writing Through: Translation and Othering as Forms of Composition.

Our Next Seminar

Helen Koukoutsis (WSRC) 'Boats Adrift: Emily Dickinson's and Bayard Taylor's Romantic Interludes at Sea' 

Friday 15 November 2019
11:00am  – 12:30pm

Location: Female Orphan School, conference room 1, EZ.G.23, Parramatta South Campus, Western Sydney University(Corner of James Ruse Drive and Victoria Road, Rydalmere)

Emily Dickinson almost always expresses acts of drifting, rowing or sailing, and floating out at sea as dangerous, yet, ironically, as soothing and restful sojourns. In her poetry, her speakers encounter drownings and shipwrecks; they also witness pearl divers, lovers, or nymphs wrestling with their fates. Although dangerous, the sea, as some critics have argued, is a symbolic space of quiet introspection, stillness, and contemplation in Dickinson’s poetry; it is the closest her speakers come to an understanding of the unknown. Read another way, however, the sea in Dickinson’s writing represents possibility. Two of Dickinson’s early sea poems, “On this wondrous sea – sailing silently – “(F3) and “Adrift! A little boat adrift!” (F6), explore possible ways of becoming an enduring poet. These poems partly owe their language, style, and imagery to that of her American contemporary, Bayard Taylor, whose Book of Romances, Lyrics, and Songs (1852) was available in the family library. Taylor strongly figured in the intellectual landscape during the 1850s – the decade Dickinson began writing poetry in earnest – as both a travel writer and poet. In his poems, however, Taylor explores a restlessness and apprehension that Dickinson attempts to assuage in her own poetry using a language of topography and nauticality. The unease that Taylor felt in being a travel writer – the renown it brought him, the threat it posed on his reputation as a poet – surfaces in his poetry in the form of sea imagery: storms, winds, and drifting planks. Taylor’s personae are caught up in tempests and shipwrecks and they drift alone in open waters in search of land. They are never fully at ease in water. Although they share similar imagery, Dickinson’s sea poems, unlike those of Taylor’s, communicate a deeply contemplative poet who is fully immersed in the desire to work out how to become enduring, how to weather the storm of stylistic convention, to draw on inspiration, and, when done, to shoot “exultant on” without drowning in fame or fortune.

HELEN KOUKOUTSIS is an Associate Lecturer in Literary Studies in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and a member of the Writing and Society Research Centre. She was awarded a PhD from Macquarie University and a commendation from the Vice Chancellor for a thesis of exceptional merit. She specialises in nineteenth-century American literature, especially Emily Dickinson and her cultural milieu. Helen's current research project on Dickinson and nineteenth-century Buddhism has been recently funded by a Researcher Development grant at WSU.

All welcome. RSVP Ms Suzanne Gapps (

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The Parramatta South campus is accessible by public transport including University shuttle bus. See the Getting to uni page for more details.

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