Erin Lafford, Corpus Christi, Oxford
This week our speaker is Oxford's own Erin Lafford, who will be sharing some of her work on the connections between poetic form and mental and physical health in the poetry of John Clare. All welcome as always in Seminar Room A, 5.15 pm!
This paper discusses how health might function through sound in John Clare’s pre-asylum poems (1820-1837). Many critics have considered Clare’s madness, but few have addressed the experience of health in his poetry. How can we read, or hear, a healthy Clare? I will think about an experience of health through sound in relation to Clare’s representation of health as a ‘voice’ that ‘greets’ him alongside another vocal phenomenon in his poetry. Mutterings and the sub-vocal frequently appear as a kind of nature-speech: utterances of rivers, winds and trees emanate from the natural world and ‘speak’ to Clare. Sub-vocal communication also appears as a way for Clare to figure an affective relationship with the natural world. I will consider Clare’s instances of muttering in relation to the observations and insanity treatises surrounding his entrance into High Beech and, later, Northampton asylum, many of which cite mutterings and murmurings as evidence of insanity. I consider what the ‘voice’ of health might sound like for Clare through both Gilles Deleuze’s notion of ‘affective’ vocal disturbances (Essays Critical and Clinical, 1993) and Gaston Bachelard’s healthy poetics of ‘reverie’ made up of different ‘perceptible registers’ (The Poetics of Reverie, 1960). Through Deleuze and Bachelard, I consider Clare’s voice of health as one that is attuned to the incoherent sounds of the natural world, allowing me to suggest that Clare’s pre-asylum mutterings do not foreshadow a descent into madness, but allow us to think about health at and below the level of language in his poems.