Form and the Gothic

This weekend I’m attending the CWWA’s ‘Contemporary Women’s Gothic’ conference at the University of Brighton. My abstract is…

‘Not “A Gothic”: Leontia Flynn’s Unstable Genre’

Hailed for her wry wit and original contemporary lyricism, the 29 poem sequence ‘A Gothic’ from Northern Irish poet Leontia Flynn’s most recent collection Profit and Loss (2011) seems to be a new direction. This paper will consider the conventional Gothic tropes being deployed in this sequence (including madness, doubling, screaming women and haunting) in order to interrogate what they reveal about Flynn’s attitude towards genre, poetics and selfhood.

The most unsettling aspect of Flynn’s Gothic is its deliberate fragility. ‘A Gothic’ is barely ‘A Gothic’ at all. While Fred Botting defined Gothic as ‘writing of excess’ (1996), Flynn’s approach subverts this. Her work is restrained; most poems barely exceed two stanzas and make scant reference to the Gothic tropes which supposedly bind them together. The sequence portends to demonstrate Flynn’s approach to legacy, yet family and literary inheritance seem half-achieved. This paper will suggest that a failure of genre (or failing genre) is the only way for a contemporary poet to explore poetic form and individual selfhood.

Further, while it seems that this new angle is tangential to her previous poems about screensavers, city redevelopment and computer programming, perhaps the ‘A Gothic’ sequence also highlights a darker side to her earlier collections which has been overlooked. Has ‘the legendary man in the back with the hatchet’ she notices in These Days (2004) been omnipresent, and if so, where? Re-reading Flynn’s psychoanalytic biographies from Drives (2008) and her student memoirs from These Days, I find evidence of an unstable, low-Gothic style, which Flynn has been suggesting is adequate to our times all along.’

I’m looking forward to papers on Kate Mosse, ‘Mickey Mouse Gothic’, Jackie Kay’s Trumpet and the keynote by Dr. Catherine Spooner.

This paper seems to be a million miles away from my usual work on tradition and influence, but writing it I found that some of my conclusions would fit quite happily in my thesis. Towards the end, too, I found I was making more general comments on contemporary poetics and the gothic themes which I’d love to expand into something more involved than a single author study at some stage. In fact, I’m really interested in taking something most readings (mostly fiction) find mainly thematic and seeing how it can relate to form in poetry.

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