In 2011-13, I’m investigating questions about poetry, value, and accident, in the context of a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, intended to ‘enable the development of new research questions, as well as experimentation with new methods, theoretical approaches and/or ideas’. The questions and methods I’m exploring all have something to do with why contingency, or accident, might have value per se, and how and why poetry can be an embodiment of this. That is to say, I am working to identify behind certain theories of art, culture, and language a largely unarticulated counter-current to the main-stream of Western thought, one which puts into question Aristotelian-subjective as much as Platonist-objective accounts of value. Among the things I’m thinking about at the moment are:

  • Poetry and etymology; poets and their dictionaries; lexicography and intertextuality.
  • Poetry and society; poetry and politics; poetry and ethics; the poet-as-critic.
  • Digital humanities; working with large text corpora; computer assisted literary criticism; poetry and the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • The prose and poetry of Emily Dickinson, G. M. Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Don Paterson, and a bunch of others.

I hope to fill this site with a selection of these thoughts, observations, and questions, as a sort of open notebook.



  • Gord Higginson wrote:

    I read a review of your Defending Poetry in TLS and am looking forward to receiving my copy of your apologia. Does it touch on the subject of your project?

    Thank you

  • Thanks for your note, Gord. Let me know what you think of it when it arrives.

    The book preceded the current project, but is connected in the sense that both are trying to think about ways that poetry participates in and interacts with other kinds of discourse (philosophical, e.g., or social-scientific).

  • Gord Higginson wrote:

    Thank you Prof. Williams. I hope to read Defending Poetry soon, once OUP gets it to me. And I notice WLU’s library still has a copy, so I’ll probably borrow it this week. Since reading Sidney, I’ve been interested in the subject and histories of apologia(s?)for poetry.
    But Adorno’s “no poetry after Auschwitz” and Steiner’s Language and Silence (if I read it correctly–especially the image of SS officers listening to Schubert and reading Goethe’s verse after a day of killing) make me uneasy whenever I read a poem, so I continue to look for reasons to justify poetry.

    Like your blog too!

  • Thanks! I discuss each of those authors in the introduction, and spend some extra time on Adorno and Steiner in the chapter on Hill.

  • Gord Higginson wrote:

    I’m reading Defending Poetry now and I see I’ve been misquoting Adorno and Steiner all along. Fascinating book. And I’m going to have to read Hill. I avoided him previously, finding him difficult after trying to read “Mercian Hymns.”

  • Gord Higginson wrote:

    Thank you, Prof. Williams, for your suggestions–I have the Yale Selected Poems and Hill’s Collected Critical Writings on order.