Textualities 2016 Mini-Conference – Reflection

I presented at the Textualities ’16 Mini-Conference on Friday, 4th of March last. It’s a Conference run by, and featuring all of the MA students currently studying at the School of English, UCC. I presented on the poet, Michael Hartnett, who I’ll be writing a thesis on this summer. The event was the culmination of the Contemporary Research Skills module which all of us took part in throughout the academic year. The objective of which was to clue us in to the contemporary world of academia, this blog itself is a happy by-product of it. Parallel facets of the digital academic such as live-tweeting (see below, for my own contributions), live-blogging, or Wikipedia editing, were also touched on. The conference was to be where we brought all these together. The prescribed style of presentation at the conference was Pecha-Kucha: the delivery of 20 slides, 20 seconds for each. The conference was a great success.

There’s me looking grumpy, front row, second from the right.

Putting my reflections of the event down on paper here, I find myself both reflecting on the event, as well as the personal reflections I’ve had since. You know… in my mind? I was disappointed with how I presented. My disappointment was compounded to by criticism I received on it, some fair, some unfair (in my view!). I’ve reflected on it quite a lot, giving it more thought than it deserves, most likely. Reading some of the excellently written reflections on the conference by my classmates, (Michelle Murphy’s and Emilio Bon Are’s being two which I enjoyed) I feel a complete dislocation. The uniformly positive response to the event leading from a genuine sense of communal enrichment, is one I don’t share. To explain that dislocation I’ll explain why I was disappointed with my presentation first, tell you what I learned from the other presentations, then detail my reflections of the event as a whole. That will add up to a reflection, won’t it?

I’m too close to Michael Hartnett. I’m conscious of the need to write on him from an academic distance which his poetry deserves. It’s central to my thesis. To detail that I decided to include in the presentation a summary of his life and poems which are particularly important to me. In performing the pratfall of an overly subjective engagement, well I came across as too closely involved. It stank of “Work in Progress”, because that’s what it was. All well and good. Such doesn’t make for polished presentations. I didn’t get across that nuance. Maybe I’m ascribing it nuance status after the fact. I do things like that.

As I’ve outlined elsewhere, I don’t agree with presentations which involve reading from a prepared script. Ideally I like to have as complete a knowledge of my subject area as possible, some staging posts, and an end point marked out, then riff off the top. It’s more immediate. In doing so you invariably come at a new insight which only the pressure of speaking to an audience facilitates. In the days and weeks prior to the presentation I tried to throw my arms around the entirety of Hartnett’s poetry. As well as Translation Theory. Deconstruction. The Public Sphere. My thesis was undoubtedly too broad. In hindsight it was a fool’s errand. It didn’t work. The Pecha-Kucha format doesn’t lend itself to the approach I had taken previously. I didn’t adapt. I presented a partial picture of Hartnett’s poetry and the theory I was using to critique it. With a backdrop of pictures. Which I occasionally resorted to narrating. I’m writing this curled in the foetal position. Yes, I’m a grown man.

I’ve stated elsewhere that when presenting on poets or poetry I think it’s a good idea to read some poems. Sometimes without immediate analysis. Let them speak for themselves, nothing being comparable to the magic of each reader’s reception. I stand by that position. I think. Am I arguing myself into an academic foxhole here? Within the six minute timeframe allocated, this time I didn’t get the balance right. Searching for a way to present a poem in both languages simultaneously, I landed on what I believe is an original technique; holding cards which subtitle the poem being read, (if it’s not original please let me know!). I read one of Hartnett’s better known poems, ‘A Necklace of Wrens’, ‘An Muince Dreoilíní’.  I think the technique is novel, performing the Différance which I believe lies within Hartnett’s bilingual poetry. Its tactility also acted as a counterpoint to the implacability of the Pecha-Kucha format. As overt a criticism as I felt decorum would allow. It was risky. I’m glad I went for it, though I’m uncertain as to its efficacy. Perhaps I’m internalising criticism which it received.

That’s me, front and centre. Bit of a berk.

Focussing on Hartnett’s bilingual poetry, I was constantly conscious of my own limitations of understanding. I don’t speak Irish. I blame others, don’t worry. In short it’s a problem. The Mini-Conference presentation was me butting against that glass ceiling of understanding, a snapshot in time of an approach I understood was inaccessible to my monolingual brain. I was in love with it a little, and like all one sided lovers I blinded myself to the approaching necessary ending. I didn’t tell the audience any of this. I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible.

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Is it possible to have a “different public sphere”? I blame myself…

A more positive aspect of the conference were the presentations of my classmates. I saw in some, a polish and confidence in presentation style which I’ll never have. The live-blogging, live-tweeting, aspect of the day was a real highlight also. I see I’m lagging behind in that side of academia. It’s easy to dismiss or be sceptical. The ease with which others engage on the spot, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is something I must strive for. I can only envy. I’m very happy for those classmates also who have written of the rush and sense of accomplishment which they experienced at the event. On reflection I see that it’s by over-complicating things that I denied that to myself. Drawing from broader reflection, however I know I won’t change my intention. Nor should.


I just come across an edition of the Guardian’s ‘Poem of the Week’ series which features ‘A Necklace of Wrens’. Carol Rumens makes a good fist at analysing it, though I think there’s more to the poem than she puts forward. For someone who’s about to embark on a thesis on Hartnett it’s heartening to see her hail him as ‘a major and ground-breaking 20th century poet’, and not indulge in the more common “much loved and admired” cliché, which I see in much of the work on Hartnett. Maybe I can put those provisos on ice? In truth, it’s neither here nor there. I’m reminded of Kavanagh’s words from Self Portrait: ‘Nobody is important. Nobody is major. We go to our destiny in the end. I am not in the least bitter over all this. In fact I am always in danger of bursting out laughing.’ The old boy said it right. I must take his words on board when looking at Hartnett. And when reflecting on presentations…