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PORES - A Journal of Poetics Research

Five minutes on Poetry and Public Language, the topic and the book so named

- John Hall


  1. Questions still in my mind, or even more in my mind, after reading the collection.

  2. I liked the articles that tried to take on the troublesomeness of the  term, ‘public language’.

  3. I am reminded of the need some years ago to distinguish between ‘public art’ and ‘art in public places’ (and also ‘art for public places’) 1. But the title of the conference and this collection of papers is not ‘public poetry’. It insists on that word ‘language’, with all its recent history.

  4. The ‘and’ in the title is an open ticket. Some possible interpretations: poetry ‘as’ public language; poetry ‘in’ public language; public language ‘in’ poetry;  poetry’s relation to ‘public language’. (Terry)

  5. The contributors are primarily poets, poet/critics, poet/teachers; not socio-linguists or discourse theorists, though many poets now see it as necessary to double as language-philosophers, even to treat poems as a praxis of a philosophy of language. For some, it seems, that is public enough.

  6. Some thoughts: public language is always either fully authorised or openly contests authority and its sites of authorisation.

  7. Where are such sites for poetry? A network of educational institutions? Or any network of poet/critics who leave the door open on their conversation? (especially Hampson, Fryatt)

  8. Can the term ‘public language’ be used for any discourse where there is a manifest public interest?  (Terry, Hampson, Middleton)

  9. Or only where the writer or speaker assumes a public interest and uses modes and channels of public address? (Hampson)

  10. Perhaps an occasion is also needed if, in J.L. Austin’s term, the language is to be felicitous – ie perform its public works.

  11. There is a difference between publicly available and publicly conspicuous: access and reach.

  12. A full public language can only be spoken by those authorised to do so. Are there still modes of such authority particular to poetry? If so, can there be a collusion between this authority of the poetic word (scripture) and the authority of lay power? (Is there a literary equivalent to the debate about CIA patronage of abstract expressionism?)

  13. Rhetorical practice is almost certainly entailed in any idea of Public Language. Two motives for offering instruction in rhetoric: a training in the use of persuasive speaking and writing; protection against such persuasion.

  14. The fool in King Lear.

  15. The res publica is now constituted through multiple networks of channels. Of course the ‘languages’ are multiple and there is no private domain remote from their reach.  (especially Fisher)

  16. A public language is necessary to support the idea of privacy.

  17. Most of the contributors have an evident triple linguistic investment in the res publica:
    (i) as voter-consumer-communicants in state and ‘global’ infrastructures (ie as ‘citizens’ or ‘individuals’); (ii) as public servant educators; (iii) as poets. Each investment carries linguistic responsibilities and possibilities, with different authorisations. There are bids in the collection to see them as interwoven.


1 See, for example,  Malcolm Miles  Art for Public Places: Critical Essays  (Winchester: Winchester School of Art Press,  1989); David Harding (edited, with Pavel Büchler) Decadent, Public Art: Contentious Term and Contested Practice (Glasgow: Foulis Press, 1997)


John Hall  (5.12.07)

PORES webjournal, Professor William Rowe,  email: