Thursday, October 31, 2013

Analysing religious poetry for the non-religious

An unusual religious background has left a Victoria University of Wellington Professor of English with a taste for secular writing containing religious ideas.

In his upcoming inaugural professorial lecture, titled ‘When You’re Dead You Go on Television: Sex, Death and Household Objects in Some New Zealand Poetry’,
Professor Mark Williams will examine New Zealand poetry that deals with death, the body and consolation.

When he was a child, his parents converted from the Christadelphian faith to Catholicism, although, he says, his father describes himself as ‘an atheist who loves church music’.

This experience led Professor Williams to develop an enduring fascination for art and literature in which there is no indication of religious belief, but where language or imagery associated with religious ideas still appear.

His lecture will include examples of poetry by New Zealand writers Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt and Allen Curnow.

“I will also touch on the opposite ends of the spectrum—CK Stead who’s a militant atheist and James K Baxter who’s a militant believer—to provide a contrast with the writers who are in between the two.”

Professor Williams says his lecture will show that the legacy of religion belongs to everybody—not just religious people.

“Religion has power in our language, our thought, our writing and our art.”
Professor Williams specialises in researching and teaching both New Zealand and modern literature and has been published widely in both fields since the mid-1980s. He is currently working with Professors Jane Stafford and Ralph Crane to edit The World Novel to 1950, a volume of the Oxford University Press series, The History of the Novel in English. He is also editing a new History of New Zealand Literature for Cambridge University Press.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh says Victoria University’s inaugural lecture series is an opportunity for professors to share insights into their specialist areas of study with family, friends, colleagues and the wider community.

“Inaugural lectures are also an excellent way for the University to celebrate and acknowledge our valued professors,” says Professor Walsh.

What: When You’re Dead You Go on Television: Sex, Death and Household Objects in Some New Zealand Poetry

When: 6pm, Tuesday 5 November

Where: Hunter Council Chamber, Level 2, Hunter Building, Gate 1 or 2, Kelburn Parade, Wellington

RSVP by Friday 1 November. Phone 04-463 6390 or email with ‘Williams’ in the subject line.

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