Call for Papers

Yeats’s impact on the shape of Irish culture in general as well as his central role in the development of poetry and drama far beyond Ireland, Britain and the US have long been recognized. While critical studies of his writings’ influence on other poets have amply shown the extent to which Yeats has become, to use Harold Bloom’s term, one of the strongest poets we have ever known, his impact on popular culture remains a largely uncharted territory. We like to think of Yeats as a mage-like figure, ‘pac[ing] upon the battlements’ of the mist-immersed Thoor Ballylee, and seem too quick to reconcile the larger-than-life poet with Yeats the public intellectual, the household name that he became even when still alive. Throughout his life, though with ever grater chagrin, Yeats desired not only to mould Irish poets but to shape what he saw as the resistant agate of Irish cultural identity. And while he would deplore popular culture as manifested in the form of contemporary pulp literature (particularly that imported from Ireland) and the barbaric vaudeville, he cherished the idea of a national culture founded on a set of images that would be instantly recognizable, though never fully cognizable. Ironically, Yeats succeeded equally much in the realm of high verse and in the very province that he would scorn, as the contemporary popular culture has shown a penchant for his writings more so than for any other poet, except perhaps Shakespeare. ‘The Second Coming’ has been particularly fruitful and ironies that the modern-day uses of the poem unleash are perhaps the most striking. After all, lines from the poem have featured prominently in the New Yorker cartoons as well as in various political campaigns; Woody Allen alluded to it in his collection of short stories Mere Anarchy (2007); far, far deeper into the realm of pop culture one discovers lines from ‘The Second Coming’ thrown as part of psychoanalytic instruction to Tony Soprano and adopted as the title of a Star Trek saga; even Batman came to do his crusading with Yeats splashed all over his cape in the 2009 Widening Gyre story arch. Considering that the poem was written in response to what Yeats believed was a collapse of the world order that was to be replaced by to the rule of the unenlightened, the fact that the very barbaric unenlightened have come to appreciate it so much must raise an eyebrow.

In view of such unasked for popularity that Yeats has won over the years, the conference aims to focus on a two-fold understanding of Yeats’s relationship with pop culture. On the one hand, we wish to explore the issue synchronically, concentrating on Yeats’s contemporary inroads into the realm of the popular, whether via endorsing public schemes, giving public readings, writing letters for the press or indeed spearheading an Irish theatre. On the other, we would like to encourage a diachronic approach to Yeats’s lasting influence on popular culture manifested in all manner of its outlets all over the known universe, from a member of the crew of the starship Enterprise (Star Trek again) quoting ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ all the way to Sean Bean’s dying recitation of ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ in a sci-fi classic Equilibrium (2002).

Suggested topics may include but are in no way limited to:

  • Yeats and the popular culture of his day: battles, scandals, epistolary exchanges
  • Yeats’s involvements in the shaping of tastes
  • Popular perception of Yeats by his contemporaries and how it has changed over years
  • Pop culture’s implementation of Yeats’s work across the last century
  • Yeats’s poetry as a politician’s manual: how his work is modified/distorted by being deployed in various contexts
  • Yeats’s intersemiotic travels: film, TV, comic books, graphic novels, music
  • The position of the ‘Yeats country’ in contemporary Irish culture
  • The unwobbling titan(?): Yeats in contemporary Irish literary consciousness

Deadline for abstract submission: 10 November 2020

Please send the abstracts of maximum 200 words along with your bio of maximum 150 words to