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Press release

  • 20 February 2007

‘Overlooked Auden’ celebrated at centenary conference

W H Auden

W H Auden

Although considered one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century, with 'September 1, 1939' and 'Stop all the Clocks' being among the best-known of his poems, W H Auden is rarely taught in schools and universities.

A one-day conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Auden this week ( 21 February) will re-examine his overlooked legacy to literature.

The event, organised by University of Sussex literature and film studies lecturer Dr John David Rhodes, in association with the University of York, takes place on Saturday, 24 February, at the University of York.

Speakers include the psychotherapist and writer Adam Phillips and poet Peter Porter, as well as academics from Sussex, York, Nottingham Trent, and the United States, who will talk about Auden's work in relation to film, industrial Britain and the poetic form.

Dr Rhodes says: "Auden left a massive body of work, much of which is relatively unfamiliar to contemporary readers. He is seldom taught these days, perhaps because his work does not map neatly on to the high modernist poetry that preceded him and to which his own work, which is superficially more 'traditional' or 'conservative', responded.

"He produced some of the most memorable and often-quoted poems written in English in the last century. This event promises a reconsideration of his legacy from a variety of perspectives, considering not only his work in poetry, but also in music, theatre and film."

Laura Marcus, Professor of English at Sussex, will be showing and talking about the 1930s documentary films, 'Coal Face' and 'Night Mail' for which Auden wrote voice-over poems, with musical scores by Benjamin Britten. "I am particularly interested in the introduction of 'poetry into film speech', in the words of the documentary theorist and film-maker Paul Rotha." Says Professor Marcus.

'Stop All the Clocks', written in 1935 and originally entitled 'Funeral Blues', was famously recited by John Hannah in the Nineties romantic comedy Four Weddings and A Funeral and spurred a renewed interest in Auden's love poetry, while 'September 1, 1939', written at the outset of World War II, has also become a poetic anthem for 9/11.

But many of Auden's other works, including the verse play 'The Ascent of F6' (in which 'Stop all the Clocks' appears) and his oeuvre of more than 400 poems and as many essays have received little public attention since his death in 1973. Dr Rhodes adds: " His work is the object of consistent and serious scholarship, but he has received nowhere near the amount of attention afforded to other modernists such as T S Eliot and Virginia Woolf."

Notes for editors

  • Auden: A Centenary Celebration, takes place at King's Manor, University of York and is a collaboration between the Universities of Sussex and York
  • For full programme and details of registration, see:
  • University of Sussex press officers; Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel: 01273 678888, email
  • University of York press officer: David Garner, Tel:  01904-432153

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