English local newspapers probably published around two million poems during the nineteenth century – more, if we include Scottish, Irish and Welsh papers. Although poetry in periodicals is acknowledged in recent research and scholarly databases, newspaper poetry has received less attention.
Studies of working-class poets acknowledge in passing that much of their writing was first published in the local press, before moving on to more prestigious (but less widely read) publication in volume form.
This research project aims to foreground the nineteenth-century local newspaper as a publishing platform for poetry, by estimating the number of poems published and by exploring case studies of particular newspaper titles, poets and local literary cultures of which newspapers were a part.
Across the nineteenth century, the local newspaper was the most widely read type of print – more titles and copies were published and read than for London newspapers, magazines, reviews and periodicals, part-works or books. And most local newspapers regularly published one or two short poems, often in dedicated parts of the paper.
The poetry is a mixture of selected and original; the selected poetry includes canonical writers such as Tennyson, Shakespeare and Keats, others who were hugely popular at the time such as Felicia Hemans and Georgiana Bennett, radical poets like John Critchley Prince and more obscure writers whose poems – often commenting on contemporary events – were lifted from other newspapers and periodicals.
We know less about the original poetry, for obvious reasons, but we hope to research a small sample of poets, and to re-create the local contexts within which poetry was submitted to, selected, edited or mediated in other ways, and published by local newspapers. We are also looking for evidence of people actually reading these poems – for example through readers’ letters, reply poems, commonplace books and scrapbooks.
Initially, we (well mainly Claire, a graduate intern) are scouring a representative sample of newspapers digitised by the British Library for poems every 20 years across the century and around England. Bibliographical information is being compiled in an Excel spreadsheet (available here), updated every week. Claire has recorded details of more than 1200 poems so far, from the initial five titles. We hope to identify trends and patterns, before focusing on the local contexts in which the poetry was published. We will also do brief biographical case studies of a small number of ‘local’ poets and those for whom the local press was significant in their careers.
We are doing the research ‘in public’, via our research blog, in the hope of reaching beyond academia, and as an experiment in ‘crowd scholarship’. We are keen to benefit from the expertise of those who know far more about nineteenth-century poetry than we do. The digitised newspapers we are using are widely available in British universities and public libraries, and through some university libraries in other parts of the world.
- If you look at the bibliographical spreadsheet, for instance, you will notice that we are finding it difficult to identify poetic forms and genres – can you help?
- We would love you to have a look at a poem that catches your eye, and add a comment that we can incorporate into the spreadsheet.
- Do you recognise any poets’ names, or the original of a parody?
- Do you recognise any of the many anonymous or unattributed poems?
- Can you spot any patterns, absences, trends or anomalies?
We are also using the blog to add a ‘poem of the week’, to update the spreadsheet and to add ‘nuggets’ of relevant research as they are completed.
Andrew Hobbs and Claire Januszewski, University of Central Lancashire