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Religion in Contemporary Poetry Reading Group

If expressions of religious imagination in contemporary poetry occupy a marginal dimension of an already marginal artform, we nevertheless intend to enlarge our understanding of their tenacious characters

Against tendencies to marginalise theological reflection within poetic composition and analysis, we aim to foreground tenacious poets who plumb religious tradition(s) in order to renew the encounter between humanity and divinity in language.


The reading group ‘Religion in Contemporary Poetry’ runs fortnightly on Thursdays in Lent and Easter Term. We will convene from 19:00 – 20:30 in F2 Whewell’s Court, located across the street from Trinity College’s Great Gate. All staff and students are welcome to attend; drinks will be provided.


Selected readings will be sent by email, and printed versions will be available at each fortnightly meeting. If you are interested in participating or have any questions, please contact one of the co-organisers: Thomas Graff (tkg25), Jake Grefenstette (jeg64), or Steven Toussaint (st696).


Schedule of readings:


Lent Term


30 January – Geoffrey Hill

13 February – David Mutschlecner

27 February – Hai Zi

12 March – Katie Ford


Easter Term


30 April – Peter O’Leary

14 May – Frank Samperi

28 May – Nathaniel Mackey

11 June – Fanny Howe



The readings chosen this year grow out of provocations and innovative spiritual heuristics put forward by American poet-critic Peter O’Leary in his 2017 study, Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age. Confronting a pervasive ‘allergy’ to theological sensibility in the dominant modes—both mainstream and avant-garde—of contemporary North American poetry (one easily identifies comparable histamines at work in the British context), O’Leary unearths a subterranean tradition of poets writing out of perennial, if today unfashionable, concerns about the perilous interface of language and the divine. He advocates a renewed sensitivity to apocalypse in poetry, as genre and mode, that “power-load of words” striving for “expression of the vitality of a God all in all, beyond history but knowable somehow in it.” We hope to bring this sensitivity to bear on eight poets: diversely situated with respect to religious affiliation, cultural background, and formal means, each poet nonetheless witnesses to how poetic language finds its final authority, cogency, and creativity in transcendence.  


If the thematics of the reading group are intentional, the spirit is informal. Although we expect that fruitful discussion will extend naturally from the readings, we intend to commit a substantial portion of each meeting to oral recitation of poems. More than anything, we hope this will be a time of conviviality when, if nothing else, we can read good poems aloud together.


Current students and supervisors can access the Faculty’s Moodle page by clicking on the image below.