The 14th Coleridge Summer Conference, 28 July-1 August 2014

What could possibly combine over fifty academic papers, poetry, one of the country’s great cathedrals, book launches, walking the Quantocks, Somersetshire food and drink, and maypole dancing?

There can be only one answer: the biennial Coleridge Summer Conference, this year in its fourteenth incarnation.

The convivial feel for which this conference is rightly known flowed from the moment of arrival, as our remarkable luck with the weather held once again: it’s always good to get things going with an open-air tipple. Even on that first afternoon, and even with the said tipple, we somehow fitted in nine very fine papers, followed by a drinks reception in the splendid walled garden of the Cannington campus of Bridgwater College. It didn’t stop there. After dinner, as the sun set, delegates were packed off to Cannington’s lovely church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in a goodly company, for a poetry reading by Polly Atkin and someone closely resembling me.

Tuesday saw a full morning programme of papers, followed by a trip to Wells, to view the Library and its Museum – complete with albatross – and the city’s magnificent cathedral, which, ancient as it is, somehow still looks new: it is clearly cherished. This also included a visit to the atmospheric cathedral library, where Purchas His Pilgrimage lay open at a certain page, still summoning Xanadu. Special thanks for the Wells expedition must go to Stuart Andrews and his wife, who conceived the plan and led the tour parties.

Wednesday included a full day of papers – though we still fitted in some punch and scones in the walled garden, for the book launches – capped off by the first plenary lecture of the conference, by Marjorie Levinson. With the parallels between poetry and the self-ordering systems of the mind still buzzing between our ears, it was time for another eddying descent upon the conference pub of choice, the Rose and Crown.

After a morning of papers on Thursday, Jim Mays delivered the conference’s second plenary lecture with typical grace and intellectual aplomb. After a quick change into our walking gear, the conference then came to Nether Stowey, for those who wished to visit Coleridge Cottage, while the walkers headed to the Quantock hills. Despite a spot of rain, it was a gorgeous day, with readings by Pamela Woof along the way that kindled thoughts of those other walkers on the hills, whose paths we followed.

This was the final night of the conference, and it passed off in style: a Somersetshire feast of venison and rabbit, together with an alarmingly easy-drinking cider. Primed by the music played through dinner, the maypole was raised and the tangled pleasures of the dance released – and they didn’t stop until the ribbons of that maypole were well and truly woven…

The final morning had the air of goodbyes about it, inevitably, but the quality of the papers was sustained to the end, with the final plenary lecturer, Damian Walford Davies, bringing proceedings to a close before lunch, when it really was time to say, ‘my friends! farewell’.

These things don’t just happen, and the Academic Director, Tim Fulford, and my colleagues on the organising committee worked very hard to bring it all together. The Conference Secretary, Kerri Andrews, deserves a special mention for doing so much behind the scenes throughout the conference to keep things running smoothly. Jane Wagner and our hosts at Bridgwater College looked after us very well, and I thank them on behalf of the committee.

The academic programme was, as ever, extraordinarily rich and varied: it wouldn’t do to single out stars within a beautiful constellation. So, most of all, we thank our delegates for making this conference such a pleasure and stimulus once again.

Gregory Leadbetter, Conference Organising Committee

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