1811 Anna Laetitia Barbauld's epic poem: revisited for 2020

Recently, the project has been lucky enough to work with poet Dr. Simon Jenner developing poetry resources for schools. Through the process of developing resources for primary and secondary school students on ‘protest poetry’ with Dr. Simon Jenner, it was impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. Barbauld’s infamous ‘Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’ – an epic poem written in historical verse decrying the state of the British nation and empire. After a lifetime of writing, it was to be her last published work after suffering abuse from press, politicians, poets and social commentators – Barbauld couldn’t cope with the amount of criticism and belittling, and retired from her writing.

After a career of teaching, creating educational material for children, being a successful published poet and being an inspiration to Byron, Coleridge and the Romantics – Barbauld was well read, likeable and been involved in many causes such as the abolition of slavery. Like her politics or not, you couldn’t argue with her morals.

Eighteen Hundred and Eleven changed this – such ‘unpatriotic’ sentiment, such absolute disdain for the government and empire. Barbauld had ‘taken it too far’ – and the classical, historical style of writing with such brilliant intellect and wit, probably alienated readers further. All of a sudden she was cast out of friendship and literary circles, publishers refused to go near her work and she lived out her later life in a rather solitary state.

Barbauld’s is one of the many stories of people, written out of history and forgotten for having anti-establishment views. The Victorians who wrote the story of their predecessors painted Barbauld as a ‘do-gooder’, a pious woman who wrote nice books for children; not at all the best-selling Poet of the revolutionary period, who defied the law and refused to conform to her husbands religion, who wrote poems of protest and who contributed to the abolition of Slavery.

Here, Simon has transplanted the heart of the poem firmly in the midst of 2020 in an attempt to highlight the similarities of the political, social and humanitarian conflicts expressed in both periods. At Newington Green Meeting House – we are committed to keeping the story of the Dissenters alive.

About Simon Jenner, in his own words;

Despite poetry awards and a National Poetry Competition prize I’m a hopeless self-promoter though publishing 130 poets: the usual double-bind of being better at promoting others… 

Still 95% of my literary output including poems and now plays have been since 2013. Started reviewing 220 plays a year in 2016. When launching British Library Poet in the City poetry sequence in 2014 PITC co-ordinator and actor Gabby Meadows and director/actor/poet Carole Bremson demanded it got dramatized: it’s about the first girls remand centre 1848 – plus Chartism. Still refining it, like many first plays a bit clotted! 

Written 5 other full-lengths; 3 monologues got podcast. Another historical play based on 36-poem Winstanley sequence launched at Barbican with the Long Poem Magazine. At the editors’ behest it’s being printed separately this autumn. Weird dramatic building blocks, works for me. 6th play’s a monster for 3 hours broadcast. My generous producer (same as podcasts) says ‘that’s theatre, not radio, rewrite from this angle’. Result am on 7th play. 3 of my 7 are based around Dalston: have yet to work out the significance of this – father’s family and their brewery were in Southwark…. Oh and maybe Caryl Churchill is what she describes: ‘God moves so fast now’ Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Our greatest living playwright anyway.

Simon Jenner’s collections include About Bloody Time (2006), Wrong Evenings (2011), Two for Joy (2013) all Waterloo. Perdika/Poet in the City launched Pessoa (2009), Propertius translations Elegies Book I (2020). Agenda Edition Airs to Another Planet (2020) initially covers two volumes: early music and contemporary composers. Gerard Winstanley launched at Long Poem Magazine, Barbican October 2018, (Waterloo, forthcoming). For  producer Simon Moorhead several radio monologues broadcast and performed, podcasts available; also in volume form with other authors in The Other 1% (2019). Jenner’s completed six full-length plays since 2015. Poet in the City Residency, Hackney, 2014. Commended National Poetry Comeptition, 2016. In addition a biography of Lionel Johnson is forthcoming, as well as a doctoral study of 1940s Oxford poetry and – with collaborative input – a first volume of reviews of early modern plays in a performative context, focusing on the Globe’s Read Not Dead series. Main actvity reviewing too many plays and concerts on FringeReview. 


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