Telepoetics was a symposium dedicated to exploring the relationship between telephony and literature. The event was originally scheduled to take place at The Dana Library and Research Centre at the Science Museum in London on 27 May 2020. Due to the impact of Covid-19, however, the event was hosted online using the ‘nearly carbon neutral‘ format. The event launched on 27 May and remained open for discussion until 5 June. Registration has now closed but you can still listen to the papers and read the comments on the discussion forum.

From the ‘waves of sound, transmitted o’er the line’ in Jones Very’s ‘The Telephone’ (1877) to the ‘thin voice speak[ing] / from a drowning world’ in Imtiaz Dharker’s ‘Six Rings’ (2018), telephones have been calling in and across literary texts for almost one hundred and fifty years. But although considerable research on the smartphone has been undertaken in recent media and cultural studies, the relationship between telephony and literature remains largely neglected. In fact, as Nicholas Royle points out in Telepathy and Literature (1991), ‘really we have no idea what a telephone is, or what a voice is, or when or how. Least of all when it is linked up with the question of literature’. Taking the ‘question of literature’ as its starting point, this AHRC-funded symposium addresses the telephone’s propensity to facilitate and mediate but also to interrupt communication on a local and global scale, as well the ways in which it taps into some of the most urgent concerns of the modern and contemporary age, including surveillance, mobility, resistance, power and warfare. Exploring its complex, multiple and mutating functions in literary texts from the nineteenth century to the present day, we consider both historical and recent manifestations of the telephone, and its capacity to call across languages and cultures.

Celebrating the potential of the telephone to operate at the intersection between the literary, the critical, the personal and the political, the symposium facilitates a range of voices, conversations and modes of address: rather than keynote lectures, the events consists of a series of conversations, variously ‘interrupted’ by a range of creative and critical calls.

Telepoetics was a nearly carbon-neutral conference (NCNC). Responding to the impact of the current global pandemic, environmental concerns, and our belief that this format enables us to explore the rich conversations to be had by talking from afar, the event gathered together an international community of researchers, writers and artists through digital technologies.

We modelled this site on the Future States conference held in March – April 2020. We would like to thank Dr Tim Satterthwaite at the University of Brighton for his support and expertise. Without his unfailing generosity, this event could not have taken place.