Monday, 25 October 2010

Charity Milton Marathon at the University of Manchester

On Friday December 10th 2010, students and staff in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester will be reading Milton's Paradise Lost to raise money for the RNIB. The event is being organized by PhD student Liam Haydon, along with Dr. Jerome de Groot, a University of Manchester lecturer and Liam's PhD supervisor.

This week, I caught up with Liam to find out a bit more about the event.

Alpha Female: So, tell me more about the Milton reading...

Liam Haydon: We'll be attempting to read the entirety of Paradise Lost aloud over a single day. We've currently got somewhere around 25 volunteers, which is a great response, and the reading will go on continuously for around 10 hours. Location is still to be finally confirmed, but it's looking like the Poetry Centre [in the Samuel Alexander building, University of Manchester].

AF: And when will it all be taking place?

LH: The event will take place on the 10th December, which is the day after Milton's 402nd birthday. It's the day after so we could do it on a Friday.

AF: This is a charity event - so which charity are you supporting?

LH: We'll be supporting the RNIB. Milton composed almost the entire poem after he went blind at around the age of 44 (and there are a number of references to that within the text itself), so as well as being a very worthy cause, it seemed especially appropriate.

AF: How much money are you hoping to raise?

LH: We've set an initial target of £500, though we're already a good way towards that, so we'd hope to raise even more.

AF: How did you come up with the idea for a continuous reading?

LH: Er... actually it originated in a drunken conversation I had with a friend of mine in a karaoke bar over the summer!

AF: A karaoke bar?!

LH: We were joking around that we could offer some poetry instead of singing, and he mentioned that he'd been reading Milton out loud when trying to get a handle on the poem. From that, I started a reading group, in which we read a book a week aloud and then discuss it - the fun people seemed to be having with the poetry prompted Jerome to suggest the whole day reading.

AF: So what made you made you decide on Paradise Lost?

LH: My PhD thesis actually focuses on Milton (and epic poetry as a genre, really) - a choice made slightly on impulse, having discovered him in my third year as an undergrad and just falling in love with the music of his poetry. For the reading group, it quickly became apparent that people either felt the same way, but weren't as familiar with the critical background as they would like, or he was one of those poets that people feel they ought to be more familiar with, but it seems like a lot of effort. Paradise Lost is an ideal place to start on both those counts - it's naturally broken into manageable pieces, has plenty of controversy and debate to get your teeth into, and, of course, can be enjoyed immensely just as a piece of literature.

AF: Paradise Lost is certainly a well-loved and well-studied piece of work. How would you account for our continuing fascination with this text?

LH: Well, I'm biased here, naturally, but I'd argue that it's the finest work of literature in English (possibly any language).

AF: A bold claim! Go on...

LH: Certainly Milton has a technical command of syntax and rhythm that few other writers possess (maybe Keats?), and the sense is drawn out so brilliantly that you can hardly help reading on - and, in fact, that presents a constant challenge, demanding much more engagement from the reader than other texts do, and making unpicking the double meanings, puns and contradictions a fantastically rewarding experience. So the poetry itself is attractive before you delve in and get to the issues that the poem raises.

AF: So how do you feel about the issues Paradise Lost raises? Do you think these have any relevance for a modern audience?

LH: Plenty of those issues, and the debates the poem has generated, are still relevant and pressing today: tyranny and liberty; obedience and free will; language and multiculturalism; the nature, follies, and redemptive power of love; humanity's quest for knowledge, and the limits we should place on that quest. And that's not even to bring in the issues like a free press, or terrorism, raised elsewhere in Milton's work, or the religious controversies Paradise Lost raises, both within orthodox Christianity and the long dissenting tradition - hence Blake's famous quote about Milton being 'of the devil's party' (an obligatory mention in any Milton discussion!).

AF: I've got to say, you're making a pretty convincing argument! But then, I've been a huge fan of Milton's poetry since I studied Comus at A-Level and then Paradise Lost as an undergrad. The reading sounds like it's going to be a fantastic event - can anyone attend?

LH: Yes, of course, we'd be delighted to have as much of an audience as possible, both to enjoy Milton and to raise money for an excellent charity. There'll be some further publicity nearer the event confirming the start and end times, and the venue, but people are welcome to come and listen, whether it's just to one book or to the whole poem.

AF: So are there any other ways people can support this event?

LH: Well, if you're around Manchester in December, it'd be great to have people either in the audience or, even better, to volunteer to read some of the poem. Alternatively, people can show support through our JustGiving webpage.

AF: Thanks Liam! It's going to be a great day - and I'll see you there!

The Charity Milton Marathon (in aid of the RNIB) will take place at the University of Manchester on Friday December 10th 2010. To donate, please visit the event's JustGiving webpage. Further information on the reading will be posted on the University of Manchester EAS blog, and on this site. Alternatively, contact Liam Haydon or me (Alpha Female) for more info.

No comments:

Post a Comment