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A Poet is Born, not Mad(e): John Clare’s Afterlives

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Keywords: biofictions, By Our Selves, Iain Sinclair, John Clare, Andrew Kötting.

Contemporary writers, novelists and filmmakers have shown a great interest in the story of John Clare, the so-called “peasant poetµ from Helpston, who was considered a sort of cultural freak during his times. In my essay I will focus on different texts, both literary and non-literary, that – each in its own way – attempt at “placingµ a poet who experienced, on the contrary, a constant sense of “displacementµ during his life. It is in particular in the case of Andrew Kötting’s recent biopic By Our Selves (2015) that Clare’s poetic message and impact become significant. Shot in hires black and white, By Our Selves re-imagines Clare’s memorable 80-mile walk from Epping Forest to Northborough through an allusive and provocative visual style. By Our Selves may be approached alongside Iain Sinclair’s Edge of the Orison (2005), with which it entertains a complex intertextual dialogue, to the point of being a screen rendition of some of its recurring topics and ideas. Kötting’s movie offers a multifaceted depiction of a poet who embodied the traumatic transition from the Romantic ideals to the Victorian frame of mind, and who sensed the inevitability of cultural change and ecological traumas. By analysing Clare’s textual and visual afterlives, this contribution aims at proving that the cultural recuperation and rediscovery of John Clare can renew our understanding of the Victorian age and, at the same time, can help to reflect on cogent contemporary issues.

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