literature & poetry

Bearing Witness in Poetry with Mary Jean Chan

Uncover the ways in which poetry enables us to name what has been forbidden or to utter what is unspeakable in a six-week course with poet Mary Jean Chan.

Explore and be inspired by the work of Carolyn Forché, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Kei Miller, Terrance Hayes, Richard Scott and others as they bear witness to a breathtaking range of human experience as gendered, racialised and/or queered selves.

Mary Jean Chan is a poet, editor and academic from Hong Kong. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and came second in the National Poetry Competition. Her debut pamphlet, A Hurry of English, was selected as the 2018 Poetry Book Society Summer Pamphlet Choice. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Poetry Review, The White Review and Carcanet New Poetries VII. Her debut collection is forthcoming from Faber & Faber in July 2019.

Course overview
Session 1: Speaking the Unspeakable: Theories and Concepts
Key ideas from two major literary works: Hélène Cixous's Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing and Carolyn Forché's Against Forgetting: Twentieth-century Poetry of Witness. What does it mean to be a poet of witness? How does one begin to bear witness? What is the link between writing and living?

Session 2: The Lyric I or Lyric Eye?
The power of lyric poems in bearing witness to events that traverse and merge the personal and the political. Featuring poems by contemporary poets including Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Liz Berry, Danez Smith and Terrance Hayes.

Session 3: Beyond the Lyric I
Apart from the lyric I, what other poetic modes enable us to explore the realm of the social, that which links the personal and political? Reading poems by Eavan Boland, Mahmoud Darwish, Kei Miller, Vahni Capildeo, Claudia Rankine and others.

Session 4: Towards Your Own Poetics of Witness
Focus on the generation of new work through a series of writing exercises. Bring in your own thematic and poetic concerns, and ample time will be given for subsequent sharing/feedback.

Session 5: Excavations in the Archives
Visit the National Poetry Library and work with found texts in order to experiment with collage, erasures and marginalia. Featuring poems by Emily Berry, Maggie Nelson, Solmaz Sharif and Richard Scott.

Session 6: Future Directions
Brainstorm and share resources that supports your ongoing development as a writer (ranging from residencies to publication). Reading and Q&A with a special guest poet.

Dates & times

This event has passed.


Royal Festival Hall
Foyle Pavilion, Level 3, Blue Side


£90 for six-week course
Booking fee: £3.50 (Members £0.00)


25% off (limited availability)
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Age recommendation
For ages 18+

Event information
This course takes place from 7pm – 9pm on the following dates:
Tue 23 Apr: Foyle Pavilion, Level 3, Blue Side, Royal Festival Hall
Tue 7 May: Foyle Pavilion, Level 3, Blue Side, Royal Festival Hall
Tue 21 May: Sunley Pavilion, Level 3, Green Side, Royal Festival Hall
Tue 4 Jun: Sunley Pavilion, Level 3, Green Side, Royal Festival Hall
Tue 18 Jun: Foyle Pavilion, Level 3, Blue Side, Royal Festival Hall
Tue 2 Jul: Foyle Pavilion, Level 3, Blue Side, Royal Festival Hall

All six sessions are included in this ticket. We strongly recommend that participants make sure they are available for all six sessions of the course, but at a minimum attend four.

By purchasing a ticket you agree to be contacted by Southbank Centre on email in relation to this course.

Please bring a notebook and something to write with.

Please note, the deadline for bursary applications has passed.