Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts

Call for Submissions: New Defences of Poetry

New Defences of Poetry

Call for Submissions

What use or purpose does poetry serve, or might it serve, in a time when social justice issues are at the forefront of public discussion in the arts, academia and private life? In what ways can poets impact the civil rights movements that take centre stage in the news and on social media? Where does poetry stand in relation to the cataclysmic events – war, genocide, pandemic, the climate crisis – of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? What is poetry’s relationship to activism? At a time when the arts are increasingly under threat in public arenas, what place can poetry have in areas such as education, mental health or criminal rehabilitation? 

2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the composition of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘A Defence of Poetry’ (1821) – one of the boldest and most profound statements on the power of poetry to act as a social and political force. In celebration of this seminal work, the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts is inviting submissions of short prose essays responding to the theme of ‘A Defence of Poetry’ from practicing poets of all ages and backgrounds. The works selected will be published on the NCLA Archives website in July 2021, with the possibility of a print publication to follow.

Socio-political subjects have never been so diversely at the forefront of poetry than the current moment. Major literary prizes have recently been awarded to innovative and challenging works such as Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (2014) and Jay Bernard’s Surge (2019). Topical projects, such as Bill Herbert and Andy Jackson’s response to Brexit, New Boots and Pantisocracies, have proved popular and successful. Anthologies, such as Carolyn Forché and Duncan Wu’s The Poetry of Witness (2014) have provided broad and incisive answers to the question of poetry’s use and purpose.  And, recently, Amanda Gorman’s reading of ‘The Hill We Climb’ at the Inauguration of Joe Biden has reignited conversations about the relationship between poetry and politics. Now is a vital time for poets to step back and examine their own role within their communities.

The key questions contributors are invited to ask are: does poetry need defending, and what does it need defending against?

Shelley was defending poetry against the utilitarian (though ultimately satirical) attack on poetry by Thomas Love Peacock in ‘The Four Ages of Poetry’ (1820), which argued that poetry was purely ornamental and no longer served a social function. Philip Sidney, in his An Apologie for Poesie (1595) – the text upon which Shelley’s defence is modelled – defended poetry against Stephen Gosson’s attack on the immorality of the stage in The School of Abuse (1579).

You may wish to defend poetry against these or similar claims, such as W.H. Auden’s notorious pronouncement that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. You might defend poetry against Plato’s banishment of poets from his republic, or even against the romantic hyperbole of Shelley, which some argue risks rendering poetry absurd. You may have a recent claim about poetry, or particular social issue or global event that you wish to address. You may defend the significance of poetry to the individual or to the community. Your work might be a defence of a particular genre, form or medium of poetry, such as the dramatic, the comic, the satirical or the performative. You might defend the future role of poetry in society or, conversely, its historical position. You might defend the writing of poetry or perhaps the reading of it. It might be a defence against your own self-doubts regarding poetry’s place in society.

There is no expectation that articles be of a scholarly tone (though all quotations from, allusions to, and paraphrases of, others’ work should be acknowledged). The style can be traditionally discursive, but can also be narrative or dialogic. Your submission may draw upon numerous genres, including literary criticism and theory, lyric essay, autobiography, history, fiction, fable, or allegory. Creative and innovative interpretation of the brief is highly encouraged!

The only formal requirements are that, like Shelley’s ‘Defence’, the work must be in prose, both to make it formally distinct from (the majority of) your poetic productions, and to encourage the articulation of an argument. That is not to say that critical works cannot be ‘poetic’. Shelley’s essay is, as Michael O’Neill has rightly said, ‘at once aesthetic treatise and prose poem’.

The publication will be launched at an event at Newcastle University on Thursday 22nd July. Selected authors will be invited to read both from their defences and from poems which they feel reflect, engage with or build upon their critical arguments.

The Editor

David O’Hanlon-Alexandra is a poet and literary critic. His poems have appeared widely in magazines and journals, including Poetry Wales, The Rialto and Acumen. His debut pamphlet, art brut, was published by V. Press in 2015, and his first full collection, History, by Valley Press the following year. He is currently researching a PhD thesis on literary criticism written by poets in the British Romantic period, funded by the Northern Bridge Consortium (AHRC).

Photo credit: Phil Punton.


Please read these guidelines carefully. Failure to follow them may result in your work not being read. 

All submissions should be emailed to the Editor as either a Microsoft Word document or a PDF, at Please include a short, third-person biography that you would be happy to see published alongside your article. If you would like to be considered for the launch event, please indicate this in your covering email/letter.

Accepted submissions will be published on the NCLA Archives website. Depending on various factors going forward, including the current Covid crisis, an abbreviated print publication may follow. Authors will be contacted should this situation arise.

The deadline for submissions is Saturday 22nd May. Submissions received after this time may not be read.

Submissions are open to all poets, who write poetry in any language, though your submission itself must be in English.

There are no age restrictions on submissions, and we very much encourage younger writers to get involved! If you are under 18, however, could you please indicate this in your covering email/letter.

Submissions must be no more than 2500 words, and no fewer than 500. The work should be titled and should be in prose. It should meet the thematic criteria set out in the rubric, though creative and diverse interpretations of that rubric are encouraged!

Please include your name and contact details within the PDF or Word Document.

If your submission contains quotations from, paraphrases of, or allusions to others’ work (though it is by no means mandatory that it must!), these need to be acknowledged. The publication will use MLA Referencing with in-text citations, as footnotes do not work so well in the online format. A guide to MLA referencing can be found amongst the ‘Useful Links’ below. Please don’t overly worry about this aspect!  Just provide as much detail as possible (author, title, publisher, date, page numbers), and contact the Editor if you have any questions or concerns. The Editor is experienced in these matters, and can make changes to your referencing in order to standardise it across the publication (though you will be contacted should any editorial changes be required).

All contributions must be the original work of the author. They must not have been published or self-published online or in print. They must not have been posted on a blog, online forum or on social media (this includes in private groups). They must not have been broadcast. Contributions that appear online or in print, or that are broadcast, prior to the NCLA’s publication date will not be included.

The copyright of each work remains with the author. However, authors of selected submissions, by submitting, grant Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts the right to first publication.

Successful authors will be contacted as soon as a decision on the submission is made. The Editor aims to respond to all submissions within six weeks of the deadline. If you have not had a response by 18th June 2021, please do get in contact. 

All decisions of the Editor are final, and no correspondence will be entered into regarding this decision. Unfortunately, we are unable to supply feedback on submissions.

Useful Links

Online text of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘A Defence of Poetry’.

Online extracts from Thomas Love Peacock’s ‘The Four Ages of Poetry’, the text Shelley was responding to. (It is worth noting that Peacock was also a poet, a brilliant ironist, and a friend of Shelley’s, and he gleefully sent his article to Shelley awaiting his response.)

Online text of Shelley’s model, Philip Sidney’s An Apologie for Poesie.

An introduction to MLA referencing. As outlined in the Guidelines, please do not overly stress about getting this perfect at the submission stage. The Editor can and will standardise any referencing!