Cumbrian Vernacular Poets - Dr Sue Allen

March's talk, as part of the University of Cumbria's Cultural Landscapes Series, was given by Dr Sue Allen and was entitled Cumbria Vernacular Poets. Part of the Romantic Canon?

Dr Allen explored the poetical output of Robert Anderson, Susanna Blamire, John Stagg and Mark Lonsdale - all local poets from Cumberland and writing at the same time as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Sue posed the question "are dialect poets part of the Romantic body of work?" and, by the end of the talk, had concluded that they should be considered alongside their more famous fellow poets. The talk was certainly interesting, and was interspersed with some singing and dancing, which added to the pleasure of the evening.

I've always had an interest in dialect and the use of the vernacular compared with RP (Received Pronunciation), so I was particularly interested in the arguments for these poets being considered part of the standard canon of Romantic work. I enjoyed the connections with Robert Burns, possibly one of the greatest dialect poets, as well as the connections with William Gilpin, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Charles Dickens. I shall be exploring these connections more thoroughly.

I was particularly excited to hear that John Stagg, a vernacular poet from Burgh by Sands, was the first poet to write about vampires in the English language. Below, are a few stanzas from his poem The Vampyre:

Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
   But lately he resign'd his breath;
With others I did him attend
   Unto the silent house of death.

"For him I wept, for him I mourn'd,
   Paid all to friendship that was due;
But sadly friendship is return'd,
  Thy Herman he must follow too!

"Must follow to the gloomy grave,
   In spite of human art or skill;
No pow'r on earth my life can save,
   'Tis fate's unalterable will!

"Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
   But now my persecutor foul,
Doth his malevolence extend
   E'en to the torture of my soul.

Clearly this isn't written in Cumberland dialect, and is an example of how these poets could switch between standard English and local dialect.

Sue also raised the interesting question why Wordsworth didn't write in Cumberland dialect. As a native of the county and someone who lived most of his life in Westmorland, it seems a valid question. It's particularly relevant as Wordsworth wanted to be a poet of the people, authentic and down to earth. Dr Allen's response to this question is that Wordsworth wanted to appeal to the educated, wealthy and influential.

Sue's talk has inspired me to find out more about these overlooked poets, as well as dusting off some of my linguistics books and refreshing my knowledge of dialect.