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OUTLAW MUSIC: Ballad writing in the 21st century

November 6, 2013 @ 12:00 pm - 7:30 pm



Pretty Polly


Can culture ever exist exclusively for the people? Or is it always the work of an elite?

That there were love stories and murder tales sung by ordinary people for ages before they were written down is one of the original myths of modern literature. Long before Wordsworth and Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads, the ballad was been a site of conflict between the oral culture of a rural working class and the literate society of an urban elite. Into the twentieth century, folk forms like the ballad were used by competing ideologies, seeking to ground their politics – nationalist, fascist, socialist – in a “timeless” and “authentic” culture.

Today, where the ideology of an elite is masked by appeal to the values of “the people”, the power of “folksy” rhetoric is undiminished. The question, therefore, of who “folk” are (or were, if they ever really existed) is one of the most critical questions in modern politics. Given this, contemporary ballad writing genre offers a unique commentary on the politics of “folk”.


On Wednesday 6th November two gifted poets and ballad-writers – Tom Pickard, coming all the way from his home in the English Pennines, and Rich Owens, from Maine – are visiting Princeton to discuss ballad writing and read from their work.


12 – 1.30pm: Discussion


Tom Pickard & Rich Owens will discuss with Professor Meredith Martin the practice and history of ballad writing.

Firestone Room, Mathey College. Lunch will be provided.


6 – 7.30pm: Poetry reading by Tom Pickard & Rich Owens

McCosh 40. Reception to follow.


Tom Pickard is a lyric poet and politically committed filmmaker from the northeast of England. His work has been celebrated in England and America by readers such as Basil Bunting and Allen Ginsberg. In Princeton Tom Pickard will be reading from his 2007 book, The Ballad of Jamie Allan, which was recently turned into a folk opera by composer John Harle, and a finalist in the National Book Circle Awards.

“It is surely one of the finest English lyrics of the century thus far, and deserves to be celebrated as such.” Alex Niven, on Ballad of Jamie Allen


Rich Owens is a poet and publisher based in Maine. He studied in the Poetics Program at the University of Buffalo. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines in England and America, and recent books include No Class (2012) and Ballads (2012). Rich Owens runs Punch Press, producing hand-made broadside ballads and letter-press books, edits a poetry magazine – Damn the Caesars – and reviews contemporary poetry at damnthecaesars.blogspot.com.

“Balladeering as a form of community-making, or communally-made lament for community: Owens’s seem a matter of reassembling pieces, somber, sobering, post-glorioso warnings to the polis.” John Latta, on Ballads


This event is supported by the English Department Graduate Colloquium in Contemporary Poetry, the Lewis Centre for Creative Writing, the Firestone Society and Mathey College.


November 6, 2013
12:00 pm - 7:30 pm