Dr Laura Kilbride, Peterhouse




Biographical Information

I joined Peterhouse as a Research Fellow in 2015 following a year as a College Lecturer at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge.

Research Interests

Poetry (Victorian; Modernist; Contemporary); Nineteenth Century Studies; Prosody; Theology; Aesthetics; Literary Theory; Religious History; Classical Reception; Cognitive Approaches to Literature; Anthropology of Art. For a fuller picture of my research interests please see my publications (below).




The fact that more people in the UK attend art galleries weekly than attend than church or other religious services will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time immersed in the literature of the Nineteenth Century. A decline in public participation in religion followed more than a century of unprecedented social change, in which urbanisation, industrial capitalism and expanding literacy led to an increasingly secular society. I am currently investigating the role that the arts and,in particular, poetry played in the increasing secularisation of British society in this period (from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789) to T.E. Hulme’s ‘Lecture on Modern Poetry’ (1908).


Cultural critics such as Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton have drawn attention to the role that culture played in providing an alternative source of value to traditional religion. Their work seeks to understand how people talked and thought about religion or culture in relation to society. My work goes further to ask: how is this poetry working? And what is it about the particular aesthetic experiences this poetry gives rise to that make them seem a suitable alternative to religion? I aim to understand the way in which different ideological impulses may drive different prosodic strategies, such as voice, rhythm, rhyme or diction. My work is situated at the boundary between literary studies, theology, religious and cultural history, cognitive psychology, the anthropology of art and creative practice.


I am currently at work on my second book project: The Church of Blake and Shelley: Poetic and Religious Experience,1789-1908. This study will transform our current picture of the relationship between culture and secularisation in nineteenth-century Britain and deepen our understanding of the inevitable later revolution of free verse. My previous reading in theology and training as a verse-historian (see below) make me uniquely placed to write this original study.


Since returning from maternity leave in July 2019 I have been exploring the cultural significance of Matthew Arnold’s “corrections” to the Authorised Version of the book of Isaiah (‘Poetry and Dogma: Reading Matthew Arnold Reading’) and preparing the manuscript of my first full-length poetry collection [correct at the time of writing: Autumn 2019].




My current research questions grew out of my first book, Swinburne’s Style: An Experiment in Verse History (Oxford: Legenda, 2018), based on my PhD research (awarded 2016). It was here that I first noticed poets and critics using theological language and concepts to talk about poetic techniques which we now think of as secular, such as address or impersonality—so much so that Swinburne—famously antitheist—was able to claim for poetry a status as a separate ecclesia ‘a member of the Church of Blake and Shelley’.


Swinburne’s Style sets out to understand how one of the most influential and accomplished poets of the nineteenth century could have fallen out of critical favour. I discovered that criticism has found Swinburne’s poetry challenging, because Swinburne’s poetry challenges current critical expertise: his poetry is self-consciously traditional, depending on the whole habitus (to adopt a term from the French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu) of known moves and gestures which comprise verse in English. Rather than making or remaking arguments for or against Swinburne's style, I decided to start from a forensic investigation of ‘the period ear’ (how the contemporary listener encountered poetry). Close analysis of primary works, manuscripts, reviews, obituaries, letters and manuals of prosody led me to reconstruct the larger  context in which meaning takes place, which has been largely lost after the break with traditional verse-forms in the early twentieth century. The reader will encounter a Swinburne previously lost to us, but whose stylistic achievements are once again brought before our ears.


In the course of reconstructing the ‘period ear’ for Swinburne, I developed a unique approach to the history of poetry, which I call “verse history” after the critic Marina Tarlinskaia. Verse history aims to understand a poem’s technique and associated effects as both part of an evolving tradition of English poetry and simultaneously subject to particular social and historical pressures.

Areas of Graduate Supervision

In 2019-20 I will be giving a seminar on the M. Phil in Modern and Contemporary Literature and teaching Poetry as a Guest Speaker on the MA in Creative Writing at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge.

Selected Publications


Swinburne’s Style: An Experiment in Verse History. (Oxford: Legenda (Imprint of the Modern Humanities Research Association), 2018).



Volta (Cambridge: Equipage, 2019)

In the Square (Scarborough MA: Punch Press, 2014)

Errata (Dorset: tipped press, 2011)

My poems have appeared in: The Caught Habits of Language: An Entertainment for W.S. Graham for him having reached One Hundred (Donut Press, 2018) ; Dear World and Everyone In It: New Poetry in the UK (Bloodaxe, 2013); The Chicago Review; Clinic Presents; Crisis Inquiry; The Junket; No Prizes; P N Review; Scree; Splinter; THAT MERCILESS AND MERCENARY GANG OF COLD-BLOODED SLAVES AND ASSASINS, CALLED, IN THE ORDINARY PROSTITUTION OF LANGUAGE, FRIENDS; The Paper Nautilus; Religion and Literature journal and other venues.



Recent reviews have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement; Critical Quarterly; Cambridge Quarterly; and Religion and Literature [forthcoming].

‘‘Introduction: On Grace in Poetry’ [Joint Guest Editor for forum, part of special issue on Grace and Poetry] Religion and Literature 49.2 (Spring 2019): 224-7.

‘What I do is Me’: On Grace and Sprung Rhythm [short article for special issue of Religion and Literature] Religion and Literature 49.2 (Spring 2019): 252-60.

‘Introduction: On Logos’ Religion and Literature 49.1 (Summer 2018):1-5 [Guest Editor for mini-forum introducing essays by Romana Huk and Catherine Pickstock in a special issue on the poetry of David Jones]

‘‘A Renouveau of English Prosody’ Rereading Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon’, Essays in Criticism, 68.1 (Jan 2018): 25–53.

‘Poems and Ballads at 150: Introduction’ [Guest Editor] The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, 26 (Fall 2017): 5-9.

‘The Catholic New Left: Language, Liturgy and Literature in Slant Magazine, 1964-1970’, Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 69.3 (2017): 174-185. [For which essay I was awarded the Simon Dentith Memorial Prize, The Raymond Williams Society postgraduate essay competition for work grounded in the tradition of cultural materialism]

‘‘The Pre-Raphaelite School’: Recent Approaches’, review of the state of the field in Literature Compass, 12.11 (November 2015): 615-626.

‘Real Games with Books’: On Anna Mendelssohn and Ezra Pound’, in News from Afar: Ezra Pound and Some Contemporary British Poetries ed. Richard Parker (London, 2014: Shearsman) pp. 185-194.

 ‘Going for Broke: Tom Raworth and Lyric’, in The Cambridge Quarterly 38.4 (2009): 368-387.