Michael Rizq, Trinity

Degree: PhD
Course: English
Supervisor: Dr Michael Hurley
Dissertation Title: Answerable Forms: Poetry and ethics from Hopkins to Hill

Biographical Information

I studied English and French at St John’s College, Oxford, before arriving at Cambridge for the MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature. Now in the final stages of my PhD, my work focuses on relationship between poetry and forms of knowledge from the Romantics to the present day. How do poets ‘think’ (philosophically or otherwise) with and through their writing? What kind of ethical and epistemic claims arise in the distinctive form of verse, as opposed to the propositional arguments made in prose?

My PhD dissertation, entitled Form’s Philosophy, focuses on a short lineage of three poets – Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, and Geoffrey Hill – who were especially interested in the relationship between poetry, moral philosophy, and theology. Drawing on a wide range of their influences, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Gillian Rose, I explore how and why these poets believed their work to have some kind of moral or spiritual ‘value’ (Hill’s word); but also, and perhaps more interestingly, how poetry often complicates traditional, moralistic or doctrinal claims about what is good or right. What we find in their poetics, I claim, is a more sophisticated, unsettled kind of moral thinking, full of uncertainty, slipperiness, and self-critique.

In October 2024, I will be taking up a Research Fellowship at Peterhouse, where I will begin work on a new project about modernist poetics. I’ve recently become interested in a series of loosely connected poets and critics – Emily Dickinson, Stéphane Mallarmé, Gertrude Stein, William Empson, John Ashbery, J.H. Prynne, and Joan Retallack – who have written about the cognitive difficulties associated with verse-form: words such as ‘perplexity’, ‘obduracy’, ‘complexity’, and ‘scepticism’ often come up in their work. Why did these features prove so provocative for them? What might we, as readers of poetry, stand to gain from such vertiginous experiences?

At Cambridge, I have taught widely a range of papers (‘1660–1870’, ‘1830–1945’, ‘1847–72’, ‘Lyric’, ‘The Ethical Imagination’, and ‘Practical Criticism and Critical Practice’), and supervised dissertations on Victorian and modernist poetry. 

Research Interests

Literature and ethics; poetic form; philosophical poetics; aesthetics and cognition; literature and religion; Victorian poetry; modernist poetry; literary criticism and critical practice. I am always keen to hear from students interested in any of these areas; if you would like to get in touch, please do not hesitate to email me on mr810@cam.ac.uk.

Selected Publications

Journal articles

‘T.S. Eliot, poetry, and the ethics of “feeling”’, forthcoming in ELH: English Literary History, 91.2 (Summer 2024), 501-31.

‘“Bidding and forbidding”: Morality, prosody, and The Wreck of the Deutschland, The Review of English Studies, 73 (November 2022), 954-70.

‘Fact, rhythm, and resistance in The Ring and the BookVictorian Poetry, 59.4 (Winter 2021), 391-410.

Tinnitus aurium: Hearing Hill’s Eliot’, The Cambridge Quarterly, 48.2 (Summer 2019), 133-50.

‘“It is not enough that we should read Wordsworth”: Estranged Recognition in Four Quartets, Philological Quarterly, 97.3 (Summer 2018), 333-57.

Other publications

‘Exemplary reading?’, review essay about Bridget Vincent, Moral Authority in Seamus Heaney and Geoffrey Hill (Oxford University Press, 2022), The Cambridge Quarterly, 52.1 (Spring 2023), 86-92.

Review of Martin Lockerd, Decadent Catholicism and the Making of Modernism (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), Time Present: The Newsletter of the International T.S. Eliot Society, 104 (Summer 2021), 5-6.

‘Eliot, Leavis, Larkin: Permanence and its problems’, 2018 Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize-winning essay, Faculty of English, University of Oxford.

Conference papers

Title TBC, Monasterevin Hopkins Society Festival, Co. Kildare, July 2025 (forthcoming, as invitee).

‘Hopkins incurvatus and the poetics of strain’, Hopkins Society UK Conference, Stonyhurst, Lancashire, October 2024 (forthcoming, as invitee).

‘Reading, feeling, knowing?’, Gerard Manley Hopkins International Literary Festival, Newbridge, Co. Kildare, 24 July 2023 (as invitee).

‘Geoffrey Hill and Critical Perplexity’, The Functions of Criticism, University of Cambridge, 20 May 2023 (as co-organiser).

‘Gerard Manley Hopkins and the “tremble” of poetry’, Nineteenth Century Seminar, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 2 May 2023 (as invitee).

‘T.S. Eliot, F.H. Bradley, and “feeling”’, What Does The Poem Think? Aesthetics, Poetics, and Thought, University of Cambridge, 8 April 2022.

‘Eliot’s “thrill”: Moral apprehension from F.H. Bradley to Marina’, International T.S. Eliot Society Annual Meeting, 25 September 2021.

‘Gerard Manley Hopkins and poetry’s “bidding”’, English Faculty Flash Forum, University of Cambridge, 18 June 2021.