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Mr Soumyaroop Majumdar

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Member of the Department of English Studies  


My Creative Writing PhD is split in two parts: a creative portfolio and a literary-critical thesis. My doctoral thesis is a study of the first-generation New York School of poets, namely John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Barbara Guest, against the backdrop of a cultural landscape saturated with Zen Buddhism. Scholarship on the Beats’ open identification with Buddhism has been substantial, but the New York School of poets, who were characteristically evasive, as Ashbery declared, in their ‘avoidance of anything like a program’, performed an indifference to Buddhist ideas that has slipped under the radar of criticism. In the work of the New York poets, my thesis explores a more circumspect engagement with Buddhism. The circumspection, as I hope to demonstrate, is the corollary of a deeper enquiry into the relations between aesthetics and religious ideology, and between a host and a transplanted culture. Mindful of the modernist tendency to secularize art, the poets responded to religion as both a form of public discourse and a private belief system. In doing so, they present a range of attitudes towards Buddhism, wilfully, often begrudgingly, embodying—and even denying having inadvertently embodied—Buddhist meditative forms. I do not aim to recast the New York poets’ aesthetic as committedly Buddhist but, instead, show how they related to contemporary Buddhist evangelism, denying overt influences by excluding cultish tones, and complicating how Buddhism was being received in the West at the time.

My creative portfolio of poetry is titled ‘Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary’, which began as a series of responses to the ecological and ideological crises of our day. The collection has a central query: What—if anything—does nature, and, by extension, we, have to do with religion and poetry? The title of the manuscript speaks to my interest in the philosophical and semantic entanglements of the natural world and theological beliefs; it revives the secular figure of a renowned academic and conservationist but also bears the inscription of religiosity, given that the Latin root of ‘sanctuary’ means ‘holy’. In the poems, I explore the ways in which poetic form and language may take shape at intersections between the pastoral and the urban, between the religious and the secular, and between private and public utterances. I am currently developing the portfolio into a manuscript for my first collection.

My PhD is supervised by Dr Paul Batchelor and Dr Sam Riviere.

I am interested in 20th and 21st century American poetry, post-secularism, Buddhism and Orientalism, Zen and poetry, religion as aesthetic, transgenerational trauma, the urban pastoral, and Baul Folk Traditions of Bengal.

I completed my MA from Durham University in 2017 and wrote a dissertation on John Ashbery's poetics of distraction, graduating with distinction.


My poems have been published in Poetry ReviewThe Manchester Review, Transect Magazine, and Poetry Ireland Review. The Poetry Society has published a short piece on the origin of 'Alipore Zoo', one of the two poems published in Poetry Reiview. My poem 'A Stone Pond at Kashyem' was longlisted in the Rialto Nature and Place Poetry Competition 2022. I am also a contributor to the English department's READ blog.


  • '"Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary": A Long Poem Chronicling the Onset of Social Isolation', presened as part of the digital panel 'Creative Writing in the (Post-) Pandemic' at the 53rd Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association, University of Buffalo, USA, March 2022.
  • '"we was all going to be Zen Buddhists after | what we did": Cold- War Post-secularism and Buddhism in Frank O’Hara', presented at the BAAS (The British Association for American Studies) Conference 2022, University of Hull, April 2022.


  • Teaching Assistant, ENGL1071: Introduction to Poetry (Level 1), 2019-2022.
  • 'Openness and Open Forms', UG lecture delivered on PG Lecture Day, May 2019.
  • Exam Marker, ENGL1071: Introduction to Poetry (Level 1), 2020, 2022.

Volunteering and Research Posts

  • Co-Convenor of Inventions of the Text Seminar Series 2020/21.
  • Editor (Poetry) at The White Review, March 2021 - October 2022.
  • Assistant Editor (Poetry) at The White Review, July 2019 - March 2021.
  • Research Assitant to Mr Kayombo Chingonyi, Summer 2019.

Esteem Indicators

  • 2018: Durham Doctoral Studentship (3 years):