In the South Transept of Westminster Abbey in London, the bodies of more than seventy men and women, primarily writers, poets, and playwrights, are interred, with many more memorialized. From the time of the reburial of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1556, the space has become a sanctuary where some of the most revered figures of English letters are celebrated and remembered. Poets' Corner is now an attraction visited by thousands of tourists each year, but for much of its history it was also the staging ground for an ongoing debate on the nature of British cultural identity and the place of poetry in the larger political landscape.
Thomas Prendergast's "Poetical Dust" offers a provocative, far-reaching, and witty analysis of Poets' Corner. Covering nearly a thousand years of political and literary history, the book examines the chaotic, sometimes fitful process through which Britain has consecrated its poetry and poets. Whether exploring the several burials of Chaucer, the politicking of Alexander Pope, or the absence of William Shakespeare, Prendergast asks us to consider how these relics attest to the vexed, melancholy ties between the literary corpse and corpus. His thoughtful, sophisticated discussion reveals Poets' Corner to be not simply a centuries-old destination for pilgrims and tourists alike but a monument to literary fame and the inevitable decay of the bodies it has both rejected and celebrated.