Interested in contributing?
We invite NAWE members to write on the subject of creative writing in education - in schools, adult education and community settings. We encourage you to think broadly on this topic and address any issue relating to the development of a space for creative writing in the education system. Please note, it is developmental work that we wish to highlight, not self-promotion. It may be useful to think about the kinds of articles most useful to your teaching and practice. Submission deadlines: Spring 2022 (Conference Edition): 4 April (published mid May) Summer 2022: 1 August (published September) Winter 2022: 21 November (published mid January) For submission guidelines please refer to: www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/nawe-magazine/submissions.html Writing in Education Team: Editor: Lisa Koning, firstname.lastname@example.org Reviews: Matthew Tett, email@example.com Advertisement Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Writing in Education is the members magazine for the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) All work is copyrighted to the author or artist. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used or reproduced without permission from the publisher. 2 Writing in Education
Welcome A word from the Editor It’s been a busy time for NAWE over the past months. I chose the image above because it reminded me of how we are often trying to get everything lined up to happen on time - much like these ducks! A lot of what takes place happens behind the scenes and I thought it might be nice to share some of this with our members. One project that I have been eager to progress is that of our website (https:://www.nawe.co.uk). What we have today was developed for NAWE and has been adapted as our needs have changed over the years. While it’s certainly a functional website, as NAWE has grown and changed so too have our needs for a website, and a revamp is overdue. Embarking on a brand new shiny website would be great but we also have to consider the best use of our funds. Therefore, the aim of our latest website project is to provide an improved interface while utilising much that was developed for NAWE. We hope that this approach will enable us to deliver what our association needs while maximising benefits and taking advantage of new functionality. It’s still early days and we’re working on some ideas for designs and content, which we hope to share with our members as the project progresses. The latest volume of NAWE’s HE journal, Writing in Practice, was published in January. This volume was a special edition on Multimodal Writing and it is an impressive publication with 17 contributions including an article by our special guest writer, Maggie Butt. Getting to publication takes many months of preparation and I’d like to thank our many contributors. I would also like to thank this volume’s editors, Derek Neale and Josie Barnard, and the peer reviewers who assisted. This is Derek’s last Writing in Practice - he’ s always been a pleasure to work with and shall be missed! Work is already underway - do read new editor Kate North’s update on the forthcoming issues on page 8. And, of course, as we move into February, the NAWE conference isn’t far away. I’m privileged to be involved in the early stages of preparations, preparing the conference schedule and programme. Once again we have a great collection of presentations and workshops on a wide range of topics, with speakers from around the UK and abroad. It looks to be a thought provoking three days and the challenge will be having to choose between some great sessions! In our latest edition of Writing in Education we have an interesting collection of articles and creatice pieces. I was delighted to be able to include a mini-anthology of prose poetry from seven poets from Australia and the UK. Kay Syrad and Clare Whistler share their experiences of an eco-poetry correspondence course. Sam Holdstock discusses how a work of interactive fiction was produced for use in a classroom. And Edwin Stockdale discusses prose poetry and historical ambiguity. Many thanks to all of our contributors - there are just too many to mention them all here! Unfortunately, this issue of Writing in Education is later than planned and we apologise to our members for this. As a small organisation, we are often having to be flexible to cater to the many and varied needs of our association. That said, we realise Writing in Education is a valued part of being a NAWE member and we will be reviewing our events and publications calendar to ensure such delays are rare.
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Contents Editorial A word from the Editor
NAWE News Chair’s Report Director’s Report HE Committee Chair’s Column Writing in Practice - Principal Editor’s Column AAWP (Australasia) Update AWP (US) Report EACWP Update Members’ News Conference 2022
page 5 page 6 page 7 page 8 page 10 page 11 page 12 page 13 page 14
Articles & Contributions Creative Contributions from Sarah Bower and Rupert Loydell page 19 Boundary Conditions: A mini-anthology of prose poetry with accompanying artist statements from Cassandra Atherton, Anne Caldwell, Oz Hardwick, Paul Hetherington, Paul Munden, Shane Strange and Jen Webb page 22 Connections while Solituding: Kay Syrad and Clare Whistler (kin’d & kin’d) share their experiences of an ecopoetry correspondence course page 31 Producing a Frankentext: Sam Holdstock discusses how a work of interactive fiction that was written for use in the secondary school English classroom was produced page 34
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Prose Poetry and Historical Ambiguity by Edwin Stockdale page 43 Studying Abroad? Nicole D’Adamo Moody considers what we can learn from the study abroad sector page 45 MaxLiteracy Legacy: Caleb Parkin, Sonya Hundal, Jane Sillis, and Ronda Gowland-Pryde reflect on creating a newtowrk for creative writers and writing in the visual arts page 47 Writing Back to Dante by Amina Alyal and Oz Hardwick page 49 Fisherrow - and the Joy of Chapbook ‘Code Shifting’ by Andrew Melrose page 53
A selection of book reviews
I took over as Chair from Jonathan Davidson at the AGM in November and my first action was to allow him to complete the meeting as it had started. In doing so I thanked him on behalf of us all for the amazing work he has done. NAWE has flourished and grown under his Chairmanship and everyone on the management committee is extremely grateful for all his work and effort. Thank you Jonathan, and thank you too for staying on the Management Committee as we move from this strange pandemic period into what we can all hope is a new dawn. This has been a difficult time for us all and it doesn’t need repeating here so it is all the more appropriate that I also thank the Staff for their work over the past year. Serpahima Kennedy, Fiona Mason, Sophie Flood, Philippa Johnston and Lisa Koning have steered the ship forward with sure hands and a keen sense of direction. I tip my hat to them all. And to the other Management Committee members, Anne Caldwell, Derek Neale, Michael Loveday, Lucy Sweetman and David Kinchin. Here’s hoping we can all sit in the same room soon. What I have come to realise over the past year in preparing to take this role forward is that NAWE has a dedicated team and even during these difficult times much good has come to the fore. I’m sure we will all agree the last Conference was a huge success and I am confident the next will be so too. But it is clear, creative writing has been huge in helping with the country’s wellbeing and we begin 2022 by taking this forward. Stay safe and stay well everyone – HAPPY NEW YEAR – I hope to see many of you at the Conference. Andrew Melrose, Chair NAWE
Director’s Report Roll up, roll up! As this lands on your doormat, NAWE’s annual conference should be either about to start or in full swing. We are excited to welcome an incredible array of speakers online from 10 – 12 March 2022 and look forward to seeing many of you there. Full conference tickets are still available, and we also have a number of evening tickets for our two special events. First up, our congratulations to Hannah Lowe, one of the conference’s evening guest speakers, whose third collection The Kids recently won the Costa Book of the Year Award for 2021. It’s a rare achievement for a collection of poetry – especially for a book of sonnets with education at its core. We can’t wait to hear Hannah reading and in conversation with Lucy Sweetman (Saturday 12 March, 7.30pm). We’re also delighted to welcome Thomas Glave, professor of creative writing and Caribbean studies at SUNY-Binghamton and a 2021–22 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Nottingham. Thomas is the author of four books and the editor of Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles (Duke, 2008). We feel very privileged that Thomas can join us, and we can’t wait to hear him talk about his work (Friday 11 March, 7.30pm). Our theme for this year is ‘Renewal & Resilience’. It follows on from last year’s title ‘What next?’ (a provocation followed by an answer, perhaps?) and we were delighted to receive so many high quality proposals reflecting an extraordinary range of approaches to writing, teaching and learning in 2022. This year, we’ve expanded our offer so that the conference is Writing in Education 5
NAWE NEWS spread over three days, building in a little more space to the jam-packed Zoom day. Each day we are running carefully curated events to supplement members’ own panels. We hope that there is something for everyone. We’ve kept things online in 2022, so that we can keep costs low, keep the conference accessible, and run a pilot bursary programme. We’re grateful to funding from Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund which has allowed us to do this. (We’ll review the online format before our event next year and consult with members about the way forward with online/in person hybrid events.) What next for NAWE? Over the next few months we’ll be actively exploring a wide range of funding opportunities to develop new strands of work. We’ll be consulting with members to find out more about how we can develop our services and support you in your work. As Lisa mentions in her editorial, we’ll be revamping our website to bring it up to date. And we’ll be building on the conversations that come out of the conference, hoping to find some solutions to the complex challenges we face at work and in our communities of practice. While we can’t promise to provide answers to all of the questions facing writers in education at the moment, we know our strength lies in our network, and in our ability to share information, problem-solve, and offer resources to build both individual and collective resilience. We hope to see you at the conference in March! Or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if there’s anything you’d like to discuss. Seraphima Kennedy Director NAWE
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NAWE NEWS HE Committee Chair’s Column
The last HE Committee Meeting was held in January to allow those engaged in the HE sector to return to face-to-face teaching and it was judged that colleagues had more than enough to do with negotiating that. Indeed it has proved to be prescient because the issues beginning to filter through are major and significant. However, this pressure has also meant attendance was slender and this is something we will have to address in the future. Throughout the pandemic, the HE Committee continued to monitor the impact on teaching Creative Writing in the HE sector as a whole. While we were paying special attention to ideas around blended learning it is beginning to become clear that the impact on the student body has been huge. I have seen significant student work which seems to raise standards – and this might be because students had more time at home and less time doing other things. However, the mental health situation in the student body is of concern. What we plan to do early in 2022 is try to get some kind of consensus so that we can help with ideas on best practice. Having conducted a survey on the different way institutions interpret their regulations on creative PhDs I will be presenting a paper at the next meeting so that we might build a list of recommendations. Not a Benchmark, this will be impossible because University institutions across the world interpret PhD rules differently. But it has become clear, since we both supervise and mark PhD’s (and indeed some are engaged in researching them) that we can begin to help both students and tutors alike by building on existing expertise. This will look at both the creative and critical engagement. In the Summer edition we put out an alert out there to undergraduate tutors, encouraging them to consider a student contribution feature in upcoming editions of Writing in Education. This is designed to give students experience in the submissions process. Can those engaged in this contact myself or Lisa Koning for details by writing to publications@ nawe.co.uk Finally, it continues to be the strangest of times, a bit like an awkward hokey cokey, is it left foot in or left foot out, we certainly couldn’t shake it all about due to the Omicron variant – though things are changing again. In the meantime, we continue to write, care, teach and carry on. Stay safe and well everyone – HAPPY NEW YEAR 2022 will surely be a corner turner. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Conference Andrew Melrose HE Committee Chair, NAWE
HE Committee: References and Links Advice on lodging doctorates and embargos https://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/research/lodging-theses.html Directory of Creative Writing External Examiners (requiring your NAWE membership password) https://www.nawe.co.uk/membership/members-area/external-examiners.html NAWE Creative Writing Research Benchmark 2018 https://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/research.html
NAWE incoming HE Committee members list https://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/he-network/he-committee.html NAWE guidance on short-term academic contracts https://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/contracts.html
OU/NAWE events (audio recorded) on Creative Writing and the REF and Creative Writing PhDs http://www.open.ac.uk/arts/research/contemporary-cultures-of-writing/events/contemporary-cultures-writing-seminarsspring-2018 QAA Creative Writing Benchmark (teaching) 2016 https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/subject-benchmark-statements/sbs-creative-writing-16.pdf?sfvrsnd4e2f781_10 Writing in Practice - submissions https://www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/writing-in-practice/submissions.html
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Writing in Practice Principal Editor’s Column
In the autumn I took on the role of Principal Editor of Writing in Practice, NAWE’s peer reviewed academic journal. I have taken up the reigns from out-going Editor Derek Neale. I would like to take the opportunity to thank him for leaving things in such a well-organised manner and for kindly supporting me as I get to grips with the role. Derek’s last issue, Volume 7, published in the New Year has the most articles of any edition since the journal was first published in 2015. This is a testament to the hard work of the HE Committee and the numerous Issue Editors and Principal Editors who have put hard work in to ensure the journal’s success. Another crucial element of the journal is our peer-review college. We rely on academic colleagues across the UK and beyond, to give up their time to blind-review submissions. It is this process that ensures the journal’s publication process is rigorous and respected. We are always eager to welcome colleagues into the peer-review college and if you think you would be able to review one or two articles per year then please do get in touch with me. If you are unsure whether this is something that you could do and would like a chat about it, please also drop me a line at: email@example.com One of the privileges of editing this journal is that I get an overview of the exciting research that is taking place across the discipline. If you are currently conducting research in the field of creative writing, then please consider disseminating it via Writing in Practice. Previous editions are available to read on NAWE’s website and they will give you a sense of the variety of work being conducted by colleagues. Kate North, Principal Editor, Writing in Practice
Writing in Practice - Volume 7 published January 2022 Principal Editor: Derek Neale, Volume 7 co-editors: Derek Neale and Josie Barnard Issue editors: Josie Barnard, Yvonne Battle-Felton, Oz Hardwick, Amy Spencer ISSN 2058-5535 www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-practice The journal publishes scholarly articles about practice and process that contextualize, reflect on and respond to existing knowledge and understanding. Volume 7 is a Special Issue on Multimodal Writing with guest co-editor Josie Barnard. This issue’s guest article is by Maggie Butt. Volume 8 - submissions are now closed with publication due in late 2022 This volume will contain articles on the writing process, practice led research in creative writing and interdisciplinary research. It includes a guest article from Costa Award winning poet Mary Jean Chan. Volume 9 - A call will go out in late Spring, to be published in Winter 2023 We are looking for academically rigorous research into creative writing, appropriately referenced and engagingly written. We are happy to receive articles that reflect on practice and process, explore writing research in interdisciplinary contexts, engage in critical analysis of writing pedagogy, explore cultural and global challenges such as diversity and inclusion and ecological sustainability through creative writing. Creative Writing itself is welcomed when integral to an article. Submissions should be 4-10,000 words long and include an abstract of up to 200 words. All submissions will be anonymously peer reviewed. See the contributor guidelines to submit your work via the submissions link: www.nawe.co.uk/writing-in-education/writing-at-university/writing-in-practice.html If you are interested in acting as peer reviewer for the journal, please send details of your expertise to the editorial board, c/o: firstname.lastname@example.org Writing in Practice is an open access, online journal that complements Writing in Education, the NAWE magazine distributed to its members. As the UK Subject Association for Creative Writing, NAWE aims to further knowledge, understanding and support research, teaching and learning in the subject at all levels. 8 Writing in Education
e l b a l i a v a Now e c i t c a r p n i g n i t i r w we.co.uk/
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AAWP Report (Australasia) Dear NAWE readers. Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update about the activities of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP), the peak academic body representing the discipline of creative writing in Australasia. My name is Dr Julia Prendergast, and I am the current AAWP Chair. In 2021, we had hoped to deliver a three-day, face-to-face conference. We decided to hold this program for live delivery in 2022. Later this year, the conference will go ahead with the theme of ‘Fire Country’. I look forward to updating NAWE readers about that event, later this year. In 2021, we carefully considered how we might gather in a meaningful and inclusive way, celebrating our work as writer researchers, in a climate of relentless change. We offered AAWP members and friends a free ‘Silver Lining Symposium’. We delivered a range of interactive sessions: a workshop, panel discussions, and short presentations followed by Q & A. The symposium was aimed at facilitating dialogue and connection between colleagues, exploring best practice, and examining the significant challenges facing our discipline and our sector. We began the day with a parallel session, including an Engagement and Impact Panel, Chaired by Professor Craig Batty. This event focused the architecture and direction of an Engagement and Impact project that AAWP is very proud to support. The project is aimed at helping the creative writing discipline (within the broader Higher Education sector) better understand the relationship between the work it does as an academic-practice discipline, and its actual or potential ‘end users’ – industry, society, etc. The project seeks to provide a set of best practice guidelines for developing tighter parameters around approaches to evaluating the impact of creative writing in and out of the academy. This session ran alongside a Higher Degrees by Research (HDR) “round table” event, chaired by Associate Professor Sue Joseph, the AAWP Postgraduate and ECR Representative. This was followed by a second parallel session. The first of these focused AAWP publications: recent milestones and future directions, showcasing the work of the TEXT team, the Meniscus team and the Cinder team, including colleagues who give so generously in service to the discipline: bolstering our HDR community, providing publication pathways for all members, and ensuring that AAWP journals have presence among other prestigious, international, critical and creative writing publications. Alongside this session, we offered a writing workshop: ‘Writing in the Ruins’, facilitated by Dr Quinn Eades. At lunchtime we launched a new Partnership between AAWP and Science Art Network (ScAN). By way of context – in 2021, a new organisation was launched: Science Art Network (ScAN). The organisation is aimed at facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration between neuroscience and the arts, and was formally launched in mid-March, 2021, during Brain Awareness Week. During this session of the symposium, we enjoyed select readings from a recent Creative Writing / Neuroscience Project, the first initiative of this partnership, which involves 120 contributions from AAWP members, writing in response to images of the living brain. We invited feedback and input from our members regarding the future shape of this collaborative and transdisciplinary partnership. After lunch we held our Annual General Meeting (AGM), which included the announcement of our 2021 prizes for emerging writers and Translators, offered in partnership with Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Australian Short Story Festival, the University of Western Australia Publishing, and Express Media. Our final panel session for the day was facilitated by Professor Jen Webb. The panel included creative writing academics at various stages of their career. We asked panelists to ‘look back and think forward’: to share their reflections upon the challenges and opportunities of our current climate. We invited input and reflections from the broader membership, and friends of AAWP. We concluded the day with the launch of The Incompleteness Book II (eds J Prendergast, E Herbert Goodall, J Webb). This multi-authored collection reflects our deep interest in capturing a composite picture of what people made of the prompt: the incompleteness of human experience, and includes prose and poetry contributions from many of our members. We asked contributors to consider what they had discarded; what they coveted more closely than ever; whether they had learned something, about themselves or more broadly. We were interested in a collective expression of: Where to, from here? The collection was launched by contributing author, Associate Professor Shady Cosgrove. It was a very great pleasure to gather with the AAWP membership and celebrate creative writing, research, and community. It has been a great joy to receive communication from our members about their engagement with the program. I am deeply grateful to all members of the AAWP Executive Committee of Management, who contributed to the success of the ‘Silver Lining Symposium’. 10 Writing in Education
NAWE NEWS All best wishes to our NAWE friends. Despite the ongoing challenges of the health crisis and its impacts, I hope 2022 is a year of silver lining for each of you. Julia Prendergast Julia’s novel, The Earth Does Not Get Fat was published in 2018 (UWA Publishing: Australia). Her short stories feature in the current edition of Australian Short Stories. Other stories have been recognised and published: Lightship Anthology 2 (UK), Glimmer Train (US), TEXT (AU) Séan Ó Faoláin Competition (IE), Review of Australian Fiction, Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Prize, Josephine Ulrick Prize (AU). Julia’s research has appeared in various publications including: New Writing (UK), TEXT (AU), Testimony Witness Authority: The Politics and Poetics of Experience (UK). Julia is a Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature at Swinburne University, Melbourne, and serves as Academic Director Pathways and Partnerships for the school of Social Sciences, Media, Film and Education. Julia is Chair of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP), the peak academic body representing the discipline of Creative Writing in Australasia. Julia’s research is practice-led, focusing meta-level processes in creative writing, including neuropsychoanalytic approaches. She is an enthusiastic supporter of interdisciplinary, open and collaborative research practices.
AWP Report (US) The AWP Conference & Bookfair, the largest literary event in North America, returns to an in-person conference March 23–26, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following a successful all-virtual conference in 2021 with over 6,000 attendees, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) will also host online prerecorded events for attendees who would like to participate from home. Celebrated poet Toi Derricotte will give the 2022 AWP Conference & Bookfair keynote address on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at 8:30 p.m. ET. Attendees onsite in Philadelphia will have access to hundreds events, reduced from the usual 500-plus to accommodate COVID-19 health and safety policies as mandated locally and nationally. Online events, along with select onsite events, can be streamed online for a month of post-conference access for both in-person and online attendees to watch the events they missed—or to rewatch their favorites! Attendees can look forward to popular returning events such as Writer to Agent and Ask an Agent Anything. The bookfair, which will only be available onsite, will provide an opportunity for attendees to connect with editors, small presses, publishers, and literary magazines. Both online and onsite attendees can take advantage of the virtual conference platform to connect with writers near and far. An in-person registration also includes all virtual content, and those who opt to attend remotely can register at a significantly lower rate. To make the conference even more economically accessible, those interested in attending #AWP22 at a reduced or free registration, either onsite or online, can apply for the AWP Conference Scholarship or the work-exchange program. AWP Director of Conferences Colleen Cable states, “I am so excited for #AWP22 in Philadelphia this year. Not only are we offering hundreds of events in-person, but we also for the first time have a great virtual component for those who for whatever reason can’t travel to Philadelphia. I can’t wait to see the AWP community come together again, inperson and virtually.” See you in Philly!
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European Association of Creative Writing Programmes (EACWP) Lively & Live
While still meeting the pandemic challenges, over the past 2021 and in 2022, the EACWP has devoted all its efforts to continue consolidating its engagement within the pedagogical debate in Europe. Here you may find a snapshot of our main past and upcoming events. V International Pedagogical Conference (May, 2021) Marking the half-centenary of Creative Writing innovation at UEA, more than 150 colleagues from all around the world attended the event around the Futures for creative writing. The EACWP offered a Multilingual Exchange through a variety of workshops imparted in some of the European languages. Andrea Holland brought out in her closure speech what became one of the conference highlights: “Teaching creative writing is not about filling boxes; it is about lighting fires.” Teachers Training Course / Premium Virtual Editions In 2021, the EACWP launched its second and third Premium Virtual Edition of our European Course for Teachers. We are delighted to announce that in February (2022) we celebrated the fourth edition with the participation of Leen van den Berg (Belgium), Els Moors (The Netherlands) and Graeme Harper (USA). This time, we have happily reached the record of participants and, again, we have counted on more than different 15 worldwide countries. Stay tune for the next edition of the course (June/July 2022)! Flash Fiction Contest Amongst almost 2.000 European writers, the European winners were officially announced in July (2021): Sandra Henriques (Portugal), Signe Kierkegaard (Denmark) and Jilly Naaijen (The Netherlands). The V edition of the contest will start on February, 25th (2022) and the writing topic will be “underground”. All European writers are invited to participate!
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Next symposium / The Netherlands (2022) After the pandemic difficulties, our current and new members will meet in September (2022) for evaluating the on-going projects and create new strategic cooperation bonds. The last day will be scheduled for pedagogical exchange. Call for papers will be announced in the first term of 2022. NAWE Conference We had the fulfilling occasion to participate in NAWE’s first on-line conference last year (March, 2021) and we are absolutely willing to take part in this second virtual edition (March, 2022) with the aim of reinforcing collaborative initiatives between continental Europe and the UK. Once again, thanks to all our worldwide colleagues for supporting our EACWP ultimate mission of “Dreaming seriously” while “Writing Europe.”
Joseph Irwin has won the 2022 Lancaster Playwriting Prize. Irwin, who was selected from 30 entries to win the award, will now have a rehearsed reading of his debut play Mama in early 2022, a cash prize of £1,500, and professional mentoring. The shifting remit of the competition, now in its third year, makes it unique and is run in partnership by the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing at Lancaster University and The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster.
The Dukes is dedicated to delivering a diverse and high-quality theatre and cinema programme, telling stories that are relevant, fun, thought-provoking and electrifying. It is also a home for artists to create and connect and a place where people of all ages can discover their own creativity. The Dukes is also committed to reaching out into the community and new spaces, working with partnerships to put culture and arts at the heart of Lancaster. For more information, please contact Jay Walton at the Dukes 01524 598 517 email@example.com
The 2022 award, which aims to support and showcase emerging writers in the North West of England, was this year open to any writer identifying as LGBTQAI+. Each playwright entered anonymously, meaning all scripts were judged on their own merit by impartial readers, with no knowledge of the writer’s background or previous experience. Furthermore, every entrant receives feedback on their script. The five shortlisted plays were: • Senses of Responsibility by Lekhani Chirwa • Souvenir by Matt Gurr, • Great Wars by Laura Homer • Mama by Joseph Irwin • Other People’s Gravy by Alex Joynes Creative Communities Manager at the Dukes Carl Woodward said: “These 5 LGBTQAI+ writers have shared their bold stories with us, the plays are diverse in subject matter, size and style. It is now more important than ever to celebrate their stories.” This year’s judges were Lancaster University alumna and prize funder and actor Lucy Briers, Lancaster University’s Dr Tajinder Singh Hayer, Director of the Dukes Karen O’Neill and writer Ben Weatherill. The Dukes Home to theatre, cinema, creative participation activities and much more, The Dukes is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation that receives funding from Arts Council England, Lancaster City Council and Lancaster University.
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NAWE VIRTUAL CONFERENCE: RENEWAL & RESILIENCE Time
THURSDAY 10TH 8.15 - 8.45
Breakfast Poems (SOUNDCLOUD)
9.00 - 9.50
PhD network: Embracing Creativity in the Creative Writing Thesis Rachel Carney, Andrew Melrose, Nikolai Duffy, Kim Moore
10.00 - 10.15
Welcome Session Renewal & Resilience: A welcome from NAWE
10.20 - 11.15
Poetics of Home Sarah Howe, Nina Mingya Powles, Jenny Wong, Jinhao Xie
11.15 - 11.45
The Next Chapter Heather Richardson, Ed Hogan
The Understory Charlotte Gann, Sarah Barnsley
Megaphone Community Leila Rasheed
Making Literature Events Accessible Hannah Hodgson, Kim Moore
13.10 - 14.10 14.10 - 15.00
Writing is Being at Home Cindy Shearer
11.45 - 12.15
12:20 - 13.10
Poetry in Motion Anne Taylor
LUNCH BREAK Know your Rights Nicola Solomon (Society of Authors), Lesley Gannon (Writers' Guild of Great Britain)
15.05 - 15.35
15.40 - 16.10 16.10 - 17.00
18.00 – 19.00
Do-It-Yourself Digital Writing Amy Spencer
Autism: A Full-Body State of Getting Work through Being Commissioning Frances George Emma Boniwell (Writing West Midlands)
BREAK Multimodal Writing: on Digital Storytelling resilience, cross-pollination, Alison Mott, Antonia Luguori and playful opportunity Josie Barnard, Jo Dixon, Simon Perrill DINNER BREAK
Renga for Resilience Mel Parks
21.00 – 22.00 Late Night Writes 22.00 – 22.30 Night Time Poems (SOUNDCLOUD)
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NAWE VIRTUAL CONFERENCE: RENEWAL & RESILIENCE Time
FRIDAY 11TH 8.15 - 8.45
Breakfast Poems (SOUNDCLOUD)
9.00 - 9.50
Writing in Practice Hear Yourself Think Derek Neale, Anne Caldwell, Judy Waite Joanne Reardon, Heather Richardson, Edward Hogan
Funding for Writers Jonathan Davidson
10.00 - 10.30
‘I’m Working on Things that Facing Our Fears take Too Long’ Alice Penfold Eluned Grammich
Eating Sardines to Feed the Struggle Ravinder Basra
10.30 - 11.00
11.00 – 11.50 UK ARTS COUNCILS LITERATURE PANEL Sarah Crown (ACE National), Paul McVeigh (AC NI), Lleucu Siencyn (Literature Wales), Alan Bett (Creative Scotland) 12:00 - 12.50
13.00 - 14.00
Accentuating the Positives (First Story) Pippa Hennessy
Speculative Nature Writing Tastes of Ancestral Wisdom Andrea Holland, Jos Smith Anike Bello LUNCH BREAK
14.00 – 14.50 Whose Playing Field? Creating an Inclusive Literary Culture that Works for all Writers Sharmilla Beezmohun (Speaking Volumes) Nathalie Teitler, Leo Boix 15.00 - 15.30
15.30 - 16.00 16.00 - 16.50
The rise of Creative Writing Studies in China Weidong Liu
19.30 – 20.30 THOMAS GLAVE interviewed by Jonathan Davidson 21.00 – 22.00 Open Mic
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Writing Ourselves, Writing Other Muli Amaye
BREAK ‘Enough Love for all my Future’ Deirdre Daly The Tutor-Peer Elena Traina
16.50 – 19.30
Playing with Virtual Place and Space Helen Chaloner (Literature Works)
Scan Rave: A Transatlantic, The Pilgrim-Writer Collaborative Approach to Victoria Field Scanning Poems Jocelyn Page, Cath Drake, Wendy Taylor Carlisle, Maya Ribault, Sunni Brown Wilkinson
NAWE VIRTUAL CONFERENCE: RENEWAL & RESILIENCE Time
SATURDAY 12TH 8.15 - 8.45
Breakfast Poems (SOUNDCLOUD)
9.00 - 9.50
How is a Short Story like a Panic Attack? Melanie Jones
‘All Will Be Well’ Nicola Hill, Morgaine Merch Leaud, Joanne Reardon, Melissa Bailey
Connecting Voices Fiona Linday, Amina Alyal, Susanne Roland, Shelley Tracey, Judy Sissons
10.00 - 10.30
Developing an Accessible, Adaptable Approach to Creative Writing in AP setting Laurence Kidd
Europe calling from the Other Side of the Moon Lorena Briedis
Confidence Tricks Claire Collison
10.30 - 11.00
11.00 – 11.50 Getting Started in Magazine Publishing Jane Commane, Romalyn Ante Resilience and Renewal in the Creative Writing classroom Francis Gilbert
12:00 – 12.50
'I didn't say that' Amina Alyal, Oz Hardwick
13.00 - 14.00
NAWE Community Writers' Network: Practising inclusively on Zoom Jane Moss, Caleb Parkin, Liz Cashdan
14.00 – 14.50 Art in a Climate Emergency 15.00 - 15.30
Hold the Line Aly Stoneman
15.30 - 16.00
Flexibility, Confidence, Sociability Laurie Garrison
Writing as Other Megan Constable
How to Write as a Community Sabrin Hasbun
Developing Resilient Voices Amanda Epe
16.00 - 16.50
Rooms of Whose Own? Sonja Frenzel Adversity & Adaptation Kate Potts
16.50 – 19.30
Write Well Claire Maguire
19.30 – 20.30 HANNAH LOWE interviewed by LUCY SWEETMAN 22.00 – 22.30 Late Night Tales (SOUNDCLOUD) Various Times:
Restorative Revisions one-to-one creative writing mentoring Funding for writers - from 9.30am on the Friday
One to one creative mentoring One to one funding advice sessions
Shelagh Weeks Jonathan Davidson
Writing in Education 17
NAWE Conference 2022
THOMAS GLAVE in conversation with Jonathan Davidson
HANNAH LOWE in conversation with Lucy Sweetman
Friday 19.30 – 20.30
Saturday 19.30 - 20.30
18 Writing in Education
Weathering Her undoing was her love for the sound of rain. The physics had been fiendishly complex, but she eventually came up with a weather system that would ensure it was always raining somewhere Enchanted, she watched as the landmasses covered themselves in a bright green furze. The seas developed warm and cold currents in conversation with the air. Microbes washed about in these currents and clung to one another for safekeeping, and became fused into all sorts of shapes and sizes and colours of things, some with muscles that enabled them to defy the currents. To remind these creatures who was in charge here, she brought in Moon. Between them they worked out tides. Well, she worked them out while Moon waltzed about playing with them. What happens if I turn this way, or maybe spin that? If I dodge behind you, am I still here? We’re spheres, she reminded him, we have no behinds. She locked him into orbit and lay back among the stars to recuperate. She should have realised when the things with muscles just grew bigger muscles, when some of them crept up on to the beaches where tides and currents were powerless to reach them and others grew wings to harness the power of the weather system for themselves. Moon said, dancing past, ‘You should see this.’ There was something in his tone... She parted skeins of cloud and looked. A knot of dun-coloured animals, tiny in an expanse of sand...on two legs, not four. As she watched, their necks lengthened to allow for a larger larynx, then their skulls grew thinner to accommodate their efflorescent brains. When she saw one squat in front of a little pile of sticks and strike two flints together until they showered sparks, she panicked. Ice, she thought. Lots of it. These creatures, with their straggly pelts, couldn’t survive if she sheathed herself in ice. Told you so, said Moon, after the second attempt, even though he hadn’t She has tried hurricanes and tidal waves, fire and drought, plagues of locusts and plagues of germs but the robustness of these creatures seems boundless. All dreams are reality to them, all lost time can be made up. They refuse to play by the rules. What’s this now? Is she no longer enough for them? Metal phalluses thrusting up through the atmosphere, ejaculating all sorts of mechanical ephemera into space. They often collide with each other, some slam into the face of Moon, who has grown used to their worship, and sulks. It’s Chaos. Again. Her answer to Chaos last time was physics, so she makes a few more calculations. The next time her neighbour the Warrior is in earshot, she leans across the stars and says, ‘Word to the wise...’ Feels a burden lifted. Listens to the sound of rain on leaves.
Sarah Bower is an associate lecturer in creative writing at the Open University, where she is also studying for a PhD in creative and critical writing. She is the author of three novels and her short fiction and nonfiction has been published in MsLexia, the Historical Novels Review, QWF, The Yellow Room, Lighthouse Literary Journal and Spiked among others. Photo by Kate Griffin
Writing in Education 19
Three Notes NOTE TO STUDENTS When I do not give you straight answers you are confused, when you have to think for yourselves you are cross. We are not in agreement about how to learn or why we are here in this room. You have not done any preparatory reading but are prepared to pretend and give discussion a go. And you would like to blame your phone along with the college computers for not printing out what you need. No-one wants to research a subject, everyone asks what they actually need to know, and do not like it when I say ‘depends’. But it does and always will, will always depend on what you want to say, to do, and who you know, how you spend your time and if you asked or are about to ask the right questions, have begun to think for yourself. It is not easy learning how to learn, but if you can life gets easier. There are no exams to revise for, no tick boxes, and no lists of facts, you just need to argue and wonder, to embrace and value confusion. There will always be too much to read.
NOTE TO SELF Remember there is a narrator in the poem, as well as an author, that stanzas do not have to be even and you can end with a half-line. Resist the urge to tidy up, a little sprawl intrigues the reader and holds their attention as they navigate the words 20 Writing in Education
laid out on the page. There are still colours in the darkness, but they take some searching for. When I first read Dean Young I was on a New York hotel bed. ‘Listen to these,’ I said to Neil and read several poems out loud. I did not want, still do not want, to call it surrealism, there is more reason and connectivity than juxtaposition and products of the subconscious suggest, but perhaps I am confusing it with Dada or the idea of chance. You can see colours in the darkness but only if you persevere, force your eyes open and look. I sat in the Ad Reinhardt retrospective and stared until his black paintings went blue, then red: dark squares with fuzzy edges. And then I sat and watched other visitors walk straight through, not choosing to engage. How I willed them to, although I must remember there is an author as well as the self, a narrator as well as the I.
NOTE TO ALL Remember it used to be better, when we were younger, before it began to get worse, before it got to this point. I never asked anyone about the meaning of life, but probably should have, it’s too late now, they’re dead, all information lost. Trace material and knowledge slowly fade and disappear, books go out of print and no-one listens to those records anymore. As we age we turn nostalgic, as we turn nostalgic the past becomes a better place, our future something we must try
to avoid. Time travel is wonderful: everything has a rosy glow, everything we thought was gone comes back, the people we miss say hi, we get another chance to make amends and do things right; well, only in our dreams. Back in the real world it’s raining, the roads are flooded, the train tracks under water, and hardly any students made it in. I’d like to go home and hug the cat, read, watch TV or the rain. Damp shoes and socks, wet hats and coats, make seminar rooms smell funny; and my desktop computer is dead. The beautiful sky will not be back, sunshine belongs to the past; it is time for the seasons to change all over again. How will things evolve? What will the future involve? And how will you navigate our legacy, the rubbish piled high and a world led by leaders who believe in greed? Jessica says she will buy a canal boat or campervan, Natasha a much smaller house abroad, but they may not have enough money or permission to travel, now we have stopped talking to our neighbour states and each other. We hope it will change for the better, become like we wanted it to be, but that seems highly unlikely. Dark energy is two-thirds of everything and we still have no idea what it is. © Rupert M Loydell
Rupert Loydell is Senior Lecturer in the School of Writing and Journalism at Falmouth University, the editor of Stride magazine, and contributing editor to International Times. He is a widely published poet whose most recent poetry books are Dear Mary (Shearsman, 2017) and A Confusion of Marys (Shearsman, 2020). He has edited anthologies for Salt, Shearsman and KFS, written for academic journals such as Punk & Post-Punk (which he is on the editorial board of), New Writing, Revenant, The Journal of Visual Art Practice, Text, Axon, Musicology Research, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, and contributed co-written chapters to Brian Eno. Oblique Music (Bloomsbury, 2016), Critical Essays on Twin Peaks: The Return (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) and Music in Twin Peaks: Listen to the Sounds (Routledge, 2021). firstname.lastname@example.org Writing in Education 21
Boundary Conditions Cassandra Atherton, Anne Caldwell, Oz Hardwick, Paul Hetherington, Paul Munden, Shane Strange and Jen Webb A MINI-ANTHOLOGY OF PROSE POETRY, WITH ACCOMPANYING ARTIST STATEMENTS Introduction Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton The Anglophone prose poem is flourishing in the twenty-first century as writers are embracing hybrid literary forms. The condensed and suggestive pithiness of the prose poem is particularly suited to an age that understands and values fragmentation and is generally suspicious of the sweep of grand narrative gestures. Prose poetry also challenges established generic boundaries—and many other kinds of boundaries, too—opening up a wide variety of possibilities for creative writers interested in making use of prose in poetic ways; and, also, in ways that question, defy or subvert conventional narrative expectations. Indeed, Peter Johnson has written that the prose poem’s “existence depends partly on its ability to plunder the territories of many other like genres” (Johnson 2000: n.p.) and, as we have stated elsewhere, “[p]rose poetry’s challenge to conventional ideas about generic distinctions may be what makes it most modern (and postmodern) … It may offer one way through the quagmire of generic classifications and, a little like a literary wormhole, take the reader into new and hitherto unexplored spaces” (Hetherington and Atherton 2020: 23). In this mini-anthology of prose poetry, seven prose poets have each contributed three prose poems that address diverse ideas associated with boundaries, along with a brief artist’s statement that addresses their prose poetry practice. All of these prose poems demonstrate the flexibility of the prose poem form and the way in which prose poems often employ narrative tropes without aiming to complete or resolve that narrative. Holly Iglesias has written of her impetus to compose prose poems that “[m]y desire is to tell the big story through the little story” (2019: 102) and prose poetry has the capacity to briefly open up wide, suggestive and ambiguous discursive fields. This implies that there may be much more to consider than immediately meets the eye. In the works that follow there are various large stories writ both small and poetically, all of which expand in exponential ways, invoking and challenging ideas of boundaries—where they may be; and what we may cross, contravene or transgress. 22 Writing in Education
Choreography Cassandra Atherton Prose poetry’s angular sensuality and louche rawness can be compared to jazz choreography’s use of improvisation, syncopation and isolation. At its most playful and divisive, a prose poem is a jazz dance squeezed into a compressed rectangle of text. Nikki Santilli has artfully discussed the connection between prose poetry and jazz: Rooted in classical music, jazz developed along its own lines and split into hot, cool and sweet, bebop and so on. Just like its twin soul of jazz, the prose poem is shedding its skin—it does so easily—to sustain its defining, quixotic nature and continue to host its unique space for literary protest and play. (2018: 297) Part of this desquamation involves the way a prose poem is visually represented as a paragraph on the page. It prioritizes the quotidian form, shaking off verse’s lineation just as jazz dance breaks apart classical ballet technique. Bob Fosse’s choreography is known for its deceptive complexity. His signature steps are about limbs being turned in, rather than the classical imperative for feet to be turned out. Never having learnt labanotation (the standard system of dance annotation) he and others often described his steps in poetic metaphors: a boxer, hands in gloves, trying to hitch up his trousers or scratch his nose … the hind legs of a horse trying to navigate through a desert of snakes …the delicate holding of a soft-boiled egg so that it neither slips from your hands nor squishes into a nauseating drool from too much pressure. (Smith 1999: n.p.) Ann Reinking, one of the most superbly accomplished dancers of her generation was well known for her execution of Fosse’s iconic choreography. Critics have said, “what happened when [she] took the stage can’t really be rendered by writers, hard as we try” (Gold 2020: n.p.). In this way, dance may be linked to poetry’s active engagement with the expression of the inexpressible—and my suite of prose poems uses the ubiquitous prose poetry rectangle as a stage. It explores some of the multifarious ways that prose poetry performs the ineffable. Furthermore, these prose poems make reference to Reinking’s six-year affair with Fosse and use the prose poetry box to challenge her reductive labelling as his muse. Ultimately, my prose poems seek to transcend disciplinary boundaries and create a new interart aesthetic. They attempt to both resist and play with form in a signature style by putting the “Fosse Amoeba” which is “distinctive for its shoulder-rolling, turned in knees and toes, finger-snapping, bowler-hat-wearing, hip-thrusting, gloved-‘jazzhands’ shuffle” (Coleman, 2016: n.p.) on the prose poetry stage. Toe Box Stripped back to eyeliner and underwear, jetlag presses the balls of my feet into the carpet. Electric toes. I’m throbbing like a bass line, limbs heavy and numb. The room is velvet dark, neon lighting my veins. Hot pink heartlight. If I close my eyes, I’ll wake to find the echo of your knock at my door or a whisper lingering in the door jamb. Between jittery breaths I wrap my ballet skirt around my waist and coax my feet into pointe shoes. It’s one pink streak to your room, ribbons trailing. When you put your hands under my thighs, my toe boxes rap against the bedhead. They sound like the metre of your heart or the petit battements of desire. Labanotation After Ann Reinking You refashion my body like a Fosse dancer. Turned in toes, bent arms, curved shoulders. During rehearsals I finger snap my way into your heart. Click. Pause. Click Pause. Your notes are full of stick figures and illegible scrawls. Squiggles. Wriggles. I’m not sure if I have them the right way up as I try to copy what could be a sideways shuffle or softboiled-egg hand. Yolk. Yoke. In your bed, I’m your jagged little muse. The triple threat of alcohol, Seconal and Dexedrine on your sheets. In a bowler hat, fishnet suspenders and a skin-tight tuxedo jacket I audition for the role of myself in the documentary of your life. It’s a glitter-and-doom aesthetic. Waiting to hear if I’ve got the role, I tuck in my elbows and extend my lower arms, imagine water running over my body and the electric zap of your hips in motion. Timing There’s a nervous crackle and the deep burn of four beats. I inhabit the 5, 6 7, 8—those moments before it begins. Even before I know you, I am preparing. When we meet, I tell you I’m your lemniscate and you breathe me in, a figure eight of bright air in your lungs. Writing in Education 23
Later, with my pointe shoes ribboned to my ankles, you reach under my skirt and pull down my ballet tights in one motion, quicker than the count from 8 back to 1. On the bed, I lift my stocking-shackled feet and in the 2, 3, 4 you strip and occupy the space between my thighs. I try to count you in, but when you place your warm palms under my hips, there’s only an 8, 8, 8 in a continuous electric loop.
Cusp Anne Caldwell These three prose poems have taken the theme of boundaries and tried to explore it from both physical and metaphorical perspectives. Prose poetry is an exciting and appropriate form for this creative process, because of its ability to hold different images and ideas within its compressed shape. It is like thinking in three dimensions when writing in this way. “Late Snow” takes the image of the threshold that can exist in a troubled relationship as its genesis. I was influenced by the memory of reading one of my favourite, deceptively simple poems, “The Door” by Miroslav Holub which urges the reader to become open to the possibility of change. “The Ancient Mariner” is also hovering in the background, through the figure of the brother. I have always interwoven allusions into my prose poems to add to the sense of three dimensions. “Cusp” explores the transition from boyhood to manhood. Spurn Point in the North of England seemed to be the perfect setting for this prose poem. It is an ecotone, a spit of shingle that lives in that magical space between land and sea and I have returned to this landscape many times because of its mutability. As climate change develops apace, a setting like this highlights the fragility of the environments we inhabit, as well as our tenuous connections with each other. “Stranraer” is also located geographically between shoreline and water and was written with the consequences of Brexit and migration fresh in my mind. The metaphor of burning bridges felt both a personal meditation on decisions I have made in my life and reflection on living in the fractured state of the United Kingdom today where boundaries are more politicized than ever. My latest collection of prose poems, Alice and the North (Valley Press, 2020), took the notion of journeys as an organising principle for the whole collection, as the central persona travels through the North. I can still sense this psycho-geographic inspiration for writing at work here in my recent prose poems, which often begin with an open door and a pair of good, strong boots. Cusp Male swallows arrived here a fortnight before the females, singing their hearts out to attract a mate. Today they are swooping and sky-dancing. In the far distance, the Zeebrugge ferry lingers at the mouth of the estuary and offshore wind farms simmer in the heat. I watch a toddler run into the North Sea, a young pup let loose from a leash, and picture all the summers of your childhood. A flock of common terns rises up from mudflats. Here, gun emplacements are crumbling. Concrete pillboxes are home to rockpools feathered with seaweed. The road ahead twists and tilts, washed away by the last storm surge. All is mutable. We’re at the mercy of any change in sea level. We watch seals basking in the bay and without warning a roe deer bounds across the dunes onto the beach. The sea is orange, grey, mauve in the late afternoon sun and you’re striding out of view now: nineteen and fit as a butcher’s dog. A whole life ribbons out in front of you, far beyond this spit of sand and shingle. I think of the way Spurn Point curves like an arm, protecting the soft underbelly of Hull. I must let you pilot your own craft on open water. You’ll dodge sandbars, riptides and find a navigable channel, a safe passage for the winter ahead. Late Snow My dead brother stood between us when we kissed. He took to lying with us at night: a shallow impression on the sheets, but there all the same. I felt him. He was the ghostly albatross around our necks, a devil on our shoulders. Even when having sex, we sensed we were being watched. You grew irritable and moody. For a while, Love was a ship marooned in ice, no longer fit for purpose. You spent days in pyjamas refusing to leave the house. I could hear you at night, opening the fridge, working your way through blocks of cheese and packets of Jacob’s cream crackers, staring out of the window at the passage of Venus. Three’s a crowd, you muttered to yourself. Thresholds became difficult to negotiate so I was the one who went for supplies and bought you cigarettes whilst my brother flexed his impossible wings. That spring, snow came late and three lambs died of hypothermia in the lower field. The farmer slung them over his shoulder and carried their stiff bodies to his waiting trailer. 24 Writing in Education
The ewes bleated for days, nosing their way beneath holly bushes, trying to find their offspring’s scent. The snow melted. Hope is the thing with feathers. Without so much as a second glance, my brother was gone. Crocuses bloomed in the front yard and our open door was a cautious smile. Stranraer The road we took that day hugged the contours of the Galloway hills and the shoreline. It dipped and curved like a wooden roller coaster. Northern Ireland was out there, shimmering in the haar and the onshore wind was whipping the sea into white horses. I could sense the power of the currents growling and roaring below breakwaters. Somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea was a new border. A raw, invisible scar. The late afternoon sun turned the water azure blue, streaked with purple, darker brushstrokes. I thought of all the bridges I’d burnt in my life and the air was somehow thick with smoke. Don’t look back. Don’t turn to salt, I said to myself. Focus on the open road and the possibility of a ferry across the ideas that divide us. Have empathy for those families in small, inflatable boats praying for a safe passage.
Shaky Places Oz Hardwick I’ve always been interested in boundaries and margins, from the underground/alternative music scene that embraced me from my teens (and hasn’t quite let go), to academic research into misericords and other half-hidden medieval iconography, to adopting the oft-distrusted form of the prose poem to interrogate the minutiae of quotidian experience. More specifically, I’m interested in the boundaries of the boundaries, the margins of the margins: the shaky places at which notions of centre and edge no longer stand up to scrutiny and all is uncertain. At what point does I become not I? Humans shed our outer layers of skin every two-to-four weeks and, ultimately— well, dust to dust. And when does not I become I? When it is inhaled? Eaten? When it is viewed and, although remaining itself, resides in the memory for years? In the backwash of successive lockdowns and easings, with their strict (and not so strict) regulations and Public Information Broadcasts on airborne virus transmission, the boundaries surrounding personal space have become particularly prominent in cultural discourse, while endlessly contested at both social and personal levels. To clarify my opening statement: I’ve always been obsessed by boundaries and margins, to the extent that some of my earliest memories are of lying awake thinking about where I ended and the dark began, where life ended and death began, where an infinite universe ended and what was outside of it. An odd child. When does a child become not a child? When does odd become neurodiverse? These three prose poems are about the boundaries which are not boundaries: where poetry becomes prose; where I become not I; where past becomes present; where prose becomes poetry; where background—both literally and figuratively—becomes foreground; and where words, words, words—their painstakingly faked documents unchecked by guards too intent on admiring their own reflections—cease being an anonymous herd and become a prose poem. Experiments in Dynamation Everything’s easy without skin, though we still paint our differences on shields, bumping bosses when we pass in corridors and rattling sabres in canteens and shared offices. Our emails are grave goods for future archaeologists and our life stories—part conjecture, part wishful thinking—will be handwritten on cards in one of those museum exhibits that everyone rushes past on their way to the dinosaurs. On lonely nights I want to lie so close to you that our ribs link like one of those puzzle rings that were popular in the ’70s, but we sleep with our shields clutched tight to our breasts, bone cold and rattling. Hive Mind Wax skin and a honey heart, I melt a little each time the news bullies its way around my closed curtains. There’s a hum in my head like a valve amp or an aircraft window, and there’s a sting like a fever or a bamboo cane. Hive mind, I want to know, how can I turn off this noise and still give the impression of being alive? Writing in Education 25
Geek Stripped of myth, the Other’s just a freak, measured against Normal and found wanting. It wants a thread through the labyrinth but Ariadne’s tidied them all away. It wants a mirrored shield but Athena’s sold all her clutter on eBay. Stripped of even its own shadow—nesting moths in a locked/lost box that must never never never be opened—the Other self-identifies as inanimate; something between stick and snake, between body and bird, repulsive to touch. It wants winged sandals but its toes are broken. It wants a ring of confidence or, at least, invisibility, but its fingers are swollen like balloons. Most of all it wants silence, but the sky is nothing but thunder and even its own name hangs just out of reach.
Border crossings Paul Hetherington A great deal of human experience happens at the margin, or involves a crossing of borders. Furthermore, we often travel across these boundaries casually and in ways that do not recognize their deeper implications. Such crossings may constitute an important rite of passage of the kind referred to by Victor W. Turner—developing Arnold van Gennep’s ideas—as “rites of transition”. These rites involve crossing over from one condition into another and are: marked by three phases: separation, margin (or limen), and aggregation … [D]uring the … [second phase, the] liminal period, the state of the ritual subject (the “passenger”) is ambiguous; he [sic] passes through a realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state. (1979: 235) Prose poetry is a powerful literary form for exploring such in-between conditions. It is frequently engaged in conjuring or invoking the ambiguities of neither inhabiting the past nor what is about to arrive. The relative brevity of the prose poem form, and its emphasis on the connotative rather than the denotative, embraces unknowability, and even the ineffable. This form can provide insights into human experience without tying such experience to particular narrative resolutions, acknowledging that a great deal of experience is fragmentary and often in the process of continuously coming-into-being. Furthermore, during rites of transition, many sustaining expressions may become insufficient to the task of articulating what matters. Prose poetry that addresses this breakdown in articulation foregrounds the difficulty of speaking confidently about transitional experiences, and also tends to question whether human identity is fixed or readily able to be communicated. Instead, prose poetry thrives on the conflicting existential tugs that characterize so many human encounters. The three prose poems that follow are engaged in liminal and threshold moments. They are expressed in second person—an uncanny space between first- and third-person narration. The direct address, “you”, propels the reader into the prose poem and simultaneously challenges them to resist its imperatives. In these works, the focus is on discordant and transformative aspects of utterance and a concomitant strangeness. Boundaries are transgressed and liminality foregrounded even in the voice’s harnessing of breath and air. Washed-up The beach contains you, long since cast out by family and friends. You believe you deserved it—blunt know-it-all that you were; full-on didactic. They said “leave us alone”, moved away, and you had no-one to maunder to, rambling through your forgetting in massage parlours and poor bedsits. But, now, at the caravan park, they nod to you, calling you “scrounger”, “beachcomber” and—behind your back—“lost geriatric”. You find in your aftermath, yourself; and ideas of tides, the weather, the washed-up things. You take them home, decorate bookcases with the arduous beauty of shells and driftwood, build furniture from the thrown-away. A young woman occasionally visits to discuss her life with you. She is like a new daughter; a nonplussing kindness. Together, you peer in rock pools, observing the anemones. Opera You wish for a sense of the old music that you listened to when you were young, when your parents lived together; of the airy arias that crashed against your body when you knew no better than any seven-year-old; when you father threw you at the sky. You listen to the records now, on the aged, limping turntable, but their sound is weirdly hollowed, 26 Writing in Education
the ancient voices belonging elsewhere. Your mother walked out, saying, “I’ll be back by nightfall”, and that night still moves, like a brush blackening mind. La Traviata played— your father had it on the turntable repeatedly—and no-one went to bed; hours sat like digesting leeches. If the police had found her you may have been forgiving, but her disappearance remains palpable, wriggling and darkening—“Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti”. Yap The dog in the street yaps at your footsteps. You’re not familiar with the city and you feel taken up by the repeated sound, as if you’ve become an utterance of a creature without human language—an expressive failure of meaning. You’re attenuated, only breath and air, losing your sense of a body. Yet, soon enough, your feet begin to pain you and you locate yourself in each twinging step in new, uncomfortable shoes. Language returns as protest—not unlike your unwieldy early cries; not unlike a dog’s high-pitched bark. You wrap your tongue around the local form of the verb “to shout”. A tram driver frowns; you’re in a seat crossing the metropolis. To bark, to shout, say poems, speak of love. You send a message to a woman you met in a library, remembering her gestures beneath the “No Talking” sign—an expressive, unreadable mime.
Elastic time Paul Munden There’s an episode of Black Books in which Bernard and Mannie, despairing of the “drivel” in children’s books, decide to write one of their own. They limber up at their blackboard in the middle of the shop as if to splatter the rectangular space with ideas like Jackson Pollock filling a canvas. “No rules,” says Bernard. “I get it—anything goes!” replies Mannie, getting in the mood, but “Nooooo!” screams back Bernard. It’s a scene that returns to me often, especially when writing prose poetry. There’s a case for viewing prose poetry as one logical extension of so-called free verse; once lines are in free-fall, why not let them fall away altogether? But with free verse, it’s not the case that “anything goes”: it’s free insofar as it evolves individual forms of its own, from one poem to the next, geared to specific purpose. If prose poetry follows that maxim, it’s with a curious result: yes, it is free of traditional poetic lineation, but it opts for an alternative stricture—that of prose. It goes further, tending to eschew the use of paragraphs in favour of a single block, with no escape. It can be claustrophobic. And that’s why I personally need a particular reason for choosing to write a prose poem, rather than a poem with lines (and line breaks) that allow for greater judicious pauses—spaces, breaths—and visual counterpoint. The idea of boundaries was highly appealing in this respect. I wanted to relate each poem’s cramped structure to a physical confinement, and to explore that with regard to the passage of time. As I have written elsewhere (Munden 2017), it’s the elastic nature of time that lets us as readers move within a prose poem whose every other effort is often to focus our attention on a single moment and space, effectively trapping us within a cell. The prose poem is, perhaps, something of a benevolent prison, having no rules. Just don’t think that “anything goes”. Playground Released from our arithmetic class, we burn off energy in what looks like a crazy freefor-all, a dogfight, a scribbling of colour across a grey square. One of the crayons makes a dash for another, snatches a kiss, and now it’s her turn. Miniature bottles of slightly warm milk are squadroned in crates by the classroom door, ready to refresh us. Or make us sick. The timeless ritual doesn’t care. Who invented the game nobody knows. Everyone understands the rules, and has to join in. There’s just one thing that none of us quite grasps: play is permitted only within this designated patch of tarmac; not in the corridors, or on the road home; not in later life, unless perhaps in dreams, and even then there will be serious repercussions.
Writing in Education 27
Not to Scale Before the Earth was googled, we mapped things for ourselves, in feet and inches, miles and myths. The most meticulous survey gave way to speculation: the square mileage was just a small part of the picture; a flat surface ruffled by wind; the cover of a book. So many centuries of peat have seeped from the banks that the water is impenetrable. A swimmer might complete one lap in thirty hours, but for thirty years the unplumbed depths of dark continue to send shivers of mystery through her veins. Every tree-branch rolling in the current looks alive; every arcing shadow suggests a secret unlocked. Even now, I want so badly (by which I mean so very much) to see something break the surface that I’m tempted to stage it. And if we’re honest, which of us can say we’ve never made some pretence—to prove the worth of our imaginings? The Star Inn, 24/11/21 The barman’s photo shows us sitting behind a polished oak table, together for the first time in forty years. Your husband left us so we could catch up properly. Lunch has been cleared away, though two untouched glasses of water remain. The log fire has been carefully included in the frame. For all the chat there are things I haven’t said, though I have put my arm around you. For the shot. It’s later that night that the blaze rips through the bar, the roof, the thatch so densely packed that all dousing is deflected.
The streets are silent lines that hold us like unvarying rivers Shane Strange One thing that marks prose poetry as a form is its “generic uncertainty”, its play and crossover with both prose and poetry and its unsettling settlement with both forms. If it does nothing else, prose poetry foregrounds where the boundaries exist, and what investment is made in policing those generic limitations. While prose poetry does remove from the poet’s toolkit lineation and enjambment—which for some is “freeing”, for others something akin to the profane—I would argue it enforces boundaries on the prose side of things, demanding concision, a concentration on imagery, the perfecting of sentences. Looseness is an anathema to a good prose poem. For me, coming from the world of prose, prose poetry has been an excellent entrée into the world of poetic composition: a revelation about language and the limits of form; a welcoming invitation to bask in the possibilities of keeping things small and deeply considered. I don’t often engage in the lengthier possibilities of the form, but rather see it as the perfect vessel for fragments: of thoughts and ideas and feelings. Like lightning illuminating a darkened landscape and offering only fleeting understanding. Or an accidental photograph. These three prose poems aim to engage with the boundaries between life and death, the boundaries between people, and the boundaries between ways of knowing. They are imagistic, perhaps everyday; they seek no solutions, and I hope remain open. “Lyneham Motor Inn” comes from the simple observation of seeing tiny bugs circling in sunlight, in what was an otherwise drab and somewhat grim urban scenario, and extrapolating the spiral forms of DNA, of eddying waters, of the combinations of life, of love. “Intimacy” is born from clearing out my grandparents’ house when my grandmother passed away in the cruel haze of dementia, that affected her with an enormous and unrelenting anger and frustration. And it is something I wonder about, the delicate repetitions of long relationships, of endurance, of how we are formed in the light of others. “Bequest” is about parental guilt, the weight of generations, the possibilities of loss and the burden of responsibility. At the Lyneham Motor Inn with Gemma Unvarying, they hold us—the silent lines of streets. Cast stone onto stone. We have returned to find versions of ourselves—caught in light, understanding we are not what we were but so close we can touch—our skin made of spirals—combining and recombining like bugs caught in sunlight on a field, or plankton caught in the eddy of a maw waiting like sunset to close everything in the absence of light. Intimacy They had misplaced conversations. Like holes in a woollen scarf, they found a pattern disturbed, a structure given way, edges to rub against a finger. If asked they’d say the leavings of memory are insincere but tantalise nevertheless. Insect bodies appeared in 28 Writing in Education
cupboards as material stored for further examination. The peels of lemons hardened on unwashed plates. There was rat poison in the crockery. And in each drawer: an unpaid bill; a clump of needles; a photograph, pages torn from magazines. But in the piss-stained rugs they found, in the unpicking of fibres, their own version of wonder. Bequest Did I abandon you like my father did to me and then my mother? If so, when did I do it? Can you mark the time you felt left by me? When you mistook silence for disregard, or maybe felt stifled by silence, like a soaked woollen shroud cast over your face—each breath wet and close? Is this why you tried to cast yourself into the lake with your hoodie covering your face? To make real what must’ve only been the shadow of me and mine, and all that came before and all that was after until time ended with you ending.
Between here and now Jen Webb As a first-year student studying statistics I bumped up against a conundrum that has occupied me since. “When,” asked the lecturer, “does two become three?” He did not provide a satisfying answer, saying only that two probably becomes three when human communities say it does. The uncertainty about how to define the line between here and now, quick and dead, thee and me is at the heart of these three poems: not that they are themselves riddles, but they are part of my enduring attempt to find an answer to that question. I suspect that all creative practice involves the struggle to bring clarity into a confusing, convoluted and complex world, and the various beings that coexist in that world, in part by crossing borders, shattering boundaries, and in part by focusing on one fragment of the all-there-is, regardless of its context. Draw a perfect line; build a story out of impressions and observations; notice and then preserve an image that contains within itself the sort of shimmering that must, surely, be the product of like butting up against unlike; of three trying to muscle its way out of two, and claim a place in society. For me, it is poetry in general and prose poetry in particular that affords this: its bounded paragraph-box removes a perhaps more superficial openness associated with lineation, and allows the fragment of the whole to take on an intensity and a multiplicity of possibilities—a blurring of the frame of convention. “The Limit of the Map” starts with the banal fact of my lack of a bump of locality: a boundary between self and the world that is nullified by the world itself. “‘In the midst of life, we …’” is the opening phrase of a hymn by Martin Luther (1524) which reads in full “In the midst of life we are in death”—perhaps the most perplexing instance of that problem of when the shift occurs between one state and the next. And in “Cross Hatching” I am reflecting on one too many social occasions characterized by shifting boundaries. The Limit of the Map To some extent it’s about being lost. Your mother wanders off and is never seen again. You yourself have been mislaid many times, as you are again today, paused between river and rock, scouting out your escape. When the first maps were made, the making was slow: child tracing a path around the broken tree, past tall anthills, back home; woman steering wooden boat along the stream, sketching what she sees, knowing she will be able to find her way back home. You have been walking a slow circle while the earth tilts, trembles, tilts—a giant, breathing. Just when you are on the edge of losing hope, a windmill glints beyond the saltbush stand, and the lanky bay notices you and calls out, nickering.
“In the midst of life, we …” All bets are off and I am living in black and white after years of glaring colour. Don’t die, you told me when I balanced on the edge of the roof, you’ll regret it later. And later you held me, and briefly I could breathe, and then you talked until the night called uncle. Writing in Education 29
Now silence has won. Your absence consumes the air, but nonetheless death suits you, beloved, wipes out the table of obligations. After all your honour and betrayals, after all my rage, the IOUs lie shredded on the floor. How it thuds against the skull, that old Mitten wir im Leben sind. How always it’s silence wins out in the end. Cross Hatching We’re out to dinner again because no one wants to cook, and the waiter pours our wine with one arm wrenched behind his back. Sarah says Be nice, he’s just a child, and you laugh out loud, ignoring the look on her face that says mate, I think that’s it for us. The ravioli doesn’t come although the restaurant prides itself on timing. The water is still though we ordered sparkling, and Julian insists he can’t eat the garlic bread though his coeliac is strictly for show. Or so we believe. I change seats so I’m beside Sarah and begin the slow sweetness I hope will bear fruit. The waiter brings fresh drinks. The waiter brings fries for the table. Later we will take home the leftovers and tomorrow not eat them and the next day will throw them in the bin.
References Coleman, Sandra Moore (2016) ‘On Stage: Fosse’s Signature Style.’ KMUW (11 April 2016). Available from: https://www.kmuw. org/on-stage/2016-04-11/on-stage-fosses-signature-style [accessed 6 December 2021]. Gold, Sylviane (2020) ‘There was only one Ann Reinking.’ Dance Magazine (18 December 2020). Available from: https://www. dancemagazine.com/ann-reinking-2649539396.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1 [accessed 5 December 2021]. Hetherington, Paul and Cassandra Atherton (2020) Prose Poetry: An Introduction. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Iglesias, Holly (2019) ‘Holly Iglesias’ in Peter Johnson (ed), A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on their Prose Poetry. Asheville, N.C.: MadHat Press, 101–102. Johnson, Peter (2000) ‘Introduction’ in The Best of the Prose Poem: An International Journal. Buffalo N.Y.; Providence R.I.: White Pine Press, Providence College, n.p. Available from: https://digitalcommons.providence.edu/prosepoem/the_best_of_the_prose_ poem/2/article.pdf[accessed 6 December 2021]. Munden, Paul (2017) ‘Playing with time: Prose poetry and the elastic moment.’ TEXT Special Issue 46 (October 2017). Available from: http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue46/Munden.pdf [accessed 8 December 2021]. Santilli, Nikki (2018) ‘Prose Poetry & the Spirit of Jazz’ in Jane Monson (ed), British Prose Poetry. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Smith, Sid (1999) ‘The Fosse Look.’ Chicago Tribune (5 September 1999). Available from: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ ct-xpm-1999-09-05-9909050394-story.html [accessed 3 December 2021]. Turner, Victor W. 1979. ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’ in W. A. Lessa and E. Z. Vogt (eds), Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach. New York: Harper and Row, 234–43.
Cassandra Atherton is a widely anthologized and award-winning prose poet and scholar of prose poetry. She co-authored Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton University Press, 2020) and co-edited the Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (Melbourne University Press, 2020). She is a commissioning editor for Westerly magazine and Associate Editor for MadHat Press (USA). Anne Caldwell is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow (Huddersfield University) and poet based in West Yorkshire. Her latest prose poetry book is Alice and the North (Valley Press, 2020). She is currently co-editing Prose Poetry in Theory and Practice (Routledge) with Oz Hardwick (due May 2022). Oz Hardwick is a European poet and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published nine full collections and chapbooks, most recently the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Hedgehog, 2020). Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University. Paul Hetherington is a distinguished Australian poet and Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra who has published 16 full-length books of poetry and prose poetry and a verse novel. He founded the International Prose Poetry Group and co-authored Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton University Press, 2020). He won the 2021 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize. Paul Munden is a poet, editor and screenwriter living in North Yorkshire. For 25 years the Director of NAWE, he is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Canberra. His new collection, Amplitude, will be published by Recent Work Press in 2022. https://paulmunden.com/ Shane Strange’s writing has appeared in various print and online journals in Australia and internationally. He is the author of two chapbooks and the poetry collection, All Suspicions Have Been Confirmed; is publisher at Recent Work Press; and Artistic Director of Queensland Poetry. Jen Webb is Distinguished Professor of Creative Practice at the University of Canberra, and co-editor of the literary journal Meniscus. She researches and writes about creativity and resilience. Her most recent poetry collections are Moving Targets (Recent Work Press, 2018), and Flight Mode (with Shé Hawke; Recent Work Press, 2020). 30 Writing in Education
Connections while Solituding Kay Syrad and Clare Whistler AN ECO-POETRY CORRESPONDENCE COURSE KIN’D & KIN’D We call ourselves kin’d & kin’d, a composite eco-poet. The name describes connection with other beings, human and non-human, in an attitude (at least, an aspiration of) kindness. In an unpredictable process of frictioning and agreeing, researching, gathering natural objects and materials, reading poems aloud to each other, writing, rewriting and editing, we create site-specific collaborative poems which we call ‘exposures’. In a similar fashion, we also design and run a series of eco-poetry workshops and courses under titles such as Changing Everything Carefully - a phrase taken from e.e. cummings’ poem ‘Spring is like a perhaps hand’ – and Field Fairing – both titles alluding to what we aim for in our efforts to bring together poetry and environmental activism – eco-poetry.
Eco-poetry There are many definitions of eco-poetry, but we think of it as a poetry that aspires to be conscious of what we are doing when we describe, record, interact with or take from what we call nature. It is a poetry that recognizes the natural world as source, not resource, and to that end experiments both with language itself and the act of writing in ways that might help us to re-imagine our relationship with the non-human. We trust it is also grounded in respectful connections between people and peoples, aware of the extractivist roots of climate change, environmental degradation and species extinction. This is also the definition we have in a book we have created from one of our poetry courses, Connections while Solituding, which we ran during the first Covid lockdown. The book is called Wild Correspondings: an ecopoetry source book. Writing in Education 31
Connections while Solituding In 2019 we were running a weekly course at the rewilded estate, Knepp Wildland near Horsham, which since 2003 had been experimenting with ways of restoring its depleted arable farmland by means that included bringing in herds of Longhorn cattle, roe and fallow deer, Tamworth pigs and Exmoor ponies with their different grazing and rootling behaviours. The estate now attracts pairs of almost-lost turtle doves and nightingales, emperor butterflies, storks, and an abundance of pollinating insects and aquatic species. We had planned to run another course there in 2020 but suddenly it was Lockdown and our course was cancelled. We then had two ideas: that we correspond with our eco-poets by post; and that we bring Knepp Wildland to them through the book Wilding - a comprehensive account of Knepp’s evolution written by its co-owner, Isabella Tree. The poet-correspondents could, we thought, make a deeper connection with Knepp by finding their own urban or rural edge-land, verge, garden, or piece of sky to explore, tend, surrender to, for the duration of the Course – in the full new lonely silence created by the Lockdown.
Methodology / Pedagogy In consciousness of our human-induced eco-crisis, working creatively to ‘change everything carefully’ is our method. It is an attempt to be-with any living thing – human and non-human (grass, birds, soil, all the elements) - in a state of appreciation and thoughtfulness, with time to listen, to allow feeling; to care and to try to hope. With these ambitions, we began to devise the Connections while Solituding correspondence course, imagining our poets opening large envelopes to unknown treasures, to exciting ways of investigating and re-casting the other-than-human world, using elements of ritual, performance, embodiment and touch, with writing exercises to encourage a tentacular approach, one that is five-sensical, to connect body to object, and juxtaposing wilder ways of writing (what we call ‘poemish’) with traditional poetic forms. We imagined writing Emily Dickinson’s poems on the envelopes, enclosing sprigs of blackthorn, wildflower seeds, sending Ladies’ Smock from the spring verges veiled between layers of tracing paper. In mid-April, then, we began sending out, at fortnightly intervals over twelve weeks, our care-full hope to more than twenty correspondents: some were already wellestablished eco- poets, some were emerging poets, others were visual artists/musicians/teachers. Over the weeks, we sent them hand-written letters and printed guides ideas, poems, writing prompts, glass drops and a Glacier mint through which to look at the world, a few meal worms to eat or admire, ‘transformation’ matchboxes containing drawings of a leatherjacket and a cranefly… We set writing exercises that asked Correspondents to use or adapt traditional or hybrid poetic forms: for example, during Connections we invited Correspondents to write a madrigal, a soliloquy, a growing earth-form, an ‘exquisite exo-sonnet’ and a nest poem in terza rima. But we also encouraged them to invent words, use verbs 32 Writing in Education
instead of nouns, create verbings from bodily experiences such as reaching or burrowing; to allow words to run together, to ignore or exploit rules of grammar, syntax and punctuation, to allow language to break down into sounds and utterances. What we were doing was creating a specifically ecopoetic context for new writing, leading one of our correspondents to say that Connections while Solituding turned out to be not so much a course as an artwork, a process; not a curriculum but in William Pinar’s invocation of the Latin – currere – something running, flowing – a poetic conversation, a weaving of political concerns with doing, with the intuitive, the visceral. We asked that correspondents write back to us with their letters and poems within two weeks of receiving each package, and when we opened their envelopes of reply, we were astonished and moved: their letters and poems were also handwritten, they sent artworks and gifts; they tackled the often strange and challenging exercises with huge imagination and commitment. In fact, we found the works to be so rich and heart-felt that we realised we needed a lot of time and quietude to properly honour them, because it seemed that these human words were themselves a kind of caress of the earth. How could we properly respond? In the presence of each other (either online or socially-distanced) we opened each letter ritualistically, with a dodo-embossed letter-knife, and read all the letters and poems aloud to each other before replacing them in their envelopes and arranging them alphabetically by author in a box, each set tied with ribbon. We have been so moved, surprised and overwhelmed by what we have been given – and it seemed that our original invitations, the poets’ responses and our meditative responses to their work had now become a kin’dling and entangling, fully in the spirit of Changing Every Thing Care Fully.
What the storks taught
(A poem to celebrate, in May 2020, the first recorded breeding of white storks in the UK for 600 years) unseeing is not unbeing & earth will sing its birds into the quietest ceilings it will nest in the heart of our suburbs in the hole we dug six centuries deep too arid, too umbrous for birth under its tender oilslick wing-beats it’ll raise a rowdy trinity of eggs four ounces each of mottled luminosity and just at the moment we suspect there’s nothing more to be heard something gives, little ones fledge & the air is full of words Karen Smith
Wild Correspondings: an eco-poetry sourcebook Wild Correspondings is a source book and a work book – it can be used in a teaching or group context or by individuals. Anyone picking it up could follow the letters, guidelines, reading prompts and writing exercises in the order set out there, or in any order, and can explore how poets responded to the exercises. The Correspondents who took part included several awardwinning poets including Jemma Borg, who won the inaugural Gingko eco-poetry prize, and Caleb Parkin who is Bristol’s City Poet 2020-22; but there are also many remarkable and moving poems in the book written by people who hadn’t written much poetry before, and this has been particularly gratifying to us as course leaders. This cross-collaborative work needs to be shared: we and the Correspondents are currently arranging events based on Wild Correspondings at universities (including PGCE departments), at bookshops, galleries and other venues. Wild Correspondings: an eco-poetry source book is published by Elephant Press (2021), available here: https://www.elephantpress.co.uk/
Since 2018 kin’d & kin’d have run eco-poetry courses and workshops and have been writing poetry collaboratively. Their work has been published in Magma, Finished Creatures and Coast to Coast to Coast; they also have a small book, h/edge (Elephant Press 2020), and a creative interview with kin’d & kin’d by Alice Willitts is published as Think Thing (Elephant Press, 2021). Kay Syrad is a poet, novelist and former Poetry Editor of the longstanding journal, Envoi. Her third poetry collection, What is near was published in September. https://kaysyrad.co.uk/ Clare Whistler is a collaborative artist in movement, text and performance. She is co-founder of the award-winning annual WaterWeek exhibition. http://www.clarewhistler.co.uk/
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Producing a Frankentext Sam Holdstock HOW A WORK OF INTERACTIVE FICTION (IF) THAT WAS WRITTEN FOR USE IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOL ENGLISH CLASSROOM WAS PRODUCED Abstract Forming part of a larger action research project, this article explores how a work of Interactive Fiction (IF) that was written for use in the secondary school English classroom was produced. Drawing on Bakhtinian Dialogism, New Materialism and Barnard’s conceptualisation of multimodal creativity, the article examines how the text can be seen as a product of the writer’s creative assemblage via an analysis of two individual passages. Identifying himself as a teacher, writer and researcher, the writer of this paper identifies the significant role that the researcher persona can play in supporting teachers seeking to navigate what Cremin and Baker term as the “writer-teacher identity continuum” (Cremin & Baker 2014: 30). The article also highlights a key difference between writerly and teacherly intentions, namely the teacher’s interest in metalinguistic or metanarrative levels of textual engagement on the part of their students. The writer asserts that an acknowledgment of this difference could help teacher-writers attempting to produce works of IF for use in the classroom to formulate appropriate creative assemblages in the future. 34 Writing in Education
Interactive Fiction in the online classroom Late one February morning during the 2021 COVID-19 lockdown, I sat at my dining room table to teach a year 7 English lesson. During this “live” yet “remote lesson” (Ofsted 2021), we read and discussed a work of Interactive Fiction entitled Aboard the SS Mendi (Holdstock 2021b). Table 1 shows a transcript of one episode of the lesson in which we, the class, discussed the passage that is shown in figure 1. Together, we attempted to decide upon which link we should select. Teacher
Er, I will go to, er, at the top, Milla’s got her hand up first so let’s hear from Milla. Milla, what next?
Um I’m not sure if you’ve already um said this, but I wanted to know like, I would pick ship because like - we would know you would have to jump if you were like, if the ship was sinking, like all the other people would do, but you would be kinda following them, but if you would go for ship you could find a bit more about where the ship started to fill up with water and how it like started to sink.
Ok, so you’re saying ship cos you wanna find out more about the ship sinking than the individual person, it seems like. Marvin, do you agree with that?
I disagree because finding out, finding out the person, if you choose you, you will find out more about the person and how and why he came on the ship. I kind of a- I kind of like… I see where Milla’s point is, with seeing the ship, why um it might of went on the sea or why it sank, but mostly you because you’ll find out where the g-, probably where the guy’s from or, or why he came on the ship or, or where he’s going.
Marvin, Marvin I’ll pause you there. I really like your argument. You’ve made… You’ve stated a clear preference; you’ve given some convincing reasoning; You’ve also considered the other argument, which is really nice. That’s above and beyond – really impressive. Um. One thing you could have improved upon is thinking about using that critical vocabulary - like the noun ship, for example. So, we’ve had Milla saying um ship, Marvin saying you. Let’s have one more, um, next person down in my list is err, Amir. You’re the next person with their hand up.
OK. So, I agree with Marvin and I think that we should choose you, because it, it’s a- actually quite similar to the narrative, I mean the choice that we made before. If we choose you, then it will probably like focus more on you; we want to know about the character that we’re developing rather than learn about the ship, which would be more indirect, and I just don’t think that would be a good idea and way to make the story going. Also, I really like the use of the phrase you have… now have no choice, because it’s a lot more intriguing and interesting than just outright saying like, the ship is sinking, and I feel like if we take that narrative then it’ll have more of an interesting feel and just, it’ll be generally more exciting.
Table 1: A transcript of classroom talk in which we discuss the passage that is visible in figure 1.
Figure 1: A passage taken from Aboard the SS Mendi (Holdstock, 2021b) Considering that monologic teaching practices and the Initiation-Response-Feedback sequence of classroom talk (the IRF) can often dominate classrooms in the USA and the UK (Lyle, S. 2008; Hardman, F. 2019), it is interesting to note the cumulative and interactive nature of this exchange. Acknowledging the positive effects that dialogic teaching can have upon student progress (Jay et al. 2017), it is noteworthy that the classroom conversation I facilitated using a work of IF here enabled students to begin engaging in reasoning, discussion, argumentation, and explanation. Writing in Education 35
The “contestable” (Reznitskaya & Wilkinson 2017: 59) problems that a work like Aboard the SS Mendi presents arguably enable such forms of increasingly dialogic interaction. Some research has been conducted exploring the role that IF can play in the classroom. For example, Kozdras et al. (2006) have explored the potential for IF as a tool for engaging learners. Moreover, Young et al. have suggested that the social process of reading an interactive text with a group of students can become a form of fruitful “cowriting” (2015: 217). However, little research has focused on the dialogic potential of IF as a classroom resource. More specifically, from a creative writing standpoint, I have found no evidence of practitioners exploring how one might go about writing a work of IF for use as a dialogic teaching tool within the context of a secondary school English classroom. Therefore, in this paper I shall attempt to examine how I went about developing such a work. What Happens When You Close Your Eyes In September 2020 I began to develop a work of IF for use in the Key Stage Three (11-14 years old) English classroom as I believed that such a work could help my students become more actively and cognitively involved in the meaning-making process of reading (Holdstock 2021b). Noticing that my school’s year 7 (11–12-year-olds) curriculum featured two schemes of work focusing in different ways on literature written in response to World War One, I decided to create a work of IF that I could use to help my students gain a richer understanding of the ways in which the conflict affected people’s lives. I therefore initially produced a work of IF entitled What Happens When You Close Your Eyes (Holdstock 2021c). Between the months of October and February 20202021, as my research progressed, I continuously revised this work. Later, as I continued to develop ways of incorporating works of IF into my lesson plans, I also created and shared another story: Aboard the SS Mendi (Holdstock 2021a). This second narrative is in fact an edited fragment of the original interactive story, created to render the work more usable in an individual lesson. Its existence highlights the fluid nature of the ongoing action research project of which it forms a part. The inspiration for my work came from a set of resources that were created by Big Ideas© (2018). These resources explored the lives and stories of diverse individuals whose World War One (WW1) narratives frequently go untold, such as, for example, the members of the South African Native Labour Corps who died when the SS Mendi sank. I felt, particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests against systemic racism in America and in Europe (see, for example, BBC 2020), that such underrepresented stories should take a more prominent role in our approach to teaching students about WW1. As I drafted, redrafted and revised my work of IF, I took field notes, sought feedback from critical friends on the 36 Writing in Education
drafts I produced and conducted unstructured and semistructured interviews with colleagues who witnessed me using IF in my lessons. In this paper, I shall draw upon this data in order to begin answering the following question: How was the work of IF that is entitled What Happens When You Close Your Eyes produced? In responding to this question, I shall, by extension, also shed some light on the ways in which Aboard the SS Mendi was produced. Theoretical Framework For Bakhtin, a word in use is always “half someone else’s”; not only does each word have a rich and varied history of usage, but it also means different things to different people (Bakhtin 1981). Meaning is therefore unstable, and using language is not a neutral or impersonal act. Rather, it involves drawing different voices from the past, present and future into dialogue with one another (Bakhtin 1986). From such a dialogic perspective, it makes sense to analyse my creative decisions by exploring the interactions between different voices that may have produced them. For example, how might the voices of my intended audience have influenced and interacted with my writerly sense of voice during the creation of What Happens When You Close Your Eyes and Aboard the SS Mendi? Somewhat similarly, New Materialists focus their attention on the relationships between different animate and inanimate entities, exploring how assemblages of relations between such entities produce changes in state or capacity (Fox & Alldred 2015). In the same way that Dialogism positions meaning as a product of interactive dialogue between voices, New Materialism conceptualizes change as a product of the fluid connections between different elements of an assemblage. It is possible to frame this New Materialist approach in dialogic terms if one argues, as Hetherington and Wegerif do, that inanimate materials can be said to have voices that enter into dialogue with other animate and inanimate entities (Hetherington and Wegerif 2018). One can consider the above-described lesson, for example, from this material-dialogic perspective. In the lesson, I used IF as a lesson resource, formulating a de-territorialised lesson assemblage that differs from what I have come to see as ‘standard’ lesson assemblages - lessons that feature slide-based presentations and inflexible learning objectives which, in my experience, typically produce monologic forms of talk. I here use the term de-territorialise to denote a destabilising flow of change occurring within an assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988). By using IF to change a ‘standard’ lesson assemblage, I believe that I developed a de-territorialised lesson assemblage that had an increased capacity to facilitate dialogic forms of talk (Fox Alldred 2015; Smith and Monforte 2020). The dialogic exchanges that took place were a product of the interactions between different voices within the assemblage. For example, the voice of the work of IF I used interacted with my teacherly voice and the voices of my students to produce the sequence of talk that can be seen in table 1. Table 2 offers a simplified representation of my research assemblage, as has here been described
My Research Assemblage Creative Assemblage that produced What Happens When You Close Your Eyes and Aboard The SS Mendi •
Writerly Resources: (e.g., time, feedback from critical friends, my Action Research Model, the Twine© software I used to create my works of IF and the sources that inspired the work etc.). Writerly Personas (e.g., Writer, Teacher, Researcher personas) Creative projects (e.g., my past experiences of creating lesson materials and writing works of fiction and poetry).
‘Standard’ English Lesson Assemblage
• Teacher • Students • Linear Lesson Plan, including an inflexible and prescribed learning objective. • Presentation Slides • Other learning resources commonly used in English lessons (e.g., novels, extracts etc.). • Other materials present during the lesson (e.g., exercise books, desks, wall displays).
De-territorialised English Lesson Assemblage
• Teacher • Students • Flexible lesson plan, with a loosely defined learning objective. • A work of IF (What Happens When You Close Your Eyes or Aboard the SS Mendi. • Other materials present during the lesson (e.g., exercise books, desks, wall displays)
Table 2: A simplified representation of my research assemblage. With this material-dialogic approach in mind, and in order to explore how I composed and developed What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, in this paper I intend to examine the ways in which my creative assemblage (a part of my larger research assemblage) produced What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, over time. However, the boundaries of my creative assemblage are hard to define. Barnard’s framework for conceptualising creativity (Barnard 2019), with its focus on remediation and multimodality, here serve as a useful framework. Barnard describes creativity by suggesting that writing is shaped by the following factors: Writerly Resources (external and internal resources that shape writerly decisions), Writerly Personas (aspects or versions of our writerly selves), Expert Intuition (intuitive convictions about how to proceed), the Inner Auteur (our subconscious ability to marshal disparate influential factors and resources) and Creative Projects (other creative experiences that we have had) (Barnard 2019). As I intend to focus on analysing how I made communicative decisions by examining the relations and interactions between different aspects of my creative assemblage, I shall attempt to identify how my existing writerly resources, writerly personas and creative projects might have produced decisions that may initially have been intuitive or subconscious. As I consider myself to be a researcher, writer and a teacher, my writerly personas are arguably of particular interest. Specifically, the relationships and interactions between my various writerly and teacherly personas might be worthy of some consideration. Cremin and Baker (2010) have explored such relationships, suggesting that the writing classroom can become a “site of struggle” between different identity positionings for teachers (19). They have considered the question of identity positioning
in the classroom through reference to “a teacher-writer, writer-teacher identity continuum” (Cremin & Baker 2014: 30). Therefore, although I am focusing on a work of IF rather than my behaviour within lessons themselves, it is possible, when analysing how my creative assemblage might have produced What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, to consider the story as a site of struggle which reflects my ongoing identity work as a teacherwriter / writer-teacher. Bakhtin notes that language “is somebody talking to somebody body else, even when that someone else is one’s own inner addressee” (Bakhtin 1981). From a dialogic perspective therefore, it is worth considering how my different writerly personas might have interacted with one another. Similarly, from a New Materialist perspective, it is worth considering how the relations between my writerly personas and various other external resources might have produced certain features of What Happens When You Close Your Eyes. Before proceeding, it is also worth noting that, as the author of What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, I consider myself to be a multimodal writer in whose work “the inter-relationships between and among” my writerly decisions and various “different media and modes contribute to the production of meaning” (Barnard 2019: 6). Looking at What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, for example, a range of modes can be identified: space, written language, colour, typography, images and hyperlinks. One can also consider different genres that the work straddles: Interactive Fiction, Historical Fiction, Textbook, Game, Quiz, Test… Identifying these different modes and genres underlines the multimodal nature of my practice and draws attention towards the fact that my creative assemblage produced more than language decisions, producing instead a work of IF that communicates via a range of modes. Writing in Education 37
Figure 2: A Meta-Passage taken from What Happens When You Close Your Eyes (Holdstock 2021d) Analysis To examine the ways in which my creative assemblage produced What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, I shall now examine two individual passages from the story, drawing upon my field notes, feedback from critical friends, interview data and earlier drafts of the story to support my analysis. Firstly, looking at the passage presented in Figure 2, I notice a number of noteworthy features. I remember primarily that this passage did not exist at all in the first complete draft of the story. Also, its green background colour makes it stand out somewhat, as other passages in the story feature more of a pinkish background colour. Interestingly, it features a question that is aimed directly at the reader, using the second person in a manner that differs from the way the second person is used in other passages. It also makes use of metaphor in a clichéd fashion, informing the reader that they will “step back in time” and into someone else’s “shoes.” Finally, it uses bullet points and single-word links to present readers with a choice of characters, thus foregrounding the significance of choice in the narrative’s overall structure. How were these features produced? They can be explained by considering the relations between my different personas and certain of my writerly resources, all of which formed a part of my creative assemblage. Having produced the first draft of the story as a narrative writer, my role as a teacher and an action researcher then came into play. For example, having built feedback from colleagues and critical friends into my research model, I sought their opinions on what I had written. In my field notes I observed that one critical friend “suggested including some choices at the start of the narrative which would allow students to pick whether they wanted to be a man or a woman,” for example. A colleague also asked, after reading my first draft, how my students would know that each reading of the story focused on a different character. I initially chose not to act on these comments, suggesting that a certain degree of conflict existed between my writerly persona, my teacher/researcher personas and the feedback offered to me by critical friends. However, during subsequent interviews with colleagues who observed me using early drafts of the story in my lessons, I became aware that without such a passage towards the start of the story, 38 Writing in Education
students might be obliged to make “random” rather than “reasoned” choices about which link they wanted to select at the beginning of the story. From the perspective of my teacher/researcher persona, this was not desirable. I wanted my students to be able to make and discuss choices intentionally; this explains the inclusion of this passage, a passage in which readers are presented with a choice of options that are clearly and explicitly different from one another. One can see, therefore, that the passage’s very existence can be understood as a product of the relations between my writerly persona, my teacherly persona, my researcher persona as well as various external resources: my research model, my colleagues and critical friends, the feedback they offered me and the students in whose lessons I used early drafts of the story. Later, in another interview, a different colleague commented that IF seems particularly useful for teachers seeking to nurture a “meta-understanding” of narrative and language. I take the ‘meta’ prefix to denote “moving to a different level of awareness or perspective” and developing an “explicit understanding of language structure and choice” (Myhill et al. 2020: 8). My teacherly self recognises that metalinguistic and metanarrative knowledge is a vital part of what students learn in the English classroom, and various other features of this passage might therefore be explained by the relations between my teacherly intentions and the resources with which I, as a teacher, was working. For example, the green background colour is a product of the difference between my narrative writerly intentions and my more meta, teacherly intentions; the shift to a more meta level is indicated by a change in the background colour. The combination of narrative passages and meta-passages created what I refer to in my fieldnotes as a “Frankentext” — a work that is both an interactive work of historical fiction but also a teaching resource that can stimulate metanarrative and metalinguistic choice and discussion. In this context, the term metalinguistic is used to denote an engagement with language that involves “looking at language, not just using language” (Myhill et al. 2020: 8). Similarly, I define metanarrative engagement as looking at narrative structure, not just experiencing it. My use of the word “Frankentext” in my fieldnotes is noteworthy, as it highlights elements of my creative
assemblage that would otherwise have remained hidden. As well as teaching a year 7 class, I was also teaching Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to a group of year 12 students (16–17-year-olds) at the same time. In a study edition of this novel (McCallum 2016), I read of the ways in which the prefix “fraken-” has been used in a variety of neologisms to denote a certain degree of (often unnatural) modification, interference or synthesis. This connection between What Happens When You Close Your Eyes and Frankenstein, highlighted by my use of the word Frankentext, is noteworthy as it again underlines the fraught connection that existed between my writing and teaching personas. The word arguably indicates that I, in some respects, considered the synthesis of narrative and meta-level passages to be both exciting and monstrous. In fact, transforming the text into a “Frankentext” did not happen swiftly. Other elements of my creative assemblage played a role in the change; it was time, critical feedback and the experience of using the story in lessons that produced the following realisation in my field notes: “I’ve been limiting myself, focusing on making a piece of historically literary hypertext fiction. But the text could be enriched - it could be more than this. It could be a story, more of a game, a scheme of work, a slide show, a work of fiction... why not? The boundaries don’t have to be so rigid.” One must also note that Twine © (the software I used to write the story), my research into IF as a genre and my experience of using presentation slides as lesson resources when teaching groups of secondary school students were also significant parts of my creative assemblage. For example, the passage in figure two features a consequential choice of links, the likes of which are typically seen in works of IF created using Twine, but not typically found in presentation slides. However, the fact that the passage is quite short and can be projected onto a whiteboard in its entirety without any need for scrolling, much like a presentation slide, makes the passage, in the words of one of my colleagues, “manageable”. Another colleague remarked that breaking the story down into short passages could help a teacher to facilitate “slow reading” or “guided reading”. By forming a creative assemblage that situated Twine © alongside my teacherly persona and my experiences of creating presentation slides for use in lessons, a somewhat manageable and useful resource was produced. This assemblage might also explain my decision to use metaphor in the clichéd manner that has already been mentioned; the metaphor enables me to explain a complex idea in relatively few words, thus keeping the passage short and manageable. Likewise, in my field notes I document the challenges of writing this passage in such a way as to enable me to make the links into single words rather than longer phrases. My teacherly desire to use the story as a tool for dialogic teaching may have produced this decision; I understood a single word to be more easily embedded into a spoken utterance than an entire phrase, thus making the passage more conducive to interactive forms of talk. As such, the voices of my future students, another element of my creative assemblage, entered into dialogue with
my writerly and teacherly personas, producing specific decisions about how to format links in this passage. The way the passage uses the pronoun “you” to address my student readers is also noteworthy. The narrative passages are written in the second person, but in this meta-passage the “you” referred to is my student audience rather than an unnamed second person character. This suggests that my writerly and teacherly personas, despite their fraught connections, might share some common ground. While the narrative passages use the second person to immerse readers in the story, this more teacherly meta-passage uses the second person to involve students in a meta-narrative decision. However, both my writerly and teacherly personas are seeking to position student-readers as participants, either within the narrative or within the lesson. The contrasting ways in which I use the second person in my narrative and meta-passages obliges them to mediate between their real-world identities as students in a lesson and the virtual identity of an individual character within the narrative. From Gee’s perspective, such identity play can be valuable as it forms part of what enables games to facilitate learning (Gee 2003). From this perspective, the juxtaposition of meta-passages with narrative passages can be seen in a less monstrous light than I might previously have thought. Turning our attention now to the passage displayed in Figure 3, we see a passage that is part of the narrative of What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, rather than what one could term a meta-passage. In this passage, I note the use of the second person, sensory language, similes, italics and the Xhosa words for Mother and Father (Umama and Utata) written in italics and used as links. The use of the second person can here be explained by the connections between my researcher persona, my teacherly persona and the fact that IF is conventionally written in the second person (Costanzo 1986; Bell and Ensslin 2011). As I am carrying out an action research project that attempts to explore the possibilities for IF in the secondary school English classroom, the use of the conventional second person seems appropriate in a way that it might not be in other English lessons. For example, one critical friend who also works as an English teacher suggested that the use of the second person might feel “out of place” because we “don’t read much literature in the second person.” It is this tension between what I, as an English teacher, might typically do when writing or reading fiction with or for students, and what I as a researcher have set out to do that has here produced the noteworthy usage of the second person. Interestingly, the “you” referred to here is not my student readers but rather a character within the narrative. You the reader have become you the character in a way that a third person narrative would be less able to facilitate. As such, my creative assemblage seems to have produced a combination of passages that, through their use of the second person, foregrounds the connections that exist in an English lesson between narrative and more metanarrative levels of textual engagement, engagement that can involve mediating between different identity positionings on the part of teachers and students alike. Writing in Education 39
Figure 3: A narrative passage taken from What Happens When You Close Your Eyes (Holdstock 2021d) While a teacher might be positioned somewhere on the teacher-writer, writer-teacher continuum, students can be encouraged to identify both as readers and as students within a given English lesson. My decision to repeatedly use sensory language and similes to describe “home” can be explained by the shared intentions of my writerly and teacherly personas and my experience of writing creatively in previous creative projects. One colleague noted, after reading a draft of the story, that I effectively use the senses “to immediately transport the children into the story”. As a writer, I am here drawing on my past experiences of writing fictional works of prose and poetry to create a compelling narrative world. As a teacher, I am simultaneously modelling some descriptive techniques that can be used for effect. In this case, the goals of my teacherly and writerly personas can be said to align. However, it is interesting to note that the links in this passage are not used to directly draw attention towards these particular language features. Instead, as a writer of a historical and fictional narrative, I foreground the Xhosa words that I have used by employing them as links and by using italics. This arguably encourages readers to consider the text on a metanarrative or contextual level rather than a metalinguistic level by obliging them to choose between two characters rather than, for example, two words with more clearly contrasting grammatical functions or semantic connotations. This decision can be seen as a product of the resources that were and were not part of my creative assemblage when initially composing the narrative. I was not writing the narrative having formed a lesson plan or fixed metalinguistic lesson objective. Instead, I set out to write an interactive narrative that was inspired by resources I had read and other materials I had found online, such as Let Us Die Like Brothers, a video made by the History Channel for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Commonwealth War Graves Commission 2016). As such, when creating choices and links in narrative passages such as this one I was more focused on how the branching narrative was structured than I was on drawing the student-reader’s attention towards significant sentence or word level language features. I was also writing with an awareness of my school’s existing KS3 English curriculum in mind. Knowing that 40 Writing in Education
our World War One schemes of work lacked diversity of representation in their exploration of World War One literature, I was writing to introduce a wider range of stories into the curriculum. The fact that more fixed and specific lesson objectives and lesson plans were not part of my initial creative assemblage therefore influenced the decisions made in this passage. A critical friend noted that these decisions about links and structure drew his attention to words that he would otherwise not have discussed with a class in much detail. Another colleague asked “how did you choose the words” that were used as links? These comments highlight the fact that, as a teaching resource, the text contains some potentially confusing tensions: one colleague noted that the text represents a “a really good way of getting students to focus on language” but also that there is a degree of ambiguity as to my principal intention when using it as a lesson resource. Do I intend to get students thinking about the effects of language choices, components of structure or the historical context of World War One? The absence of a distinct or principal learning objective in my initial creative assemblage can be seen as the cause of this ambiguity. Arguably, this sense of ambiguity can be linked back to my “fluid, open and responsive” Action Research model (Kemis 2014: 18); I began the project with the idea that IF could be put to good use in the English classroom but was open to exploring the specific ways in which this might or might not be the case.
Conclusions Having looked at just two passages from the work of IF entitled What Happens When You Close Your Eyes, I have begun to explore the ways in which the text can be seen as a product of my creative assemblage. This assemblage included a range of resources and personas. For example, I have identified various personas that proved influential: a writerly persona, a teacherly persona and a researcher persona. Other experiences and resources sat alongside these personas within my creative assemblage and helped produce the text; the materials that inspired the original narrative, my past experiences as a writer of fiction, my research model, critical friends and colleagues, feedback, time, my knowledge of IF and some of its conventions, the Twine © software I used to create the text and my experiences of using presentation slides as lesson resources were all influential factors that
interacted to produce some of my decisions. Also, the imagined voices of my future student-readers formed part of the assemblage. I here deliberately use the term student-reader because my analysis has suggested that the text positions them both as readers of a narrative and as English students engaging on a more meta level; the transcribed discussion that can be found in table 1 further demonstrates this meta-narrative form of textual engagement on the part of my students, as facilitated by choices and links contained within a passage from Aboard the SS Mendi. In the future, research could be done to explore the relationship between the teacher-writer, writer-teacher identity continuum and a parallel, studentreader, reader-student identity continuum. It is particularly interesting to note the way that my researcher persona and my research model related to my writerly and teacherly personas; upon reflection it seems that my role as a researcher helped me navigate the writer-teacher identity continuum during the production of this text. It did not help me to resolve the tensions that exist between these two identity positionings, but it did help me develop an understanding of where these tensions might lie, particularly within the context of this particular “Frankentext”. For example, my teacherly interest in metalinguistic and metanarrative textual engagement on the part of my students was not something that my writerly persona prioritised to the same extent when initially drafting the narrative. This difference arguably lies at the heart of what made the text feel to me like a “Frankentext” rather than something more unified and coherent. It also draws attention to the identity play that goes on within a written teaching and learning resource; one can see the writer of What Happens When You Close Your Eyes as a teacher and / or a writer. Similarly, one can identify its intended student-readers as both students of English situated in a classroom with their teacher, and readers of a narrative that situates them in a virtual and fictional world.
The fact that my creative assemblage did not initially contain a clearly defined learning goal is indicative of the fact that my specific teacherly intentions appeared later, produced by my interactions with critical friends, colleagues and students. In the future, writers, teachers or researchers looking to produce works of IF for use in the classroom could do well to consider the metalinguistic or metanarrative learning objectives they hope their student-readers will meet prior to drafting their work of IF, as this could help them to create links and choices that facilitate the desired form of textual engagement. In short, it is worth considering how the text will align (Whitton 2014) the various teacherly and writerly goals that are at play. For example, a teacher-writer aiming to enable students to improve their understanding of the significance of language choices might choose to create a very different form of IF. They might, for example, create a work in which the student-reader steps into the shoes of writer, making choices between different grammatical options as they develop or adapt a work of fiction. It is possible that discussing a work of this sort could help students develop metalinguistic knowledge through dialogue (Myhill et al. 2019), whilst simultaneously rendering the purpose of the activity less ambiguous. An example of what such a work of IF might look like can be found here: https://makingmeanings.itch.io/agreat-gatsby (Holdstock 2021c). However, such a work of IF might be less creatively fulfilling for the author in question, as it restricts the writer to conducting a form of sentence-level textual intervention (Pope 1995) rather than formulating their own narrative. Finally, my analysis also suggests that teachers navigating the writer-teacher continuum might do well to consider how to adopt a researcher persona as a means of better understanding their own relationship with the writer-teacher, teacherwriter dynamic.
References Bakhtin M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination, Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. Bakhtin, M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. Barnard, J. (2019) The Multimodal Writer. London: Red Globe Press. BBC (2020) Edward Colston statue: Protesters tear down slave trader monument. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk52954305 [10 November 2021]. Bell, A., & A. Ensslin (2011). ‘I know what it was. You know what it was’: Second-Person Narration in Hypertext Fiction. Narrative 19 (3) 311-329. Big Ideas Community Interest Company. (2018) The Unremembered: World War One’s Army of Workers. Available From: https:// www.big-ideas.org/project/the-unremembered/ [24 February 2021]. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. (2016) Let Us Die Like Brothers. Youtube.com. Available from: https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=G_znyU4xsR0 [10 November 2021]. Costanzo, W. (1986). Reading Interactive Fiction: Implications of a New Literary Genre. Educational Technology, 26(6), 31-35. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44425198 [10 November 2021]. Cremin, T., & S. Baker. (2010). Exploring Teacher-Writer Identities In The Classroom: Conceptualising The Struggle. English Teaching: Practice and Critique 9 (3): 8-25. Available from: http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/etpc/files/2010v9n3art1. pdfpp.8-25 [10 November 2021]. Cremin, T., & S. Baker. (2014). Exploring The Discursively Constructed Identities of a Teacher-Writer Teaching Writing. English Teaching: Practice and Critique 13 (3): 30-55. Available From: http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/etpc/ files/2014v13n3art2.pdf [10 November 2021]. Deleuze, G., & F. Guattari. (1988) A Thousand Plateaus. London: Athlone. Writing in Education 41
Fox, N. J., & P. Alldred. (2015). New materialist social inquiry: designs, methods and the research-assemblage. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(4), 399–414. Gee, J. P. (2003) What Videogames Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Hetherington, L., and R. Wegerif. (2018). Developing a material-dialogic approach to pedagogy to guide science teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching, 44(1), 27–43. Holdstock, S. (2021a). The Dialogic Possibilities for Interactive Fiction in the Secondary Academy English Classroom. Changing English, 28 (4), 395-410. Holdstock, S. (2021b) Aboard the SS Mendi. Available from: https://makingmeanings.itch.io/aboard-the-ss-mendi [10 November 2021]. Holdstock, S. (2021c) A Great Gatsby. Available from: https://makingmeanings.itch.io/a-great-gatsby [10 November 2021]. Holdstock, S. (2021d) What Happens When You Close Your Eyes. Available from: https://makingmeanings.itch.io/what-happenswhen-you-close-your-eyes [10 November 2021]. Jay, T., B. Willis, P. Thomas, R. Taylor, N. Moore, C. Burnett, G. Merchant, and A. Stevens. (2017) Dialogic Teaching Evaluation Report and Executive Summary. EEF. Available from: www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk [10 November 2021]. Kemis, S. (2014) The Action Research Planner, Doing Critical Action Participatory Action Research. London: Springer. Kozdras, D., D. Haunstetter, and J. King. (2006). Interactive Fiction: ‘New Literacy’ Learning Opportunities For Children. E-Learning, 3(4), 519-533. Lyle, S. (2008). Dialogic Teaching: Discussing Theoretical Contexts and Reviewing Evidence from Classroom Practice. Language and Education 22 (3): 222–240. McCallum, A. (2016). ‘Before Reading.’ In Frankenstein: EMC Study Edition, by M. Shelley, 5-14. London: English and Media Centre. Myhill, D., A. Watson, & R. Newman. (2020). Thinking Differently About Grammar and Metalinguistic Understanding in Writing. Bellaterra Journal of Teaching and Learning Language and Literature, 13(2), 1-19. Myhill, D., R. Newman, & A. Watson. (2019). “Going Meta: Dialogic Talk in the Writing Classroom.” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 2(1): 1–12. Ofsted, (2021). What’s working well in remote education. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whatsworking-well-in-remote-education/whats-working-well-in-remote-education [10 November 2021] Pope, R. (1995) Textual Intervention. Abingdon: Routledge. Reznitskaya, A., and I. A. G. Wilkinson. (2017) The Most Reasonable Answer. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press. Smith, B., and J. Monforte. (2020). Stories, new materialism and pluralism: Understanding, Practising and Pushing The Boundaries of Narrative Analysis. Methods in Psychology, 2 (100016). Whitton, N. (2014) Digital Games and Learning. New York: Routledge. Young, M. F., S. T. Slota, R. Travis, and B. Choi. (2015) Game Narrative, Interactive Fiction, and Storytelling: Creating a ‘Time for Telling’ in the Classroom. In Video Games and Creativity, edited by G. P. Green and J. C Kaufman, 199–222. London: Elsevier.
Sam Holdstock is a practicing writer, teacher and PhD researcher who is based in London. His research explores the role that digital, non-linear, Interactive Fiction (IF) can play in the secondary school English classroom. In particular, he is researching the relationship between works of IF that he has written and the quality of classroom talk that they can help stimulate during his English lessons. Some of Sam’s Interactive Fictions can be read at https://makingmeanings.itch.io/. Sam has also had work published in The Moth, and Changing English. Email: email@example.com
42 Writing in Education
Prose Poetry and Historical Ambiguity Edwin Stockdale Trajectory January-May 1312 Edward and Piers sleep together, remapping the contours of their bodies. Snow-light is a parhelion through the window, glinting on silver plate. A horseback messenger at Knaresborough: Piers’s wife, Margaret, given birth, a firstborn, Joan. Felicitations to the proud father. Edward takes Piers’s tongue into his mouth. The men dress hurriedly, fingers caught in forest velvet, rush to York. Forty nights later Margaret is churched, purified. The Gavestons and Edward entertained by a minstrel, a dance involving swords and shields. Isabella makes her way north after Candlemas, the wooden carriage serrating vials of ice. Under shades of Venus through blurred edges of distorted glass Edward takes Isabella to bed: now is the time. Her womb quickens. Lancaster, Pembroke and Surrey begin their pursuit from the thawed Thames. Edward and Isabella, Piers and Margaret, head north-east. Past standing stones, the Devil’s Arrows, and over the Ure at Boroughbridge. Isabella retches into watercress. The quartet carry on across Durham heathland to Newcastle. Lancaster closes in, breaches the garrison walls. Edward and Piers flee leaving war-horses, weapons, armour. No use for the ruby-set ring Edward calls the cherry or a gold cup studded with emeralds, citrine, amethyst, the one belonging to his mother. Edward and Piers arrive dishevelled at Tynemouth Priory. No rest behind fortified curtain walls, the rocky headland overlooking the North Sea. Lancaster continues his hunt. Edward and Piers put to sea beneath a fired sunset, a flight, arrive at Scarborough in a gale. Behind impregnable walls Edward parts from Piers. I command you on pain of forfeiture not to surrender, even if I am brought before you as a prisoner. Edward’s voice breaks. He brushes Piers’s cheek, the last touch. Edward leaves for York and Isabella. Piers besieged: starved, places himself in custody. Scarborough haunts Edward. The heron’s grief sounds a grey ghost in its cry.
Heartstone Warwick Castle 19 June 1312 The castle is a lattice. The picture is stitched together. I can’t see through distorted glass. The lintels and tracery of the arched windows are warp and weft. I touch bloodied stone in the recesses of the castle. Piers Gaveston emerges from the shadows as the picture is unstitched. He is condemned to death under a tapestry sky. There is no time to seek spurred coral root. He is dragged through a snicket to Blacklow Hill. He is run through the heart, cleanly, with a sword. Beheaded. His head rolls under a furze bush. I feel the weathered sandstone of Gaveston’s cross, listen to the oaks’ hush.
The prose poem, it seems to me, particularly lends itself to certain aspects of historical biography, with which I engage in the above prose poems from a sequence in progress concerning Edward II and Piers Gaveston. As Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton have noted in recent landmark study of the form, “[p]rose poetry has the potential to cross the divide between the urge toward poetry – its capacity to articulate what is otherwise unsayable – and the more discursive and narrativedriven prose of novels, biographies and the like.” (Hetherington and Atherton 2020: 6) The key word for me here is “unsayable,” a term meaning that which cannot be expressed through the conventions of formal prose, but which I broaden out to also embrace that which cannot with certainty be known. The difference between prose poetry and lineated poetry may be thought of as pertaining to its negotiation of space. As Luke Kennard asserts, for example, “Prose poetry is more spacious; it tends to contain complete sentences; it allows for more incongruity and complex yet visible patterns.” (Kennard 2018: 253) The dynamic Writing in Education 43
between the prose poem and the surrounding white space is thus more mutable, for although the neat-edged form appears more contained, it is effectively more volatile, the arrangement of its parts ever-changing on different pages and with different voices. This difference creates what may be thought of as a dissonant harmony of unsettled elements. The energy thus created within its circumscribed shape on the page not only reconfigures space but also, as Paul Munden observes, makes it ideal for enacting startling shifts in time. (Munden 2017) As Munden notes, the prose poem “blurs” these shifts, even as it blurs the categorical distinctions between poetry and prose. Within the hazy fringes of shifting time there are ghost-like qualities haunting the text, and it is at this point of unresolved mutability and otherness that we may unearth the mystery which lies at the heart of the prose poem. Further, on movement and stasis in the prose poem, Hetherington and Atherton argue that prose poetry is: “looking forwards and backwards, understanding transitions, providing passages and doorways. … It understands both prose and poetry, and it comfortably inhabits the space between them.” (Hetherington and Atherton 2015: 279) However, while prose poetry “comfortably” occupies the space between prose and poetry, at the same time, prose poetry is uncomfortable, thriving, as I have suggested, on tension, and charged with the dissonant harmony of its clashing elements. The core of this dynamic tension is encapsulated in Hazel Smith’s observation that, “Prose poetry … by its very nature … questions the division between poetry and prose.” (Smith 2005: 183)
The prose poem’s energy is, then, born in this space in which uncertain, sometimes contradictory, divisions are interrogated. Drawing on the prose poem’s uncertain definitions and its easy ability to incorporate – or even invite – fragmentation and disjunction, both spatial and temporal, I suggest that it is a particularly apt form with which to approach the contested details of unknowable history. Prose poetry offers writers a space in which physical, formal, and temporal distinctions may not be quite where we expect them to be, in which we may encounter and explore the silences and ambiguities of unknown and unspoken histories. It is precisely this which recommends the form so perfectly for aspects of my poetic sequence relating to events surrounding the life of Edward II and Piers Gaveston, with both its action and its main protagonist(s) drawing layer upon layer of conflicting interpretations around an enigmatically unknowable centre. As Seymour Phillips points out: “Edward II was an enigma in his time and in some respects he remains an enigma now” (Phillips 2010: 613), and interpretations of Edward II’s character – and indeed the events of his life – remain fraught with contested divisions.
Works cited: Hetherington, P and Atherton, C. (2020) Prose Poetry: An Introduction. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hetherington, P and Atherton, C. (2015) ‘Unconscionable Mystification?’ Rooms, Spaces and the Prose Poem. New Writing. 12 (3), 265-281. https://doi.org/10.1080/14790726.2015.1047856 [accessed 12 December 2021] Kennard, L. (2018) ‘“Man and Nature in and Out of Order”: The Surrealist Prose Poetry of David Gascoyne’ in Monson, J. (ed.) British Prose Poetry: The Poems Without Lines. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. 249-264. Munden, P. (2017) Playing with Time: Prose Poetry and the Elastic Moment. TEXT Special Issue 46. 21 (2). Available from: http:// www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue46/Munden.pdf [accessed 12 December 2021] Phillips, S. (2010) Edward II. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Smith, H. (2005) The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.
Edwin Stockdale has a BA Hons in Creative Arts (Creative Writing and Music) from Lancaster University and a PGCE in Primary and Early Years Education from Liverpool Hope University. Red Squirrel Press have published two of his pamphlets: Aventurine (September 2014) and The Glower of the Sun (January 2019). In 2017 he graduated from the University of Birmingham with an MA in Creative Writing. His poems and short fiction have been widely published, for instance in Atrium, Dreich, Ink sweat and tears, Interpreter’s House, London Magazine, Long Poem Magazine, Magma, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry Scotland, Prole and Stand. Practice-based papers on his research have been presented at the Prose Poetry Symposium (Leeds) and NAWE Conference (York). Recently, he has submitted his PhD in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University. Photograph by Alison Pantony.
44 Writing in Education
Studying Abroad? Nicole D’Adamo Moody WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE STUDY ABROAD SECTOR? I have taught in the study abroad sector for over a decade, instructing American undergraduate students visiting London for a semester. One of the courses I teach, “British Life and Cultures,” has the objective of increasing students’ awareness and understanding about their host country’s culture, thereby helping them pierce the American cultural bubble and start making critical comparisons and connections between different cultures.
where we have come from. Being removed from one’s normal environment means we learn more about the external world around us, but also, equally importantly, it encourages us to turn an introspective gaze towards ourselves, leading to greater self-awareness. Distance provides objectivity. Or in the words of T.S. Eliot, it creates a cycle of reassessment where old assumptions are reconsidered:
As a half Italian and half British person myself, cultural comparison and immersion is central to my own learning experience. Physically stepping outside one’s dominant culture we are confronted with different realities, creating balance and objectivity. In the words of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns in the final stanza of “To A Louse”: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!” (“Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us!”) Immersing ourselves in a new culture is, for me, the best way of gaining perspective on
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And to know the place for the first time.” This is all very well and self-discovery is an accepted feature of travelling. But where does the study part fit in? A semester abroad programme can often be seen as a poor relation in terms of academic gravitas – the “easy” and “fun” interlude within the real academic grind of the home University. However nourishing being abroad is on Writing in Education 45
a personal level, it can often be perceived as detracting from the actual job of studying. Why would students spend their weekends immersed in research or essay writing when they can jump on a plane to Barcelona? (Even these days.) The American undergraduate students I teach undoubtedly manage to fit a lot into their experience socially and culturally. The question is, does time spent travelling around Europe detract from the studying part of study abroad? Universities and employers are seeking rounded individuals, so can we help students make use of their experiences outside of the classroom to promote fully integrated learning?
– helping the student carve out time to fully reflect on the experience, while also providing the instructor with feedback in terms of the impact of the visit. Furthermore, deep experiential learning can enable the student to give something back to society – for example visiting a charity or community project can create a long lasting connection, leading the student to take ownership of the cause and even support it. This helps shape the learning and create a network between the student and the organization. It is using London, or whatever location the students are in, as the ultimate learning resource and as a springboard for creative thinking.
Yes and no. While travelling undoubtedly has a lot to offer in terms of self-discovery and learning how to navigate the world, it can be a distraction against deep learning in one specific field. We try to dissuade students from rushing about Europe too much, exhausting themselves with a check-list in hand rather than fully immersing themselves into the culture of their host nation. Experiential learning has become the buzzword in the sector but, like hopping from one plane to the next, the point is not to get the students out of the classroom just for the sake of it. The Association for Experiential Education defines it as:
There are many positive aspects to studying and learning abroad, not least the space that being away from the norm provides to reassess ourselves and our relationship with learning, and explore the power of creative and selfreflective writing. The key is finding a balance between exploring the external landscape and concentration and focus on one’s studies. I would argue that this is best achieved through direct engagement with appropriate experiential visits, coupled with discussion and free response writing. By explicitly recognizing the value of focused, challenging experience-based learning beyond the classroom, we can help engage students with the creative process of responding to this. The impact this can have on writing is extremely encouraging and equally liberating. Indeed, we can all benefit from stretching ourselves beyond our own safe cultural spaces to try and see, and present, the world anew. This is key for emerging writers who are about to write what they know but also what they know not. In the words of E.M Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Surely, this applies to an even greater extent to the power of writing and the conscious effort of expression, with all its risks. In polarized America (and increasingly the world) if students can return home with a greater sense of self-awareness and with the ability to place themself into somebody else’s shoes, then, in my opinion, this can be viewed as a worthwhile semester whatever education sector we are in. In the creative writing sector it’s surely a pre-requisite requirement that is often too little explored.
“Experiential education is a philosophy in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values.” It is this sense, it is purposeful experiences, which are relevant to the course’s learning outcomes, coupled with meaningful reflection, that make experiential learning powerful. As Biggs (2003) states: “Learning is thus a way of interacting with the world…we see the world differently… education is about conceptual change, not just the acquisition of information.” The choice of experience therefore takes on real significance. Experiential learning can and should go beyond taking students to a “must-see” attraction led by a professional guide or drawing on their independent travel experiences, however interesting these may be. To engage students to deeper learning we need to go further; to introduce them to a local project and people, to an endeavor that requires creativity, dedication and innovation – modeling the very skills we want to equip our students with in the future. The most rewarding experiential visits are those that require students to step out of their comfort zone and put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Initial resistance on the part of the student is often a sign that a shift, learning, is taking place. Asking the students for a written response is a way to incorporate and draw out creative and self-reflective writing that values the process as much as the outcome
References Biggs, J. (2003) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Maidenhead, Open University Press Eliot, T.S (1943) from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets, Gardners Books; Main edition. Forster, E.M Forster (1927) Aspects of Novel, Edward Arnold
Nicole D’Adamo Moody has spent over 20 years working in the study abroad sector, first as a programme manager and later as an academic. She is Associate Professor at the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) based in Kensington, London and along with teaching is responsible for student mentorship.
46 Writing in Education
MaxLiteracy Legacy Caleb Parkin, Sonya Hundal, Jane Sillis, Dr Ronda Gowland-Pryde CREATING A NETWORK FOR CREATIVE WRITERS AND WRITING IN THE VISUAL ARTS Context Over the last year, MaxLiteracy programme partners have supported a pilot network for Creative Writers inspired by and working with the Visual Arts. Based on experience and learning from the MaxLiteracy Award project with Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in the 2018-19 round, network founder and Creative Writer, Caleb Parkin and Sonya Hundal, have programmed a series of network sessions. These sessions combine opportunity for open dialogue around current discourse and debate within creative writing and the visual arts and through the work of guest speakers in the visual arts and creative writing, which embed practical activity. The network was intended as a way to connect and strengthen the sharing of skills in this specialism of writing in museum and gallery settings. For Caleb, this was about building on the momentum of an MSc (in
Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes) dissertation focused on these spaces. But over the last two years, with many museums and galleries closed, it felt even more important to find ways to celebrate the potential and nuances of writing inspired by objects, artworks and exhibitions. The Network has welcomed educators, writers, museum and gallery professionals, and other interested parties who have begun forging new connections, internationally. Meetings The inaugural network event launched in April and the themes explored have included: Activism and social justice with Carrie Supple, the founder of Journey to Justice, neurodiversity with the artist and writer Sonia Boue and the de-colonisation of the gallery and museum space led by the poet Casey Bailey. To date, network sessions have been attended by a Writing in Education 47
national and international audience, from those with an interest in creative writing and the visual arts, teachers, educators, engagement practitioners, gallery, museum professionals and creative writers. Profile: Caleb and Sonya Sonya Hundal is a First Story writer-in residence working at a school in Lincolnshire and delivers writing workshops for the over 55s for Writing East Midlands & Transported Arts. Her own creative work focuses on marginal communities and unrecorded histories. Sonya is also a wood-fired baker. Currently published in The Brown Anthology: Language, Sofia Amina. Caleb Parkin, Bristol City Poet 2020 - 22, has poems in The Rialto, The Poetry Review, Under the Radar, Poetry Wales, Magma, Butcher’s Dog, The Guardian and elsewhere. He tutors for Poetry Society, Poetry School, Cheltenham Festivals, and First Story and holds an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes (CWTP) with a research dissertation focused on museum and gallery settings. Debut pamphlet, Wasted Rainbow (tall-lighthouse, Feb 2021), debut collection This Fruiting Body is out now with Nine Arches Press. Programme Partners The Creative Writing in the Visual Arts Network (CWVAN) was developed in response to the 2018-2019 MaxLiteracy Awards. Supported by the MaxLiteracy programme partners, Network meetings have sat alongside the 2021 MaxLiteracy Awards programme with guest speakers from both the creative writing in the visual arts perspective and MaxLiteracy Award holders. The network has worked as a learning and support mechanism though which participants have been able to connect, develop their skills and share best practice. Jane Sillis, Director of the National Association of Gallery Education, (Engage) comments: “The network meetings have brought together visual arts colleagues and creative writers for discussions about writing, the arts and a broad range of issues, including neurodiversity and race. It has been great to share practice from the MaxLiteracy programme with participants. Conversations have been provocative, informative and allowed space for debate. It has been really valuable connecting on line during a period when meeting person is still such a challenge.’ MaxLiteracy Programme Coordinator, Dr Ronda Gowland-Pryde, adds: “The Creative Writing in the Visual Arts Network developed at a time when opportunities for connectivity amongst the creative and engagement community is even more important. With a passion for creative writing in the visual arts, the network has brought together a series of truly collaborative and insightful events that have undoubtedly been a source of inspiration, learning and reflection amongst peers and those with a general interest.”
48 Writing in Education
About the MaxLiteracy Awards Funded by the Max Reinhardt Charitable Trust, MaxLiteracy offers funding for museums and galleries in England to support a dedicated programme of creative writing and literacy work within learning settings through the visual arts. The Awards are run in partnership with the National Association for Gallery Education (Engage) and the National Association for Writers in Education (NAWE). In response to the global health emergency the 2021 call out for venues had an adapted focus. The awards invited galleries, museums, and visual arts venues to propose activity that aims to support the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people or young adults through creative writing, literacy and the visual arts. In the Early Summer of 2021, three venues, Open Eye Gallery, Newark & Sherwood District Council and The Turnpike, were awarded funding to employ a creative writer to work with a local school on a creative writing or literacy project, taking inspiration from the venue’s collections, displays or building. The activities have informed the development of a new resource for each venue, designed to encourage engagement with the venue through creative writing. These will be widely shared within the arts and education sectors to encourage the greater use of galleries, art museums and visual arts venues by schools for creative writing and literacy work. Network sessions are free to join. Please check the Engage website for further details and booking instructions on the events pages.
Writing Back to Dante Amina Alyal and Oz Hardwick 2021 marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, and writing The Still and Fleeting Fire, our response to his Purgatorio in the year of the pandemic, seemed almost pre-ordained. Dante’s slow slog up the tiers in Purgatory, with the occasional angelic visitation and the promise of release at the end, dovetailed neatly with the experience of lockdown and the daily news of trauma and suffering, the global reach of the experience, and the spikes of hope – a vaccine, another vaccine, the gradual decline of serious cases. Being limited to the neighbourhoods of our own homes, and that only once a day, felt like a confinement, a slow circling, but also opened up the space for reflection and observation. The most basic elements of life acquired a new focus and, our mode of attention being thus shifted, we discovered for ourselves the truth of Dante’s observation that ‘vassene’l tempo e l’uom non se n’avvede (the time passes away and we perceive it not)’ (Dante 1982: IV.9).
‘Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura (Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood),’ begins Dante at the opening line of the Inferno (Dante 1980:1.1). It might seem perverse to quote the Inferno in an article about a poetical response to the Purgatorio, but life did become a walk, literally, as we circumambulated our immediate surroundings daily. And the pandemic did have hints of Hell about it, too – distortions, pain, the slippery unreliability of communications, fake news, and a disintegrating planetary landscape in the background. Dante’s elision of ‘I’ and ‘we’ in the lines has a resonance for the ‘I’ and the ‘we’ of the pandemic experience, in which each of us had a personal role in a universal project. Charles Singleton, in his Commentary on the Purgatorio, judges that ‘Liberty, freedom, is thus declared to be the goal of the purgatorial journey, liberation from the slavery of sin, both original and actual’ (Dante Writing in Education 49
1982: Note to I.71). For ‘sin’ substitute ‘disease’, and this is vividly what we experienced in 2020-21, forcibly reminded of the potentiality of our bodies for disease, in thrall to the dictates of an invisible but hopefully surmountable virus. On 25 January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a public statement: At a time of uncertainty about the way a virus originates and behaves, it is even more critical that countries, organizations and the international community act as one. We need to move as one region, as one world in scaling up our ability to prepare and respond together. […] However, we do not know at this point how the outbreak will evolve. While we cannot predict the virus’ behavior, we can decide how good we are in stopping it. Today we are offered a window of opportunity; today we must grab it to make the region and the world safer. This is what all our people expect (Kluge 2020). That sense of ‘uncertainty’, of an unpredictably mutating virus, of an unexplained unified project of prevention, continued throughout 2020 and beyond. Like many other writers we were already, before starting on Dante, responding to this sense of world crisis, of community effort, of global mourning, and of destabilised plans and outcomes. We were ordinary mortals in the grip of a mysterious higher power in the form of WHO and government directives, which sometimes had all the gnomic mystery of an oracle. Dante’s searching exploration of the finer nuances of the human spirit is often multiply interpretable and very immediate, as his Souls tussle with their inclinations and submit to gruelling experiences in their common goal of passing through Purgatory. The Purgatorio is full of questions, asked by Dante the pilgrim and by other characters. In Canto 16, for example, Dante, ‘bursting from a doubt within’, asks one Marco of Lombardy to ‘tell’ him if he is ‘on the right way’, to ‘point out […] the cause’ of earthly iniquity (Dante 1982: XVI.54,44, 61). Dante is at this point in a murky cloud so dense he cannot see and needs to be physically led by Virgil, his guide. The navigation of doubts and insufficient knowledge that many experienced during the pandemic melded promisingly with the doubts of the purgatorial trek, as charts and ministerial communications demanded painstaking interpretation. Although not its primarily envisaged purpose, our project acquired in its undertaking the dimension of writing for wellbeing, and we discovered the truth of the assertion that ‘the process of articulating painful truths can be restorative, healing, even life-saving’ (Bolton, Field and Thompson 2006: 9). The project was in part a making sense of – or at least making manageable – the collective bewilderment and trauma of the pandemic. And there was a certain comfort in shaping the doubts and sense of doom into at least an artistic whole, a neat sequence of twenty-one prose poetry blocks, however much the finished product remains what Eco calls an ‘open work’ 50 Writing in Education
(Eco 1989). The element of crisis had its own urgency and collective reach, from which emanated a sense of global community and collective effort, echoing Dante’s focus on flocks and choruses in the Purgatorio. Rebecca Solnit has commented on this aspect of crisis, discovering that participants in a crisis – in this case the attacks of 9/11 – exhibited a ‘newfound sense of urgency, purpose, solidarity and danger they had encountered [… and] relished who they briefly became’ (Solnit 2009: 5). In today’s world, she maintains, this is a rare experience: ‘Mobile and individualistic societies shed some of these [traditional] old ties and vacillate about taking on others […] Thus does everyday life become a social disaster. Sometimes disaster intensifies this; sometimes it provides a remarkable reprieve from it,’ so that, Solnit writes, ‘[w]hen I ask people about the disasters they have lived through, I find on many faces that retrospective basking … and a strange pleasure overall.’ (Solnit 2009: 3, 6). This sense of working together to achieve something in response to a crisis was mirrored in the collaborative approach we took to our work. This, in turn, in some ways represented a microcosm of the collective but also individual experience of the global population in the pandemic. Indeed, it is not stretching the point to note that these processes could be seen in terms of the concentric circles which provide one of the key structural motifs of The Divine Comedy. These elements of collaboration and interconnectedness were also at the heart of our intertextual, interpretative process of responding to Dante; of our reading – which was also a writing – of The Divine Comedy. Individually and in conversations over Zoom and Teams, we engaged with the same materials and explored possible formulations, and then wrote in the same framework of prose poems, before reading each other’s work and noting the ways in which new resonances arose from the juxtaposition of our two voices, in ways that achieved a unified whole, just as our responses enriched and renewed Dante for us. Intertextuality, as Graham Allen argues, ‘foregrounds notions of relationality, interconnectedness and interdependence in modern cultural life’ (Allen 2000: 5), and the act of writing intertextually in response to Dante, we found, led us to dwell on the contingencies of life in 2020 and 2021. Michael Worton and Judith Still go further, suggesting that intertextuality ‘explains that we make sense of our lived experience and hence construct our “lives” in relation to texts, whether these are Proust or television soap operas’ (Worton and Still 1991: 19). The Divine Comedy is itself a highly suggestive work, full of obscure symbols and the apprehension of mysteries, with those ‘unwritten part(s) of the text’ – the ‘missing links’ – that Wolfgang Iser maintains form such a crucial element in reader response to what he calls a ‘literary’ text (Iser 1972: 287, 289); our amalgamated responses in The Still and Fleeting Fire spoke to those lacunae but in the act of collaborative composition we found that we generated a new ‘unwritten’ element of our own. This intertextual element of shifting, writerly, unstable construction has something to do with how for us
reading Dante was also writing Dante. Wolfgang Iser posits a ‘gestalt’ (Iser 1972: 288-89, 299) that includes the reader’s response at different times as part of the text no less than the words on the page: The convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence, and this convergence can never be precisely pinpointed, but must always remain virtual, as it is not to be identified either with the reality of the text or with the individual disposition of the reader. […] With all literary texts, then, we may say that the reading process is selective, and the potential text is infinitely richer than any of its individual realizations. This is borne out by the fact that a second reading of a piece of literature often produces a different impression from the first. The reasons for this may lie in the reader’s own change of circumstances, still, a text must be such as to allow this variation. On a second reading familiar occurrences now tend to appear in a new light and seem to be at times corrected, at time enriched.’ (p.281, 285). Not to be too Bakhtinian about it, the gestalt of Dante’s Purgatorio is different now from what it was even in 2019, pre-pandemic, and certainly in Dante’s own time. We would have been unlikely to make connections with viruses or a concerted international health effort in 2019. Likewise, most of us will need footnotes to understand the obscure references that would have been obvious to a reader of Dante’s time (the gestalt of the Purgatorio in medieval Florence): few of us are experts on falconry, for example, or papal bulls, contemporary Florentine princes and politicians, quotations from hymns, biblical stories, theological modulations, the Spheres model of the universe, Classical myth, or medieval theories about the ventricles of the heart. But if it is a sufficiently open text, with the sort of lacunae Iser was so interested in, those gaps can absorb and reflect new meanings, generate a fresh gestalt. As Worton and Still argue, ‘the literary work is viewed not as a container of meaning but as a space in which a potentially vast number of relations coalesce’ (Worton and Still 1991: 12), or in other words, it displays ‘the fundamental interconnectedness of all things,’ as Douglas Adams might have put it (Adams 1987: 121). Yet the interlocking uncertainties we chased across the pages of our collaborative work were rooted in precise, concrete detail. Dante is very concrete. For all the finely tuned reflections on philosophy and psychology, he is fundamentally allegorical in his thinking, and part of the reason for the endurance of his text is its grounding in physical detail (things we can apprehend with any of the five senses – ironically so for a work steeped in an examination of the soul and enveloped by a supranatural world). Even the locations are very precise in The Divine Comedy – the entry to Hell is in a dark wood, populated by fierce animals, within a dark ravine, and Hell itself is situated within the Earth. As the work progresses, Dante is guided through the Earth, exits in the Southern Hemisphere, climbs the tiered mountain of Purgatory,
at the top of which he finds the Garden of Eden, and then travels through the Spheres of the planets, finally reaching Heaven, which is the outermost Sphere. Because of this concreteness that is so characteristic of the poem, we could explore and appropriate the work’s striking images – eyes sewn shut, letters stamped on foreheads, weighty sacks, gryphons, snakes, the River Styx, angels, guides, birds pecking up grain, lions, wolves, dogs, sheep, the hem of a garment, the cry of a voice. It was easy to see the significances for our own lockdown time – ‘tiers’ were not the only eloquent image that connected to our world: a world of genetic engineering, Zoom screens, shopping queues, theatres, taxis, checkpoints, double decker buses, toilet rolls, suitcases, French coffee, funhouse mirrors, umbrellas, banknotes, phones, GPS, sweet wrappers, cafes, magazine ads, specimen jars, viruses, relativity and physics, post-truth social media, the lockdown pursuits of sewing and baking, and foraging on the daily walk. Hospital wards doubled easily as visions of Hell, in which masked reporters confronted the pilgrim viewer with exhausted, underequipped healthcare professionals and their charges struggling for breath. The angry and the avaricious flooded the media, with Twitter persecutions chiming with the loss of reputation and the tortures of Hell that interest Dante. Shapeshifting recast itself as gaming, while we hid our true faces behind masks. We could interpolate folklore in a way not drawn directly from Dante but in tune with his methods of allusion: he alludes to Greek myth, but our particular gestalt of the Purgatorio also includes folk tales and fairy stories. Dante’s movement between the ‘I’ and the ‘we’ of his journey – his personal spiritual journey is simultaneously that of all humankind – assumed a new significance in the days when each of us had individual experiences and responsibilities in managing the ‘we’ of the global response and experience. The purgatorial sense of being trapped and delimited, where small details become the focus, where the climb is slow and heavy, resonated with the pandemic’s own peculiar brand of containment and effort. The form of the prose poem too – particularly its tendency to draw attention to the fragmentary while simultaneously gesturing towards a notional, perhaps unknowable, “whole” – was peculiarly suited to responding to this new reading of the Purgatorio in 2020 and 2021. As Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington note, ‘The prose poem’s language needs to employ metaphorical, metonymic, analogical, and ambiguous figures in order to open conduits between its utterance and what is does not, or cannot, explicitly say’ (Atherton and Hetherington 2022). We found the prose poem to be an ideal mode for exploring trains of thought, interwoven images, a suggestion of narrative that could deny resolution. As Dante’s Virgil informs the poet towards the end of the Purgatorio, ‘e se’venuto in parte / dov’io per me più oltre non discerno (you […] are come to a part where I of myself discern no farther onward) (Dante 1982: XXVII.127-9): the expert guide – whether literary or, indeed, medical or political – must eventually reach a point at which they must acknowledge they can lead no further. In The Still and Fleeting Fire, we sought Writing in Education 51
to engage imaginatively with the unlimited mutability of the core text, the Purgatorio, as an example of any ‘literary’ text in Iser’s definition of the term, i.e. a text that contains lacunae (Iser 1972: 289), along with each other’s writing and the seemingly endlessly recursive cultural texts relating to the pandemic. In so doing, our own pilgrimage led us a long way from Catholic Florence of the early fourteenth century – ‘where once was prayer, now there’s intertextuality’ (Alyal and Hardwick 2021: 22) – yet in the play of fragment and whole, narrative and unknowing, we hope we have contributed to what Nick Havely calls Dante’s ‘vigorous afterlife’ (Munden and O’Mahony 2021: 2), inviting the poet to join us in a
conversation which hints towards a hoped-for resolution of which no one can as yet be certain. As Prof Chris Whitty remarked on BBC Breakfast (11 January 2021), ‘At a certain point, hopefully, we’ll get back to a life that is basically exactly the same as it was before. However, we’re quite a long way away from that at the moment.’ To which Dante nods his laurel-crowned head: ‘qui può esser tormento, ma non morte (here may be torment, but not death’ (Purgatorio XXVII. 21).
Works cited: Adams, D. (1987) Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Gallery Books. Allen, G. (2000) Intertextuality. Routledge. Alyal, A. and Hardwick, O. (2021) The Still and Fleeting Fire. The Hedgehog Poetry Press. Atherton, C. and Hetherington, P. (2022) “Protean Manifestations and Diverse Shapes: Defining and Understanding Strategies of the Contemporary Prose Poem.” In Prose Poetry in Theory and Practice. Edited by Anne Caldwell and Oz Hardwick. Routledge, forthcoming. Bolton, G., V. Field and K. Thompson. Eds. (2006) Writing Works. Jessica Kingsley Publications. Dante Alighieri. (1980) The Divine Comedy translated, with a commentary, by Charles S. Singleton. Vol. I: Inferno, Italian Text and Translation, and Commentary. First published 1973. Princeton University Press. Dante Alighieri (1982) The Divine Comedy translated, with a commentary, by Charles S. Singleton. Vol. II: Purgatorio, Italian Text and Translation, and Commentary. First published 1977. Princeton University Press. Eco, U. (1989) The Open Work translated by Anna Cancogni with an introduction by David Robey. Harvard University Press. Iser, W. The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach. New Literary History 3:2 (1972). DOI: 20.2307/46316 Kluge, H. H. P. (2020) Statement – Novel Coronavirus Outbreak: Preparing Now as One. WHO/Europe. [online] World Health Organisation. Available at: https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/statements/2020/statement-novel-coronavirusoutbreak-preparing-now-as-one [accessed 29 November 2021] Munden, P. and N. O’Mahony. Eds. (2021) Divining Dante. Recent Work Press. Solnit, R. (2009) A Paradise Built in Hell. Viking Penguin. Worton, M. and J. Still. Eds. (1991) Intertextuality. First published 1990. Manchester University Press.
Amina Alyal is Senior Lecturer in English at Leeds Trinity University. She is programme leader for English and Creative Writing, and teaches on the Creative Writing MA. She has published widely in journals and anthologies, and has two collections, The Ordinariness of Parrots (Stairwell Books, 2015) and Seasons of Myth (Indigo Dreams Press 2016). Oz Hardwick is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing Programme. He is author of nine poetry collections and chapbooks – most recently Wolf Planet (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020) – editor of several anthologies, and author of numerous academic articles on aspects of literature and art 52 Writing in Education
Fisherrow - and the Joy of Chapbook ‘Code Shifting’ Andrew Melrose
When the poet/academic Professor Jen Webb wrote to me saying, ‘I really love this little book [Fisherrow] and how you code shift throughout while keeping your eye on the narrative. It’s totally gorgeous.’ I felt as though a window had opened, letting light into my year-of-pandemic world. Not the compliment, which is always lovely for any writer to receive, but the ‘code shifting’ validation. Let’s not skim over it; 2021 has been a real annus horribilis for most in a world where horrible things already happen. Adding to forced migration, homelessness, rising domestic violence and war, and all those others things we have to deal with on a personal level, friends and family dying etc., we have the pandemic. It is enough to scupper many’s a boat. For me it has certainly been a time for thinking. And it might have been unintentional at first, but during the lockdowns and the like I slipped into a modus operandi which allowed me to reflect, take
stock, cycle even (I cycled 3000 kms in my own kitchen) and then I found myself writing in a way I hadn’t previously. I don’t generally write about myself. I like to keep distance between myself and what I put on the page. But during lockdown and long periods of isolation, I eventually found out that what my subconscious writing thoughts wanted to do with the year was create a personal reflection; part fact, part fiction, poetic, lyrical, biographical (and not) and definitely musical. Having written films, books (fictional and non-fictional) poetry, articles and critical commentaries in the past (I have published something every single year since 1994), I found myself reflecting on my life before writing had taken hold. What came out of it was Fisherrow. Fisherrow is a small harbour town at the delta of the River Esk where it meets the Firth of Forth, just south of Edinburgh. I lived there for seven years. But as the title Writing in Education 53
of a record and chapbook it takes a very personal look at life; not in any way a precise biographical account of my life there, or a travelogue of the place but echoes I heard during this pandemic when I had lockdown and quarantine time to listen out for them. It became a chapbook and record pulling on memories and images and thoughts of my own past, mixed up with images and ideas in the present; the present built on the past but like all echoes they are imprecise and often only loosely attached to the source, so it’s only a true story maybe.
Even now I think of you every day. There will come a time when I won’t. Maybe later, when dusk settles over the Firth o’ Forth I won’t hear you saying, ‘Think we could swim tae Fife fae here?’ ‘Aye,’ I always said, though we never did.
In the story, the chapters Portobello Beach, Fisherrow, Gullane, Dunbar Harbour, Port Seton, Torness Point, St Abbs Head, are names of historical towns, with a rich history of their own. However, they are also the poetry and melodies which walk me along the Firth of Forth coastline of my youth, edging me towards the wider reaches of the North Sea. And all the while they bring a nostalgia for a place which really only exists as an echo without certainty. Sea towns, harbours, beaches, coastal beauty, lighthouses, points, cliffs and headlands, their ever presence bring a sense of continuity, an ever remaining, lovely strangeness which sits on the sometimes shushering, sometimes roaring sea. It is there and not, flitting in and out of dreams and images and a deep feeling of distant rootedness which keeps me attached; an analepsis, the echoes of my own past, my own history, which shape the story of my now. In many ways it is my Scottishness, though I haven’t lived there for forty years. It’s my homeliness if I was ever to say where I was going back to, and yet forty years after leaving it offers a familiar strangeness which I carry continually into my own future. I was sitting in the kitchen on my lockdown bike when the first piece came along, helping to map out the ideas behind what I was thinking. It was a prose poem I had written previously around an event from my childhood and reconnected with. My father was a coal miner and sometimes in the summer he would come home from the nightshift and take us to the beach where he would sleep and let us play. And I found myself juxtaposing his coming off the nightshift into two other parts of a memory of him; one with me on that beach and then one as a personal reflection on the beach no more which rounds off a lifetime of memory, so the whole thing reads: I Dog tired from the nightshift, shoulders slumped and weary, but when he unslung his pit bag and coat his strong arms opened to let us in. II Give me maps and a compass, some old bones, a bag full of shells, beach washed pebbles, dried seaweed, a clear stretch of water, a sunny day and a view of the Bass Rock; it’s okay, you can sleep off the night shift, while I plan the journey, there’s no rush, I’ll no’ be far away. III 54 Writing in Education
The first chapter in the Chapbook is called Portobello Beach and I called it Portobello Beach because of the connections and memories I have of it as a seaside town. But the image in my head is a combination of Portobello, Fisherrow Harbour and Brighton Pier (near where I live now) because they have morphed into one picture. The first place I moved to when I left home was Fisherrow, which is Musselburgh’s small fishing port. The idea of moving to the seaside had lingered long. I grew up in the coal mining village of Newtongrange;
And I had this image in my head of leaving darkness for light, the coal darkness for the sea brightness and to the coast, where all the fun was. To the child in me, it was sea and sand and adventure. But after only a couple of days of moving something happened which broke the spell. It’s important to relay this because of how it shaped the writing of Fisherrow. One bracing morning I was walking along the quayside, near to the Harbour Masters building, looking out at the boats, listening to the rigging chiming in the tail end remains of the previous night’s fairly hefty storm:
I came across a group of people huddled along the harbour wall against the chill wind. ‘What are you doing,’ I asked. ‘Waiting for the boats,’ came the reply and then silence, bar the blowing of a cold wind off the North Sea. Growing up in a coal mining village, I remember one of the eeriest sounds on earth is a pit horn being blown at the wrong time. It is the sound that traditionally called men to the mine (it was always men, women weren’t allowed to be coal miners). They are regular as day follows night, signals calling the men for the dayshift, backshift and nightshift. When a horn goes off out of time, like one I remember at 11am one morning, it’s usually a signal there’s been an accident. At this the men waiting for the next shift, or the women and the old men in the village are immediately alerted. It could be their own mates, men or laddies who are hurt down the pit. My own dad lost a finger and broke his back in separate accidents. But a storm gives a fishing community a different warning. That morning it became clear to me. The fishing boats hadn’t been brought back into harbour for fear of them being bashed against the quay in the storm. The captains would sit the storm out at sea and that could be all night, sometimes days. I was shocked because I really should have thought that through. ‘Waiting for the boats’ then, alerted me to the simple fact that life at sea was as hard as life in the pit and my romantic notions of coastal living had a new edge to it. That’s where the ‘Portobello’ song comes from. I tried to combine the waiting with the pier to juxtapose the idea that (for me at least) there were two coasts; the working coast and the holiday coast of my romanticised childhood. This is the lyric: I’m biding my time, at the edge of the quay, watching the tide, waiting for the boats. The lighthouse on the causeway is scanning the sea, and the moon is watching. I’m standing in line, with those left behind, with the patience of saints most of the time. They sleep in cold linen, on long winter nights, waiting for the boats; and the girl on trapeze, at the end of the pier, is singing the blues in a minor key. She put a half empty bottle on the table and said I can make it half full, if you like, the girl on trapeze, at the end of the pier, singing the blues in a minor key.
The song (and others on the record - produced by Phil Jones @ Long Way Home Productions) can be heard here: https://andymelrose.bandcamp.com/ ‘Portobello’ is only an eighth of the project; there are other tracks on the record and chapters in the chapbook. But what I came to realise, as I progressed, is I was writing a small Scottish record as it felt to me in 2021, the year of isolation and quarantine, forty years after I left Scotland, and in a time in which the future is no longer what we thought it would be, places are not as we remember them and not even as we misremember them, but are present as a belonging, a feeling of being distant yet connected still, while, in my case, living over the border. To this end, then, the ‘code shifting’ nature of the storytelling, prose poetry, song lyrics, fictional and non-fictional prose allowed me to deliver Fisherrow in a way which wasn’t a biographical account of a life or a travelogue of a place, but snatched echoes and traces which occurred to me when I had time to listen out for them, while being hundreds of miles distant from them. These echoes come from a position of neither coming nor going, as an insider outsider, as a decentred migrant looking for a lifebelt while throwing out a line to any who would like to grasp hold. The strange loveliness the lovely strangeness of being. The towns, the harbours, the sea, the hardship, the coal mines and lyrical soul mining. What occurs to me in this kind of writing is that it reflects who we are. I am a fiction writer who writes non-fiction; a poet who writes song lyrics; a film maker who paints lyrical scenes, my writing doesn’t easily sit in a box; indeed each of us probably dredge our own echoes in this way. We see how the story can be influenced by personal experience while also finding ways of letting that story be told. The ‘code shifting’ idea Jen Webb refers to is also important, because of the impact textual codes have on us; images, sounds, music, poetry, words, lyrics, biographical memories, nostalgia (which is essentially a return to a place that never existed in the first place) as it all comes to be the melting pot of our own selfhood. Add in love, loss, heartbreak, joy and other such effects which we carry around mostly unnoticed, a story of sorts begins to unfold. In my moments of reflection I found I no longer wanted to pigeon hole everything into its proper ‘literary’ space but to use all the codes at my disposal to tell the story. The lesson, I guess, is that the eighteenth century tradition of the ‘chapbook’ being a small pamphlet containing tales, ballads and or tracts, sold by pedlars, suited the project just fine.
Prof Andrew Melrose is Emeritus Professor of Writing at the University of Winchester, UK. He has over 150 films, fiction, nonfiction, research, songs, poems and other writing credits, including 33 scholarly or creative books. He is currently working on The Boat, an extended poem, book and exhibition about people migrating to safer countries on boats.
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REVIEWS In the Sticks Doyle, C. and Fletcher, S. (eds) Offa’s Press, 2021. ISBN:978-19996943-7-1, 63 pages, paperback, £7.95
A collection of poets from diverse backgrounds, each adding important detail to a vivid picture of rural life in the Black Country. Originally the result of online workshops held by Offa’s Press and funded by the Arts Council, the contributors are both people who work the land and those for whom (like me) nature offers escapism and a reason for being. These fascinating poems are mostly in free verse and are grouped around different seasons. At first glance, the countryside seems to have stayed the same for centuries, but the poems document the changes wrought by progress as the onlookers stand hopelessly by. In ‘Real Work’ by Stan Bloxham, the centuries old hedge cutting, traditionally done with a bill hook over a week, is now done in a few hours with a machine. The final couplet laments that there is nothing we can do about it because the new way is cost effective, even if the old way was better: “Yet each shorn end is left in dying shreds.” In ‘The Developers’, Janet Jenkins charts the building of new housing estates in the countryside. She begins: “Dig for your victory over the land that gave life to nature…” The poem forms a quiet cry of protest at the desecration of the rural idyll and the creation of a mock new one, grimly humorous at the end when she says: “using names evoking love of the countryside: Bilberry Chase, Greenwood Valley, Meadow Way… whilst saying ‘Goodbye’ to the real thing.” Parveen Brigue’s whimsical poem ‘Snowdrops’ which culminates “… in darkness there is light”, seems to reverberate with optimism echoing a universal leaning. The staccato rhythm of ‘Strange Prints in the Mud’ by R.Noons and R.Woolner, tells of a regular walk and observations: “...sun dried impressions preserved for geologists…” and ends by using a couplet to reaffirm the state of mind of the protagonist: “empty nest me time from now on.” A yearning for the way things were and acceptance of the way things will be from now on. In David Bingham’s ‘Left Behind’, the poem gives a pared-down, dispassionate image of a farmhouse abandoned: “on the dresser… Writing in Education 57
photographs of how they were.” In its portrait the poem spares no harrowing aspects and highlights the cruelty of nature. The last verse reads: “…crows peck the carcass of a lamb.” In contrast with this is the nostalgia of ‘Wimberries’ by Chris Kinsey: “Water beads and berry-bloom are scrying pools. They show you at your happiest-a girl on The Long Mynd gathering wimberries” He remembers the way his mother was and that when he picks wimberries, he does the same. Some poems take the view of people who work the land, as in ‘February smells of blood’ by Elizabeth Parkes’ which takes place “in swollen lambing sheds”. It is a relentless poem, describing how “gaunt trees claw the wind”, but the last line of every verse conveys its central message, until we get to the final promising “slowly warming, growing stronger.” The humorous ‘Nine Possible Reasons the Police Might Find Four Sheep in Your Vehicle at 1.30am’ by John Woodhall, shows that all the poems are not serious, but they offer something for everyone and need to be read to be appreciated. Reviewed by Lisa Samson. Lisa writes both fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of Epitaph for the Ash: in search of recovery and renewal (4th Estate 2018) and is currently writing a novel. A former Senior Lecturer of Academic English at Leeds Beckett University, Lisa lives in Harrogate with her husband and loves walking in the Dales.
Advanced Creative Non-Fiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology Prentiss, S. and Hendry Nelson, J. London: Bloomsbury, 2021 ISBN: 9781350067820, paperback, £23.99 As a writer, I’ve long been fascinated by the forms and topics of creative non-fiction, and this book proved to be illuminating and informative. It is divided into two sections. In the first section, Craft, each chapter concentrates on a key aspect which gives context to and expands our understanding. It includes a vignette of text, an overview and explorations of specific features, followed by thought provoking exercises for reading as a writer and by writing prompts. These exercises and references are linked to the texts comprising the anthology which constitutes the second section. Three chapters stood out for me and seem to me essential in understanding creative non-fiction. The opening chapter, which focuses on tracing the history, explores examples of creative non-fiction from the earliest times, offering essential insights into the nature of creative non-fiction today and illustrating how ‘humans have used symbols to signify experience’ from the earliest cave paintings. In the writings of Ziusudra, the last king of Sumer, we discover ‘a written language used for a purpose beyond accounting.’ He writes to the future of humanity, with the destruction surrounding him. Most significantly, the authors point out that ‘in this simple missive, we recognise the roots of the essay, that fundamental form of creative non-fiction, an attempt to make sense out of the chaos and the will to survive it.’ 58 Writing in Education
In the writings of Heraclitus around 500 BC, the conversational quality of creative non-fiction which often bears witness to internal debate, is found—an ‘essay mirroring the movements of the mind’. Here is a dialogue, both between the narrator and themselves, and between the narrator and the world beyond. Plutarch’s essays and dialogues are also shown to be revolutionary in the way in which they offer different interpretations of the same events—amalgamations of materials and imagination. He resolves this by insisting that he wrote lives not histories. These inconsistencies illustrate the persistent question about veracity and creative non-fiction. He also experiments with form: digression, anecdote, or spare prose juxtaposing examples set together without comment, for instance. In Sei Shonagan’s Pillow Book—stories, anecdotes, lists, images are juxtaposed. Here are foreshadowings of twentieth century female creative non-fiction writers, such as Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, who comment upon and shape the cultural/creative landscapes of their own times. All these writings are shown to contribute to ‘conversations, past, present and future,’ and the chapter thus becomes an essential backcloth to what we call creative non-fiction today. The chapter on genre and veracity feels central to the whole book and, for this reader, it made immediate sense. Creative non-fiction is often regarded as a genre, poetry, drama and fiction being the other three. But here, the authors argue that it is not the shape of a work that determines its genre. They show that there are only three genres: poetry, drama and/or prose. Literary genre Poetry Drama Prose (+ Hybrid
Defining feature Writing that uses line breaks Writing that uses stage settings and dialogue Writing that uses paragraphs Writing that uses two or more or the above genres.)
Creative non-fiction is defined by its position on what the authors term ‘the veracity scale’, a true narrative told in any genre, living on ‘the truth side of the veracity scale’, while fiction lives on the invention side. Many creative non-fictions ‘live somewhere in the grey area between truth and invention.’ It is this definition which informs the selection of pieces in the anthology, whatever their shape—poetry, script, erasure … and all in some way an ‘essay—a trial, a test, an experiment.’ Veracity Scale <……………………………………………I………………………………I………………………………………………> Grey Area Creative Non-fiction
Throughout the whole section, the authors show the wide range of focus and shape in the creative non-fiction writings up till the late twentieth century, from poetry to satire to essay, and including curated social media, podcasts, and hybrid forms. We see that by the mid 1900s, many writers are using scene and setting as integral to meaning making, ‘contextualising personal material, but also offering new opportunities for metaphor.’ In all the writings, ‘doubt is a crucial component of the meaning making process.’ As the great Portuguese poet Pessoa said: ‘I write because I don’t know.’ The final chapter, Revisioning, explores the constant conversation between drafting and revising that goes on in our heads wherever we are, if we are really engaged with a piece of writing. This word itself creates the energy to engage with this and helps us consider not only revising the text, but re-imagining the form, or ways in which we might ‘braid’ or collage it with other forms. The anthology which constitutes the second part of the book contains a wide and fascinating range of forms and shapes and inventive hybrid combinations. But while the authors have earlier identified the range of topics which creative writing may focus on—such as environment/nature writing, travel, portrait, (focus on another person), true crime, persuasive, speculative, for instance—here, the texts are predominantly examples of what the authors describe as memoirs or memoir essays and in general deal with intense, inward-looking personal experience, often painful. It’s hard to understand this lack of variety and I would have enjoyed a close look at nature or place writing for instance. However, the book is otherwise so wide ranging, that it didn’t ultimately detract for me from its usefulness or diminish its inspirational nature. Reviewed by Lydia Fulleylove. Lydia is a writer and poet who works in settings across the community, including healthcare and prison. She has just completed ‘Ampersand’, her own creative non-fiction. www.lydiafulleylove.co.uk Writing in Education 59
The Art and Craft of Asian Stories Hemley, R., and Xi, X. (2021) London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-350-07654-9, paperback, £27.99 The Art and Craft of Asian Stories is a treat: a handpicked selection of exciting, innovative short stories from Asian writers, both resident in Asia and the diaspora living elsewhere, and served up with timely, thorough discussion about the techniques used and admired. The editors outline their selection in the nuanced introduction. These are stories not meant to be representative of the continent— an impossibility, of course, given that ‘Asia is not a monolith’ –nor representative of a particularly ‘Asian’ way of writing. In fact, the editors ensure that we understand that this book is not setting out ‘to claim that Asian stories are appreciably different from Western stories’; the objective of the book is simply to introduce readers to significant writers and stories with which we, immersed in the Western literary tradition, are less likely to be familiar. Stories such as Nam Le’s epic, ‘The Boat’, about a harrowing refugee crossing, or Ismat Chughtai’s ‘The Quilt’, which the writer later regretted writing, such was the furore it provoked upon publication. As such, the emphasis of the book’s title could be altered to reflect the editors’ intentions: perhaps The Art and Craft of Stories: Asia would be closer. Stories are grouped into twos and threes to complement a particular chapter-theme, ‘arranged…from less challenging to more challenging concepts’, beginning with the recognisably familial and domestic, and progressing to the societal, to ease in readers new to the power of the short form. The discussion which introduces and follows each story is, as to be expected from creative writing scholarship, concerned less with the content and more with style and technique, and this is conducted with such warmth, generosity and even humour that the collection has more of an in-person workshop feel than a textbook. It is evident that Hemley and Xi are experienced and empathic educators, as they encourage, suggest, recommend, and nurture the reader to consider the text and put into practice the learnings through a series of comprehensive, at times challenging, practical exercises at the end of each chapter. Though the tone of the discussion is consistently friendly and approachable, even informal, Hemley and Xi do not shy away from illustrating what makes good—and bad—writing. They encourage us to ‘think counter-intuitively’ to ‘lead you away from other more standard and lacklustre paths your story might otherwise take.’ They make clear their preferences: ‘we don’t really like that word, ‘message’, when it comes to stories…Implication leaves some wiggle room while ‘message’ doesn’t.’ They let us into their own experiences of guiding writers over the years: ‘Forgive us, please, if we sound a bit jaded, but heaven save us from the young man who has discovered sex and wants to share it and his virility with the rest of us.’ But, most importantly, they share with us their deep-seated knowledge, their experience and appreciation of Asian culture, even taking risks with the selection of stories they choose to present, as demonstrated by the final story, ‘Learning Curve’ by Yeung Chak Yan. And for those writers that do not feel they need the accompanying technical discussion, this knowledge is motivation enough to pick up this book, for there are stories here to satisfy every sensibility. Reviewed bySophie Parkes-Nield. Sophie is a writer and PhD candidate at Sheffield Hallam University.
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Tremlett, S. (ed) The Poetics of Poetry Film: Film Poetry, Videopoetry, Lyric Voice, Reflection, 2021. ISBN 9781789382686, paperback, £40.00 https://www.intellectbooks.com/the-poetics-of-poetry-film It seems inevitable that the pandemic has increased our reliance on all things digital, with a resurgence in sharing creative writing online. The genre of poetry film appears to be thriving and could bring with it all sorts of opportunities to engage people with poetry in new and different ways. Sarah Tremlett’s book, which also includes contributions from several other writers, provides a fascinating insight into the developments of poetry film, and is the first encyclopedic overview of the genre. The book is divided into three sections, beginning with a comprehensive analysis of the various definitions of poetry film, also known by many other names, from ‘videopoetry’ to ‘cinepoems’. Tremlett compares film poetry to other genres, examining how it crosses over with short films, spoken word and music videos, tracing its origins as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics. She uses a vast array of examples to explore the early development of the genre, focusing on its formal characteristics. While it seems that there are as many approaches to poetry film as there are practitioners, the key definition, Tremlett argues, is that poetry films are more than just poems recited on camera or moving illustrations. They must form a complex relationship between the various aspects of film as a genre, and the poetic. She argues that the visual and verbal, spatial and temporal elements of a poetry film are most effective when they work together in ways that are unexpected, or indirect. By combining poetry and film it is possible to create something more than can be achieved by either poem or film alone. I was particularly interested to read Tremlett’s overview of the various poetry film festivals that have been launched from the 1970s onwards, providing opportunities for practitioners to showcase their work. Although there is now a plethora of such festivals taking place across the globe, Tremlett admits that there is still much work to be done in widening out participation, reaching diverse audiences and making the genre more accessible. Parts Two and Three of the book examine contemporary examples of poetry films and particular approaches to the genre in greater detail. All sorts of issues are examined, including the use of subtitles and accessibility, subjectivity and voice, as well as in-depth analyses of the more technical aspects of poetry film, including the relationship between temporal and spatial dimensions, tonality, and the use of colour. There are brief summaries of a vast range of topics, from ‘The indefinite ‘I’ to ‘Trauma and the Mythical Maternal’, with examples for each of them. What I found most interesting, however, were the interviews with poetry film makers, describing their creative process, the sections which explore a particular film in detail, and the contributions from fellow poetry film practitioners, such as Lucy English and Helen Moore. These sections sparked ideas of how I might create my own poetry films, and it was particularly interesting to read about the process of collaboration and the practical aspects of running workshops with community participants. This book is crammed with examples, ideas and approaches. I found that it was worth keeping my phone close by to search for poetry films online, whilst reading. For those who have an interest in poetry film, its history and development, this is a fascinating read. Reviewd by Rachel Carney. Rachel is a poet, creative writing tutor and PhD student based in Cardiff. Her poems, reviews and articles have been published in magazines such as Poetry Wales, Envoi, Under the Radar and Acumen. Two of her poems have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Blog: https://createdtoread.com/
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Those Who Can, Teach: What it Takes to Make the Next Generation, Zafirakou, A. Bloomsbury, 2021. ISBN 9781526614063, hardback, £16.99 Lockdown showed how the creative arts—from box sets and books, to virtual gallery tours and theatre performances—are vital, not just to the nation’s economy, but to our mental health; yet arts education feels constantly under threat. The current government’s proposed funding cut to university arts courses is the latest assault on an area of education with which power has always been uncomfortable. At school level, the need to prioritise the EBacc means that arts budgets are slashed. The argument for creative subjects is one that Andria Zafirakou knows well. As an arts teacher in a big comprehensive, she understands how marginal such subjects can feel—yet how powerful they are. At her school in the London borough of Brent, one of Britain’s most deprived areas, there are six different faiths, and over 80 languages are spoken. Zafirakou relates the sadly familiar tales of lives lived in terrible poverty, a world away from those of the politicians who pronounce on them. ‘The government should ask us what kids’ lives look like in the twenty-first century,’ she says. Art allows her pupils to express themselves, but she has to be aware of their circumstances too: teaching 3-D drawing, she suggests they draw a fantasy bedroom, as so many share sleeping space with their families. Working on a piece teaches them resilience and persistence. Success in art, and respect for their work, brings progress in other areas. Trouble comes when talented pupils want to pursue a career in the arts, against their family’s wishes. Zafirakou understands: from an immigrant background herself, she had to fight to study art at A level. The industry feels ‘impenetrable… [and] dominated by the white middle classes’. She keeps a list of every job that Art GCSE or A-level can lead to, and supports her pupils as best she can: some make it, some don’t. But she doesn’t blame them, or their families. As she says, ‘You cannot be what you cannot see.’ Her achievements are noticed, though: Zafirakou is nominated for a Global Teacher Award – and wins it. When invited to Downing Street, she is unafraid to stand up for the arts, and defend her students. But she realises that the government’s priorities bear little relation to her pupils’ lives. She puts her $1 million (£700,000) prize money where her mouth is, and sets up the ArtistsinResidence (AiR) charity, recruiting professionals from across the industry. One highlight is director Michael Attenborough leading sessions on Romeo and Juliet for GCSE students—a transformative experience for the students, and their teachers. ‘Teacher as saviour’ is a convenient narrative for those in power. Zafirakou admits that she is ‘flattered’ when colleagues admire her ability to ‘get through’ to difficult pupils. The power of the student-teacher relationship is undeniable: like many teachers, Zafirakou goes above and beyond for her students. But the reality is that, according to the Department for Education, in 2017 one in seven new teachers quit after the first year. A 2019 YouGov survey found that the workload, and long hours, meant over 80% of teachers wouldn’t recommend the job to young people. So why do it? ‘For many of us… teaching is a way of life, a vocation that is built into our DNA,’ she says. It’s ‘a desire to create change where it really matters, to help shape the next generation.’ Zafirakou’s achievements are inspiring; her book is an interesting read. But it’s hard not to see it as another battle in the continuing war with government to give arts education—and State education—the funding it deserves. For now, Zafirakou has won this round. Thanks to her, hundreds of State school pupils can benefit from the life-changing experiences that children in private schools—and their parents—take for granted. Reviewed by Sarah Hegarty. Sarah’s short fiction has been published by Mslexia, Cinnamon Press and the Mechanics’ Institute Review, and shortlisted for the Fish and Bridport prizes. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is writer-in-residence at George Abbot School, Guildford. She is represented by Annette Green at Annette Green Authors’ Agency. www.sarahhegarty.co.uk
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Critical and Creative Writing: Two Sides of the Same Coin (A Foundation Reader) Wandor, M. (ed). Leicester: Matador. ISBN: 9781800465053, £16.99, 262 Pages Poet, playwright, and long-time lecturer in creative writing, Michelene Wandor is well placed to offer advice on writing pedagogy, something that she’s done with considerable force in volumes such as The Author is Not Dead, Merely Somewhere Else, Creative Writing Reconsidered (2008) and The Art of Writing Drama (2008). She describes this new book as “the final part of a trilogy of [her] critical/creative writing’”. It collects classic texts that address the issue of imaginative writing, and which in various ways inform our current thinking. The list is a long one, beginning with snippets of Genesis, Exodus, and other key pieces from antiquity like Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, and Plotinus. Part Two moves to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including excerpts from Bacon, Sidney and Shakespeare, among others. Part Three covers eighteenth century notables like Johnson and Pope, while Part Four offers the longest collection of excerpts, presenting useful nineteenth century opinion from the Romantics to Henry and William James. Part Five deals with twentieth century thought, and if I mention that it closes with extracts from Virginia Woolf and Arthur Quiller-Couch, you’ll guess the principal problem with this anthology: it is limited to copyright-expired material. Wandor tries to plug this gap in her ‘Postlogue’, offering a brief discussion of poststructuralists like Barthes and Foucault, but this is very sketchy and feels rather tagged-on. As a result, important theories and ideas are missing, and while Wandor is upfront about the limited scope of her book, it’s hard to not see the omissions as a sizable shortcoming—certainly I’d struggle to persuade cash-strapped students to spend £16.99 on texts that can mostly be found online for free. What the book needed was a commercial publisher to commit to the project and pay for copyright permissions. While it’s a delight rereading many of the selections, I think more could have been done to get the best out of them. For instance, given that Wandor is such an experienced teacher and practitioner, more contributions/interventions from her would have been very welcome. The introduction offers a potted history of creative writing teaching in universities, but does little to frame or justify her text selections, or indeed to explain why ‘critical and creative writing’ are considered ‘two sides of the same coin’. It does, however, include the following sentence on how teachers might use the volume: For example, one of CW’s most repeated rubrics, ‘write what you know’ might be explored through the conceptual line from the graven images of the Old Testament, via Aristotelian mimesis, to Romantic notions of individual emotional expression, and to categories of realism and naturalism’. I would like to have seen much more of this kind of thing. Each extract—or at the very least each period—would benefit from some contextualization, and while excerpts are accompanied by a ‘cluster of ‘keywords’, a few imaginative workshop questions or writing prompts from someone with Wandor’s expertise would make for a more appealing volume. Having said this, the anthology is not without value. The texts included are germane to the subject, and the book itself is well produced and sits well in the hand. It would perhaps function best as a supplement to an anthology of more contemporary thought, such as Robert Cohen and Jay Parini’s The Writer’s Reader (Bloomsbury, 2017). In short, while I’m glad that I didn’t have to buy the book, I’m happy to have it on my bookshelf. Reviewed by Paul McDonald. Paul taught at the University of Wolverhampton for twenty-five years, where he led the creative programme. He took early retirement in 2019 to write full time. He is the author of twenty books, including poetry, fiction and scholarship, the most recent of which is Allen Ginsberg: Cosmopolitan Comic (2020).
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The Flying Shop of Imagination: Adventures in Creative Writing - A Resource Book for Teachers and Parents Greenwood, B. and Munro, K. Singular Publishing, 2020. ISBN ISBN 9781838128302, paperback, £17.99 It seems fitting that a book about the connectedness of creativity and the imagination should reference both Pablo Picasso and educationalist (the late) Sir Ken Robinson as a way of framing its intent. It is the latter of these who famously called for government ministers, school leaders and teachers (if not the whole of society) to re-think the ways in which we develop curiosity in learners of all ages and abilities. Having an imagination is one thing, but knowing how to foster it with the right tools, is another entirely. In this respect, and more besides, this handbook is as considered as it is pragmatic. It is primarily a resource book for teachers, home educators and parents, brimming with a wide-range of playful exercises in cultivating children’s imaginative writing and encompassing Key Stages 1 through to 4. Greenwood says ‘these activities have all been designed to give children not only the freedom to imagine, but also the tools and motivation to take the next step—to go from imagining to creating.’ Of course, what also occurs as part of this process is that an appreciation for all things ‘original’ is nurtured by and among those involved. The book is divided into six neat sections, with each exercise usually occupying no more than a single or double page. Instructions on how to deliver each one are easy to follow and grounded in actual practice, with advice also included on how to adapt certain tasks for older or younger pupils, or perhaps those who may take a little longer to grasp some of the higher-level concepts and skills the book endorses. It is evident that the collection has benefitted from Greenwood having tried many of these out during her residencies in schools and in the community. This means that each activity often includes real-life examples from learners, which in turns helps demonstrate the potential of each one. These are accompanied by a series of colourful photographs, (provided by sculptor and artist Munro), marking this out as very much a collaborative effort between two highly creative individuals. As both teacher and creative writer, I was already familiar with many of the workshop exercises in the first three sections of the book, and as someone who now teaches about the importance of creativity to secondary and primary-phase trainee teachers, I found the rest of the collection to be invaluable. Parts 5 (Creating characters and telling stories) and 6 (Story Worlds) contain a wealth of ideas and approaches that allow anyone to put in place the building blocks of high-level creative practice, but without ever seeming too daunting for newcomers to the discipline. Another wonderful thing about the exercises is that they can be done by whole classes, small groups, or even on a 1:1 basis, and I could really see the benefits of trying many of these with SEND learners, whose imaginative potential is often in abundance but sadly overlooked or neglected. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time travelling aboard this particular ‘flying shop’ and look forward to trying out some more of its ideas when I’m around anyone (old or young) who has forgotten the simplicity, joy, and intrinsic reward of creating something from one’s own imagination. After all, ‘everything you can imagine is real’ (Picasso). Reviewed by Paul Taylor-McCartney. Paul is Deputy Programme Manager of the Cornwall SCITT. He is also studying for a PhD in English with Leicester University and regularly presents at local, regional and national conferences related to his research & teaching interests. His poetry, short fiction and academic articles have appeared in a range of notable publications including Aesthetica, The Birmingham Journal of Language and Literature, Education in Practice (National Association of Writers in Education), The Crank and Dyst: A literary Journal. You can read more about him by visiting: paultm.org
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Just You and the Page: Encounters With Twelve Writers Gee, S. , Seren Books, 2021. ISBN 9781781725221, paperback, £12.99 At the beginning of her book, Sue Gee quotes Flannery O’Connor, from her essay, The Nature and Aim of Fiction: ‘…each week you are exposed to a different writer who holds forth on the subject [of how the writer writes]. The only parallel I can think of to this is having the zoo come to you, one animal at a time; and I suspect that what you hear one week from the gibbon is contradicted the next week by the baboon.’ There is a gentle irony in Gee’s choice of this opening quotation, which seems to acknowledge the impossibility of writers talking about writing. In this collection of meditative memoirs about writers who have played a significant part in Gee’s own life, she explores this impossibility through long, discursive and thoughtful conversations combined with enlightening surveys of her chosen writers’ body of work. One dictionary definition of ‘encounter’ is ‘to come upon or experience, especially unexpectedly’1 and this is a good description of Gee’s book. Her twelve subjects are not chosen in accordance with any pedagogical system but are all writers, some living, some now dead, whom she has known personally. Her ‘encounters’ are ordered approximately chronologically so the book is as much an account of her own development as a writer and creative writing teacher as a series of conversations with and recollections of other writers. Some, such as Penelope Lively or Roy Strong, are household names and giants of the cultural establishment. Anna Burns, by contrast, we meet long before Milkman2, as a penniless recovering alcoholic, taking creative writing classes for therapeutic purposes. The playwright Michael Wall is Gee’s flatmate in the early 1970s, rehearsing dialogue in the bath. Christmas dinner is shared with the publisher and translator of Pushkin, Anthony Wood; a life and a son with the pioneering writer on the environment, Marek Mayer. These personal connections are threaded through Gee’s accounts of her chosen writers’ work and writing lives with great warmth and charm. A lesser writer than she might fall into the trap of mawkishness when writing about those to whom she was close but who now are dead, or sycophancy when turning her attention to household names. This she avoids. Where possible, she bases her reflections on extended interviews with her subjects, and generously allows them to speak for themselves, confining her own role to a kind of scene-setting, describing cluttered studies, comfortable sitting rooms, or gardens where she and her subjects met and conversed. Do not, therefore, pick up this book expecting the zoo to come to you. Instead, you will be beguiled along the byways of these writers’ lives, as well as Gee’s own. At no point will you encounter any emphatic didacticism. Gee offers no rights and wrongs regarding becoming and being a writer. As I read, however, I did discern one consistent element that links these encounters and that is the courage to be open, to oneself and to opportunity. When Hilary Davies, alone and lonely in Paris, felt compelled to go into a church, she followed her compulsion and thus opened herself to a spiritual revelation which determined the rest of her poetic life. Penelope Lively and Roy Strong have, in very different ways, opened up their own lives to scrutiny and used this experience to create their work. Perhaps most notable in this context, however, is the anonymous Iranian refugee writer and activist, named here as Afra, who has quite literally risked her life to speak and write out her protest against the conditions imposed on women in Iran. As I write this, on the 31st August 2021, the last American soldier has just left Afghanistan and Afra’s words seem more powerful and pertinent than ever. ‘I feel strong as a mountain and loud as a waterfall,’ she writes, of a speech she made in Tehran on International Women’s Day 2003. It is a long way from where this book begins, with Michael Wall mumbling to himself in the bath, yet not so far, because what all Gee’s subjects show in abundance is courage and dedication to their craft. This is not a how-to book. It offers no easy or tidy technical solutions to the conundrum of how to write but these brief, various and absorbing memoirs show what it is to live as a writer. Reviewed by Sarah Bower. Sarah is a novelist, sometime essayist and short story writer based in Norwich. She is an Associate Lecturer at the Open University where she is currently studying for a PhD in creative and critical writing. She is a member of the OU Working Group for its University of Sanctuary application. 1 2
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/encounter https://www.faber.co.uk/9780571338757-milkman.html Writing in Education 65
Teaching Literature in the Real World: A Practical Guide Collier, P. Bloomsbury Academic ISBN 9781350195066 Patrick Collier has taught literature and film studies at a university in the United States for over two decades, and shares many of experiences in this helpful, enlightened guide. Above all, it is refreshing and illuminating to read as much about his failures as his successes. He opens the book by talking about how he singularly failed to inspire his students with William Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’, a favourite poem of his, when first began his tenure in the early 2000s. Although he valiantly battled against his students’ incomprehension of the poem by giving them a long lecture about its linguistic nuances, they still did not understand or appreciate it. Now, having many years of teaching under his belt, he takes a very different tack. Some might argue he has lowered his expectations, while others might more charitably (and accurately I would claim) say he has changed the focus of his teaching. He no longer seeks to impart ‘knowledge’ and ‘content’ but seeks instead to improve his students’ skills by inducting them into secure and meaningful methods of reading, analysis and writing. The purposes of his pedagogy have profoundly changed. While he is at great pains not to dismiss the importance of teaching some literary and cultural knowledge, this is not the primary reason why he teaches literature. For him, ‘our young people will be all the better for learning deeply that the world is full of a dizzying variety of expression—a thousand times too much for anyone to master—and for learning, under our leadership, how to bite off manageable chunks of this universe and find ways to discern meaning in it’. This, in essence, is how Collier now designs his courses: he provides students with manageable ‘chunks’ of literature/ film, carefully considering how much time it will take students to read texts, and using discussion forums, low-stakes writing tasks and quizzes to aid their understanding. He argues that literature teachers should teach ‘Advanced Reading Comprehension’ strategies, and particularly focus upon developing students’ metacognitive reading skills. Metacognition is a technical sounding word which embraces the notion that we should get students reflecting about their thinking processes. All resilient readers are metacognitive as they read because they notice what they are finding difficult to understand and then take steps to address their confusion, instead of giving up on reading. There is much academic research conducted into this area since Palinscar and Brown published their seminal paper on ‘Reciprocal Teaching’ (1984) which is all about getting students to develop their metacognitive faculties in order to improve their reading comprehension. Collier draws upon Sheridan Blau’s The Literature Workshop (2003) to provide some underpinning for his claims about metacognition but he could have cited much more scholarship. He suggests some very useful exercises in getting students to develop their metacognitive reading skills such as ‘Notice and Focus’ exercises, whereby students train themselves to notice what they are not understanding and use strategies such as drawing out the binary opposites (light/dark, good/evil etc) in a text to aid their understanding. A classic ‘structuralist’ approach. While developing students’ advanced comprehension skills is at the heart of his teaching, Collier also advocates teaching Advanced Literacy skills. He looks in depth in this section into developing students’ cultural literacy, engaging in some depth with E.D. Hirsch’s strident belief that all students should learn certain indubitably important cultural facts and knowledge. Collier’s argument is subtle and persuasive. He does not dismiss Hirsch out of hand, but argues that cultural knowledge needs to be constantly mediated by a teacher receptive to the cultural needs and backgrounds of his students. In a fascinating section on teaching the Salman Rushdie short story ‘Chekov and Zulu’, about two Star-Trek obsessed school friends from India who join the diplomatic corp in England. Collier shows how his students’ lack of cultural knowledge about India, its colonial history and geography, led to the text utterly falling flat in his classes, despite it being ‘funny, politically sharp and heartbreaking’ story according to his lights. He then guides us about how a story like this can be contextualized so it does make sense to students who may not have the cultural knowledge to access it immediately. In the most helpful section of the book, Collier shows how a thoughtful literature teacher can set up group projects which get students examining and investigating vital literary and cultural topics in a collaborative fashion, and then sharing their knowledge with their fellow students and teacher. This latter half of the book is nicely designed with 66 Writing in Education
lots of pull-out boxes which show how such strategies might be presented to students, accompanied with incisive explanatory commentary. He encourages teachers to get classes creating their own anthologies where the purpose, product, teamwork strategies, relevant deadlines and grading criteria are all clearly laid out in a worksheet. Similarly, he suggests that classes/groups should create their own ‘wikis’ (a website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users) where learning, research and citation procedures, topics and historical periods are once again emphatically spelt out by the teacher. He argues forcefully for teachers to shape meaningful objectives for the students so that these objectives embody a teachers’ philosophy. He shows how this can be done by showing how vague paragraph-based objectives can be improving by numbering and rewording them more sharply and specifically. He then shows how examinations can be set based on these objectives. This is all illustrated with plausible and useful examples. He proceeds to talk about how teachers might manage relationships in the modern university and deal with feedback, suggesting productive ways of acquiring it. This again was a very helpful part of the book; Collier’s approach is to see feedback not as a threat to a teacher’s sense of authority and self, but as a learning opportunity for both student and teacher. The Student Response Questionnaire asks questions such as: 1. At what point in this week have you felt most interested, engaged or excited? 2. At what point in this week have you felt most bored or disinterested?’ The point here is to get early feedback so that problems can be addressed while the course is being taught not at the very end of it, which can be an obvious problem with much student evaluation/feedback in schools and universities. While Collier does not fully address issues such as decolonizing the curriculum and the gender politics of teaching literature, he is obviously conscious of these issues and they are never far from his curriculum design and thoughts. This is an enlightened, practical guide to teaching literature and would be useful to any teacher of literature in both secondary schools (which it is not aimed at) and universities across the world. It is, therefore, highly recommended. References Blau, S. (2003) The Literature Workshop Teaching Texts and Their Readers, London Heinemann Palinscar, A., & Brown, A. (1984). Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension-Monitoring Activities Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), 117-175.
Reviewed by Francis Gilbert. Francis is a senior lecturer in education at Goldsmiths, University of London and head of the MA in Creative Writing and Education. He has published many books, mainly focused upon educational themes, including ‘I’m A Teacher, Get Me Out of Here’ (Short Books 2004) and ‘The Last Day of Term’ (Short Books 2011). Most recently he published a novel, ‘Snow on the Danube’ (Blue Door Press 2019).
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