It’s a bit last minute, but just wanted to let people know about this event that I’m hosting tonight, with a fabulous guest poet, Nina Mingya Powles. Tickets still available over at Wordsworth Grasmere
The event starts at 7.30pm and finishes at 9pm – there will be a short open mic as well as two readings from Nina, currently shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize.
Tickets are £5 but we also have some free tickets available for anybody who needs them, just follow the link and email Hannah Catterall at Wordsworth Grasmere to request them.
All poems will be screenshared and the whole event will be captioned by Otter.
I’ve just been reading back my last post, written in January, where I blithely say I’ll be posting once a month. HA! As you can see from this late arrival, that plan lasted a whole…one month. Ah well. Never mind! I blame Kendal Poetry Festival, which took place over nine days in February but basically ate the whole of my life from January through to last week. The festival was wonderful, and everything I hoped it would be. I knew the runup to the festival would be hard work, but I didn’t realise how hard the aftermath would be. We’ve been paying over 40 poets, writing the Arts Council Evaluation report, writing a more extensive report of the festival that we plan to use in the future for other things, analysing audience feedback and on and on and on and into the distance.
Each time I think this festival is just TOO MUCH, too much work, too much stress, too much everything, something lovely happens and it is a boost and motivation to do it all again! Whilst Clare and I have been drowning under a mountain of soul-destroying paperwork, the Sabotage Awards 2021 have been running and gathering votes. To be honest, the whole thing had passed me by (see soul-destroying paperwork)- so it was a wonderful surprise to find out that Kendal Poetry Festival is on the shortlist for ‘Best Literature Festival’. The final vote opens April 21st so please keep an eye out for that, and if you enjoyed the festival, then vote for us!
My freelance life for the last three months has been really busy. My main working days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11.30-5pm which is when Ally is at nursery. I try and get as much of my freelance work done as I can on those days. I also usually work from about 9.30pm-11.30pm each night as well, to keep up with everything. And then the husband and I usually halve the remaining time – so I take Ally on a Monday afternoon and a Friday morning. When I write it out like that I have no idea how I’ve fitted all of this in, but somehow it all worked!
As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve decided to commit to writing/reading for an hour each day and am very pleased that I’ve managed to stick to it, just missing the odd day here and there. This small change that I’ve made has honestly changed my life. I was going to write then that I was lucky that my husband came on board with it and supports me in this, and then deleted it. I feel as if I shouldn’t have to be ‘grateful’ or feel ‘lucky’ – that this hour is the bare minimum that I need to stay sane, but the truth is, I know that it is unusual. I have plenty of friends who are mothers (and some fathers) who don’t have this – either because their partner isn’t supportive, or doesn’t recognise that it is important for them. So yes, I feel lucky and irritated at feeling it, and grateful that my husband understands and supports me in this.
For me the writing hour is also reconnecting me with my musician self, my other life, which really does feel like an other life at the moment as I haven’t picked up my trumpet since before the first lockdown. Writing for one hour a day takes me back to those days at music college when I used to practice for two to three hours a day, every day.
I am also not saying that everyone should write every day. Some people might not be able to for health reasons or work commitments. But for me, this is what works, so I’m continuing on, hopefully at least until the end of the year, but maybe even further. You might be wondering what this has to do with freelance life- nobody is paying me to do it, after all. However, my Writing Hour is intrinsically bound up with my freelance work – more on that later!
KENDAL POETRY FESTIVAL
I’ve already talked a little bit about the festival, in previous posts, so I won’t go on about it anymore! But it was a huge part of my freelance work in the first part of this year.
I usually dread doing commissions and I will admit that my first instinct was to say no when Ilkley Literature Festival got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in writing a poem around the theme of ‘The Natural World’. My first instinct was to say no because my obsessions at the moment are writing about people, and I didn’t know if I could pull it off.
However, as a commission is one of those rare instances that you get paid to write a poem, and I love the people at Ilkley Literature Festival (they gave me a job as Poet in Residence quite a few years ago) and I have trouble saying no to things, I agreed.
This was where my Writing Hour really came into its own, as without it, I would have really struggled and probably have written something that was a bit rubbish. I was working on the poem throughout the lead in to Kendal Poetry Festival and I think for a little bit after the festival as well, which should have been a disaster, but because I’d committed to the hour each day, I just kept working at it.
I read lots of poets that write about landscape during those writing hours, particularly Jonathan Edward and Gillian Clarke, and I thought about how the natural world has basically kept lots of people going, including myself. I live in a small town, on the edge of the Lake District and haven’t gone into the mountains during lockdown. The only exercise I take is to go for a run round the same 3 mile or 6 mile loop, but I can see the mountains from the end of my street. I can run towards them for about a mile before turning off and either heading back into town or into some country lanes. I started thinking about how running roots you into the landscape and into weather, how weather is both noticed and ignored as a runner. Anyway, I ended up writing my first ever villanelle, which I am ridiculously proud of. I wanted a repetitive, looping form because that’s what life feels like at the moment (without slipping into too much misery!)
You can find a video of me reading the poem over at the Ilkley Literature Festival website. I look terrible on the video – months of no sleep and a bad cold and lockdown hair cut are taking their toll but NEVER MIND all of that…for those that don’t want to see the video, I’ve copied an image of the poem below.
A lot of my freelance writing work for the period from January to April has been teaching. I’ve carried on with my Dove Cottage Young Poets group which has expanded quite a bit after some recent recruitment – there are now regularly 18-20 young poets turning up. The group is open to anyone between the ages of 14-25 based in Cumbria – contact me here or Zoe McLain at Wordsworth Grasmere for more information on firstname.lastname@example.org. The group is free to attend and we meet every other Friday between 4pm-6pm.
I’ve also been working with Wordsworth Grasmere to set up a new poetry group for young people between the ages of 11-14. This group is called ‘Untrodden Ways’ and runs every other Tuesday from 4pm-5.30pm. Again, it’s free for young people in Cumbria to attend, and if you’d like more information, contact Zoe McLain at Wordsworth Grasmere on email@example.com.
Needless to say, both groups are currently taking place on Zoom and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I’ve also been running a series of workshops for Lancaster Literature Festival with a small group of eight poets. These eight poets were chosen from a large number of applicants and it really has been an absolute joy to work with them all. I’ve also ran one Poetry Business workshop and will be doing another one soon – I think there are still spaces for my workshop and for some of the other tutors they are working with – have a look on their website here.
Lastly, I’ve finished the marking for the Approaches to Poetry module at Manchester Metropolitan and am now teaching on the Language and Technique module which is a Creative Writing module. It’s the last week next week and then I’ll be back into marking again.
I’ve really missed performing during lockdown, but I have been doing a few Zoom performances. I read at Lancaster Literature Festival as a stand-in for Sean O’Brien who wasn’t well, and this weekend I’ve just read at the Cardiff Poetry Festival. I read at the Grizzly Pear online reading series, invited by Dove Cottage Young Poet Matthew Sowerby. I found this event very moving – I was definitely the oldest there by about fifteen years, but so many poems about sexual harassment and assault from the young women. The news about Sarah Everard was everywhere and it made me angry and sad at the same time that these young women are going through exactly the same experiences I went through at their age, that sometimes it can feel as if nothing has changed.
WORDSWORTH GRASMERE READING SERIES
I am starting to get into a rhythm with this reading series now – February we had the brilliant Anthony Anaxagorou, March was Sean Hewitt and in April, in just a few weeks time the guest will be Nina Mingya Powles. Nina’s first collection was shortlisted for the Forward Prize and it’s just been announced that the collection is also on the longlist for the RSL Ondaatje Prize for a book that best ‘evokes the spirit of a place’. Tickets are still available for this event, but the open mic is now full. I would love to hit triple figures for this event (our biggest audience so far has been about 65 I think) so please spread the word! Tickets available here and more information about the event available on the Wordsworth Grasmere website.
I am not sure if all of this stuff about what life as a freelance writer actually looks like is completely dry or not, so just in case it is, I am of course going to leave you with a poem! This one is from Pauline Yarwood’s latest pamphlet Loop, published by Wayleave Press. The pamphlet is hot off the press – in fact Pauline is launching it tonight – if you’d like to come along, contact Wayleave over at the website for the zoom link.
Many of you will already know that Pauline was a co-founder of Kendal Poetry Festival, and the co-director of the festival for the first three years. She stepped down from the festival in 2018 to pursue other creative projects, so I’m really happy that she has written this stunning pamphlet.
There’s a great quote by Glyn Maxwell in his book On Poetry where he writes ‘Recurrence of words isn’t repetition. Ever.’ He uses Robert Frost’s famous ‘And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep’, arguing that trying to say the same thing in exactly the same way is pretty much impossible. He says that
What’s intervened between the two technically identical lines is the need to say the same again. Either side of that are two different worlds. The relation of the two lines to thought is entirely different. One line outran thought, the second walks in step with it
On Poetry, Glyn Maxwell, pp45
I haven’t heard Pauline read this poem, but when I read it, and read the second line, I put more emphasis on the ‘this’ and it feels as if the speaker of the poem is trying to reassure themselves that they are still in the world, still part of it, still here. And this feeling of tremor, of vulnerability, of not quite being here, fits the start of the second stanza, where the repetition moves to desire, to repeated ‘I want’. If Maxwell is right, that the first time saying something is an outrunning of thought, and the second time is walking in step with it, that re-definition in line 8-9, from ‘close’ to ‘fall to’ feels as if the speaker is just hanging on to the edge of thought before it changes again.
I wanted to feature this poem here because I think it embodies a lot of the themes in the pamphlet, one of which is walking, is being in the landscape, but another is this balance between action and passivity. There are poems about sailing and climbing and hiking, adventurous poems, and then there are poems about falling and wanting to lie still and give up. This swing between these two different types of energy feels very current to me, although I know it is dangerous to read things through the prism of lockdown when many of the poems were probably written long before it happened, but the bursts of energy alternating with almost a giving up felt very familiar to me.
The poem returns to that first repetition, and the foregrounding of the gate which seems to be both opening into another world, and to be a world in itself, or at least a living thing with roots. A gate is always an opening to another place, but the desire at the end of this poem is to ‘sit at its roots/and not move’. Desire again, to be at a threshold, neither one place or the other.
I love the mystery in this final stanza as well – who is the ‘it’? Someone, or something is following the speaker. At first I thought of the ‘it’ as someone else, a shadowy presence that felt quite ominous. But I think it could also be read as the gate following in a kind of nightmare of never moving forward, which makes me think of lockdown all over again!
Do check out Wayleave Press – they are a fantastic publisher based in Lancaster and I know they would be very happy if they got a sudden flurry of orders for Pauline’s pamphlet – and feel free to comment below, I’ll make sure Pauline sees all the comments!
Thank you all for reading, and thank you to Pauline for allowing me to post her poem on here.
Loop Pauline Yarwood
this is the gate I walk through this is the gate I walk through sometimes a fallen branch between the metal and the wall muffles the sound
I want unmuffled sound I want to hear the clang of the gate as I let it close behind me as I let it fall to behind me I want to hear the sound echo round the valley as I walk down the path away from the gate I walk through
this is the gate I walk through this is the gate I walk through sometimes I look back I look back from the gate I walk through to see if it’s following to see if it’s following sometimes I want to go back I want to go back through the gate I walk through and sit at its roots sit at its roots and not move
I’m hoping to be posting here at least once a month with a poem from a collection that I’ve loved. Now that my PhD is finished, I’m finally finding a bit more time to read poetry collections and I’ve read some amazing books this month. I used to post a poem every Sunday, but I can’t keep up with the pace of that any more. But I think I can keep up with posting one poem a month along with an update of what I’ve been up to.
January Freelance Life
MENTORING January has been absolutely full-on. In a normal year, January is usually a pretty quiet month in the life of a freelancer. Most literary organisations are making plans for the rest of the year – there’s not many gigs around as people recover from Christmas (or at least this is what I’ve found in previous years). However, because the shape and the way I make income as a freelancer has changed a lot this year, January has been alarmingly busy. I’m now doing a lot of work mentoring poets – this includes longer-term mentoring which takes place over a year or more, and working on pamphlet and full collection manuscripts. My mentees obviously had some down time over Christmas and managed to get lots of work done as the submissions came into my inbox thick and fast in the first few days of the new year.
MARKING Last term I was also offered some teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University again. I had a break whilst I was pregnant and then finishing off my PhD, but it was great to be teaching again on the ‘Approaches to Poetry’ module, which is a whistle stop tour of poetry from the Renaissance through to Contemporary poetry. I always feel like I learn a lot when I’m teaching this module, and it was lovely to work with my former PhD supervisor again. Disappointingly, I did forget to introduce myself to the students as Dr Kim Moore though. The marking for this module started in January and is due in about four days – so I’ve been working hard on that.
WORDSWORTH GRASMERE READING SERIES January also saw the launch of Wordsworth Grasmere’s contemporary reading series ‘Go to the poets, they will speak to thee’ which I’ve been asked to host and curate. Each event will feature a guest poet and an open mic. The reading series was due to take place last year, but obviously the pandemic scuppered that. I’m really happy that it’s now been moved online. We had the first event this month with the fabulous Louise Wallwein and some brilliant open miccers, and our next event is February 10th with Anthony Anaxagorou, which I’m sure will be just as good.
When I was designing the reading series, I decided each event should be based around a theme, and this theme should be a quotation from Wordsworth, and that this quotation from Wordsworth should link in some way to something the guest poet was exploring. I’m not sure the complexity of this is noticed or appreciated by anyone else apart from me, but I enjoyed thinking about it!
Anyway, the quotation for the February event is ‘Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge’ which I think argues for poetry’s place as the best way of getting closer to the truth of human experience. Anthony Anaxagorou’s book After the Formalities seems to me to strive for and create new ways of knowing, both in its exploration of content and form. So the theme for the February open mic is to bring a poem about knowing or not knowing in some way.
You can find all the information you need about how to book a ticket and sign up for the open mic here
The reading series will be live transcribed by Otter, and all open mic poets and guest poets are asked to send their poems along in a document so that I can screenshare during the event. I hope with the combination of these two tools, it makes the event more accessible.
DOVE COTTAGE YOUNG POETS I’ve been running this group for quite a few years now (funded by Wordsworth Grasmere)and originally it was based in Kendal. However, during the pandemic, we’ve been meeting on Zoom and it’s been really enjoyable.
I’ve decided to open up recruitment in the New Year and as we are continuing to meet online, the group is now open to any young people based in Cumbria between the ages of 14 and 23 who would like to join. If you are a young person who would like to get involved, or you know a young person, please email Zoe McClain at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Each session involves reading, writing and discussing poetry and the emphasis is on creativity and enjoyment of language.
There are also plans in place to run a group for 11-14 year olds – so watch this space!
KENDAL POETRY FESTIVAL This is my biggest, most time-consuming project at the moment. This year it has grown from a three-day in person festival to a nine-day online behemoth. Every time I fini sh one job and tick it off the list, another one pops up. It will either be absolutely amazing, or send me over the edge! If you haven’t already had a look at our programme, you can see it here – tickets are still available, and we would love to see you there. We hope the festival can be a point of connection whilst we are all still so far apart.
Clare Shaw is my new co-director, and on Twitter the other day we started making a list of all the jobs we do to put together a festival, but then we kept forgetting them and adding more on. So here is what we got so far (although I’ve not been doing all of these in January, but still): planning the programme, contacting the poets, chasing the poets up, collecting biographies,collecting photos, writing event descriptions, writing all text for website, formatting and proofreading everything, liasing with ticket sellers, creating zoom account, researching otter, organising young poets, sharing social media posts about events to sell tickets, liasing with Katie Hale regarding the guerilla poetry project, designing Open Doors project, writing back to applicants for free tickets/bursaries, responding to enquiries asking for a reading, applying for arts council funding, applying to a charity for funding, applying to kendal town council for funding, liasing with all funding bodies, setting up zoom events for every reading, writing a press release, sending it out to organisations and media, writing to poets to remind them of time and date of their event and ask them to screenshare their poems, write to their publishers and ask them to promote their poems, I forgot all the liasing with the website designer.
Clare then replied and said ‘you missed …. multiple visits to the sites to check rooms and accessibility. Appointing and leasing with our accessibility consultant and creating an accessibility statement, working with sites to maximise accessibility, Researching online platforms, researching online accessibility, consulting with potential audiences, creating Zoom workshops and resources for nervous first time Zoomers, regular meetings with your co-director and other supporting staff and volunteers, speaking to press and local organisations, promoting on social media, appointing and meeting with blogger in residence, writing and posting blogs, choosing logos for badges, book keeping and budgeting and keeping track of ticket sales.
Whoops. And to think I said to Clare when she said she would take on the job of co-director ‘Yeah, it’s not that much work really’. Anyway, it will all be worth it!
WRITING HOUR In amongst all of this, I’ve also been determined to make sure my own writing still gets some time. I guess a more accurate description would be ‘creative practice’ but maybe that would be off-putting for some people! I read and write in my writing hour, as for me, these two activities are very closely connected. If you are on Twitter and would like to join me, I usually post a tweet with the hashtag #writinghour at some point in the morning, and then an hour later (roughly) reply to the same tweet with #checkin to say what I’ve done. I’ve found that this means I don’t just use the hour to do admin, which as you can see from the list of jobs above is very tempting! Because I have to checkin, I need to do something, even if it is just reading a poetry collection or an essay. If you would like to join, I’m on twitter as kimmoorepoet. There are not any rules – you can take the writing hour whenever you want during the day, and if you want to join in with the checkin, just reply to my original tweet and say what you’ve been doing. It’s lovely to hear about all of the creative projects that are going on, and equally cheering to read someone confessing to struggling with taking out a comma or putting it back in for the whole of the hour! The important thing is committing to your writing, in a world where it is so easy to put that last, after all the other jobs have been done.
JANUARY POEM Which brings me to the January Poem. The January Poem is the title poem of Wendy Pratt’s new collection When I Think Of My Body As A Horse, published by Smith/Doorstop, and available for order here. I wrote a blurb for this book a while ago and loved it then, but reading it again a few weeks ago, it felt (like all good poetry books feel) as if I was encountering it for the first time. It is a book about motherhood and grief, threaded through with animals like horses and hares which seem to burst from the pages, they are so full of life. And although it is a book filled with an unbearable loss, the overwhelming feeling it left me with was one of love. It is a book of love. Not many poetry books make me cry, but this one did, and then it made me smile.
And this is to say nothing of the technicalities of line break and form that Wendy is negotiating and mastering in these poems. I think you can see this in the title poem, which comes in the last third of the book. In a book which has explored the terrible things that can happen to the body, where the body has been always there, considered and examined, I think that first line ‘Now I think of my body’ is just beautiful, as if the body has not been ‘thought’ of before, but has instead been negotiated in a different way. And of course the line resolves into that ending, and the poem leaps off from there, like a horse.
The emotional truth of this poem really resonated with me as well – of course, if we thought of our bodies as a type of animal, then we probably would be kinder to them. And Wendy pushes and pushes this metaphor, this idea and follows it further and further. It also feels like a poem of realisation as well, as if the writer made discoveries as they were writing.
At the beginning of the second stanza, for example, she writes that ‘We do not share a language’. But the third stanza finishes with the line ‘I taught it a language of pain’. This mirroring and development of this idea felt extraordinary to me – it feels as if the reader is allowed to watch the mind tracing these revelations, this deepening of thought.
This happens again in the fourth stanza. The poem starts with the premise ‘When I think of my body as a horse’. By the fourth stanza, that distance and logical/rational thought set up by the use of the verb ‘think’ has disappeared. In the fourth stanza, the body IS a horse, and as a reader, I absolutely go with it at this point.
I love the exclamation mark used in the poem, how the exclamation mark ‘holds up’ the past conduct as ridiculous and holds me up as a reader to consider my relationship to what it is talking about. And then the heartbreak of the fifth stanza, and the acknowledgement of not blaming the body and not blaming the self, and the realisation that there must have been a time, when the speaker did blame their body, did blame the self, and the loneliness of that. And then that beautiful finish to the poem, the companionable ride.
If you love Wendy Pratt’s poem, you might also like this May Swenson poem, which is one of my favourites, and also says something important and radical and true about the body, whilst calling it a succession of animals
WHEN I THINK OF MY BODY AS A HORSE
BY WENDY PRATT
Now I think of my body as a horse. I think of it not as a vessel for my soul or as an organic robot or a means of transport, but as another thing I need to love and care for.
We do not share a language. When my body asks for rest, I have to know the signs, have to watch the way its elegant legs stutter when it’s tired.
All those years I tried to train it by punishment! How I hated its disobedience, how I felt ashamed of it. Poor body. I tried to cut myself away from it, I scarred it, I starved it, I taught it to be afraid of mirrors I taught it a language of pain.
Now my body is a horse, I see it is loyal, it is incredible. I line all the bones of my body up, from the nasal bone, to the thin string of tail and marvel at its complexity.
I do not blame it for lost babies, it did its best. I do not blame myself for lost babies. I did my best. I ride my body in a slow companionship, comforting it at the end of the day and I say, Body, you are beautiful, you are beautiful.
If you would like to order Wendy’s book, you can find it here
You can also find out more about Wendy over at her website here
Wendy will also be reading in May as part of the Wordsworth Grasmere reading series, please keep an eye on the Wordsworth Grasmere website for more information
My PhD thesis begins in a rather unconventional way – with an introduction in numbered sections, from 1-14. I called my introduction ‘Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction’ because I wanted to introduce two of the key concepts that drove my research forward.
Firstly, the variations on an introduction part of the title. Many of you will know that I was originally (in a former/other life) a musician, so in part this is a secret nod to that time of my life. ‘The Carnival of Venice’ by J.B.Arban was one of my favourite pieces to play on the cornet or trumpet – in fact I played it in my final recital for my music degree. For those who don’t know, the Carnival of Venice is an ‘air varie’ or a ‘theme and variations’. The theme is relatively simple and melodic, and then each variation fits more and more notes around this theme. It is a piece used by performers to ‘show off’ their technical ability and cycles through double tonguing, triple tonguing, flexibility over large intervals and the requirement for fast finger work.
To capture the heart of a theme and variations, the theme must always sing through underneath all of the fancy technical dexterity on display. Or to think of it another way, the variations are multiple different ways of looking at the same theme, of hearing the same theme. So my variations on an introduction are doing a similar thing. I got to the end of my thesis and then foolishly tried to write a conventional introduction, the way I imagined a PhD introduction should be. It was pretty terrible. I wrote my variations in the same space or frame of mind as I write poetry, letting the words flow out, letting one numbered section spark off the thought of another, circling around the idea of an introduction, around all the things that need to be introduced.
The introduction as it stands now has fourteen sections which cross the boundary between academic writing, lyric essay and poetry, sometimes from one section to another, sometimes between sections.
If I wrote out what is in the image above as prose, I have to add multiple punctuation marks.
If choices are threaded through the body of a text, if the text is not a body but a landscape? If the text is a landscape there must be paths. If there is one path, there is always another. If text is a landscape with paths running through, then reading is a form of travel. If reading is a form of travel, readers must be travellers. Some of them will know where they are going. Some will be lost.
If text is a landscape, if reading is a form of travel, if readers are travellers, then the text is a journey in itself. If the text is a journey and a landscape, if all landscapes have paths, if each path is a choice, a desire, if this text has its own desires, there are bodies within it – yours and mine. We may find ourselves meeting somewhere inside.
The first time I posted the image of these words up on social media and it got shared in various places, someone on a friend’s wall asked who the poem was by. I was taken aback to hear the text described as a poem – even though writing it out as prose, I can see how important the white space is, how it invites readers to make their own punctuation, to read some of the text as a statement, some of it as a question. I can see how the white space elevates and makes more important these questions about agency and the multiple ways we have to encounter a text.
Still, I think of the text more as a lyric essay than a poem, a lyric essay that draws heavily on poetic techniques, such as the use of white space. Except on the days when I think maybe it is a poem which is drawing on the freedom of prose writing to say exactly what I mean without worrying about being too obvious or not poetic enough.
At one level, it doesn’t really matter what it is. At another, it means everything that I cannot quite pin down what I have written to fit one thing or the other.
In a creative-critical PhD, the creative work should respond and be engaged with the critical work, and vice-versa. Should the critical work not also be transformed by the creative work, making academic prose more lyrical, more poetic, less certain? I know that I wrote poems in response to my critical reading, poems about noticing things, poems about looking and what we choose to look at.
Right at the beginning of this blog post that is trying to transform into a lyric essay, I said that the title ‘Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction’ held two key concepts for me, and then I forgot to introduce the other one which is the idea of desire lines.
Tomorrow, I am running the third and final reading drawing from my thesis. Or at least the third and final one for a long time. My thesis is a reader-directed text, consisting of fourteen sections of prose, seven groups of poems and four individual poems. The thesis is a reader-directed text. It consists of fourteen sections of prose, seven groups of poems and four individual poems. Although it can be read in a linear fashion, and will make sense when approached in this way, the reader is invited to make their way through the thesis by using a series of textual signposts (or questions) to follow desire paths/lines through the text, deciding as they go along what they would like to read next. The live event seeks to replicate this through the use of polls.
Here are Variations 5, 6 and 7 which take different looks at desire paths, what we choose to look at and how we move through texts.
Extract from ‘Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction
At the beginning of this process I thought that the readers of this thesis would create their own desire path, or desire line through the text. Defined by Robert McFarlane in his ‘Word of the day’ on Twitter as ‘paths & tracks made over time by the wishes & feet of walkers, especially those paths that run contrary to design or planning’ (Bramley, 2018) these paths of desire would generate new meanings, new interpretations, a new text. Now I realise that the paths of desire are my own, traces of my thinking, my reading. My desire paths weave the creative and the critical together, and then pull them apart. They invite the reader to think about how they move through a textual landscape, and why they move in the way they do.
The easiest path is to read in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. This is the path of least resistance. If a reader chooses to follow a desire path, to move back and forward through these pages, through this text, then they become implicated in the text, through their choice of what to read next, or what not to read. When the reader follows my desire paths, creating their own desire path in turn, they may produce something the writer cannot control. The text becomes what Roland Barthes calls a ‘text of bliss’ – a text that:
imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of boredom), unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language (Barthes, 1975:14)
Instead of a desire path, call it a sightline, a line of sight. If it is true that ‘[W]e only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice’ (Berger, 1972:16) then by making choice implicit in the text, readers are forced to confront and question what they choose to look at or not to look at. This shift away from authorial control will allow a collaboration to develop between the reader and the text, where the reader actively constructs the texts and narratives rather than passively consuming them.
John Berger argued that ‘[t]he meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it’ (Berger, 1972:29). This thesis argues that this is also an accurate way of understanding how texts communicate, particularly poetry, where the placing and ordering of poems can be extremely important in the way readers interpret and understand the wider narrative of a collection. The ordering of poems can give a different narrative arc or trajectory to a collection.
The desire paths through this text, these sightlines will not give it a different trajectory, or a different arc. This text will not finish in triumph if the reader picks one path, or in despair if they look the other way. Instead, think of it as an unfolding, where each sightline, each desire path gives the reader a different view on the one that came before and the one that is to come. Think of it as a circling back round.
In the poem ‘Monument’ by Elizabeth Bishop, the reader is asked to look again and again at the monument, described in painstaking detail. Bishop asks us:
Now can you see the monument? It is of wood built somewhat like a box. No. Built like several boxes in descending sizes one above the other… (Bishop, 1983:23)
The first time I read this poem, I felt as if I was walking round and round the monument, seeing it from every angle, without really seeing it at all. If this thesis could transform into a single poem, it would be this one. Imagine this text as a monument. Imagine sexism as a monument. Imagine female desire as a monument. Now climb inside, crawl underneath, sit on top and look at the landscape which surrounds them both, the paths that lead to them, the sightlines, follow the lines of sight. Imagine this text as a poem.
Quotations in the above post (in the order that they appear) are from: Bramley, E. V. (2018) ‘Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners.‘ The Guardian. Barthes, R. (1975) The pleasure of the text. New York: Hill and Wang. Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. London: Penguin. Bishop, E. (1983) Complete poems. London: Chatto & Windus.
To buy a ticket for ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’ head over to Eventbrite here. The event is hosted by the Manchester Games Network and is taking place on 13th January from 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets are £5 (£2 for students)
Like many people, I can’t say that I’m not relieved to see the back of 2020! However, even amongst the global pandemic, the misery of lockdown and the loneliness of not seeing as much of friends and family as I would like, there have been some wonderful and magical things that have happened this year, so I thought I’d resurrect my annual review blog post this year (I think it fell by the wayside last year).
So I’m going to cycle back through 2020 month by month and hopefully find a highlight for each one!
This was the month that Ally started nursery at just seven months old. She seems so little now and she is 19 months old, so I can’t quite believe, looking back that I was brave enough to take her and hand her over to a stranger. Of course back in January, I could go in with her for lots of visits before finally leaving her there. I wouldn’t exactly call this a highlight because I still feel like I’m being torn in half – I both want to be with her and I want to work and these two things are not compatible. I still miss her when she is at nursery – I still obsessively check the parent app for photos and updates from the nursery, but that decision to put her into nursery in January meant that I could finish my PhD in time.
I remember Chris, Ally and I got the train down to London really early, and Ally had woken me up all through the night, so I felt awful. I did manage to get my photo taken outside the Abbey Road studio by Cerys Matthews though 🙂
Also in February, I had a final meeting with two of my supervisors Nikolai Duffy and Michael Symmons Roberts. This meeting was really important because it was the first time Michael had read my whole PhD (rather than just the poems). I was really nervous in case he said it was terrible or thought the whole premise and way I’d structured it was not going to work, but he liked it, and the rest, as you say is history!
All through February, I’ve got entries in my diary like ‘Ally in nursery 11.30 -5pm. Look at Russian Formalism’ (that’s 13th February) or 18th Feb ‘Ally in nursery – work on relational failure section’. Just looking at those juxtapositions between mothering and academic thinking and writing makes me dizzy. Probably like a lot of people, I am often critical of myself and not as kind as I should be, but I feel a lot of tenderness towards my February 2020 self. I think she did ok.
Oh March! Where to start. I was supposed to go to Sweden to read at Littfest on the 12th March. Until quite late on the 11th March, I was still swithering about whether to go or not – I was worried about getting stuck out there and unable to get back to Ally. As it happened, the festival had to cancel because of the pandemic and the UK itself went into lockdown on the 23rd March.
Throughout February, whilst trying to finish the small matter of a PhD thesis, I’d also been commissioned by the BBC to write 5-7 minutes worth of poems in response to The Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth/Coleridge. This was one of those commissions I just couldn’t say no to, even though to say it was stressful doing it at the same time as the thesis is an understatement. But somehow I wrote my poems and went to record them in Salford on the 16th March at the BBC studios. I didn’t realise at the time that this would be the last in-person work I would do for a while.
Just before lockdown descended, I handed in my thesis in person on the 19th March, but the shadow of what was about to happen was definitely making itself felt. I took a selfie of me and my bound thesis and then scarpered home pretty quickly.
It was this week that my freelance work started to be cancelled – a ‘Poetry Bus’ that I was doing with Clare Shaw for the Wordsworth Trust on the 19th March, a poetry workshop in Barrow and a residential writing course at Ty Newydd – all cancelled that week which added up to nearly £2000 of work. By the end of March, I was starting to really panic about money and finances. I was fully freelance for the first time and I’d carefully planned my work once I finished my PhD and I had enough booked in the diary to survive – and suddenly it was all disappearing.
Throughout April, I was doing a lot of reading for the Forward Prizes. Honestly, it might sound like a nightmare, reading over 200 books but it kept me sane during those early lockdown days. I did start slowly making my way through from January, but I picked up the pace a lot once the thesis was handed in. It was really wonderful to have this deep reading and immersion in poetry to focus on when everything else was at a standstill.
The nurseries were shut so Chris was looking after Ally a lot whilst I read hundreds of poetry books. At the end of April, I was due to go to St Ives to run the annual residential down there but obviously that was cancelled.
And I almost forgot (how could I!) that April is National Poetry Writing Month and I actually managed it this year, a poem a day, egged on by various friends and my twin sister. Looking back, this was one of my best 2020 decisions – it’s led to the formation of a weekly critiquing group which has meant I’ve had to write a poem every week. It feels like this group, probably more than any other I’ve been in has really pushed my writing on, partly because of the intense schedule, but also because of the high calibre of writers that take part. And that is to say nothing of the friendship, which it feels like an honour to be on the receiving end of.
Throughout a bit of April and May, I started mentoring poets. I’ve always done a little bit of this, but quickly realised that this would need to be developed to become my main source of income. I now have six long-term mentees and really enjoy working with them – it’s definitely something I will continue doing, even when/if everything gets back to normal.
I also ran my first Digital Poetry workshops during May – learnt how to use Zoom, Eventbrite etc. I’m planning to do more of these in the New Year – so watch this space! I also took part in the Seren ‘Stay at Home’ event – my first reading on Zoom – thanks again to my brilliant publishers for inviting me to do this, which was another bit of very welcome freelance work.
Forward judging and judging meetings continued throughout May – so still some intense reading going on in every spare minute I had.
And Ally had her first birthday which we celebrated just the three of us because of lockdown. I remember feeling sad she wouldn’t see her family or any of my friends, and telling myself that at least she wasn’t old enough to really understand the difference.
I had a poem accepted in an anthology called Poems from Pandemia edited by Pat Cotter and published by Southword Editions, ran some workshops for the Poetry Business and spent the weekend of what should have been Kendal Poetry Festival feeling sorry for myself.
I was commissioned by Ledbury Poetry Festival to write a poem in response to current events and I read the resulting poem ‘For My Daughter’ at an event in July at the re-organised online Ledbury Poetry Festival. I am full of admiration for Ledbury for the speed in which they organised an online festival – they acted swiftly and put on an amazing weekend of events. I hosted the Ledbury Versopolis event as well which felt really special – to hear different languages and connect to poets from across Europe at a time when it felt like the world, or at least the world I could move about in was shrinking.
The Forward Prize shortlists had been announced and in July I got to interview two of the shortlistees. First was the amazing Nina Mingya Powles. You can see the interview here, and I recommend buying her first collection, Magnolia 木蘭 published by Nine Arches Press. The second was Rachel Long – interview here and her first collection is called My Darling from the Lions, published by Picador, and also highly recommended.
I also read for the Over the Edge reading series on Zoom – it was lovely to do a reading again, even if it was online.
August was pretty quiet apart from my PhD viva. My two examiners were Jean Sprackland and Sinead Morrisey, and now the extreme anxiety and stress of actually doing it is over, I can appreciate what an amazing gift my viva was, to be able to talk about my work with these two fabulous writers. And I passed (with minor typos) and it all turned out ok and I couldn’t go out and celebrate so I stayed at home and had an afternoon tea instead.
In August, I also had some poems published by MAL journal and read at the launch, alongside some intimidatingly talented thinkers and writers – you can read the poems here
More cancellations happened over these last few months, but again, another upsetting one was the chance to go and read in Slovenia at the Days of Poetry and Wine Festival towards the end of August. Again, I live in hope that eventually I’ll be able to go there and read when things get back to normal.
September bought another Forward Prize interview with the brilliant Pascale Petit – talking about her collection Tiger Girl. You can see the interview here and the final judging meeting for the Forwards took place during this month. Again, it was really exciting and invigorating to talk about poetry with the other judges and the whole Forward experience is definitely one of the highlights for me of 2020.
In September, I ran an online residential for Ty Newydd with co-tutor Jonathan Edwards which was really enjoyable and again, another welcome bit of freelance work.
At the end of September the ‘Contains Strong Language’ festival came to Cumbria, if in a socially-distanced way. I got the opportunity to read my Lyrical Ballads commissioned poems again alongside Helen Mort (who also read Jake Polley’s work who couldn’t make it) and Zaffar Kunial (who appeared via a recording). You can watch the video of this event here BBC Arts – Contains Strong Language, 2020, New Lyrical Ballads at Contains Strong Language. I also appeared on The Verb – again can’t quite believe I’m writing that alongside Helen Mort, Luke Wright and Hussain Manawer – you can listen again to this episode of The Verb here BBC Radio 3 – The Verb, Wordsworth: Experiments in Living at Contains Strong Language. I also appeared on another Radio 4 programme about my now home-town Barrow, much-maligned, usually by those who haven’t even been here! This was a show hosted by Luke Wright and Kate Davis was also reading/talking on this show.
At the end of September I ran the first of my ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’ events, drawing on my PhD thesis and using audience polls to make the whole event interactive. It was on Zoom, and sold out in about two hours! Thanks to all of those participants who took a punt on what was something new and a bit different.
I ran another online residential in October, this time for Garsdale Retreat – again a fantastic and intense week and the Forward Prize ceremony took place, again all on Zoom, which I was sad about because I would have liked to have gone to London and swanned about and drank wine, but never mind. Caroline Bird was the winner of Best Collection, Will Harris for Best First Collection and Malika Booker for Best Published Poem – you can find more about these fabulous winners and the other shortlisted poets at the Forward Prize website.
Throughout September, October and November I was teaching mostly online but one session a week face to face at Manchester Metropolitan University. It has been to put it mildly, really hard work. If I hear one more person talk about students not being taught I will scream. All I have seen is lecturers and colleagues doing their absolute best to provide quality resources and teaching in very difficult circumstances.
I curated an episode of Poetry Please in November – and recorded it whilst sat in my pyjamas in my living room. The wonders of technology. You can listen again here.
I also hosted the first Poem and a Pint event with the brilliant Jacqueline Saphra in November – I’m sure we will put at least one more on via Zoom in the New Year, so again, watch this space.
I found out in November that I won the Ledbury Poetry Competition – again can’t believe I’m writing that either. The judge was a poet I hugely admire, Liz Berry. Winning was a nice surprise. And even nicer as in December, my roof started leaking, so the prize money is going to repair the roof and sort our guttering etc out!
A leaking house roof, the cancellation of my annual Poetry Carousel residential and a lot of terrible weather have been a challenge this month.
But highlights have been organising an online launch for one of my closest friends Jennifer Copley (her book is available from Pindrop Press – calledWhat Happens to Girls – it’s brilliant – buy it). I also went to the launch of another friend’s pamphlet – Rachel Davies with her Every Day I Promise Myself – again another fantastic pamphlet, well worth the money!
And the other wonderful thing that happened in December was finding out that I’d been successful in my application to the Arts Council for a ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ grant. I had no expectations that I would be successful – my project is to write a book of lyric essays and the money I’ve been awarded means I’ll get one day a week for eight months to concentrate on this. Again, this feels like a bit of a dream. So that was my 2020 – a whistle stop tour – just one more thing I’ve missed out…
My 2020 Creative Practice
Apart from finishing my PhD thesis which I very much see as part of my creative practice, particularly because of the form the thesis is structured in and the way the creative and the critical work talk to each other, I also managed to finish my second collection, finally, finally. Seren have agreed to publish it and it is scheduled for October 2021, when I’m hoping that things will be at least a little more back to normal and I’ll be able to do some live readings.
I also at some point during 2020, although I don’t know when, managed to write a lyric essay, which then went on to win £500 in the Southword Essay competition. You can read it in Southword 39 . The other winner was Helen Mort, and her essay is really beautiful and worth buying the magazine for that alone.
I also wrote another lyric essay called provisionally What The Trumpet Taught Me which is unsurprisingly about trumpet playing, but also about gender and class. Subject to funding, this will be published as a short book in Autumn 2022, but I won’t mention the publisher here yet just in case they don’t get their funding and it all falls through!
I’ve got a few other lyric essays on the go at the moment – one about motherhood, and the other about domestic violence and its aftermath – both have been submitted to different journals so fingers crossed for those.
I am still writing poems – mainly about motherhood and bodies and fear and anxiety. I haven’t sent any of the new poems out anywhere yet, although I did read one at Rachel’s launch. They still feel too new to publish – I don’t know yet if they are interim poems or the real deal.
And now it is 11pm on New Years Eve, and usually I would be standing on stage with the soul band I play with, the Soul Survivors. I would be worrying about my lip and whether it will make it through the next set. It would be red hot on stage with the lights and the dance floor would be full, there would be queues at the bar, people would be hugging and leaning in to each other to be heard above the music. This is the first New Year’s Eve in years I’ve been in my pyjamas and been at home. I thought I’d be fed up – but Ally went to bed at 7pm ( last night she decided to party from 1.30am till 6am – I’m not even joking) so we watched Home Alone and I ate two bags of chocolate to celebrate the last night of this strangest of years.
This feels like a bit of a self-centred blog post, but I wanted to focus a little on what I have done, despite everything this year. I wanted to look inward a little instead of thinking about the terrible things that are happening, the incompetence of the people who should be looking after the country…Somehow we have all muddled through – we have made it this far! Both in this blog and in life 🙂
I hope you have a peaceful New Year, and thank you for the friendship and support. I hope to see as many of you as possible in 2021.
I always find the gap between Christmas and New Year a strange one – in previous years, I don’t feel as if I noticed it. Or maybe I wished it away. This year I find I have learnt to appreciate it. It feels like I’ve stepped off a speeding train and have some time to just look around at the scenery. I guess one reason is because I’m not spending it down in Leicester, visiting family and then the long journey back up to Cumbria.
Time feels different between 25th December and the 31st – it seems to stretch to twice its actual length, so I thought I’d post some things that I’m looking forward to in 2021, and a few virtual events that I’m running or involved in that I’d love to see you at.
Poetry and Everyday Sexism January 13th
This will be the third and final of these events which draw directly from my PhD thesis. I’m running this event as part of the Manchester Game Studies Network. For those of you who haven’t attended one of these, this is an audience-directed event which explores everyday sexism and female desire using poetry and prose. I’ve created a series of polls so that the audience choose what they would like to hear next. Although I’ve ran this event twice, there are still parts of the thesis that I haven’t read at any of the previous events. I could probably write another thesis on the experience of running these events – part of what I’ve realised is that there is at least one section that I will never get to read, because it relies on a large part of the audience admitting that they are judgemental – which lets face it, none of us want to be be and most of us will not admit to! If you have been before, I hope to see you again for this final event, which I am hoping will spin off in a completely different direction to the other two. I should put a content warning as well that there will be discussion during this event of gender-based violence and sexual assault. But I also want to say that my research is about what we choose to look at (or not) in poetry. It’s about the body. It’s about the experience of being a poet, and a female poet in particular. It’s about the experience of performing poetry and audience reactions to that performance. It’s about my own journey towards feminism and how I learnt and am still learning what bell hooks called ‘critical consciousness’ which is ‘critical understanding of the concrete material that lays the groundwork for that personal experience…and what must be done to transform it’.
It’s been five years since the publication of The Art of Falling so I’m really happy that my second collection of poetry All The Men I Never Married will be published by Seren in October 2021. It feels like I’ve been working on this book forever, and I’ve found it very hard to let go of. I’m still working on it now but I think I’ve finally got the order of the poems sorted at least. A few weeks ago I started exchanging cover ideas with my editor at Seren, Amy Wack and it was only then that this next book started to feel real, as if it could actually happen. I am really hoping that by October, it will be possible to do some live readings and maybe even have an in-person book launch, but who knows!
Developing Your Creative Practice: Arts Council Grant
After handing my PhD in the day before lockdown happened and then doing my viva on Zoom, I’ve basically somehow managed to make a living as a freelance writers. I’ve applied for one academic post for a Creative Writing Lecturer and got a job interview, and am pleased to say that I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much, but didn’t get the job. Since then I’ve been keeping my eye out for Creative Writing posts but they are few and far between, especially as my specialism is in poetry. Most posts seem to want prose or at least someone who can do both.
However, since writing my thesis I’ve become more and more interested in writing prose. I really enjoyed the writing part of it. I tried a few short stories this year and sent them out a few times but didn’t get anywhere. Also they felt as if they didn’t really have any life in them – I can’t explain it, but something about the form didn’t feel right.
I then started thinking about my thesis and how I could use what I’d already written and turn that into something and decided to try writing lyric essays. I sent one in for the Southword Essay Competition and to my amazement was one of the winners (alongside the fabulous Helen Mort). The essay isn’t available online, but you can buy a copy of Southword 39 here. After the disappointment of realising that I wasn’t cut out to be a short story writer or a novelist (or at least not yet) it doesn’t quite feel real to win £500 for the first essay I’ve sent out. My essay is called ‘Yes, I Am Judging You’ and is drawn from some of my PhD research.
I decided to put together an Arts Council grant application to the ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ fund. You can apply for up to £10,000 to develop your own writing, and I decided to apply for time to develop my essay writing, and to start to write a book of lyric essays. I still can’t quite believe that I’m writing this but I was successful. My project starts at the end of July 2021. From then, I’ll have one day a week for eight months to work on writing (and reading) lyric essays.
I am really excited about having this time to write, and I’m hoping as a side-effect that as I start to publish more essays, this will open up the academic jobs that I can apply for.
Kendal Poetry Festival 2021
Many of you will already know about Kendal Poetry Festival, but just in case you don’t, please check out our website. I am the co-director along with Clare Shaw and we have been working so hard to move the whole festival online.
The original festival was due to take place in June 2020 and obviously in March we had to cancel. It turns out cancelling a festival is just as much work as organising one.
However, the festival has now moved online, and will be running from February 19th-28th. The whole programme is online here, and we have a fantastic, and much expanded lineup. The whole festival will take place on Zoom. All readings are £5 but you could also buy a Festival Pass for £60 which means you can access everything (apart from workshops). We also have two open mic events running throughout the festival, and free ‘Writing Hours‘ every morning with either myself or Clare, and longer writing workshops with some of our festival poets.
I’m going to sign off now, and I hope to be back here blogging a little bit more regularly in 2021. I’ll also be back with a new shiny website, so watch this space! And finally, I hope you all had a good Christmas and all the best for the New Year. I hope to see you all in 2021.
Last month, I created an audience-directed, choose-your-own-adventure reading of my thesis ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’. It was great fun, and sold out really quickly, and I promised various people I would run it again…
The event will be a mixture of poetry and prose, and the audience will be presented with a series of polls which will allow them to make their way through the text, deciding what they would like to hear next.
If you came to the first event, there may be some overlap, but I suspect that the whole thing will go off in a very different direction again!
The event will be once again hosted by Dr Nikolai Duffy, one of my brilliant PhD supervisors.
Those of you who are not on social media may not know that I passed my PhD viva last Wednesday, with ‘minor typographical amendments’. This means I was given an A4 list of typos to correct, and I have to insert four paragraphs of text into my thesis to explain/develop what I’ve written. I’ve been given two weeks to do these amendments.
At first when I was given the list, I must admit my heart sank as it sounded like a lot. And I don’t know if anyone else has this but trying to enter into a piece of writing that is finished is a bit like putting on a shoe that is slightly too small – it feels uncomfortable and I have to wriggle around a lot to remember how it fitted in the first place.
Anyway, I can’t complain to much as I’ve done the amendments listed this week, so they were not too onerous. The most annoying thing is that inserting the paragraphs in messes up all my page numbers, which in a choose your own adventure thesis where the reader is directed to turn to one page or another at the end of each section is a bit of a problem! But only an irritating time-consuming problem rather than anything more serious. I’m planning on sorting the page numbers out tonight, in my night-owl working time (after the baby has gone to bed). I usually save this time to do tasks like this, that don’t need too much brain power.
The picture above is of the lovely surprise afternoon tea that my husband ordered, obviously in full confidence that I would pass! I scoffed pretty much everything you can see in the picture within five minutes of the viva finishing.
Throughout August, I decided to concentrate on preparing for my viva, so I stopped most of my freelance work. However now it is over, I will be running some online workshops, so please watch this space!
I can tell you that there are some spaces left for an online residential course that I’m running on behalf of the Garsdale Retreat. The course runs from the 5th-9th October 2020 and the guest poet is the wonderful Kerry Darbishire.
You can find more information about the course here: https://thegarsdaleretreat.co.uk/course-category/moore-kim/ but the price of £400 includes eight 90 minute workshops, one, 60 minute workshop, one 30 minute individual tutorial, evening readings/entertainment including both a tutor and guest reading plus afternoon chat room. A bargain!
I’m swithering about whether to upgrade my Zoom plan so that I can have more than 100 people in the audience, or whether to just put on another reading of the thesis at another date, and the length of the waiting list will obviously help me make this decision!
Evening all! It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged. I’ve been busy revising for my PhD viva – or more accurately, panicking about my PhD viva.
Lots of people kept telling me that I should enjoy my viva, as it’s the only time I will get to talk to people who have read my whole PhD and are interested in my work.
I can see the sense in this, and the truth in it, but the rebellious part of me started to wonder why this is accepted as fact. Why is it the norm that a PhD thesis will not be read by anybody except a few other academics interested in the same topic? I could, I suppose, approach an academic conference of some kind to present my work – or at least, I could have done this before lockdown.
And I have done a few events where I have combined my creative and critical research. However, the thing that I often got frustrated about was that one of the things I enjoyed the most about writing the thesis, and the thing that unlocked the PhD as a whole was structuring it as a ‘reader-directed’ text. This means that there are options embedded in the thesis, and readers have to choose what they would like to read, and look at next.
So I have decided to do an online reading of some of the thesis which will feature online polls so that the audience can decide what they would like to listen to next! This is something that would just be impossible or very unwieldy to make work at a live event, so I’m really excited about the possibility of trying it out over Zoom.
This is an experimental reading – there will be a mix of prose and poems and I have no idea if it will work. I will share as much of what I’m reading as I can on screen, so that people with hearing issues can read along as well. Some of the content may be upsetting and deals with sexual harassment, violence and trauma.
The format of the thesis was partly inspired by my love of ‘Choose your own adventure’ books as a child. I will never forget the sense of power those books gave me, and the sense that language holds possibilities, and that writers wield those possibilities. I really hope some of you can join me on what feels like an adventure into a new way of meeting creative-critical research.
And last thing is – tickets went up this morning on FB and Twitter, and somehow have already managed to sell 50% of the tickets – there is a limit, despite the event being online, due to Zoom capacity. So if you’d like to come, please follow the Eventbrite link below to book a ticket.
If you would like to come, but can’t afford to, for whatever reason, please get in touch. I have three free tickets which have been kindly donated by fellow writers and would really like them to go to a good home. You don’t have to explain personal circumstances or anything – just let me know you’d like one.
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I optimistically posted that I would still be blogging, but just not as frequently. Such a lot has happened in that year – I now have a fourteen month old Ally, who has completely changed my life, and we are all living through a global pandemic.
I clicked on my blog today looking for something else, and felt really sad that it was gathering dust and not active anymore – it was a place where I made so many lovely connections with people, and I would like to resurrect it.
I would like to use this blog to tell you all that I handed in my PhD thesis the day before lockdown officially began! When I found out I was pregnant, I was about to start the third year of my PhD. I remember googling ‘can you finish a PhD with a baby’, frantically searching for women that had managed it, trying to squash my rising level of panic. And that was before the severe morning sickness started…
I know it is useless in a way to say that yes, you can finish a PhD whilst having a six month old baby, because everybody’s circumstances are different, but I also want to say it is possible, because I did it. Although it was also hard, and put a strain on my finances. But if there is someone out there quietly panicking, I want to tell them it could be ok, and if you can make a human, of course you can make a PhD.
I wrote 80% of my PhD between the hours of 8pm and midnight, once Ally had gone to sleep. I was relatively lucky in that in that period, she WAS sleeping.
I made myself a chart and coloured a box in every time I wrote a hundred words. This was a great motivator for me – and it is really the only way I work. It is how I saved up £1800 to buy my first trumpet when I was 17. It is how I get anything done.
I was lucky in that my husband is self-employed, and he basically spent his time either working or looking after the baby. I spent my time looking after the baby or writing my PhD, and also fitting in a few bits of freelance writing work. Well actually, quite a lot of freelance writing work, because finances. We did put Ally into nursery when she was about nine months old so that I could get a bit more time to write.
I am lucky in that I have a supportive partner, unlucky in that I don’t have family nearby to help, lucky that I had enough money to put Ally into nursery for two half-days, unlucky that I couldn’t afford more and alleviate the stress a little. Somehow we muddled through, and I wrote a thesis which is probably the thing (apart from Ally) that I am most proud of.
I was talking to a friend about how hard it is to let the good things in, how it is easy to let negative things seep inside you, but the good things often bounce off me as I spin around looking for the next thing to achieve. But finishing this thesis is one of the things I let myself feel. I can still feel it now – I hope it will always be a warm glow inside me.
I now have the viva to do which is in mid-august. Strangely enough, I’m kind of looking forward to it. I want to get my PhD, and this is the last hurdle I have to get through. I am hoping I will be blogging here a little bit more, but this time I’m not making any promises.
I’ll leave you with a poem that was commissioned by Ledbury Poetry Festival called ‘For My Daughter’.
And later, when she asks, I’ll say some parts of it were beautiful – how in their brightness and sudden opening the faces of the neighbours began to look like flowers. I’ll tell her how we began to look back at photos of our younger selves with our arms around a stranger or leaning on the shoulders of friends, and saw that touch had always been a kind of holiness, a type of worship we were promised. I’ll tell her that in some ways our days shrunk to nothing, being both as long as a year and as quick as the turning of a page. I’ll tell her how she learned to crawl in those days, in those times when we could not leave, when bodies were carried from homes and were not counted, that she began to say her first word while death waited in the streets, that though I was afraid, I never saw fear in her eyes.