I spent a fantastic afternoon with the Year 10 English class at Streetly Academy in Sutton Coldfield this week. In a poetry masterclass we looked at structure, rhyme scheme, imagery, language and punctuation in Robert Browning’s ‘Meeting at Night’ (a surprisingly subversive poem!).

Then we ripped it up into little bits and made our own poems out of it. We borrowed from Tristan Tzara’s 1902 poem, ‘How to Make a Dadaist Poem’:

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

 

I managed to capture a couple of great examples before the poems got swept away:

large gray voice quench

pushing from fiery hearts

the sea and beach,

night and sand

waves and ringlets appears

the little joys   each startled fears

low fears, its pushing the sand.

appears: loud, less long land

These are great poems, but whose are they? These are Browning’s words (everybody’s words?), arranged to a method proposed by Tzara, but by the hand of today’s young poets!

This ‘cut-up’ method was later used by the Beat writer, WIlliam S Burroughs, and by David Bowie.

My grateful thanks to the students and the English staff at Streetly for their warm welcome. We are looking forward to your visit to Staffs next term.

City of Glass in Manchester

HOME Manchester, Lyric Hammersmith and 59 Productions are staging an adaptation of Paul Auster’s novella, City of Glass.

City of Glass is the first of 3 metaphysical or postmodern detective stories collected in The New York Trilogy, which is Auster’s best known novel and the one attracting the most attention from scholars.

The production coincides with Auster’s new novel, 4 3 2 1, and his visit to the UK to promote it – he’s been on Radio 4 and Newsnight in recent weeks, and read from his novel at, among other venues, HOME.

The metaphysical detective story employs the conventions of the traditional detective mystery – a crime, clues, investigation, a detective, a suspect, a femme fatale – but along the way the detective finds himself contemplating complex and foundational philosophical ideas. In City of Glass, the detective figure finds himself investigating language, identity, writing, narrative and literary form. I use the term detective figure here because Daniel Quinn is a detective writer who takes a case meant for the Paul Auster Detective Agency.

HOME’s adaptation is stunning in how it realises the claustrophobia of Auster’s metafictional central character, isolated from New York society by tragedy and his writing, Continue reading

Dark in The Day book launch

Some 50 members of the public attended the Dark in the Day Book Launch at City Central Library on February 7th. The book publishes 8 Staffordshire University creative writing students (6 undergraduates, 2 postgraduates) alongside established writers in the field of ‘weird fiction.’ The project came about when guest lecturer, Storm Constantine (author and publisher) suggested to creative writing lecturer, Paul Houghton, they might work on an anthology together with the students. The format for the evening was six contributors reading six-minute extracts. Before that, co-editor of the book, Paul Houghton introduced the event which began with a particularly luscious and surreal poem by Dr Lisa Mansell, ‘Angels of Anarchy’, inspired by the work of Leonora Carrington. The first story excerpt was by final year undergraduate, Jack Fabian, who read from his eerie story, ‘A New Womann’ about an artist inspired by a disfigured woman. Next up was Sian Davies, another final year undergraduate, with an equally chilling tale, ‘Post Partum’, about a new mother who believes her baby is not her own. She was followed by PhD creative writing student, Paula Wakefield, who read from her story, ‘In Touch’, a psychological zoom-lens analysis of an intense relationship. After a break for wine-bipping, bookselling and chat, lecturer Paul Houghton read an extract from ‘The Strange Case of Quentin Wilde,’ a black comedy which details a dummy’s first night out. Novelist and publisher, Storm Constantine read from ‘The Secret Gallery’, a luscious, dream-like story set in the mysterious Galleria Buiocuore. The surreal tone was continued by guest author Rosie Garland, who read from her dramatic and equally poetic story, ‘An End to Empire’ which has become even more poignant in the light of recent political events in the U.S. Rosie also gave an impassioned speech about the inspiration and importance of public libraries.

After more wine, book sales and chat, a happy audience filed out in an orderly manner.  It was great to see so many people there, even a few former students as well as library users and curious people. Many thanks to Emma and all the lovely staff at City Central Library for all their work and support.

Dark in the Day, edited by Storm Constantine and Paul Houghton is available here:

www.immanion-press.com/info/book.asp?id=492&referer=Hp

World Book Day

On World Book Day, the English and Creative Writing staff have been pondering the books have shaped them as readers:

I fell in love with Narnia when I was about 7. I must have read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a dozen times. The mesmerising combination of real-world childhood anxieties and the magical world of Mr Tumnus and the White Witch transported me from a humdrum suburban existence to a place of imagination and adventure. Later, I would reflect on the Biblical allegory and genre convention of portals to fabulous worlds which taught the children in children’s literature how to deal with the uncertainties of growing up, being part of a group, and the looming responsibilities of the adult world, but I will always remember the escape to a magical kingdom of talking animals and good and bad.

Right now, I’m reading Don DeLillo’s most recent novel, Zero K, a meditation on intersection of capital, technology and death.

Mark Brown

I can’t think of a more touching and fascinatingly conceived book than Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Written at the end of C19, it brings to an end, to an extent, the ‘Age of the Victorian Novel’, climax of that great tradition and swansong at the same time. Tess is a radical novel. Hardy eschews the compromise of marriage that seals the trials and tribulations of the female protagonists in most of the women-authored Victorian novels (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch). With tragic inevitability Tess, a pure child of nature, walks into her own doom. Every move she makes to get out of her pickles only tightens the noose around her neck. The agents of her destruction are Time, Circumstance, the trappings and falsehoods of modern civilisation, and of course – men! (Hard to understand that this was written by a man!) Hardy had been working some time on transposing the tragic conflict of Greek Tragedy (Aeschylus, Sophocles) into the modern novel. In fact, his intention had been, (Return of the Native and The Mayor of Casterbridge are cases in point), to demonstrate that the novel was the only adequate artistic medium under conditions of modernity to render the notion of life as tragic. Tess is the most archaically wild one of the three late tragic novels, with the main character drawn so sympathetically that it is difficult to follow her plight without getting emotional. Hardy called her ‘my Tess’….

Martin Jesinghausen

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967).  This book is about…….everything: all human life is here.  It’s labelled as magical realist by the literary-critical establishment (although that’s not a term Marquez liked).  For me, the magic is so breath-takingly brilliant not because it is extraordinary, but because it is presented as so very ordinary.  My favourite line from this book is “Children and adults sucked with delight on the little green roosters of insomnia, the exquisite pink fish of insomnia, and the tender yellow ponies of insomnia.”

What I am reading at the minute: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall (2016) – and loving it.  This fictional novel is set in present-day Cumbria.  The narrator is a woman who is an expert in wolves and is overseeing a project to reintroduce them to the UK, on a large country estate.  So far, the novel is raising lots of ethical questions about the human/animal divide and about the human alteration of the ecosystem.

Melanie Ebdon

My book would be the enduring cult classic Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – a one-off as great as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. It may be set in a freak circus but it’s about so much more: family life as we’ll never know it – and as we know it! A wild and transformative read.

Paul Houghton

The best book in the world (except for the ending). Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, in case anybody doesn’t know). I didn’t read this most famous of books until a few years ago, and I’m glad I didn’t. It’s not a children’s book. It’s life on the river, but what a life, and what a river. The language flows like the river, and you float along with it, on the raft with Huck and Jim, one hand trailing in the water

Margaret Leclere

Review of Stratford Trip

Our English and Creative writing group had the fantastic opportunity to go on a Shakespearian adventure to Stratford-Upon-Avon. On Friday 20th January, we set off at 3pm to the town of Alveston where our youth hostel was situated. When we arrived at Hemmingford House we were allocated our dorm rooms. We only had time for a quick freshen up as our departure to Stratford was imminent. We took a short journey into town and managed to locate quickly a nice local pub for some refreshments. After feeling restored we headed on down to the Royal Shakespeare Company to watch The Tempest. We were situated down the right-hand side of the stage and the view was particularly good. I personally had no previous knowledge of the play, so I was expecting to struggle with the plot and dialogue. However, I was proven wrong. The actors and actresses performed The Tempest clearly and dramatically. They made full use of the staging; hidden plinths arising from the stage floor and wooden trees that could even resemble a ship depending on the scene. Their use of technology should not be overlooked either as the sound and lighting effects produced larger characters and brought beasts to life. The play itself is set on a remote island where a sorcerer and his daughter have been stranded for 12 years. He then uses his magic to conjure a storm to shipwreck the men responsible for his banishment. Romance, comedy, and tragedy are all added along the way of the sorcerer’s journey back home. We all thoroughly enjoyed the play. As a first timer to the Royal Shakespeare Company, I can assure you I will be going again.

After some post theatre drinks, we retreated to our dorm rooms. The following day we headed back into Stratford where we split up into groups to do some sightseeing. Amy, Becky, and myself decided to go and see Anne Hathaway’s house which was a reasonable walk out of town. When we got there, we walked through the gardens to the cottage where she lived with William Shakespeare. On arrival, there was a female tour guide who was telling us that William Shakespeare would often come to the cottage and write between plays. He would often leave his wife and children behind when he went to London due to the poor living conditions in the overpopulated city. She also told us the average life expectancy in London at that time would be around 20-30 years old, whereas in Stratford it would be much longer of around 40-50 years old. She went on to say that this was because of the clean air in the countryside and that they were living from their own land. After a brief question and answer session we explored the rest of the house.

Review of Cyrano de Bergerac

A group us from our English and Creative Writing group attended the New Vic Theatre on Monday 6th February to watch Cyrano de Bergerac. This is a play adapted by Deborah McAndrew and directed/composed by her husband Conrad Nelson. Deborah was instantly recognisable to us all as a regular in Coronation Street in the 90’s, as she played a character called Angie Freeman. Cyrano was performed by the award winning Northern Broadsides in a round theatre. Different props and lighting were used to set the scene for a variety of different places in Paris: a playhouse, a bakery, outside Roxanne’s window, the frontline and a nunnery.

Cyrano is set in Paris around 1640. Cyrano is a poet and is madly in love with his cousin, Roxanne. However, he is reluctant to tell Roxanne of his feelings due to the fact he has an enormous nose! Cyrano becomes acquainted to Christian who Roxanne confesses her undying love for. With Christian’s good looks and the use of Cyrano’s poetic words he manages to marry Roxanne. However, with Cyrano and Christian both off to war, who will survive to win Roxanne’s heart once and for all. Will Roxanne ever know the truth about Cyrano’s feelings or will Christian run out of words. Cyrano is a musical musketeer marvel. With poetic readings mixed with swashbucklers, bakers, and nuns, expect a journey into the unknown. The actors that were exceptional were Cyrano and Monfleury as they both had heavy dialogue mixed in with singing and playing musical instruments. They were entertaining, comical, and dramatic. That nose is not to be missed! (Lynn Statham, 1st Year English and Creative Writing)

image New Vic and Northern Broadsides

On Friday evening I was at Denstone College (think Hogwarts in Staffordshire) to help judge a round of the English Speaking Union’s Churchill National Speaking Competition for Schools. The ESU is “an international educational charity and membership organisation that brings together people of different languages and cultures in over 50 countries …[running] educational programmes, competitions and cultural exchanges to develop confident communicators, critical thinkers and empowered citizens.”

denstone

5 teams from 4 schools spoke on and debated subjects as diverse as driver-less cars, the rights of the elderly, and civil rights and terrorism. The quality of the debate was spectacular, and I congratulate the winning team (from Repton School), the runners up (Denstone), the contributors whose achievements were recognised on the evening, and all the young people who took part. I had a great evening.

Victorian farce at the New Vic

We were at the New Vic this week for Broadsides’ production of Priestly’s When We Are Married. First Year students Lynn and Cathryn give us their reviews of the show below, and you can get a taste of Broadsides’ very particular northern-ness and their take on Victorian farce here:

Our English and Creative Writing group had the pleasure of attending The New Vic Theatre in Newcastle Under Lyme, to see the Northern Broadsides perform JB Priestley’s When We Are Married. Many of the cast were easily recognisable from various television dramas and soap operas, so we immediately realised we had come to see something special. The New Vic Theatre is a theatre in the round and so there were little effects and props used throughout the entirety of this performance. However a variety of early 20th Century chairs, tables, ornaments and whiskey decanters were used in the staging and this was ample to create a lively living room area. The play is set in the early 1900’s and manifests itself around three married couples – the Halliwells, the Parkers and the Soppitts. This particular evening they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary as they all got married on the same day, at the same church by the same Vicar. However their evening of celebrations was set to be ruined as there were speculations that the Vicar who married them was not in fact official. This set off a fast-paced, comical chain of events; with a hint of regular disruption from visitors at their door. The three married couples were left wondering whether they were actually better off free from their ‘institution’ of marriage. With their high social standings in jeopardy and bitter home-truths been outed, the three couples eventually joined forces to discover the legalities of their marriage. When We Are Married is a light-hearted comedy that can be appreciated by all ages. Our group thought that the men in the married couples stole the show. They were charismatic, witty and showed us their humorous side to their equally different personalities. This was JB Priestley, performed at its very best. (Lynn Statham)

The Northern Broadsides theatre company presented JB Priestley’s When We Are Married at the New Vic Theatre in Staffordshire. Set in the fictional, northern town of Cleckleywyke just after the turn of the 20th Century, three couples who married on the same day, in the same church, by the same parson are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Set around the living room with chairs for the ladies, sherry decanters in abundance and a door for listening at, the celebrations quickly turn sour by the discovery that the parson wasn’t licensed to marry them and they have in fact been living in sin ever since.

The horrified couples suddenly realize that they will become social pariahs and laughing stocks if the news of their predicament gets out. Cue hilarious attempts to keep the news secret: firstly, from husbands to wives, then from the formidable ex-housekeeper Mrs Northrop, who is adept at listening at the key hole.

When it looks like matters cannot get any worse, the local newspaper photographer turns up to take a group photo in celebration of their anniversary. Barrie Rutter, director of the play, delivers an excellent comedic turn and believable drunk as photographer Henry Ormontroyd.

As the couples try and sort out the quandary they have unwittingly found themselves in, each of the characters comes into their own and the tables are turned between each husband and wife.

A rousing song at the end closes an excellent production by the Broadsides.

(Cathryn Hurd)

 

Strenghtening Cohort Identity on Trip to Liverpool

To Liverpool last Wednesday, originally to get some live-experience of Pre-Raphaelitism (on our list of topics in my Level 5 and 6 module Painting the Town Red), through sampling the holdings of Pre-Raphalite paintings in the Walker Gallery, around the corner from Lime Street Station. However, we broadened out the brief of the trip by opening it up to all English and English and Creative Writing students on our Staffs Awards. Also, we did not just do the Walker Gallery, but also Liverpool Central Library, Tate Liverpool by the Albert Docks, and much this, that, and the other besides …

As it turned out, we ended up a fairly small, but perfectly formed little throng of 15 +, a cross-section of really nice people from all study-levels, with some joining us along the way, and also leaving at various stages of the programme, for one urgent reason or another. (One student had actually gone to the length of driving up with her lil’ toddler son to meet us at Lime Street station; she had to leave half way through, but – as we heard from  her the next day – spend more than 5 hours on the motorway on her way back: so not lucky!). A sizable part of the group made use of the opportunity to check out the watering holes and eateries in up-town Hope Street area, after the bugle had been sounded that ended the official part of our venture. One of these night birds, at the ‘Career’s Fest’ next day (a man, who shall remain nameless), had the deep bass-baritonal timbre of voice that normally follows a bout of alcoholic abandon….

At the station we were also joined by Greg, one of our Level 5 ‘mature’ students, dyed-in-the wool scouser and guide extra-ordinaire from whose expert knowledge we beneffitted all day long. He led the way, and also led by mature example as some of us frequented the more insalubrious establishments of town, in between watching the High-Art display in the two Galleries, and then later into the night….

After coffee we looked around in the Walker, starting with C19 Victorian painting. Their Pre-Raphaelite holdings are not as extensive as in he Birmingham or Manchester galleries, but we saw a couple of paintings which we had actually discussed in class, particularly Millais’s Isabella; remarkable also, a picture that we had not so far looked at on the module, one of my favourites, Brett’s Stonebreaker, which exemplifies the Pre-Raphaelites’ obsessive attention to meticulous detail (the picture shows an abundence of plants, all botanically identifiable, and much geological detail): ‘truth to nature’ is the motto; the human, here labouring, part of the cycle of things; Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is in the air…

The next station was the newly reconstructed and modernised City Library, right next to the Walker Gallery. Greg pointed it out to us and suggested we go in. We took a look at the old rotund Reading Room, reconstructed and absolutely glorious, not unlike the old Reading Room of the British Library in London, then housed in the British Museum.

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We took the above group picture on the Viewing Platform on the top floor of the modern new part of the library, whose interior compares very favourably with the new Birmingham Library, but here, of course, the modernist interior design is very well hidden behind the early C19 facade behind which it is inserted, whereas part of the splendour of the Birmingham Library is also in its multi-culturally inspired exterior design: Orienalising (?),  filigree….

Greg then led the way through town towards the Albert Docks. We got a good whiff of the Mersey sea air (with the weather wildly oscillating between misty, rainy gloom and bursts of sudden sunshine). The tide was half in, and the water over to the Birkenhead shore was like a grey mirrror, reflecting clouds and the high buildings on the other side.

Mersey Mirror

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Some of us went for a liquid pub lunch, others for more solid food in the Gallery’s café.

img-20161110-wa0001Photo: Irram Amin

Tate Liverpool had provided us with a living guide, who, for a fee (Mel, extremely kindly, forked out on all our behalf!) talked us through Tracy Emin’s Unmade Bed, as an example of a ‘Self Portrait of the Artist as a Troubled Young Woman’ (very convincing!), and tried to draw parallels (perhaps not so convincing!) with the 25 or so William Blake etchings, drawings and paintings which Emin had chosen as context for her own artistic bed-statement. The Gallery has been following through for some time with their laudable project of connecting conceptually seemingly very different art works by exhibting them side-by-side.. With Blake and Emin (Mel and I talked about it afterwards) we were not so sure whether the connection worked, even though the guide, John Hughes, did his best to draw out the links. For example, the contrast of the soft toys by the side of Emin’s bed with the depressing adult chaos of the bed he connected with the contrast of Innocence and Experience in Blake’s poetry and painting. (He also interspersed his substantial talk with amusing limericks of his own making characterising ‘the essence’ of various artists: Pollock, Dali, Emin, Blake, etc..) In any case: both the Bed and the Blake were well worth looking at.

wp_20161109_14_55_04_pro Photos: MJ

All in all, a good day out with very nice things to do, in the company of very nice people (on an otherwise depressing day, with Fascism looming in the Anglo-American world).

I enjoyed myself tremendously.

Careers Week: Graduate Talks

Thursday 9th November 2016 – Careers Week

Today we had talks from three graduates of the English and Creative Writing awards at Staffs Uni

  • Danielle Booker, manager of local PR company ‘Lyme Communications’
  • Sharon Sant – novelist (Romantic fiction under the pen-name ‘Tilly Tennant’, Young Adult fiction as herself)
  • Bram Welch – Entertainment Journalist

 

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The speakers brought a wealth of diverse topics to the panel, which in turn generated many helpful questions from the current undergraduates in attendance.   Having attended the careers talks this week and last, I can see several important linking themes emerging, which I shall summarise here:

  1. All speakers stressed the importance of forming good friendship groups at undergraduate level in order to support and encourage you in the key task of getting through your degree!
  2. Relatedly, there was further emphasis in every presentation regarding the need for networking after graduating.  This could mean any of the following: keeping in touch with your fellow graduates, attending events relevant to your areas of employment interest, letting family and friends beyond the Uni know about your skills set/career aspirations, creating a LinkedIn profile, creating a Facebook page for professional use only.  Get to know people and get people to know you!  Many of the stories we heard at these talks depended upon happy coincidence, and that coincidence was generated by networking.
  3. A degree doesn’t necessarily mean that you get a job – work on YOU.  Become someone that an employer wants to employ: work on your interpersonal skills, your self-confidence, maybe even your manners.  Learn to cultivate a good presentation of self.  Develop your personality by travelling, possibly even by living and working in other countries (Bram talked very enthusiastically about the TEFL scheme), volunteer – even for things that aren’t directly relevant to what you’d like to do eventually.  If you have no particular career path in mind, then pick some work experience and just make yourself do it; if you hate it, you can at least discount that field.  If you love it you could be making valuable links for later on.   Any work experience will give you life-experience and help you with your personal development.
  4. Find out about Graduate Schemes – you may not even be interested in the field in which any given scheme is based, however, you can be well-paid and given intensive training in a variety of skills which will stand you in good stead for a range of other careers.   This tip was really just from Kerry Ann last week, but it’s such good advice that I had to include it here.
  5. Managing your existing online profile/s: if a potential employer were to Google you, what would they find…?  It’s time to think carefully about what’s out there on the internet and how it will look from a professional context… (Again, this was just from Kerry Ann, but too important to leave out!)
  6. Start the wheels in motion NOW!  This was a common and crucial piece of advice we heard from every speaker.  All 6 of these points can be tackled right now, today, yes – even in the 1st semester of your 1st year!

The talks were – obviously – much richer than this list can indicate.  We are very grateful to our alumni for returning to pass on their pearls of wisdom and inspire our current undergraduates with a lot of food for thought.

Melanie Ebdon.