World Poetry Day – the pandemic and social media

We are publishing work from our students for World Poetry Day on March 21st.

Here is Chloe’s poem, meditating on the effects of the pandemic on her generation. Thank you, Chloe, for your contribution.

Generation Lost In Satellites

We are the generation
that got lost in satellites.
Caring more about comments
on our social media than the fact
that an empty packet of
crisps can kill the environment.

We’re restless.
We have no wars to fight,
Stonewall has been rioted.
Women got the vote.
The Bastille has been stormed.

We are the restless generation.
We have nothing to do.
There’s nothing left for us to do.

We’re just sat on this
floating rock, drifting in an infinite
loop until the sun expands
and we all burn.

We’re restless.
There are no new worlds left to conquer,
Everest has been climbed.
Slavery was abolished.
There are footprints on the moon.

We are the restless generation.
We have nothing to do.
There’s nothing left for us to do.

But that’s not entirely true…

Now we face a new foe,
a new enemy to be vanquished.

Now we have a war to fight,
one we fight together.
With doctors and nurses on the front line,
while everyone else is told
to stay inside.

This time there are no evacuees,
no bomb shelters to hide in,
no air raid sirens to listen out for.

Although the industries have been revolutionised,
there is still lots of work to do.
with new vaccines, a ray of hope,
a light at the end of the tunnel.

But we are just the generation
that got lost in satellites.
Who cares more about comments
on our social media than
whether or not we
should say please and thank you.

What do we know?
With the world on pause,
and the stock market a minute away from crashing,
the queue to the jobcentre is
longer than the list of jobs available.

But we are just the generation
that got lost in satellites,
what do we know?

We live in a world that revolves
around diet plans and phone updates,
where nobody can say what
they mean in fear of offence.

But we are just the generation
that got lost in satellites.
Who cares more about comments
on our social media than
whether or not we meet
with people outside in real life.

Chloe Birchall, March 2021

The Last Beat – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

(Mark and Lisa)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a friend and a publisher to the writers of the Beat Generation, and an influential poet who was both critically and commercially successful. His bookshop, City Lights, became the epi-centre of the San Francisco phase of the Beat movement when it’s major figures, particularly Ginsberg and Kerouac, moved from New York to the West coast. City Lights has been open in the same premises since 1955 and along with Shakespeare and Co in Paris – which had been an inspiration for Ferlinghetti – is one of the best known and most inviting bookshops on the planet. San Francisco was an enclave of non-conformist culture at the time, possibly because of the siting of a camp for pacifists and conscientious objectors nearby during the war. Once released back into society, these renegades fostered a community of radicals and rebels. Ginsberg and Kerouac were drawn to San Francisco by the promise of literary freedom and like-minded artists. The little black and white covers of the Pocket Poets series have become a design classic and have remained unchanged for nearly 70 years. The shop, too, remains a beacon to poets, travellers and those with a love of the writing of the Beats.

The City Lights Books Pocket Poets series was thrust into the glare of publicity by Ginsberg’s collection, Howl and Other Poems. Ferlinghetti had seen Ginsberg read the title poem at a now famous reading at the Six Gallery in October 1995 and contacted the young poet to arrange to publish his work. The content was scandalous for the time, a period of political and social conformity enforced by a Cold War culture that valued a narrow consensus that privileged an anti-communist, white, middle-class, male hegemony. Ginsberg’s famous opening lines, ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix’, challenged everything that the mainstream cherished. His portrayal of angelheaded hipsters ‘with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls’ attracted the attention of the SFPD, who failed to have the book banned for obscenity and succeeded only in bringing a radical new poetry to the attention of a much wider readership. The Beats became internal exiles, attacking what they saw as America’s conformity, inequality, consumerism and warmongering. The Beat writers were in search of ‘IT’ – the soul of jazz, orgasm, the freedom of the streets, the heightened consciousness of drugs – and Ferlinghetti was an important guide on that journey. Ferlinghetti was himself a poet of some note and he toured the world with Ginsberg, bringing Beat poetry to the Beatniks and hippies of the 60s – including a famous reading at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965.

Ferlinghetti’s iconic 1958 collection, A Coney Island of the Mind, remains one of the bestselling poetry collections.  (link: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/aug/19/revisitingconeyislandofthe) .  It is a masterwork of lyricism and realism which weaves together motifs of music and the clothes-pegged, telegraph-wire strewn cityscape.  In many ways, this collection is about lines: telegraph lines, poetic lines and musical lines reaching from the improvised line of jazz, to birdsong, to more classical structures of phrase and cadence:

The poet’s eye obscenely seeing
sees the surface of the round world
                         with its drunk rooftops
                         and wooden oiseaux on clotheslines
                         and its clay males and females
                         with hot legs and rosebud breasts
                         in rollaway beds

City boundaries and lines which demarcate social spaces are blended and problematised in the ‘plastic toiletseats tampax and taxis’ (note the generous texture of internal consonance and alliteration) which nestle amoung ‘stemheated cemeteries’ and ‘protesting cathedrals’ to form a ‘surrealist landscape’.  The projective, ‘open field’ lines which arc across the page architecture the poetic space and unleash a ‘wired’ energy through this opening sequence of twenty-nine poems.

Ferlinghetti lived in the bohemian North Beach area of San Francisco up to his death last week at the age of 101.

English and Creative Writing Students Support Each Other to get Industry Experience

Most students wait until they have graduated before they seek work experience, but others are keen to get straight into their chosen industry. One of our second year students Kudakwashe Phiri was hand-picked for a paid internship with a media company, before she’d even finished the first year. She has just had her first article published in the commercial sector.

Her ongoing internship for a media company in the fertility niche, includes researching articles on law and medical issues, writing book reviews and scientific articles, and even appearing on the company’s Tiktok account. You can read one of Kuda’s book reviews here.

https://www.bestfertility-now.com/baby-dreams-by-louise-warneford-review/

Kuda was talent-spotted in class by a fellow student who also works for the company because of her thorough preparation for lectures and teamwork ethic.

Kuda said: “I thought I would be working a normal job through university, but this is bringing me straight into the industry. It’s just a few hours a week, but it’s paid and I am learning how to write for the commercial market. It works really well with my studies, and I can translate the skills I learn in the classroom directly to a work environment.”

The company, Best Fertility Now, is a startup led by a former BBC journalist. The fertility niche is a rapidly expanding market, and a combination of lifestyle, medical and technical knowledge is needed to navigate it.

The CEO of the company said:

“Kuda is a fantastic addition to the team, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how she develops as a writer.”

Kuda’s love of writing and literature clearly runs in the family as her mother, Edna, also received a degree in English from us just 2 years ago.

Course leader, Mark Brown, said: “we always encourage our students to get their writing out there and get real-world experience. It’s even better when they are able to encourage and support each other.”

(Layla Randle-Conde, 2nd year English and Creative Writing)

Edna and Kuda: the Class of 2019 and the Class of 2022

Diane di Prima (1934–2020)

Diane di Prima (1934–2020)

Prolific feminist beat poet and cultural icon, whose revolutionary work continues to be relevant.

Diane di Prima, one of the last surviving beat poets, has died in San Francisco at the age of 86. Of the few women associated with the Beat movement, Di Prima’s work reflects the upheaval and rebellion of the 1960’s from a feminist point of view. Her life’s work includes more than 30 collections of poetry, and she also wrote plays, short stories and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages, and she was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate in 2009.

Born in Brooklyn in 1934, Di Prima began writing at the Hunter College High School in New York City. When she was 19 she was mentored by Ezra Pound, whom she visited at a psychiatric hospital in Washington. She went on to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, but dropped out two years later to join a bohemian community in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Her most famous work Memoirs of a Beatnik (Penguin, 1969) recounts this period of her life, where she was a contemporary of, and became friends with Jack Kerouac, Alan Gisnberg, John Ashbury, Denise Levertov and Frank O’Hara, and became part of the Beat movement.

Her first poetry book was entitled This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards (Totem Press) and published in 1958. Three years later she co-founded the New York Poets Theatre and became co-editor of the Floating Bear, a mimeograph newspaper.

Her subjects were often contentious – feminism, class and counterculture, and Di Prima was regularly targeted by the authorities. She was arrested by the FBI in 1961 for publishing two obscene poems in the Floating Bear, but the case was dismissed. Alan Ginsberg praised the radical slant of her work, declaring her “heroic” and “brilliant”, and stating that she was “a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes.”

Di Prima founded the Poet’s Press in 1964, and moved to California, where she taught at various colleges and arts institutes, and was formative to Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

She died on October the 25th 2020, in hospital in San Francisco.

Layla Randle-Conde

Daisy Egerton – Graduate profile

Communications Coordinator, Daisy talks about the advantages of the English 2-year accelerated degree and some of her highlights of studying at Staffs.

Why did you choose a 2-year degree over a 3-year degree? 

I decided to apply for a 2-year degree as I had taken a few gap years after leaving Sixth Form to go travelling and wanted to get on the career ladder as soon as possible. I also knew that most of my friends were coming close to finishing their degrees and I didn’t want to be too far behind them. A 2-year degree was the perfect solution!  

What were the advantages for you? 

The main advantage was how quickly I could start working again; taking three years to study felt like such a long time, but two years felt really achievable! It also helped me to stay motivated as I knew the hard work would be over before I knew it. Another major advantage of a 2-year course is how much money you can save – I have the same degree as everyone who has completed the 3-year course but I have £15,000 less debt!  

What challenges did you have to overcome? 

The main challenge that I had to overcome was balancing work and studying. As I continued to work an average of 16 hours a week whilst studying, there were times when it felt like I wouldn’t be able to get everything done that I needed to. It has also been difficult during the summer semesters as you are in control of your own schedule, however, I now see that as a huge benefit as I have learnt how to manage my time and work effectively to achieve a deadline.  

How did the English fast-track help you towards your new career? 

Completing the English fast-track degree has meant that I can demonstrate to employers I am a dedicated and self-motivated person. The fast-track degree has shown that I am willing to work hard and quicker than others to achieve a goal. This aspect is something that really helped whilst I was in the interview process for the graduate scheme as I was able to evidence my ability to work efficiently and it meant I had something that made me stand out from everyone else.  

What were your course highlights? 

One of my course highlights was meeting one of my best friends! I thought I would probably get along with a few people on my course, but I never imagined I would meet someone who I got on with so well and will be friends with forever. I have also really enjoyed working with the amazing lecturers on the English course who have made my university experience truly memorable. Another highlight has definitely been the opportunity to take part in the Open Days and Welcome Week as a Subject Representative as I have been able to share my enthusiasm for the English course!?

What are you doing now?

I’m currently working as an Internal Communications Coordinator at Synectics Solutions. I currently manage the communications to over 350 employees and look after our employee intranet. I work alongside the Employee Engagement Coordinator to ensure everyone at Synectics is happy, has what they need to do their jobs and that they benefit from all of the wellbeing offerings.

English and Creative Writing Students share award

English and Creative Writing were really proud to contribute to Stoke’s Big Read, with the Stoke Sentinel sending books to every year 7 in the city to encourage reading and promote literacy.

Students from Cartoon and Comic Arts produced an amazing book of illustrations of their own favourite younger reads.

Romisa and Jordan put on a Creative Writing Master Class for all the pupils who attended the prize giving at Staffs Uni.

The team which put together the Big Read received a Staff Achievement Award for community engagement.

Mark, Gareth, Maria and Helen receive the award for Connected Communities

Here are Romisa and Jordan receiving their vouchers. My personal thanks go to them both.

Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

The Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, has died at the age of 88. She was educated at Howard and Cornell Universities​, going on to work as an academic, critic and activist as well as one of the most influential novelists of her own and subsequent generations. For her writing, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1988​ and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Morrison’s body of work is concerned with how the unvoiced, the silent and the invisible of history bear witness to and give testimony about their suffering and oppression.

This leads us to consider how subsequent generations incorporate the memory of their ancestor’s suffering into their own histories and how they make sense of the present with those histories in mind.

Morrison’s best known novel is Beloved, published in 1987.

That Beloved has at least two presents prompts the reader to consider how the past acts on the present and how the traumatic events experienced in one can be both supressed and revealed by memory in the other.  

Throughout the novel, Sethe struggles with memory as a site upon which the horrors of slavery must be both ‘beaten back’ and negotiated in the present. 

The horrors of slavery are inscribed upon the bodies of slaves, and so their corporeal, bodily presence in the world stands as its own testament to their suffering. 

The beating that Sethe receives for sending her children to safety, the tree that is inscribed on her back by the whip, is a physical manifestation of the scars of slavery. Many other physical scars – including where the saw cut Beloved’s throat – manifest themselves in this narrative. 

But it is the mental and emotional scars that are Morrison’s primary concern and the capacity of the tramautised individual and community to come to terms with brutality and suffering. 

A book about slavery read by millions of people, studied on a majority of English degrees across the world, puts slavery at the centre of a cultural debate in a way that politicians and campaigners had not been able to.

It does so by humanising the suffering that had affected so many millions of people. The novel tracks the individual experience of an institution that was industrial in its scale, economic in its organisation and supported by federal legislation 

The novel itself emerged from a fragment of history that Morrison encountered while researching a book of blacks on record – in print, song, newspapers, photographs – a sort of informal history. 

She found newspaper accounts of Margaret Garner who killed her child to prevent her being returned to slavery by vigilante slave hunters. The event was immortalised in Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1867 painting, The Modern Medea.

The book is almost symmetrical, balanced around the revelation of the incident at the very centre of the narrative – the infanticide  

Morriosn doesn’t use partial revelations, hints and subtle developments as conventional aspects of literary suspense, though. Instead, she uses these evasions to signal both the unimaginable sadness of the event and the nature of Sethe’s subsequent relation to it – she can neither forget what she has done to her child, but neither can she bring herself to recall it. Memory must be a battle between supressing and memorialising. 

There is another motivation to this structure of repetitions and developments. One of the ways in which the slaves communicate with each other is through song. Owners and overseers see these songs as the rhythms of work and a sign of a happy slave population, but they are radical challenges to the authority of the oppressor, carrying messages of potential escape as well of support for those who can bear their condition no longer.

Slave spirituals, as the songs became known, have a pattern of repetitions and developments, of call and response. It has become a signature for expression and representation in African American culture. You find the cadences of call and response everywhere in black American culture; from gospel and blues, to preaching, to the rhetoric of black political leaders.

Morrison did a great deal to raise the voice of African Americans through difficult times, but her presence at Obama’s inauguration demonstrated how influential her own has been in giving voice to the unvoiced. Her novels remain as a lasting testament to her influence and genius. 

A standing ovation for a musical tale of industrial strife and brass bands

The New Vic Theatre in North Staffordshire has a proud tradition of politically and socially engaged drama that reflects the lives of the communities it serves. Under its founding artistic director, Peter Cheeseman, the theatre has created a series of original productions which both documented and dramatised the industrial struggles of the area. The Knotty, their first documentary theatre production, traced the lives of railwaymen on line which served the 6 towns of the Potteries. Later documentary plays, employing what became known as the Stoke Method, sent the cast out into the community to interview people directly involved in the events being portrayed. I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire recorded the lives of the Roses of Swynnerton working in a local munitions factory in WW2. The Fight for Shelton Bar, perhaps the most innovative documentary, traced the battle between British Steel and the workers over the future of a steel works in the city as it happened, with updates from the unions committee at the end of each show. The struggles over the mining industry in the area were portrayed in Nice Girls, the account of 4 women occupying Trentham Colliery a decade after the strike of 1984. More recently, Maxine Peake’s Queens of the Coal Age dramatised similar events in the Lancashire coalfield.

The Vic’s current production is a stage version of the hit 1994 film, Brassed Off. A decade after the strike, the miners of Grimley face an existential threat to the their livelihoods and their community as the Coal Board offer them £23000 each to accept closure now, or take a lesser payout later on. At the same time, the colliery band are on the verge of their greatest achievement ever, with the chance to play in the National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall. But can you have a colliery band without a colliery? The play traces the effects of community divisions and poverty on real people in an environment that they can neither predict nor control, as well as the solidarity and identity that music and community can generate.

Images courtesy of the New Vic

Director Conrad Nelson expertly blends the cast with the amazing TCTC brass band and community actors. The cast is so strong that its is impossible to pick one out for particular praise. I remember The Daily Mail describing the film as (something along the lines of) over-sentimental, anti-Thatcher propaganda – now that’s the sort of thing that gets an audience on their feet round here.