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Monday, October 02, 2017

Robert Sheppard: Notes Towards a keynote for EDGE POETICS

I’m delivering a keynote at 'Edge Poetics: A Symposium on Innovative and Speculative Creative Writing Practices in Higher Education' on 04/11/2017. (See here.) I’ve turned the Kylie Calendar over to October (gold boxing gloves, if you’re interested) and I realise it’s time to get down to this. Of course, I will tidy this up, refine discriminations, hone the language, en-wave its rhythms and perhaps sharpen its arguments,but I'm going to use serial postings as the way to assemble it. I’ve seen the list of speakers and it’s very impressive. But my keynote is at 10.00 and it kicks the whole thing off, so I thought I’d better be setting the right tone for everybody else. I certainly think I could write about the state of Innovative Poetry Education (no caps needed) today. I like the call for papers and the quote from Deleuze (I leave him to Patricia these days, because I don’t think non-philosophers can read him accurately); it says:

In the late essay, ‘Literature and Life’, Gilles Deleuze expands on ideas from his earlier work about the ways literary writing can open up ‘a kind of foreign language within language, which is neither another language nor a rediscovered patois, but a becoming-other of language, a minorization of this major language, a delirium that carries it off, a witch’s line that escapes the dominant system.

We are asked: ‘Is there a value in teaching students to find the kind of delirium Deleuze writes of?’ It’s a tall order for second year Poetry at 9.00 on a Thursday morning after the student drinking night the day before. They have their own delirium, clearly. But seriously: it IS difficult to entrain anybody in that kind of state of mind. It’s a bit like telling them they need ‘duende’. Read Lorca's essay and develop it: you can’t. How can you teach that? But there is a material practice suggested in Deleuze’s words here: a ‘becoming-other of language’ might be possible to engender in terms of a defamiliarisation of language through certain teaching strategies, collagist practice, for one. The cfp continues:

Till relatively recently, Creative Writing in Higher Education has been dominated by a set of techniques and tropes derived from realism, and also by the expectations of mainstream literary fiction. Increasingly, however, aspects of innovative and speculative poetics are finding their way into the classroom.

An interesting assertion, and true, I think, on the whole. One thing I might do, is become historical on this, autobiographically. About how alone I felt in the creative writing world 21 years ago. How the paradigms were certainly not those I shared (having developed my OWN poetry and poetics (another issue) outside the academy: some of the delegates will remember that, I think). I talk about that in my inaugural lecture and I might re-visit that. (See the link below.) Apart from some sense that Dartington was ahead of the game, there was nobody to consult, hence the reason for NEWT – the Network of Experimental Writing Tutors I set up briefly. (See https://newtwork.blogspot.co.uk/ ) A self-help organisation that was made immediately redundant because about that time (worth checking when that was) people seemed to popping up everywhere, doing the linguistic innovative thing… But before that it was a lonely course. Interestingly I didn’t face the hostility I’d assumed existed (and that probably made me cautious): from students, other staff members, from the profession generally. That they’d close this stuff down! In fact I found that the profession was itself not hostile, and that the self-expressive paradigm was not pervasive. (Indeed, in my work on Supplementary Discourses in 2003, with Scott Thurston, I found a willingness among very different writers to myself to engage with reflection on the act of MAKING.) The Poetry Wars didn’t break out! But I must admit I did my biggest professional push in the area of POETICS. (See here, but also the links below)

Was this an avoidance of radical practice? I hope not, though it might have been an (unconscious) attempt to make an institutional cover for it, somewhere for it to develop, in the sense that while I advocated (and still do!) poetics as a necessary act for creative writers (of all kinds), it is also true that poetics operates centrally in innovative circles. So I was fostering an activity that would allow innovation to occur while supporting its use for ‘the expectations of mainstream literary fiction’, which seems to me to be absolutely clear.

There is something to be said (still) about poetics. And I will, I think, and perhaps use Atlantic Drift as a (new) vehicle for that.

There are other questions: The symposium asks: ‘What does it mean to be a writer interested in such traditions who also teaches Creative Writing in academe?’ I’m not sure I understand this question, but there certainly are questions about how one is positioned. Perhaps somewhere I need to say I’ve retired and that means some of what I say is truly reflective. And perhaps I might air some of the questions I have about what we do: what are we doing if we create lots and lots of linguistically innovative poets? There ARE a lot these days, and there are questions to be asked about the ‘poetry scene’ that develops out of this, in the way it didn’t in my day. Did we win the Poetry Wars? Probably not; there are still a lot of mainstream poets about, dully doing their thing. But they are not the concern of this paper.

I was one of the only poets I knew in say 1980 who had studied Creative Writing. But now, it’s almost a given and there are problems I think; are they building careers rather than communities of writers? Do they only read each other? Does the workshop method close down innovation, by creating unconscious paradigms? Writers in their 30s complain to me that writers in their 20s seem inhumanly ambitious. (This is not just in the innovative camp.) Is Ken Edwards right when he says innovation has lost its edge as ‘poetry’ becomes just another career? Is this the result of the spurious employability agenda. Do the CW-produced writers have a sense of history? (Something I’m aware of the lack of) Is Kenneth Goldsmith’s ‘uncreative writing’ a reaction to the uniformity of CW practices? He says so, but then he is ignoring (wilfully) the widely varied innovative poetry that has been nurtured (some of it conceptual, some of it not) under the banner ‘Creative Writing’… But it is interesting he identifies it as analogous to the gallery system in art. Conversely, does too much of the published work look like creative writing exercises? Does that carry over into practice? (It is certainly easier to teach conceptual writing than it is the new lyric, and perhaps easier to write it.)

These are some of the questions I have, though I’m not sure I have answers.

But this might get me going in a personal and reflective way. I’m not sure I can be academic about it. In fact, it might be my last pot-shot at this before I launch out into new areas.

I have another question which I want to think about one day, but it might not be in this talk: what is the relationship of my critical work to my creative work (probably outside the area) and (not outside it) to my pedagogy.

Practice as Research is interesting in at least three ways. The development of the Creative Writing PhD is an interesting hybrid phenomenon. The categorisation of creative work there (research questions and methodology) and also in the REF documentation by teachers in the academy. Does that create an ennobling but not an enabling language? Practice as research presentations too, such as there will be later in the day: are they bigging up work instead of merely presenting it? Is there really anything to teach and to learn by that method?

I want to avoid the academy vs. the real world rhetoric, but questions about the effect of the massive expansion of creative writing are vital. As ever, I suspect there are positive and negative aspects to this.

1st October 2017

 Links to Works on Poetics

Below are four very condensed accounts of poetics through the ages:
Part One: Poetics and Proto-Poetics
 Part Two: Through and after Modernism
Part Three: North American Poetics
Part Four: Some British Poetics
And my Inaugural Lecture here: