Friday, October 06, 2017

Robert Sheppard: Edge Poetics: a Dry Run for a Keynote: a False Start but a True Account

A dry run for a keynote: Edge Poetics: A Symposium on Innovative and Speculative Creative Writing Practices in Higher Education, 04/11/2017 (see here and here)

Apart from a term in 1979 teaching contemporary British poetry at UEA, I began teaching in Higher Education in 1996 at the then Edge Hill College of Higher Education as a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing. I have recently retired from the now Edge Hill University as a Professor of Poetry and Poetics. I have seen a lot of change since 1996, although one constant, except in title, is that I was appointed as tutor of the then MA in Writing Studies, though by the end I was Programme Leader of the MA in Creative Writing. All these changes of nomenclature – a sort of St Petersberg-Petrograd-Leningrad slippage – reveals the unceasing, anxious search for novelty and status, as well as the need for exactitude, in the profession.

I arrived as a linguistically innovative poet and left as one, more or less intact. That name, label, will do, as well as the institutional ones I’ve outlined. Such a term operates with correlatives, such as the British Poetry Revival, Underground Poetry, non-Mainstream Poetry, experimental poetry, concrete poetry, language poetry, performance writing, certain types of eco-poetics, and conceptual poetry (and there are more terms) – I am today happy with them all to roughly denote areas of operation in terms of poetry and poetics. I’ll stay with ‘innovative’ as a shorthand because it is used in the symposium’s title. I won’t have time to shift through these distinctions, which I have dealt with in my work as a literary critic, perhaps more in The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and its Discontents 1950-2000 than in the recent The Meaning of Form which takes it as a given, and concentrates upon its acts of forming. I no longer define this practice against a perceived centre, or post-Movement Orthodoxy, which operates in the way Althusser says ideology does, though I am not one of those who thinks the divisions between mainstream and its Others have broken down, though they are admittedly more porous. I’ve been less concerned with this issue, because criticism has had to share 21 years with the unbelievable strain of balancing teaching, pedagogy, empty administration, and my own creative writing ‘practice’. I do not have time for poems that, quite literally, make me ill to read or listen to them, when I want to concentrate on my own writing, which I will also mainly leave to one side today. The day will finish with a reading and I hope to give some sense of what I do as a poet by showing it, rather than talking about it.

Let’s stick with names. When I arrived, for my students, I was Rob. Since I was made a Professor – rather too neatly halfway through my employment, in 2006 – my students think of me, initially at least, until they get to know me – as Professor Sheppard. They probably don’t realise that being a professor in a teaching-heavy and administratively-burdened institution doesn’t equate to power, or even influence. Or, in my case, as the institution grew, my diminishing influence, particularly in arguments concerning the nature of practice-led research which I have not been consulted upon for nearly a decade. Perhaps I missed the truth that one has to advocate for the nature of the subject repeatedly, that battles won one year are lost the next. What I call the ‘scribbly ceiling’ – the clear lack of senior managers or heads of department from a Creative Writing background – is probably responsible for….

(The Tesco woman arrived and we unpacked the shopping. Many bananas. Ostrich. Tins of sardines. The Thursday Chicken. The thought that the above won’t do, that it's another cough over the sink. I think I need to get stuck straight in. None of the above is wrong, as such, but it won’t do. As an account of the effects of 21 years at Edge Hill it partly works; as an introduction to my subject, if only I knew what that was, it doesn’t help. I hope somebody will find substance here: it's a true account. The remarks about the ‘scribbly ceiling’ are particularly pertinent. Except where the department only consists of Creative Writing, or of practice-led subjects, I bet there are few HODs from a Writing background if the other subjects are English or History or Film Studies.)

My leaving do: here

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, which I seem to be re-tracing in the abandoned piece above.