Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Reflecting upon a year as Student Writer in Residence

MoDiP has given me a year of extraordinary opportunities, in more ways than I can mention here.

Write poetry, they said and write poetry I did. What better gift can you give a poet?

I am a creative writer, a poet, I am a researcher, I am a doctoral candidate and I am tasked with finding my way through the muddy waters that flow between the banks of academic and creative writing.

It is a delicate balance and one which places considerable demands on the individual, requiring a blending of personality and character, a mixed methodological and method approach, a lived experience, a critical consciousness and simultaneously, the maintenance of a creative energy.

Thinking about Things
I love the contemplation of things, the consideration of the everyday, the mundane, the objects that share our lives. Like many others, I examine our relationship with them and the emotional responses that they produce. I look for meaning in the concrete and corporeal and poetic ways of mediating materiality.

My thesis specifically aims to examine the poetic relationship between words and objects and in particular, create a literary narrative for chairs made of plastics that provides a rich, accessible expression of their significance and place in contemporary culture. My year as Student Writer in Residence has enabled me to consider the MoDiP collection in different ways, to look for poetic possibilities and expression in the uniqueness of this collection.

Poetry and a Social Awakening
But it was never just about simply looking at inanimate objects.  I attempted to adopt a panoramic perspective, looking outwards beyond the safe environment of the Museum onto the wider stage where the aesthetics of art and design are influenced by the sociological, the political and cultural events that shape our lives. Likewise, I was set the challenge of enabling others to look at the collection in different ways. It was not about converting people to poetry but rather, exploring alternative yet complementary methods of interpreting objects and things.

Why poetry? The selection of a particular genre has significance for the writer generally and the writer-researcher in particular.  The choice goes beyond the writer’s predilection for reading a literary form as it reflects a range of preferences and predispositions in the context of the writer’s knowledge, skills and experience that draw the writer toward a genre and within it a particular style.  The notion that the choice of genre is somehow mysterious or magical, that it is innate or intuitive, holds sway amongst modern writers. PD James, for example remarked;

“I don’t think we choose our genre, I think it chooses us”
British Library Archive (2011)

The greatness of poetry is that it can move in so many directions. It is plastic! It can capture and distill the world, which we inhabit. At its heart is language and wordplay, providing the poet with a veritable toy-chest from which to construct and exchange meaning and knowledge. And in to this box, MoDiP also added one of the most significant materials of the last century, plastics.

The child was in paradise! Here was a material that is both loved and hated, in equal measure. Here too a material that was changing lives, for good or otherwise, transforming our world and us with it.

Writing poetry may be a very personal choice. It may even be considered to have ‘died’, in the words of the popular press (Fry, 2005; Petri, 2013; Thompson, 2014) but the evidence of activity across disciplines, suggest otherwise.  Costello (2008) remarks of the history of poetry as a history of apologies and defenses, a catalogue of disconnected litany.  Poetry is often regarded as too far removed from the real world and preoccupied with itself, with aesthetics.  This state of affairs was highlighted in Poetry Matters and International Research on Poetry Pedagogy (Dymoke et al 2013), suggesting that poetry is disappearing from the school curriculum leading to a missed opportunity to enrich young people’s awareness and knowledge of language, through the reading and writing of poetry, of engaging with how poets think and act in the creation of poetry. It is more likely to be experienced and enjoyed externally by young people through the multitude of interpretations available in the modern media, a place where much of new experimental writing is taking place.

Poetry touches people on many levels, not least an emotional one. Its purpose, according to Seamus Heaney is “to be of service, to ply the effort of the individual work into the larger work of the community”, revealing it as having a social and aesthetic responsibility.

A significant challenge for me has been to measure or gauge readers reactions.  Individual feedback to my work, albeit minimal, has been very positive. Some remarks suggest that I have enabled individuals to think anew about the ordinary, the quotidian, about plastics and things made of plastics.  But I sense that poetry remains viewed as an ethereal form of creative expression, somehow elitist, read only by those who know how to read poetry.

However, the contemporary community of poets and poetry is buoyant and vital demonstrating that poetry and its place in the literary landscape is far from dead and has begun to cross disciplinary boundaries, no longer entrenched in literary or English Studies.  It is to be found wherever people write of those things that are important or of interest to them.

A Final Poetic Word…..

It seems fitting that I should end this tenure on a poetic note. Here I offer a poem inspired by the chair of plastics, a particular chair and one designed by a superstar. Made in a transparent polycarbonate, it is a chair that holds cult status and is still, just a chair, or is it?

The Ghost of a Chair

Is there a ghost in the chair observing my rest?
No, the ghost is the chair and the chair is not there.

If the chair is not there, can I trust what I see?
Is it me who is here?
Is the chair really me?

Said the chair, from the seat,
I am yours to command.
But say I, should I stare?
Do I sit? Do I stand?

Thank you MoDiP. Thank you Susan, Louise, Pam and Katherine.

Kate Hall (Student Writer in Residence)

Kate Hall is a Doctoral Student at the Arts University Bournemouth. She writes across a range of contexts and publishes her work online. She uses creative writing as her art practice and an anthology of creative writing will be part of her Doctoral output. With support links to the Museum of Design in Plastics, she will draw on objects from the collection to inform her work. The chair made of plastics will feature as the central object around which a literary narrative will be created alongside the critical component of the thesis.  

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