Thursday, 26 November 2009

Graduation, Derwent and beyond

I graduated last Thursday so I now have an M.A. with distinction! This is not what I expected when I started the course: my previous formal education is quite scant and I don't have a first degree or even 'A' levels. I started the MA because I had been working at my poetry on my own for a few years and was getting a few journal publications but felt I was plateau-ing and wanted some input to shift up a gear. I was also attracted to this particular MA because it is Creative and Critical Writing and I felt the critical writing part might fill in some gaps for me in essay writing, reviewing etc. I wasn't sure how I would cope with the more academic parts but I do quite a bit of bid-writing, reports and so on at work so thought at least I could put something together that would read reasonably well even if it only scraped through.

What I didn't expect was just how much I would love every minute of it. I am so glad that I did part-time; full-time would have been over much too quickly for me. So, because I have been enjoying myself too much to stop, I have started a PhD and if anyone is looking at MA courses I can heartily recommend University of Gloucestershire (course leader is Nigel McLoughlin).

After I'd done the formal cap-and-gown graduation thing, I also had to go to the prize giving as I had won the Bible Society (heh!) post-graduate creative writing prize. This was for poetry or prose rewriting of a bible story and - while we were assured it didn't have to be pro-bible - I didn't expect mine to be favoured. I always loathed the Abraham and Isaac story (man almost cuts his son's throat to prove his faith) and this was my take on it:

Sarah talks to the Social Worker

If I’d known what he was thinking
I’d never have let him go.
Some Father-Son time, he said.
A bit of quality time, me and my son
and the mountain
, he said.

No, I didn’t throw him out
straight away; I didn’t know
what happened. Isaac was quiet,
started bed-wetting.
I thought it was bullying at school,
maybe, or worry about tests.

When the nightmares started,
I couldn’t understand what he meant.
I wondered if thugs had moved
into the area, worried about knives
and gangs.

Once I understood,
his father’s bags were packed
and on the doorstep before
he got home from work.

He’s got a nerve to complain
about supervised visits.
He isn’t the one left holding
a screaming child
whose nights are sharp
with the raised knife, the gleam
in his father’s eye, the blood
of that poor lamb.

It seems odd to me, a self-confessed heathen, to get a bible society prize, but I was delighted to get the cheque that came with it as it allowed me to go to Derwent Poetry Festival without worrying about the cost.

I had planned to go to Derwent anyway, and was reading there, but the extra cash meant I could stay somewhere nice (where Byron once stayed and scratched a poem on a windowpane). I drove up the day after graduation and was happy to see Pat Winslow read on the first evening as well as seeing the Templar pamphlet presentations.
The next day was full of poetry. The setting at Matlock Bath is lovely and I wished I'd had more time off booked to stay there a bit longer so I could walk and explore the area. The venue, in a restored cotton mill (now a shopping centre and museum) was quirky and just right. I really enjoyed all the pamphlet competition winners' readings: Paul Maddern, David Morley, Nuala NĂ­ ChonchĂșir and Dawn Wood and came home with all the pamphlets to read. Each one of them is a worthy winner; I had only heard David Morley read before and was so pleased to be introduced to the work of the other three. As well as these, other highlights for me were Jane Wier's reading from Walking the Block and the evening reading from Nigel McLoughlin and Maggie O’Dwyer . I have heard Nigel before, of course, but always enjoy his readings - his latest book, Chora is amongst my current favourites. I didn't know Maggie O'Dwyer's work though, and was delighted to discover it (and another pamphlet added to the pile by my bed).

I was very sorry that I couldn't stay for the Sunday readings as there were poets there I would really like to have heard such as Angela Cleland and Katrina Naomi but I had to get back before the kennels closed at lunchtime to collect the golden boy.

Tuesday was another poetry day as I was reading as guest at Jacqui Rowe's 'Poetry Bites': the venue was lovely and very full with an audience who were warm and attentive (and I sold a couple of books). I usually enjoy driving at night but the storms on the motorway coming home were pretty bad and I had to battle the wind to keep the car in a straight line.

So, a full, tiring, but thoroughly wonderful few days. I'm back to the day-job now but the saturation in poetry helped my dry spell and I wrote a poem I'm quite pleased with after the weekend. I have written other things recently, but this is the first for a while where it has felt right instead of laboured and awkward.

I really must try and update this more often....



  1. Hey, Angela, don't let the blog become a dull duty. Nice to hear your (good) news. You just write something you next feel like it.


  2. Big congrats on the grad and the biblical prize - it's a powerful poem.
    And it was lovely to meet you in Derwent. See you there next year again I hope?!

  3. Thanks you Nuala.It would be good to meet again - whether it is Derwent, Strokestown or wherever.

  4. Congrats on the MA (I'm looking into them at the moment too) and I love this poem, it's fabulous.

  5. Thank you Jo. I loved every minute of my MA and (maybe foolishly) have started a PhD because I didn't want to stop. Where are you looking to go?