In addition to my academic job at Wolverhampton I have also ‘gone back to big school’ myself this term as I’ve started a part-time MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Manchester Metropolitan University. There are numerous reasons why I’ve started it: I’ve known about the course for some years, and the calibre of poets who contribute to it (Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Michael Symmons Roberts, Jean Sprackland) speaks for itself; I have found previously that the structure of attending a course is productive for me in terms of my own poetry writing; I grew up on the south Manchester/Cheshire borders, so there is a conscious revisiting of my home city and my connections with the wider area; and — not least — I was quite ill last academic year and was off work for an extended period. What that gave me was some time to step back from my job and to consider whether there was a way of my doing this course that I had been circling around for some time. So when I returned to work in April of this year I negotiated a temporary cut in my contract and was fortunate enough to get a place on the course.
There is also an Online version of the Creative Writing MA programme at Manchester Met, but — perhaps ironically — I knew I didn’t want to follow the MA that way. I wanted to be there in the classroom with my fellow students. I am, however, hoping to ‘gatecrash’ the online poetry group at some point this year and will no doubt post on this blog about that experience.
So I trundle up to Manchester once a week for 24 hours and enjoy the extraordinary student drag that is the ‘universities’ part of Oxford Road. It’s a very buzzy, very ‘street’ kind of area and I like the energy of it. Thus far the course has been a crash course for me in modernist and twentieth century poetry and poetics — we read two poets a week. As someone who focussed on the Victorians for my original postgraduate studies I seem to have managed to bypass modernism pretty much entirely in terms of my studies so far, so I’m learning a lot, and also getting a good sense of how twentieth century poetry has developed.
The downside is that I have to write an essay. Over Christmas. I want to do this like a hole in the head. I always knew that the more obviously academic side of the assessment was going to be a challenge in the sense that it’s the ‘developing my writing’ aspect of the course that has ultimately led me to choose to do it. I know, of course, that reading and writing are intimately related, and as yet I don’t really know how the reading I’ve been doing this term will rub off on my own writing in the long term (although we’ve been pastiching the poets we read each week, which I’ve really enjoyed). But assessment is assessment, and I’ve got an essay to write. And — worse — we have to come up with our own title. Too much choice! Oh the tyranny of infinite possibilities! I woke up in the middle of the night the other day thinking “Is there a genuine way I can link Thomas Hardy and Adrienne Rich — or am I pushing that too far?” My sympathy with my own students — who probably have several essays to write over the Christmas vacation — is going up by the hour…