Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Farewell to Creative Writing at the Art College 7: the students

After this I will put up one more post which will consist of some contributions from past students together with any last reflections.

When Peter Scupham joined me on the poetry part of the course he was already in his sixties, and Andrea Holland was soon to become an established part of the course. In fact she was to become ever more important to it so the whole is inconceivable without her. Her own poetry I found immediately convincing - she ought to be far better known than she is as a poet, and I hope she will be - and her teaching was firm and clear. We split the poetry between us after Peter stopped, but as far as the success of the student poets is concerned, it was primarily under the care of the three of us to begin with, then mostly Andrea and I and - latterly - Helen Ivory too.

Ian Starsmore left about five or six years into the course and the cultural studies course changed too. First Simon Willmoth, then George MacLennan took it over. The accent there was the reading of culture through semiotics, by way of feminism, marxism and psychoanalysis. That is putting it very crudely of course: Lacan, Kristeva, Jameson, the Frankfurt School and much else. Students were expected to write essays, then a dissertation that generally formed the larger part of their final degree.

In the early days I wondered whether the harder theoretical, analytical, element of the course would drive the creative work into ever smaller self-aware corners, but it didn't. They prospered next to each other. I wouldn't begin to suggest that it was like two halves of a single brain, because analytical thinking and the dynamics of making are not entirely distinct activities. Both go on in the same person at the same time. Nevertheless there was a kind of complementary process of which all the students spoke well. But that comes down to excellent teaching and a broadly humane approach to people and ideas. The three core strands of the course remained cultural studies (generally the chief strand); creative writing; visual art.

But the chief glory of a course is its students. It is invidious choosing to mention some people over others but there were some fine talented people in every year. Over three-hundred and fifty students would have passed through the course over those years, only about a third of those specialising in creative writing in their final year. Roughly the same number, or so I suppose, specialised in visual art. Here is a list of some of the students and what they went on to do:

Stephen Foster (prose writer, MA UEA, several books including novels, memoir, books on dogs and sport)
Helen Ivory (poet, Gregory Award Winner, PhD UEA, four books of poetry)
Ben Borek (poet, MA UEA, one book, Donjong Heights)
Cris Cheek (poet and performer, several and various enterprises)
Ian Dieffenthaller (poet, architect, scholar, author of Snow on Sugarcane)
Andrew Pidoux (poet, Gregory Award Winner, MA St.Andrews, first book, Year of the Lion, due from Salt)
Judith Lal (poet, Gregory Award Winner, Poetry Business chapbook Flageolets at the Bazaar)
Emily Mackie (fiction, MA Bath Spa, first novel reviewed Guardian March 27, 2010)
Agnieszka Studzinska (poet, MA UEA, first book of poetry just out)
Ellen de Vries (poet, MA, Nottingham Trent)
Andrew McDonnell (poet, MA and PhD UEA, founder of 'My Dark Aunt')
Ian McHugh (poet-playwright, resident at Royal Court theatre, play at Bush Theatre)
Thomas Warner (poet, Gregory Award Winner, MA UEA, Faber New Poetry)
Jack Underwood (poet, Gregory Award Winner, MA Goldsmiths, Faber New Poetry)
Sam Riviere (poet, Gregory Award Winner, MA Royal Holloway, Faber New Poetry)
Matthew Gregory (poet, Gregory Award Winner, MA Royal Holloway)
Laura Elliott (poet, published first book)

Besides these there were, and are (some very recent):
Andrew Bryant (prose writer, MA UEA), Tim Cockburn (poet, MA UEA), Hayley Buckland (MA, UEA), Alice Cassell (poet, MA UEA), Tracy Adair-Routh (drama, won BBC playwright award), Julia Webb (poet), Angus Sinclair (poet).

Andrew was our first graduate to be admitted to the (then relatively few) MA's in Creative Writing in the country, Tim and Hayley are both outstanding, both associated with Stop Sharpening Your knives. I would say more here but Tim and Hayley are still students so we will have to wait to see what comes to pass. Julia, Laura and Angus were, just last week, reading at the Wells-Next-the-Sea Poetry Festival.

Of those above, Stephen Foster was first to be published. He returned to do some teaching on the course. Helen Ivory, who together with Andrew Pidoux, was the first of the Gregory Award Winners, has been teaching the poetry since I left and, together with Andrea, has brought through Laura, Angus and Julia. It is, I think, very fitting the last of our six extraordinary Gregory Award Winners, should in fact be Matthew Gregory. He has yet to be presented with the award.

And of course many of these students went through various MA courses after completing their undergraduate studies at the art school, so the glory is spread around. Nevertheless, it is rather splendid and fills one with pride and joy.

It didn't, I should hastily add, fill the art school with pride or joy or anything except the desire to ignore it, hide it, and be rid of it in its most productive years when numbers fell. George MacLennan is retiring at the end of this year. Andrea Holland needs and deserves work and publication and praise. Elspeth Barker has taught there to the very end. Ashley Stokes has been teaching the prose fiction with her.

If I have missed any glitter, I hope people will let me know. Writing is not all about glitter, of course. But I'll talk more about that next time.


Stephen F said...

You were an excellent facilitator George, but not in the way they use the word now, to mean: here are your restrictions.

In those years anyone could do anything and everything was possible and that was down to the staff. I remember all the free time you put in, those lunchtime workshops and coffees in the bar - I would like to say thanks.

Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pupski said...

I feel flattered to be mentioned here and must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the course and was sad to hear of its demise. The teaching on the course was inspiring and I would say that the tutors (especially the poetry tutors) went above and beyond the call of duty.
I chose the course partly because of the unique combination of visual and written work.

I also benefited from and thoroughly enjoyed the Open Writing sessions which I attended regularly throughout my three years at the Art School (and would have attended this last year if it hadn't clashed with the UEA timetable).

The course is a sad loss to Norwich as it means that the talented writers might take themselves elsewhere.