Mon 20 November 2017
Studying Writing
Studying Writing
Life after Graduation
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Before - plodding, After - published
Craig, Lynette
Lynette Craig writes about studying on the MPhil in Writing at the University of Glamorgan with tutors Tony Curtis, Sheenagh Pugh and Matthew Francis.
I can understand why a Masters in Writing is often greeted with puzzlement. I fret over whether to admit to having such a thing when I send those two-sentence biographies that the poetry magazines ask for. It seems so 'American'.

I had attended local classes, joined a poetry group and enjoyed more than one Arvon week, so the postgraduate degree, about thirty years 'post' in my case, seemed the next thing to do. I chose Glamorgan because I met someone at a reading who had graduated there and been published. This writer told me that she had started the course as a poet and found she was a novelist. What metamorphosis lay ahead for me?

But first I had to be accepted onto the course. With the leaflet from Glamorgan in my hand I called the number. I hoped I would acquire more information. I thought that I was calling a large organization and, like you do, I would have to wade through the many connections to get to someone who knew anything. I was making the first 'baby' step on my way. But the phone was answered by Professor Curtis himself and I was immediately launched into an interview. I was to send my work and a covering letter.

This was a turning point. It took me four minutes to write the letter. I was focused and determined. It was the end of my 'before'.

I had been writing poetry for about ten years, starting with poems for children, with some success. John Foster accepted a few of them for anthologies and I had been into schools on Book Days and Arts Weeks, reading my work, conducting workshops and judging competitions. Then I began to write poems for an older audience. I had my own 'voice'; my work had been published in anthologies. I had also achieved modest success in competitions. But I felt I needed to be directed, that I could not take my work further on my own.

The first workshop at Glamorgan was very difficult for me. I did not know what to expect or what was expected of me. How could sitting around a table with a few other people, reading their work, improve my own? I was deeply suspicious of the process and I felt out of place with both academics and other students, most of whom, to begin with anyway, seemed much younger than I was. Gradually I began to see the point of it all. I was privileged to be in workshops with skilled poets who gave their thoughts generously.

My poetry lacked technical skills and precision. The course addressed all the difficulties. In tutorials, I could express my problems and have plenty more pointed out to me, be encouraged and cajoled into thinking more clearly, more strongly and more adventurously. Punctuation featured in my tutorials and line breaks. Detail mattered but more significantly, I was made to feel that my ideas mattered, that I had something to say and that I was capable of worthwhile writing. It was also enormous fun talking about my own work with someone who had not just read it but thought about it - a real luxury, in fact. I ended up with a collection of poems, Burning Palaces, of which I am very proud.

The 'critical study' is supposed to relate to one's own work and other writers. Mine is entitled 'Relished by the Undevout' and is a consideration of the appeal and power of poetry with religious subject matter. I set aside time for this at the end of the first year and loved every minute I worked on it. I was continuing my academic interest in English Literature by writing about poems that I had always admired and been thinking about for years. This time I was having my say. This gave me a great sense of satisfaction.

The third component of the course, writing a Journal to go alongside one's work, was like carrying on a conversation with myself on a daily basis. I had kept a notebook since starting to write but the Journal allowed me to examine what gives me my ideas (the Journal is full of pictures of art and newspaper articles), to confess my writing sins and to note how the passing of time affects the development of my poems. I became conscious of the craft of poetry. I have maintained a Journal since graduating. It gives me somewhere to start.

So was it worth it? What have I gained?

Confidence is probably the most significant gain. The MPhil is a stamp of approval if you like, saying to others that my poems are of a standard worth bothering with. Technically my poetry has improved and I am more conscious of the need for rigorous rewriting. Since graduation I have had my poems accepted in more magazines, have a pamphlet coming out in 2004 from Flarestack and enjoyed more competition successes. But I am continuing along the same road, no change of direction - the MPhil course confirmed that what I was trying to do was on the right lines for me and so helped me to do it better.

I have become more conscious of the need to continue my poetic education, to do further courses and have more contact with other writers whenever possible. However, there is the danger of slipping into the isolation of before; inevitably I am now working by myself and without the discipline of deadlines.

The MPhil certificate, framed and hanging on the wall above my computer screen, is a personal milestone. Some of the Glamorgan students take longer than the two years to complete the course, although they have to go on without the supervisions and workshops. But I had set myself a task and I finished well on time. I am exploring ways of 'giving back' by conducting workshops for other writers locally. And whether people understand what it is or not, I always do add to my submissions that I have an MPhil in Writing.


Biographical Note

Born 1949 in Birmingham, Lynette Craig moved to London after studying English and Drama at the University of Wales, Bangor. She holds a Certificate of Education and the L.G.S.M and has taught in comprehensive and primary schools. She took the MPhil in Writing from the University of Glamorgan in 2002. Her pamphlet, Burning Palaces, is due from Flarestack in 2004.

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