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You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Current Issue > Writing in Practice - Vol 1 > “Critical Approaches to Creative Writing”: A Case Study
“Critical Approaches to Creative Writing”: A Case Study
Author: J.T. Welsch
J. T. Welsch interrogates the language of AHRC funding guidelines and NAWE benchmarks, suggesting that Creative Writing needs to consider redefining its own terms if it is more fully to participate in the research cultures of the academy.


This article reconsiders the perceived tensions between “creative” and “critical” practices in the study of Creative Writing. The “critical-creative problem” is first defined in broader historical and cultural contexts, then in relation to contemporary critics who recognize a more specific split within Creative Writing pedagogy. By analyzing the language of creative-critical division within AHRC funding guidelines and NAWE subject benchmarks, I argue that redefining our own terms may be the most effective first step towards changing the realities of institutional structures. The second half of this article reflects on the development of a new MA module (“Critical Approaches to Creative Writing”) in order to test these ideas in practice. Hierarchies of lesson planning and degree planning are considered, along with ways the language of validated documents might affect student expectations. Finally, the specific assignment of a “manifesto” is proposed as an alternative to “reflective commentary” or “poetics”, which might help engender a more fluid interchange of creative and critical practice. The article concludes with reflections on feedback from this module’s first run.

Keywords: creative writing, critical reflection, pedagogy, practice-based research, manifesto

Introduction: The Critical-Creative Problem

Writers and academics often bristle at the suggestion that any real divide exists between creative and critical practice. It is understandable that so-called “creative writing” practitioners would insist on the critical scope of their work, and that research scholars would point out the creativity involved in theirs. Nevertheless, practical configurations within higher education – e.g. programme design, teaching specialization, assessment modes, funding structures, and the commitments these require in writing practice – undeniably work to maintain what is, after all, a fairly ancient cultural binary. Already in 380 BC, Plato acknowledges the “old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” in his Republic. More recently, Richard Sennet has expanded on the claim that “History has drawn fault lines dividing practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsman and artist, maker and user; modern society suffers from this historical inheritance” (2008). However, the reasons for this very old “disconnection”, as Kim Lasky (2013) calls it, are less well-documented. Further along in Western philosophy, René Descartes’ (1641) nearly four-hundred-year-old conception of a mind-body divide still persists in popular notions of division within the mind, between rational and emotional, or analytic and creative thinking, often envisioned in relation to a physical division between the brain’s right and left hemispheres.

However we have inherited this abstract binary, its repercussions include the institutional divisions mentioned above, which create, in turn, very real challenges for the academic study of Creative Writing. The practical and pedagogical consequence is that, as Lasky suggests, “Somehow, conceptually, the creative and critical processes have become falsely separated” (2013). Partly, this may be due to the role a creative-critical divide plays in the conception or identity of “Creative Writing” as a distinct discipline. However, it may be worth remembering that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard, which includes perhaps the first use of the term “creative writing”, defines it reciprocally: “One must be an inventor to read well … There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.” Plenty of the growing number of researchers who focus on Creative Writing pedagogy insist on a similar “synergy between the creative, the practical and the critical” (Kroll and Harper, 2013), or cite a tradition of holistic humanism, from Matthew Arnold’s idea of poetry as “criticism of life” (1880) or George Steiner’s insistence that “All serious art, music and literature is a critical act” (1991). Yet, for every suggestion of continuity, another writer-critic maintains the separation. Laura Riding, for instance, writes:

It is improper to advance that criticism and poetry spring from the same kind of personal impulse … Criticism and creation do not face the same way, but face each other, criticism forgoing creation in order to be able to describe it (2014).

For practical reasons, this is the view that often prevails in the academy. Beyond the broad ideals, the day-to-day integration of specific contemporary critical practices into a field which self-identifies as a “creative”, craft- (rather than research-) oriented discipline remains an open question. As Paul Dawson argues:

The challenge for writing programmes is how to accommodate the insights of critical theory, identity politics and cultural studies, and the critiques of literature which these offer, while still retaining the central pedagogical aim of Creative Writing, which is to teach students how to develop their writing skills in order to produce literary works (2003).

In many ways, the time seems ripe for implementing such integration on a deep level, within Creative Writing programmes and across the field. Critics like Dawson (2003) and Hecq (2013) argue that the “post-theory” state of literary study offers an opportunity for adopting a more self-reflective and self-critical stance towards now canonical “Theory” within creative contexts. Others, like Michelene Wandor (2008), have stressed the importance of critical engagement as a means beyond Creative Writing’s traditional emphasis on individual student development, or avowedly narcissistic notions of “finding one’s voice” and bringing individual work to “publishable standard”. Finally, the first generation of UK academics with PhDs in Creative Writing, whose own critical and creative practices have developed in hybrid circumstances, seem well-positioned to help re-define the subject area, and help it move beyond the compartmentalization – or “siloing”, as Madeleine Morris (2013) calls it – they have had to negotiate in defining their own place within HE institutions.

Representing one of these new crossbreed PhDs myself, and as one of many lecturers who teach across Creative Writing and English Literature programmes, I want to focus on very practical concerns for the critical and creative sides of my own pedagogic role. Again, the timing seems just right, as the planning and validation of a new introductory MA module called “Critical Approaches to Creative Writing” provided an ideal case study, or opportunity to put these ideas into practice.

A New Spectrum: Practice-Based Research vs. Research-informed Practice

Although I suggested there is a disjunction between the ideals of critical-creative “synergy” and the realities of institutional structures, I would still argue that the first step towards changing these structures involves a change in thinking. By adopting new language that reflects these goals, general or personal philosophies regarding the critical-creative relationship will inevitably interact with and eventually affect institutional or otherwise official discourses that enforce those practical realities. To achieve a more integrated and reciprocal use of the terms “critical” and “creative” (which have specific meanings that make them worth keeping), we might begin by reconfiguring, or perhaps refreshing, their already shared claims to the words “practice” and “research”. Reasserting a definition of “practice” as a process structured by repetition, or habitual activities, helps to emphasize the endless loop of exercise (or “practice” in the preparatory sense) and application involved in any criticism or creativity. We might similarly revive a broader conception of “research” as recherché, with its analogous textual pursuit, via memory and applied concepts or strategies. As Jeri Kroll reminds us, helpfully: “Research is both a noun and a verb” (2013). Research (and re-searching), is always an on-going, circular practice, which, conversely, always involves a re-search in some form. Positing an analogy between the work of a Creative Writing classroom and what takes place in more “scientific” laboratories, Kroll stresses existent parallels:

Writers followed a similar practice-led research loop, conducting and replicating experiments, interpreting results, gathering information, before gaining fresh insights and moving on.

In this way, we begin to see creative and critical practice in the Humanities involved in a common discursive process and goal. Both draw, first and foremost, on language’s ability to establish new possibilities of experience – whether intellectual or sensual – and do so by virtue of the relationship between their textual products and inherently textual processes. Kroll highlights this continuity: “Writers in the academy are researchers within an institutional community whose goal is the production of new knowledge” (my emphasis). Moreover, this output shares with all disciplines a commitment to established forms and genres – whether the monograph, novel, article, or poem – and their associated rhetorical “craft”. Thus, beyond the vague humanistic dream of common ground or business-like “synergy”, a spectrum of practice emerges in more concrete terms.

Creative Writing’s particular “bandwidth” along this spectrum falls between forms we might define as practice-based research and research-informed practice. In the most basic sense, practice-based research pertains to any research presented in “creative” forms. (Scientific poems like Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things (1st century B.C.) or Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic Garden (1791) are obvious historical precedents.) At the other end, research-informed practice might include all creative work that draws to some degree on research (i.e. all creative work). But rather than pinning down a piece of work at some point between those poles, the glaring paradox which closes the loop between them allows us to re-envisage Creative Writing as a self-reflexive, continuous movement along the spectrum, sliding between reading and writing strategies, collaboration and individual work, process and product, and consumption and production throughout every project. Although clearly due to the transitional, emerging status of the discipline, the fact that the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has yet to publish a set of benchmarks specific to the Creative Writing subject area leaves us free to define that spectrum of practice in relation to the assorted Creative Writing guidelines often tacked on to English Literature. In practical terms, these attempts to accommodate creative work into traditionally critical frameworks might help us to do the opposite. For their funding awards, for instance, the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s “Definition of Research” stipulates:

Creative output can be produced, or practice undertaken, as an integral part of a research process as defined above. The Council would expect, however, this practice to be accompanied by some form of documentation of the research process, as well as some form of textual analysis or explanation to support its position and as a record of your critical reflection. Equally, creativity or practice may involve no such process at all, in which case it would be ineligible for funding from the Council (2012).

I will address the specific issue of an accompanying “form of documentation” below, but already we can see the difficulties that arise from such a rigid distinction between the “creative output” itself and the required “explanation”, assumed to be a separate document. The very notion of a potentially “ineligible” creative output – which somehow springs into existence without any evidence of research, self-explanation or self-positioning within the work itself – suggests a similarly unhelpful straw man. On the positive side, however, we see the AHRC grappling towards less restrictive structures in the definition’s lack of precision towards the output “produced, or practice undertaken”, the final form of that documentation, or the slight contradiction (i.e. wiggle room) between a creative process which is “an integral part of a research process” and one which is merely “accompanied” by critical reflection.

In lieu of ‘official’ benchmarks, (which the QAA are currently preparing for publication in late 2015), Creative Writing programmes are often designed and validated with reference to benchmarks published in 2008 by the National Association of Writers in Education. Although the NAWE benchmarks might be accused of the inverse problem, or of “tacking on” gestures towards critical integration, a bridge between the two approaches begins to develop. In points 3.1.2 and 3.2.2, the NAWE benchmarks include requirements of “critical awareness” and “critical engagement”. For pedagogical purposes, “critical awareness” measures the student’s abilities “to contextualize writing” within critical frameworks and “to reflect constructively” on their “own process and product” (3.1.2). “Critical engagement,” on the other hand, pertains to the student’s ability to employ more traditional critical practices, including analysis, argument, referencing, and response to existing criticism (3.2.2). Likewise, NAWE’s recent follow-up report, Beyond the Benchmark (2013), notes the more common emphasis on “reading like a writer” or “critical reflection”, rather than specific instances in which critical practice might be integrated into creative production. Between the AHRC’s approach from the research side and NAWE’s from the creative (and between the NAWE benchmarks themselves), the extent of a “hybridity” problem becomes clear. Both criteria maintain a certain distinction between creative and critical practice, which both expect to be manifest in double requirements – the “primary” creative work and supplementary evidence of critical facility. In my case study of a new MA module called “Critical Approaches to Creative Writing”, I will argue that the tension between these segregated guidelines and a more fluid “spectrum of practice” applies to more than mere assessment criteria, and must be considered from the first conceptions of a module or programme.

Case Study: “Critical Approaches to Creative Writing”

If changing one’s own conception of the relationship between critical and creative practice is the first and easiest step to take towards developing a pedagogy which promotes their mutual benefit, a hierarchy of further negotiations – from most immediate and flexible to most remote and inflexible – might be built up from session planning, syllabus design, and module design, to programme design, and broader faculty, institutional, or sector-wide considerations. In the second half of this paper, I want to turn from the more speculative discussion of how critical and creative practices might co-exist to a specific scenario on which these arguments came to bear. The development of a new MA module, “Critical Approaches to Creative Writing,” was part of the larger evolution of the York St John University MA in Creative Writing, which, like many writing programmes, had its initial incarnation as a pathway for students on a Literature MA. Although the separate Creative Writing award was established in 2009, the introduction of this new module represents the final break from that shared structure, where a foundational module, “Introduction to Research, Theory, and Writing Practices,” previously catered to both Literature and Creative Writing students. Although this evolution is by no means unique, it helps to emphasize the relationship between those different levels of design control.

Workshop vs. Seminar

At the level of module design, one of the first decisions, which may seem incidental, but deeply affects student expectations and perception, is whether sessions would be labelled “seminars” or “workshops”. (At the undergraduate level, the connotations of “lecture” are added to the options.) This loaded question brings baggage from the whole history of Creative Writing as an academic discipline, from its beginnings at Harvard in the 1880s. There, the novelty of Barrett Wendell’s model was the role of peer-critique for new creative work presented in the class, or what would come to be known as “workshopping” with the founding of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1936. As Seth Abramson, a historian of the discipline, has noted, a key difference between the Harvard and Iowa models was that the former (which quickly became prevalent across the US in the early twentieth-century) was always integrated into a more “traditional” study of literature, partly by virtue of its instructors having advanced degrees in English and often teaching across the two disciplines (2012). The Iowa programme, on the other hand, introduced the “studio” model of workshopping – a still pervasive model, especially in non-academic settings, which is convergent with “masterclass” formats in the history of other Fine Art disciplines.

The seeds of the current debate over critical-creative writing practice are sown in this history of the writing workshop, which figures pointedly into new questions of hybridity and integration. Whether or not students (or their instructors) are aware of this specific history, it plays a deep background role in their expectations when joining and paying for a programme that advertises itself as workshop-led. For all of these reasons, some critics have been keen to separate the discipline from such historical baggage, either to the extreme of Michelene Wandor’s insistence that “the workshop must go” (2008), or Jeri Kroll’s reimagining of a Creative Writing “laboratory” (2013). On the other hand, I have been heartened to witness the recent trend of applying the workshop label to Literature contexts as well, an appropriation which seems to perform the same necessary re-opening of a term for, in simplest terms, a place where work is done. In this context, the name “workshop” offers a fine reminder, for both subjects, of the circular, on-going, and literally creative practice they share. In this way, its fraught history gives the label a useful flexibility. As Paul Munden argues in NAWE’s Beyond the Benchmark:

To describe [the workshop] as an “established” or “signature” pedagogy is to misunderstand it and cast it as orthodoxy – the very thing that Creative Writing programmes strive to avoid. The workshop’s mercurial, enigmatic character is part of its purpose (2013).

I do sympathize with critiques of the workshop model that focus on its tendency to isolate creative and critical practices, and with broader criticism of the emphasis on individual development that a workshop model often entails. However, other commentators have suggested that the workshop allows for an openness that might be conducive to mixed critical approaches, while also drawing on established critical contexts as a means to counter such unproductive individualism. (See Dawson, 2003; Hecq 2013.) The validated Rationale for my “Critical Approaches” module proposes to provide students, first of all, “the opportunity to explore the relationship between critical thinking and creative writing, and to think about the role of research in their writing practice” (Welsch, 2013). However, I include “workshopping” among a list of activities, and consent to the labelling of sessions as “workshops” in the timetable, due to my hope for the open exchange of ideas and work – and ideas about the relationship between ideas and work – it might encourage.

Learning Outcomes

From this fairly pedantic start, the design for my module proceeded along a trajectory of constructive alignment through learning outcomes, assessment, and finally (after validation of the initial components) the syllabus for its first delivery. As Biggs notes, “in a constructively aligned system, all components,” including these three main areas, will “support each other, so the learner is enveloped within a supportive learning system” (2011:109). After any number of committee revisions, the final, validated wording of the four learning outcomes for “Critical Approaches” are as follows:

  1. Critically reflect on the nature of the literary text and its production in terms of their own work and the work of other writers.
  2. Articulate a sophisticated position in relation to their creative practice.
  3. Produce a body of original creative writing that engages with the technicalities and creative strategies within contemporary writing.
  4. Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of generic techniques.

On the surface, these learning outcomes might appear to support a segregation of critical and creative practices, insofar as the first two seem to suggest critical outputs and the latter two will require creative work. Within the individual outcomes as well, as much as there is an attempt to bridge the creative and critical, there remains a clear conception of them as distinct activities and/or outputs. For example, LO 1 requires that the critical “reflection” on “the nature of the literary text” be in reference to the student’s “own work” as well as “the work of other writers.” Likewise, LOs 3 and 4 imply that the student’s own creative output will “engage” with and demonstrate an “understanding” of techniques – either of which could conceivably be evidenced for assessment in the creative work itself, or else accompanying “critical” material.

One great challenge when formulating learning outcomes in any discipline is how to represent the circular processes discussed above within a seemingly linear (or, at least, assessment-oriented) structure. In the often disputed, but ubiquitous terms of Bloom’s taxonomy, the “reflection”, “articulation” of a position, and “production” of new work from outcomes 1-3 all pertain to higher levels in the (revised) Cognitive domains of Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating. LO 4, on the other hand, with a possibly practical or possibly critical demonstration of “understanding”, might align with lower level Understanding as well as higher level application of that knowledge (Krathwohl, 2002). As an M-level module, it seems appropriate that learning outcomes would pertain mostly to those higher levels, while drawing upon and broadening basic understanding. Again though, the main concern here is in negotiating an effective balance between (1) a linear module structure, (2) this hierarchical requirement for increasingly “advanced” knowledge, and (3) the circularity of practices which move continuously between new ideas and application, free to slide easily along a creative-critical spectrum.

Assessment: the Dreaded “Commentary”

As the learning outcomes suggest, the real test for integrating creative and critical practice came with assessment design. Here again, a standard model looms. As Wandor notes, the most common strategy for assessing “critical” practice in Creative Writing

has been to develop, for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, what is variously called commentary, self-reflective writing, a critical essay, a writing journal, an exegesis, ficto-criticism, or the supplementary discourse (2008:145).

NAWE’s Beyond the Benchmark survey of HE Creative Writing programmes confirms that “the critical commentary is viewed by many to be of crucial importance”, while admitting that the “vocabulary can be confusing” (2013). At our university, on the many undergraduate and postgraduate modules which adopt this “supplementary” model, we call it a “Critical Self-Commentary” – which is perhaps no better or worse than any other name, although I do feel it helps to foreground a “critical” over vaguely “reflective” stance. While our validated module documents refrain from prescriptiveness to allow for future flexibility, students at all levels are provided with extensive guidance and support regarding the contents of a “Critical Self-Commentary”. In many cases though, this does not seem sufficient to allay students’ anxieties about the unfamiliar form. Partly, this seems related to a tension between the module designer’s conception of an on-going relationship between critical evaluation and creative output and student perceptions of a linear process, aimed solely towards the final assessment point. As Lasky writes:

Faced with the task of producing a preface, introduction, commentary, or some other critical discourse related to their work, writers often forget that they have, actually, been engaged in a wealth of critical activity during the process of composition (2013).

Another common concern relates to what Carole Satyamurti calls, only half-jokingly, the fear of “premature evaluation” (2003). In this case, the popular cultural division between creative and critical practice, or so-called imaginative and analytic thinking, seems to underlie a worry that switching from the right to left brain, even for a moment, will somehow derail the artistic process. The problem with the commentary model, however it is defined, is that it exacerbates these fears by indulging them, reinforcing a perceived difference between types of writing which belong in either the preface or main body of the submitted assignment. Wandor is similarly disparaging about this “solution, which might appear to hybridize the relationship between the creative and the critical, or even transcend their differences,” but ultimately “raises more questions and problems,” due to the commentary’s “accompanying” status (2008:145). Again, the Beyond the Benchmark survey supports this, reporting general feedback that this component “is not always well taught, [and] viewed by students as an ‘add-on’” (2013).

For this new module, I proposed a mixed strategy, with two assessment points, the latter of which, at the end of the term, consists of “A Portfolio of original writing totalling 5,000-6,000 words (or agreed equivalent for poetry),” including “a Critical Self-Commentary of no less than 1000 words” (2013). The “no less than” qualification for the Commentary, which we include on all modules, allows students to set the balance as they see appropriate to the work. (An extreme example I use is that I would be happy to mark a haiku poem followed by 6,000 words of commentary.) Furthermore, the ambiguity of “original writing”, in place of more prescriptive requirements (e.g. fiction, poems), is intended to encourage students to include writing they might not think of as primarily or entirely “creative”.

The Manifesto

The major innovation for this module, however, is the requirement of “a Manifesto of approximately 2,000 words” at a separate, earlier assessment point, for 20% of the overall mark. In some ways, the “manifesto” assignment chimes neatly with Lasky’s advocacy (in an article published after our validation) of having students write a “poetics”. For Lasky, the Greek term poetics, with its etymological emphasis on “making” and its historical association with Aristotle’s famous treatise (380 B.C.), make it an ideal framework for helping students

to develop a reflective critical perspective on their work continuously throughout the composition of a piece [and] encourages them to gather together a storehouse of material that will inform a critical discourse about their creative work (2013).

Lasky’s emphasis on drawing out the circularity of the critical-creative process fits well with the philosophy above. Likewise, the notion of gathering a “storehouse” underscores the relationship between that on-going process and a final assessment point that includes a “critical discourse.” The stress placed on how a working “poetics” might facilitate the development of a “knowledge that grows in the shift between writing and reflecting modes,” is also most welcome.

Nevertheless, Lasky’s conception of a poetics still fails to provide for the possibility of writing output that integrates critical and creative processes on a deeper, formal level. Without delving too far into the history of the manifesto form, it will suffice to point out the way many well-known examples of literary or artistic manifesto – following F.T. Marinetti’s genre-founding First Futurist Manifesto (1909) – use the form as a means to enact the same principles they espouse. Where some manifestos adopt an integrated hybrid approach – such as William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All (1923), with its prose argument broken up by verse “illustrations” – others present themselves in formally innovative modes that make their case almost entirely by way of demonstration. The many Dada manifestos by Tristan Tzara, or Guillaume Apollinaire’s visual texts of L’Antitradition Futuriste and other manifestos fall squarely in this category. The fact that the literary manifesto (like all writing genres) has such a specific cultural history provides a further opportunity for critical-creative engagement with tradition, which might include its longer history in political, religious, and legal contexts, for instance. One could argue, furthermore, that the emphasis on “manifest” form (literally “to be held in the hand”) in the Latinate name, manifesto, finally offers a structure in which – and through which – to reflect on the complex, circular relationship between thought and work, or process and product, at the often unseen root of all Creative Writing study, as discussed above.

For all of these reasons, the module rationale also specifies that “Part of [students’] learning will involve analysis and discussion of various ‘manifesto’ style pieces” (2013). The topic and assignment are introduced to students within these historical and formal contexts, and with an emphasis on the form’s inherently hybrid, critical-creative nature. This includes discussion of the growing body of critical theory around manifestos, such as Jerome Rothenberg’s description (1997) of it as “personal accounting & a prescription/directive for future acts,” or Mary Ann Caws’ emphasis (2000) on what she calls the manifesto’s “madness” and its “deliberate manipulation of the public view”. Beyond this, we are deliberate broad in our examples and deliberately vague in our prescription of the shape a student’s manifesto might take. Some students stick to a bullet-pointed list of principles; some submit fiction or poetry which takes a “meta” approach to illustrating its values; others create visual text collages or parodies that would have done the Dadaist proud.

Conclusion: “Critical” Reflections

“Critical Approaches to Creative Writing” ran for the first time in Autumn 2013. I never saw the relatively small and not terribly radical intervention of assessing a manifesto as a “solution” to the critical-creative problem, partly because such problems often seem as productive as they are niggling. Having taught and directed the module’s first run, I am also much more aware of the variety of responses such unexpected assignments will generate, especially from a cohort with such a variety of backgrounds and interests. Those responses can be quantified to the extent that no student failed the assignment (or scored below 50%), and that 70% of the 20-strong cohort received a mark of 60 or higher. The fact that none of the manifestos were marked either very low or very high (nothing above 75%) might reflect its place as the first assessment point on the degree, when students may not yet have the confidence for more ambitious approaches. In any case, informal feedback and the qualitative responses in module evaluations have already proven more useful as we plan towards another year.

As we might have expected, one frequent question was of the manifesto’s relevance to the students’ development as writers – as opposed to feedback on the “writing itself”, presumably. The flip side of this is a more general anxiety about guidelines for the assignment. Although the intentions behind manifesto-writing were more specific, this echoes the worry Lasky saw in students tasked with writing the less familiar “commentary”, which motivated the “poetics” assignment. The frustrating, but understandable double-standard here is a general preference for very open-ended guidelines when dealing with supposedly known quantities – a short story, or set of poems, for example – and the sense of guidance being “insufficient” for an assignment intended to break down assumptions about form and to encourage experimentation. In this regard, our first-run students seem decidedly split between those who felt encouraged or discouraged by the manifesto assignment. One simply “found the guidance insufficient.” Another “did not understand what I was supposed to be doing … [and] did not find the instructions clear.” A few more moderate views were able to “appreciate that because of the nature of the module, these things had to be quite open.” And from the other side, a student writes: “We were given freedom on this assignment, the Manifesto, with some examples but no real guidelines; I really liked this approach. I felt it allowed us to think carefully about what was important to us as fledgling writers.”

I wouldn’t want to cherry-pick positive responses any more than I’d wish to dwell on the negative. Nor would I protest that our guidance was exhaustive, when we may have erred on the side of deliberate vagueness in this first run, hoping to encourage creativity with a more hands-off approach, once we had taught the history and offered a range of examples. The challenge of getting the balance right in future seems deeply bound up with the bigger open questions about the balance between creative and critical practices within the discipline. Given the assignment’s place at the start of their programme, the stark disparities in these responses also point to the range of expectations, partly engendered by that wider cultural insistence on a divide. All the same, I don’t expect new AHRC or QAA guidelines to effect from above the sort of subtle changes in perception and week-to-week pedagogy that will result a wide-scale shift away from perspective delineations of “critical” or “creative” output, within which students and tutors can work together towards the greatest range of real work. Achieving that balance, given the diverse needs of any given cohort, depends upon first changing our own language and seeking forms of learning flexible enough to respond to those needs.



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J. T. Welsch is a lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at York St John University, where he teaches various writing forms and theory, and with a particular emphasis on creative research and employability skills. His primary research interests are in High and Late Modernism, with forthcoming articles on William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, and John Berryman. He has also published five chapbooks of his own poetry.