Tue 5 March 2024
Life after Graduation
NAWE aims to put creativity at the heart of education. NAWE is a charity funded largely by its members fees and donations.
Studying Writing
Life after Graduation
On the Final Lap
Ellie Evans
Ellie Evans looks back with a sense of achievement over the journey she's taken since starting out on a Creative Writing PhD at Bath Spa University in 2007 and considers how much her poetry has developed and benefited from its demands.

I am now on the final chapter of the Critical Component of my PhD and have almost completed my poetry collection. When I first wrote about doing a PhD in 2007, I was just beginning it. Looking back, I'm amused at my enthusiasm and naiveté! Three years on, and with the end in sight, I realise what a journey it has been. Now, at last, it seems very rewarding but it has had its darker moments.

The first thing I am very glad I did was to maintain contact with the workshop environment. Since starting my PhD, I have attended the Poetry School courses in Bath and in London, the Muses Workshop in Greece, courses at Ty Newydd in North Wales and some 'surgeries' at Ledbury Poetry Festival.

I think it is really important for poets, especially relatively new ones like myself, to move out of their comfort zone, and meet new challenges, such as those offered by  different workshop tutors and groups with their multifarious reactions and inputs. Also, the focus of workshops is so various: some are much more focused on internal inspiration, others on form, trajectory, prosody and so on. I have really benefited from the mix. Several of these courses have ended with public readings which afford valuable practice and a welcome opportunity to try out work with a fresh audience.

Another benefit I derived from these courses was that I had to write outside the rather narrow remit of my PhD and I found this something of a relief. This was because, nearly a year after registration, I found I had hit a block. First, I was finding my original scheme for the Creative Component both restricting and difficult. Like Petit (the subject of my Critical Component), I was attempting to write about the effects of an abused childhood displaced into a parallel cosmos - in my case, the world of Piranesi's etchings of nightmare prisons. This displaced world threatened to become monotonous; it also seemed over-sensational. I tried shifting the ideas into film noir (a genre influenced by Piranesi) but the poems still seemed exaggerated. The other major difficulty with my Creative Component was trying to convey the feelings of psychological abuse, which is much harder to describe than physical assaults, as indeed I saw in looking at Petit's own work. I think she is much more effective in the poems about her sexually abusive father than in those concerned with her mad and demanding mother.

Moreover, my research on Petit for my Critical Component wasn't going well. It was extremely hard to find enough material (e.g. reviews and articles) on her and I seemed unable to achieve the requisite depth and rigour in my analysis. I also felt hampered by my lack of knowledge of the contemporary academic theory.  

In fact, in early 2008, I quite seriously considered chucking the whole thing. Here, I am tremendously grateful to both my Director of Studies and to my Supervisor. They were both tough and caring. My Supervisor suggested that I rewrote my aims and objectives with greater clarity and precision. She gave me a deadline for this, as well as plenty of encouragement. My Director of Studies recognised that my poetry was changing, but he thought this was a good sign and suggested that I should develop beyond my original remit.

I found their advice, to re-think and re-phrase my original intentions and to simplify them, to be extremely beneficial. I broke down my Critical Component into much more manageable and less ambitious units, and gave these units individual deadlines and word limits. I found I was able to locate some very interesting material for Petit and was able to deliver a chapter well up to standard by the required date.  At the same time, I moved to a different aspect of my projected poetry collection, where I considered childhood as experienced through various mechanical devices which distort vision. I continued to be helped by wide reading of contemporary British poets, especially Selima Hill and John Burnside. By April, I felt I was back on track and very grateful for the 'carrot and stick' approach from my tutors.

My work has been further helped by the way that Bath Spa Graduate School builds various 'hurdles' into their PhD scheme. In May 2008, I had to hold a masterclass on my poems before a panel of academic, and in November I had to prepare two long documents (three thousand words each) for my Progression Assessment and discuss them in a viva. This was demanding but ultimately very satisfying, as my work was very well received. The main benefit, of course, was in making me reflect and analyse what I have been doing. I was able to use these ideas when fulfilling another of the PhD requirements: giving an academic paper at The Lonely Page, a Creative Writing Conference in Belfast last March.

The most important reason for doing a PhD in Creative Writing was that I wanted to raise the level of my poetry. I have found the close attention to another poet has been immensely fruitful, as has been the necessity to raise one's game in structuring and expressing an argument. I feel that my decision to follow this course has been vindicated by the fact that I've been approached by Seren, the Welsh publishing house, who will bring out a collection of my poetry within the next couple of years. I know that I am much better equipped to deal with this exciting development because of the discipline and richness of the PhD in Creative Writing.

Ellie Evans was born in Carmarthen, West Wales and educated in Llandeilo and Cardiff. She has lived and worked in China, Eastern Europe and America and is now resident in Powys. After reading English at St. Hugh's College, Oxford, she worked in publishing and teaching. In 2004/5, she did a Masters in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and is now doing a PhD in Creative Writing there - a collection of poetry and a thesis on Pascale Petit. Her poems have been published in Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, Acumen and Rialto. She has given readings in Bath (2005-9), at Dartington's Ways with Words (2007), in Spetses, Greece as part of The Muses Workshop writing course run by Alicia Stallings ( 2008), for the Spring 2009 launch of Poetry Wales in Abergavenny and at the Poetry Jamboree organised by John Goodby and Lyn Davies in Hay (2009). She hopes to read again in Spetses this summer. She taught for Cardiff University's Lifelong Learning Creative Writing Department in 2005/6 and when she has completed her PhD, plans to run writing workshop/holidays in Pembrokeshire and in Provence.

Back to Case Studies