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The Poetry Superhighway

The Poetry Superhighway

I started writing poetry myself before I left high school, but my serious interest didn't really begin until after I'd finished my chemistry degree at Swansea University. I lived in Swansea for 10 years in total and, shortly after graduation, Swansea was City of Literature and I went to manyh events, including seeing poets Matthew Sweeney, Micheal O'Siadhail and Tony Harrison; novelists Michael Ondaatje and James Kelman. I was lucky to see Seamus Heaney but missed out on catching Allen Ginsberg because tickets had sold out.

I lived quite a quiet poetry life after I left Swansea, attending only a handful of events during my time in London and Bristol, after which my tracks took me to East coast United States. My poetic interest was re-awoken when I lived in the city of Decatur, Ga, about 5 miles east of Atlanta — there was a fantastic literature scene in both Decatur and Atlanta. There were regular open mic events at the Java Monkey cafe in Decatur, at which one night I got to see poet Natasha Trethewey who, at the time, I'd never heard of but who would, a couple of years later, become US Poet Laureate and whose poetry made a lasting impression on me. Other highlights included readings given by Margaret Atwood and William Gibson, and poet Thomas Lux.

The city at 3 a.m. is an ungodly mask
the approaching day hides behind
& from, the coyote nosing forth,
the muscles of something ahead,
& a fiery blaze of eighteen-wheelers
zoom out of the curved night trees,
along the rim of absolute chance.
extract from ‘Crossing a City Highway’ by Yusef Komunyakaa

The Ring Road

I was never a boy scout (I could get fires smouldering with my words but couldn't keep myself warm in the wilderness) but I do like to follow the advice of the Scouts' motto, Be Prepared. If I'm accepted onto the MA course then I'll have to study two out of three genre choices,

  • Long form fiction,
  • writing for the stage (radio and theatre),
  • poetry.

Sometimes I wonder how the universe is so in tune with my needs. Last year I studied Live Canon's Political Poetry correspondence course, and this year I'm just coming to the end of their Experimenting with Form course (their courses cost £150 for a 12 week correspondence course (50 percent concessions are available on some of the courses). Each week you receive a detailed tutorial with links to many examples that Live Canon members have recorded, and you get some quick tasks plus a writing task which you can submit for feedback.) One thing I have noticed is how I've taken on more political themes in my writing since completing the political poetry course, which is definitely the result I was hoping for.

It couldn't have come at a more opportune time, that Live Canon are launching a new correspondence course, Playwriting for Poets. Needless to say I've signed up for the first session, beginning on 10 January 2018. What better way to start the New Year than a course that will give me an idea about whether I might choose the writing for the stage module on the MA course rather than the long form fiction one?

The Journey Planner

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
(extract from ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost)

Yes, that's an oft used poem to illustrate the journey through life, but it's apt for the path I've taken with my poetry in what is now a quarter of a century since I began writing my own. Would my path have been different if I'd gone straight from high school into a Bachelor of Arts degree in English? Undoubtedly! Would I have been a very different writer to the one that is hoping to study the MA Creative Writing course now? Undoubtedly! I think my writing is all the better for the scenic journey I've travelled with it as company. It has evolved from the places I've lived and the writers I've mingled with; the courses I've taken and the day jobs I've had to fit my writing around. I certainly am not the same writer now as I was before I lost my sight. I'll never forget those visual memories but I think harder about using colours to adjectivize a line, because it can be a lazy way of brightening up a line if it's of no real significance to the scene or the character(s).

The Phantom Tollbooth

The online application system seemed, at first attempt, to be quite unfriendly to me as a screen reader user. It rejected my registration attempts, citing ‘Timeout’ no matter how quickly I entered my email address and password. I invited my mother into the co-driver seat and it worked fine for her! When I tried logging in with my newly established credentials I was pushed away with an ‘Invalid parameters’ complaint. How dare a system reject my exquisite parameters!! If it had objected to my pentameters I might have muttered an apology and quit and returned to non-academic ambitions.

However, never one to accept a rejection as the end of the road, I figured I'd try logging in on my tablet computer rather than the laptop. Strictly speaking there should have been no difference — both systems are running the same version of Windows, both the same version of Mozilla Firefox web browser, and both using the same version of the NVDA screen reader. But this time the On Track application system opened its doors and greeted me with a cheery, “Hello sir, may I get you a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?” ... that might not be the exact truth — I'm going to Swansea, not Oxbridge! ;)

It was in fact reassuring how much assistance was available to try and help me get started. I emailed the support desk and exchanged four emails, half of which were forwarded to the admissions department who would be able to contact me themselves. One of my emails was also forwarded to the Library who take care of a lot of the accessibility issues such as screen reader users trying to login to the various systems, and they phoned me back almost immediately with more suggestions.

I half expected the library computer systems to have a firewall blocking me until I'd paid £4,000 in overdue book fines on a dozen volumes of quantum chemistry textbooks that had never been returned ;)

Vicksburg, Mississippi
Here, the Mississippi carved
its mud-dark path, a graveyard
for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
Here, the river changed its course,
turning away from the city
as one turns, forgetting, from the past—
the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
above the river’s bend—where now
the Yazoo fills the Mississippi’s empty bed.
(extract from ‘Pilgrimage’ by Natasha Trethewey)

Estimated Time of Arrival

I have thought much upon
who might be my ilk,
and that I am ilk myself if I have ilk.
Is one of my ilk, or me, the barber
who cuts the hair of the blind?
(extract from You and Your Ilk by Thomas Lux)

As Gandalf says at the start of the film ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”. I have little idea when I'll hear back from Swansea as to whether my application has been successful or whether I'll need to go in for interrogation or, worst case scenario, whether I'll be declined with a polite ‘Thanks for submitting but on this occasion you were not a fit with this course.’ What I do know is that, should I receive an offer, in October next year I'll be settling back into a hall of residence on the Singleton Park campus. Although the halls have new names since I was last there, as far as I'm aware the buildings are unchanged and I could, in theory, be allocated the same room I had all that time ago! That might be a little creepy and, given my blind access challenges, I might be advised to be in a different tower block, and probably closer to the ground level. We shall see! The one thing I'm certain of, I'm looking forward to it and will be more studious second time around :)

#Blindness #Swansea #PoeticJourneys @NTrethewey @LiveCanon

Published inblindnesseducationPoetry


    • Giles Giles

      thank you Antoinette 🙂

  1. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    Best of luck with it all Giles, sounds a fascinating journey!

  2. Giles Giles

    thanks Frances 🙂

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