The Poet’s Progress
I sent my supervisor the first draft of my dissertation poems this week and had a feedback meeting on Thursday. The guidelines in the MA handbook are that the dissertation needs to be a slim collection, typically about 30 poems, totalling between 6,000 and 8,000 words. That did make me raise an eyebrow because 30 poems totalling 6,000 words would mean an average of 200 words and 8,000 would be 266 words per poem. I’ve always tended towards shorter poems, often twenty or thirty lines, no doubt influenced by competitions tending to have a maximum line limit of 40 lines per poem, so the corresponding word count for me is typically around 100 words per poem.
I actually surprised myself when I did the word count on my draft of 32 poems. I had a total of 5600 words and, intrigued by this I looked at the lengths of my longer poems. I have two that are close to 500-words each and two more in the 200–250 word length. Technically speaking I have reached the submission minimum mark if I use the +/- 10 percent range which would mean a minimum word count of 5400 words. I am still setting my target at around 6,200 words, but it feels like the poems component are about right in terms of size.
What weighs more, a tonne of feathers or a tonne of poems?
(source: The Poetical Actuaries Society)
The proof of the pudding is in the ingredients. My dissertation poems comprise a 17-poem poetic monologue and 15 other poems. What was particularly interesting was that, when I showed my supervisor the first two monologue poems in isolation at my first supervision meeting, he didn’t seem all that convinced the idea would hold together. That makes total sense. When you read a chapter of a novel you can usually tell whether it is from a short story or a novel from the compactness of the writing. Generally speaking, if a poetic monologue comprises several poems -- chapters, if you will -- it can be tricky to get a feel for the story, as it were, from reading one or two of the chapters.
Here is one of the most influential Christian allegorical stories ever written. In it we follow Christian on his journey to the Celestial City. The journey is fraught with peril and Christian must overcome many obstacles and temptations along the way. Powerful, inspirational, and thought provoking.
(from the synopsis of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan)
and yes, my poetic journey during the last year has encountered many obstacles and temptations! I like to think they have all contributed to the flavour of the poems I’ve produced. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the difficulty I face getting places -- from my hall of residence to the Keir Hardie building where the English department is located, and from my hall of residence to Fulton House where taxis collect people and drop them off. This obstacle has helped me exercise an important muscle ... the don’t be afraid to ask for help muscle! I’ve actually been asked to give a talk about how seeking help has enabled me to manage the MA course I’m now in the final stages of in Abergavenny in October because asking for help is something human beings seem to find a real struggle .
The Rake’s Progress
I honestly thought my supervisor might suggest cutting a few of the monologue poems and one or two of the other poems (I actually suggested one of the poems that I intended to cut before we started discussing my work). On reading the whole monologue he found the story much more cohesive and felt that it worked well. There were several helpful comments which I’ve actioned into my second draft, and he also agreed on replacing the poem I already intended to cut. Overall though the meeting was very positive and I am now about 600 words away from finishing the poems and then I can begin the 2,000 words of reflective essay!
In other news, yesterday I collected the keys to where I’m going to be living for the next year. It is the logical progression ... having spent the last year on a university campus which is after all effectively a secure environment, I’m going to be living on my own in the outside world for the first time in my blind life! I’m very much looking forward to it :)
You have done brilliantly, Giles — I am deeply impressed. And I haven’t even read the poems!!
I love the bit about asking for help. Not only is this crucial, but it’s enriching for the person who has the opportunity to be useful and kind. It’s more blessed to give than to receive!
Living outside on your own in the outside, out-sight world is going to be incredibly interesting. Looking forward to reading what you have to say about it.
thanks so much, Nell. Your encouragement has helped me to get this far 🙂 xx
This is great information for anyone compiling a collection, thanks for that Giles, and best of luck on the rest of your journey. Looking forward to reading the feedback on your dissertation poems.
I love The Rake’s Progress btw!
Sounds as if you have done well. It’s been busy here, but I finally got to come see what you’re doing. You don’t consider New York part of the blind life? Because you were definitely alone. =) Congratulations on finding a place you feel comfortable enough to rent.