Saturday, 13 January 2007

Three Good Questions

Kate Clanchy, one of the UK's best contemporary poets, is also a superb reader of her own work - she read for my Oxfam series a while back, and the audience was entranced and delighted in equal measure by her poems.

I hope she won't mind my replying, then, with all due respect, to her comments, written in today's Guardian Review section, in her review of De-iced, a book by Susan Wicks (Bloodaxe): "There are questions that creative writing teachers are careful never to ask of their students, questions which are out of their remit and destructive to their jobs. 'Is this poem original?' is one, 'Is it urgent?' another, and 'Could it find an audience outside our subsidised community?' an unmentionable third".

I'm a creative writing teacher - and have been since 1998. I also have an MA from the University of East Anglia's creative writing department, where I am currently pursuing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. I currently am a Core Tutor for The Poetry School, and lecture on the MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University. I enjoy teaching, and see it as an inspiring, meaningful and practical activity - one that complements my other roles as a poet, literary editor and poetry advocate.

Firstly, creative writing teachers succeed when their students succeed - foremost by creating work they're proud of, and that stretches the student writer's abilities, their craft, their imaginations, their sense of language - so no questions about writing are ever beyond a creative writing teacher's remit or destructive of their jobs - any teacher who churns out only mediocre writers just isn't doing their job properly.

Clanchy's statement to the contrary seems to me to be incorrect. In fact, these questions, often framed or phrased somewhat differently, but amounting much to the same, such as Is it a cliche?, Is it fresh?, Are you saying something new? are central to provoking students into reaching beyond their comfort zones, often by reading more, and revising more.

Thirdly, as for "reaching beyond our audience" - what is the audience for poetry, and what's beyond it? Poetry reaches who it does, and always has.
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