Rather than guests flocking to the Culture Lab to be greeted by the readers for the Creative Writing and Writing Poetry MA End of Degree show, at 6pm on Wednesday 16th December we found ourselves in our respective living rooms, bedrooms, home offices perhaps, making a brew or pouring a glass of wine to join a Zoom call.
We are introduced to the evening by the programme director, Professor Jacob Polley, who addresses our very new and very particular way of quotidian existence and how we are “abstract in the Zoom call, present in a peculiar way […] from my private room, knowing I can’t know what you deal with in your private rooms.”
The performance is commenced with a spoken excerpt of an autobiography written by former travel writer and blogger Alfie Blincowe, in which he details his “personal rebellion” against his own body. We are greeted by short stories like Emigré from retired Speech and Language Therapist and former archaeologist Judy Crow who offered us a historical Napoleonic narrative and geographically rich tale on a ship, as well as an unsettling story excerpt from Lily Peters, who weaves the botanical imagery of plant beds as an analogy of the marital bed with some sinister subtext.
We hear from recently retired solicitor Nicola Spain, with a roman à clef for children, loosely based on her lived experience of her sixth birthday, and also Joanne Spence, with a children’s story, who, having previously been a primary school teacher, saw that ‘’children lacked representation in their stories and has thus sought to fill that niche – In this case, representation comes in the form of an ice-cream parlour named Lickety-Split, a young girl named Ellie and a touch of infidelity.
Poetry is a cardinal feature of the event, latent with pastoral motifs and ekphrastic references.
Madelaine Culver leads with three poems: Rain, Hotel Eden and Saudade. Anthropomorphic and botanical references are rife in poems like Anne Gill’s Graph Paper and Liz Haynes reads three short poems that were originally derived as a cohesive epic. Frances Holland’s Teacher Sex draws on her experience of teaching and its’ tendency to get “incestuous”, followed by Michael McHugh’s Translation of Athena and Irish Poet Niamh O’Connell with poetry interrogating her relationship with her mother tongue, unpacking how the institutional lingua franca separates her from it. The final set of poems comes from the final reader Sue Wallace-Shaddad’s portfolio – Her poetry is largely historically and culturally constructed, with ekphrastic references to Pierre Bonard paintings and Lucian Freud’s Untitled Self-Portrait, 1978 and a nod to British poet Rachael Boast.
A personal favourite reading of mine came from David Foster with a radio script. Turning off the camera, he began with a radio script, of which the final headline detailed “a possible situation on the Tyne,” segueing into Galaxy (or maybe Magic)-esque music, at which point the story's protagonist is introduced while scaling the Tyne Bridge: “This was the last song I heard.” The multimedia nature of the project created an Orson Welles broadcast-esque atmosphere and the end result was an extremely compelling piece.
All in all, the evening reinforces to me that creativity is almost always an interdisciplinary feat.
The fruit of a person’s creative labour also represents a whole set of things about a person: their interests, a trajectory of life choices that have been made and are yet to be made. A bit like Carol Ann Duffy’s The Map Woman, each reader’s skin is like a map of the town where they’ve grown as a child. And I become acutely aware of the choices that I am making, the choices that I will make, and how they are intrinsically inseparable. While our modes of interconnectivity are contested by the climate of the pandemic, it is refreshing to know we can be in our private rooms and still celebrate a cohort’s creative efforts. Creative outlets, after all, are more crucial now than ever.