‘A literary survey of the representation of sheep…’

It has been a few days since my last blog post since I took a mysterious bout of some sort of bug.

I had a supervision today to get feedback on my first full chapter, which, thankfully was very positive. I’ve made some very minor and mainly cosmetic changes as a result, but that chapter can basically be filed away for a little while now.

I’m about half way through my second chapter today, so things are on track there too. I found myself writing a paragraph on the representation of sheep (stereotypical?), and looking up ‘Farming Facts and Figures, Wales 2010).

I’m also taking almost daily back ups (another tick to add to my list which includes manic word count checking and footnote formatting).

One thing that is striking me at this stage of my research is that 75% of writing a dissertation is independent thought, 20% is reading and 5% is remembering what the devil you’ve read and where. For example, there is a quote I thought interesting enough to post on this blog a few weeks back:

‘If you define literature in terms of language only, then a Welshman who writes in English is an English author – which would give Americans, Australians, Scotsmen and West Indians plenty to think about.’
Gwyn Jones, The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977)

And something clicked when I was re-reading a Lewis lecture:

‘I applied myself to deciphering the poems in the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse, and was particularly captivated by some thirteenth-century descriptions of cold weather.’
Gwyneth Lewis, ‘Criss-Crossings: Literary Adventures On Irish and Welsh Shores’, Poetry Review, 98.3 (2008), pp. 54-72 (p. 57-8).

Only a paragraph on me?

Only a paragraph on me?

Counting the small triumphs

There are plenty of websites offering to sell essays already written for you, but why is there not one offering personal dissertation training along the lines of those shouting encouragement in the gym? ‘Come on, 30 more words. You can do it’. Rick suggests the clue might be in the ‘personal’ part of the title.

So, the upshot of my supervision is that my introduction needs an overhaul – but I knew that already. Really, it makes more sense to write the introduction last, and it felt like pulling teeth, but I’m glad I had something done to break me in (even if it was a baptism of fire).

It isn’t all doom and gloom, thankfully. I have basically completed my first chapter tonight, with some proofing and preening tomorrow before I send it off to my supervisor for feedback (which I should get on friday). I am crossing my fingers that it will be better than my introduction – but it feels better regardless.

Finishing this chapter marks passing 1/3 of the word count – although obviously the introduction needs work. Still, I am sleeping a bit better at night. I am aware this manic word counting is akin to a dieter counting calories or a miser counting coins, but permit me my oddity.

6761 / 20000 words. 34% done!


5140 / 20000 words. 26% done!

I like that I am now over 1/4 done (although I know this is only in terms of words, not time spent redrafting and tweaking). I will feel less full of bluster and bull in my supervision tomorrow nonetheless.

Today I tried Anti-Social for Mac, an application that you turn on to block access to social networking sites that may prove a tempting distraction for a certain length of time. I like this more than Freedom, which blocks all internet use (and, em, I couldn’t work without googling the odd thing).

Other good news today is that the AHRC has approved my application for study visit funding. This means I’ll be visiting the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in early August to make use of the materials I can’t get hold of elsewhere. It will also be a break from my desk.

‘I know too little and still feel too much
to be able to make a full report.
Project needs more research. Will keep in touch.’
[Gwyneth Lewis, ‘Welsh Espionage III, Dispatch from Aberystwyth’, Parables & Faxes

Dream (nightmare?)

After a slightly strange dream (nightmare?) about writing my dissertation on a narrow boat with no wireless internet (possibly due to this narrow-boat), I frightened myself more than enough to get cracking properly today.

I’ve planned out my first chapter, including what criticism I intend to use to demonstrate my argument, and argue against. I’ve then written the first part of that chapter and I’m fairly happy with it, although I suspect when push comes to shove part of it may need cut.

3411 / 20000 words. 17% done!

That is not too shabby, and the rest of the chapter should be speedy enough. My aim is for 7,500 (over 1/3 done) by the weekend.

Anglo- Anything

I’ve been taking a few days away from my desk since my mother is visiting. We went to Oxford to visit my future college (Wadham). This is mighty exciting since I’ve never been to a collegiate university before. The sheer number of tourists in Oxford would drive you to distraction, but I was pleased to see Wadham isn’t open to the public (although the porter let me in for a look round).

Wadham College, Oxford

On the way back we stopped in Stratford-upon-Avon (some playwright was born there or something…). I saw this on a narrow-boat in the canal basin there, which I’m taking as a sign I should get back to my critical musing.

Anglo-Welsh boat

I have difficulty with the term ‘Anglo-‘ anything, simply because Welsh being my first language I don’t feel ‘Anglo’ at all.

‘Welsh-Anglo’, maybe, more so than ‘Anglo-Welsh’?

Welsh-Anglo, perhaps. Yes, now that is a good and novel idea. But again, I’m not too worried about the context. The only thing I would insist on is being seen in multiple contexts.
[Gwyneth Lewis in interview with Alex Pryce, July 9th 2010]

The poems that fit

I think there are one or two poems that really ‘fit’ the direction my dissertation is taking. At the moment, I read ‘Welsh Espionage (V)’ and ‘Mother-Tongue’ at least once daily and it always sets off fireworks in my brain nodes.

These two poems really push me to ask about what gender language is given in certain contexts, how the body is constructed through poetry (especially in this reading below in which Lewis points to her own body during the reading, enacting it), and about the merging of Welsh and English in one hybrid meaning.

[Gwyneth Lewis reads two poems from In Person: 30 Poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce. Pamela Robertson-Pearce has been filming poets reading their work for Bloodaxe’s archive and DVD-books. ]

Re-structuring work(s)

1300 / 20000

– That means the literature review is done (although it needs some redrafting).

And, I’ve changed my chapter structure so I don’t feel I’m repeating myself again and again on the same points (namely language and nationality) – now I’ll explore broader issues allowing me to put more focus on gender and the issues from the most recent collection (A Hospital Odyssey). This means my research aims are now written in note form, so I should be able to quickly finish the introduction and hand it in tomorrow.


Yesterday, I had a great day in Cardiff with Gwyneth Lewis. She was a very generous subject with her time and hospitality. I had plenty of burning questions, so we spoke for over 40 minutes specifically relating to my research.

Before getting down to business, Gwyneth took me to the Wales Millennium Centre – and it was sort of  surreal to have her pointing out where the builders had first hung ‘F OFf’ during construction. I’ve only ever passed through Cardiff on the train to the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, so it was nice to have places pointed out.

Parts of the interview reinforced my existing research direction, but I also came away with plenty to think about too. And, the interview will be published in the first issue of New Walk magazine in October – I expect readers of that will find Lewis’ thoughts on poetic form and culture enlightening.

Some extracts that particularly connect with my research as it stands:

gender is certainly of interest because I think there are differences of magnetic fields in relation to your language; the polarity is different somehow because of the different social situations.

The only thing I would insist on is being seen in multiple contexts.

Do you think one of these contexts would be in terms of gender?

For sure. Probably just as primary as language, although it is a very difficult area to articulate

[Welsh form in English-language poetry] is a way of speaking both languages at once without relinquishing either, but without becoming incomprehensible to both

The poet’s revenge is to force an assimilation of an area that has been rejected by the centre because what after all is English but an illusion, a force that picks up dust everywhere.

I always think of poems as performances […] You have to be able to put on the clothes and see what happens.

Minor Literatures/Long Trips

I’m still meant to be doing a literature review at the moment – this is coming along – in that I know what I want to say, I’m just struggling to get that onto the page.

More promising in terms of my research is that some of the reading I’ve been doing is really clicking into place. Today, for example, I’ve been reading about theories of ‘minor literature’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. The idea of an oppositional literature within the major/great language really appeals – especially in terms of Lewis’ use of Welsh form in English language poetry.

Tomorrow, I’m interviewing Lewis at her home in Cardiff. This is really exciting – although I obviously have 1000 things I’d like to ask but will probably forget at the moment…
Cardiff on the Map

Word Count Round Up (2)

400 / 20000

Well, it is a start. But it feels a bit ridiculous for the amount of work, reading and stressing I’ve already done.

Hopefully things will look a bit better by the end of the week.

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