Graduation – you can call me ‘O’ BA MA

I’m currently back in Leicester for the graduation ceremony of my MA in Modern Literature. It has been lovely to see my friends from the course, catch up with staff and wear a very long robe. My DPhil graduation seems a very long way off – both in terms of time and work!

Me and James

This is me and my best friend James - a top bloke and BA MA.

Helen and I prepare for the 'money shot' of tossed hats.

Helen and I prepare for the 'money shot' of tossed hats.

14, not x4

I’ve now been using Endnote for nearly three months, and I’m ashamed to report that I found it steadily more perplexing the more I used it. So, I signed up to a 3 hour computer class.

I have a certificate now… only the certificate says that it ‘does not imply any specific competence’ – which is just plain rude. I also know I’m using version 14, not version x4. It is just written as x4.

The classes seem very slick – there is a waiting area, a registration desk, pre-prepared booklets, nice computer teaching rooms and even a coffee machine in the reception. Other ones that might be of use to a first year DPhil at the managing long documents classes (ie. learn to manage it before it is too late) and the further Endnote classes.

I am still none the wiser as to Endnote makes referencing a single poem within a collection so difficult, or why it puts full stops at the end of my references when I still have to add the page number in manually. Baby steps, I suppose!

The class had more Mac than Windows users, although it was taught on Windows. Which goes to show that the number of Macs in education is seriously growing – I see them everywhere in the library now. They are wonderful and highly recommended, by the way.

Brief thoughts on the T.S. Eliot Shortlist

As hype grows about who will win the 2010 T.S. Eliot Prize (announced on Mon 24th Jan), I’ve been casting my mind back to this time last year when Sinead Morrissey’s Through the Square Window was on the shortlist, Colette Bryce was on the judging panel, and I was submitting my PhD applications. The title poem from Morrissey’s collection is read below, and you can read it yourself on the Poetry Society website.

Of the books on the 2010 shortlist I’ve read this year, I liked Annie Freud’s The Mirabelles and Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me best. In fact, I really liked Petit’s collection because I feel it brings something quite original to the genre through the affecting narrative and artistic anchoring.

There are no prizes for guessing who I was backing last year – although Philip Gross’s The Water Table was, I concede, a worthy winner.

Easy Read Book Holder

I asked for this for Christmas. This quite possibly reveals quite a lot about my character, although in my defense I also asked for DVDs and a Wii game. Ahem, and some books.

Easy Read Book Holder

It looks a bit like something designed to help people with no hands read, and I’m sure it is great for that (although I’m not sure how they’d set it up). For me, it is ideal for holding books of criticism at a comfortable reading angle, thus freeing my hands for making notes and stopping me holding the book open with a claw like arm and losing my page every time I take a sip of tea.

There are much prettier wood effect book holders, but this one is lighter and highly customizable. It will inevitably make librarians wince at the thought of tortured book bindings wailing in pain, so maybe leave it outside the rare books room.

A great buy at £14.95, although you never knew you needed one until now.

After and Against

Today I ordered up plenty of materials from the stacks. Today the stack request system was suspended because of a power cut/a broken printer/an overload of requests to do with Northern Irish literature…

Thankfully, there are more than enough other libraries here to retreat to. The English Faculty Library has a great Irish poetry section and my college library has just generously purchased The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing: vols 4 and 5, Irish Women’s Writing and Traditions for their collection at my request. At something around or over 1500 pages each, just one volume filled my bike basket for the ride home.

The college library's newest door stop.

I also read some really interesting and well put together thoughts on the intertextual obsession, derivative anxieties and tradition consciousness of the younger Irish poets:

‘In the face of chronology, Heaney therefore often seems to emerge, in textual responses to his presence in the traditions, as a predecessor after and against whom one writes […] involving an assertive and self-defining relation towards canonical reference’

Rui Carvalho Homen, Poetry and Translation in Northern Ireland: Dislocations in Contemporary Writing (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 21.

Some of Carvalho Homen’s later thoughts on textual translations in Morrissey and Flynn have also helped clarify how one of my chapter structures could work – although I’m still undecided on which structure to plump for.

‘New poets inherit old problems…’

‘New poets inherit old problems and may waste a lot of their energy trying to come to terms with them.’

Eavan Boland, ‘Young Poets’, The Irish Times, 8 February 1986, Weekend Section, p. 5.

I’m starting to think about how to compose the chapter summaries I need to finalize in the coming months for my transfer of status from Probationary Research Student to a full DPhil status. I have a number of possible approaches for my chapters – I could deal with each poet in turn and certain aspects of tradition in their work, or address each aspect in turn and how the different poets approach that, or deal with a presiding influence on the poets in each chapter, and so on.

Inevitably though, the crux of the matter is that tradition is made up of inherited ‘old problems’ and in the case of the poets I am dealing with, some of these problems relate to gender.

My New Toy

I’ve purchased a Copy Cat Personal Scanner after lusting after it all Christmas following my post about expensive gifts for academics.

At first I was a bit bewildered by it – the error light came on lots and I kept having to plug it into the computer to figure out if I had scanned anything. After some trial and error I seemed to get it going, and with some minor logic I managed to get full pages 95% of the time.

[One major tip if you have or are getting one of these – flip it to the actual scanning bit rather than the rollers to run to the outside of the page – otherwise you’ll miss about an inch off the end of the page.]

It has a little carry case and could easily fit in my bag with my laptop, notes and a few books. I plan to use it as a home scanner too since I don’t actually have one.

One problem I do foresee is that libraries may not be overly keen on me using it. I see the Bodleian does have guidelines which involve filling out a form, which is a bit of an inconvenience when I can just skip over to the photocopying machine. The flat bed of the photocopying machine damages bindings more than this would, not to mention costing them and me money and killing cute baby trees…

Test scan in black and white and low resolution setting.

Test scan in black and white and low resolution setting - click to see it a bit bigger..

Beginning Again

I’ve been chained to my desk for the past few days putting the final jigsaw pieces into the work I did last term. I set myself a deadline to get it to my supervisor today, Sunday of 0th week of the Oxford term. This seems sort of fitting because it means that as of tomorrow I can begin again, moving on to the greener pastures I’ve been looking forward to since I began.

I’m not entirely convinced this chapter hangs together as it should, but I’ve certainly put plenty of hours in at the page. Unlike undergraduate work I’m finding that increasingly I can’t hide behind other research to frame my argument, and that may take some getting used to.

This chapter has also been a steep learning curse, at times infuriating and others frustrating. However, looking at the previous generation of Ulster poets – men and women – in such detail has been a wholly adequate apprenticeship.

‘She’s a woman’s lib […] tear right into her’

Padraic Fiacc recalls attending a debate with Graham Reid and Medbh McGuckian:

I whisper to Graham – “I may be old fashioned but two men against one woman!”

“She’s not a woman,” says Graham.

“But if she’s not a woman what is she?”

“She’s a woman’s lib and if you cherish anything on you … and think of me too… tear right into her for a start!”

Padraic Fiacc, ‘It’s Me, Joe: From an Unpublished Autobiography’, in My Twentieth-Century Night-Life: A Padraic Fiacc Miscellany (Belfast: Lagan Press, 2009), pp. 149-57, (153-4).

McGuckian goes on to strike quite a blow to Reid about his own literary esteem.

Fiacc later describes a visit to the pub with Seamus ‘Tweeds’ Heaney who doesn’t like Fiacc’s poems because he doesn’t understand them (p. 155).

‘Tweeds’, of course, went on to be a Nobel Laureate and Oxford’s Professor of Poetry. So there may be hope for us all yet.

…and a Happy New Year

Another year begins, and full of good intentions I have foregone chocolate thus far and pottered about for two hours with the Word document which, perhaps falsely, is titled ‘first chapter’.

What a difference a year makes – on January 1st 2010 I was a clothes size larger, living in Leicester, writing essays on Muriel Spark and cross-dressing in Orlando and Trumpet, I was writing my research proposal and filling in the application form for the end of January admissions cycle at Oxford. I was also a full year younger.

I’m back to England on Wednesday. According to my old diary this is the same day I went back to England as last year.

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