Welcome to the ‘Big Society’

In the time that I’ve managed to tear myself from the Guardian live blog on the Arts Council funding decisions (and the emotional rollercoaster that is the #artsfunding tag on Twitter) I’ve made some headway with the sample of writing for transfer.

The National Portfolio decisions are being portrayed as winners and losers, but ultimately these decisions mean that more broadly we will all be worse off for at least the next three years. One of the organisations I’m a Trustee of has received bad news today, despite valiant work. Others for which I work on a freelance basis have maintained and even in some cases increased on their funding bids. Today has been a game-changing day, that is for sure.

Of course, cuts will also have an incredible impact on how the higher education sector develops in the coming years. The other big funding story in my little world was the accusation by The Obersver at the weekend that the AHRC are to prioritise research into the Big Society. The AHRC are denying it though. I’m starting to wish I’d just become a banker.

More positively, in the short term, I’m now not far off 3/4 of this work done. Funny how re-thinking the introduction in a notebook at midnight can change the pace so drastically. An article from The Thesis Whisperer on ‘How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy)‘ is timely this week – although it might be too late on the bat shit crazy front.

7021 / 10000 words. 70% done!

The Source Hunt – What Google Can’t Tell You

5019 / 10000 words. 50% done!

I had hoped to be a little further on by this stage, but i was delayed by a niggling source issue.

When I’m arguing the case of influence, you’d think it would be a fairly simple case to find the source of certain allusiveness, but as I found out yesterday this isn’t always so – and for the first time it seemed that thinking outside of the box wasn’t delivering either. I Googled, I searched the texts available on Google Books, I searched JSTOR and a few other databases. I tried variable spellings. I consulted the books I have. I went to the library to consult the Complete poems. I Googled some more. I asked some knowledgeable friends.

I now have something close – although I’m still doubtful that I’m right. Very frustrating – but I think I need to let this one lie and get on with other things.

*Update* – My supervisor doesn’t know either. So clearly I’m not just totally incompetent.

Getting Somewhere

Yes, it is the return of the progress meter which I used frantically during my MA. This time it is for my sample of writing for transfer, with the target being 10,000 words.

I’ve been working on this for ages, but the progress has been slow on the actual word count because my readings require a lot of leg work in terms of reading the poetry and the theory and then re-reading the poetry to apply the theory. However, I’m hoping now that it is just a case of writing up I can get this into a good draft by next week to send to my supervisor.

4324 / 10000 words. 43% done!

Working at the desk of course means that I’ve done even more online procrastination than usual. My favourite distraction this week has been this tongue in cheek article on Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ as a radical text.

Feminist Publishing in Ireland

On Saturday I attended the second States of Independence event at De Montfort University in Leicester. This is an independent publishing event, with readings and talks as well as stalls from a selection of magazines and publishers. What interested me most on the programme was a talk by Dr. Deirdre O’Byrne at the Irish independent publishers in the 1980s, focusing in particular on the feminist press, Attic.

Attic Press logo

The press effectively came out of feminist advisory services, which were (as you might expect) rather risque in the conservative social climate. They published a number of groundbreaking texts, including prose, poetry, critical studies, women’s histories, guidebooks and much more besides. Deirdre brought along a number of books from her own collection, which all in all make for a good day out for the Irish studies bibliophile.

While the press did publish some Northern Irish related books, I can’t find much evidence that they had quite so much impact up North and they did in the Republic. There are a number of reasons for this, of which the most obvious is that feminism simply didn’t flower to the same extent due to the Troubles. This is covered well by Rebecca Pelan in Two Irelands: Literary Feminisms North and South.

Against the Grain

Mad & Bad Fairies

Women's Voices

Critical pamphlets

Tradition, Patriarchy and Irish Poetry

More and more, my thesis is coming circling around the issue of tradition and influence for women poets coming from a well established male lineage. There are lots of debates in there – do I take Harold Bloom’s (patriarchal) framework for intra-poetic relationships or Gilbert and Gubar’s feminist (but in places a little flimsy) framework? Can the two differing views be applied together?

Yeats is the poster boy for every other study of influence. After all, he preempted it himself by writing ‘Irish poets, learn your trade / Sing whatever is well made’. Yet, I can’t say I really see the generational transmission so clearly for women poets.

Where I find useful direction in Irish studies, I find the feminist critical view isn’t compatible. For example one text states:

‘In a small country as Ireland with what must necessarily be a tiny literary culture, individual voices are bound to crowd upon one another and the issue of influence may be more immediate than in the broader and more heterogeneous literary circles of Britain and America’
Terence Brown and Gerald Dawe, Tradition and Influence in Anglo-Irish Poetry (1989)

This point is fair, yet nowhere in the text is gender considered. No women poets are looked at and their absence isn’t noted. It is implied that the question of influence and tradition are very male affairs. The question, then, is how to address it now.

Yeats is where tradition comes from, apparently.

8th Week of Hilary

Today is the end of term here. These 8 week terms are seriously hard to get used to. I haven’t even considered when and for how long to go home for. Not that terms mean much for research students anyway. In fact, I’m sort of hoping that the lack of events will mean I’ll get more work done. I am now officially two terms into my thesis though…

The tail end of 8th week was taken up with re-working parts of my MA dissertation for an article. I’m returning today to theories of influence, looking this time at Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic. Most of what I know about this text comes from the infamous Rivkin and Ryan critical theory anthology, which is to say nothing about their theory of the ‘anxiety of authorship’, and also raises some questions about extracts of theory!

I should add, since I know that my old friend Jonny has asked me about the workload of a PhD, that I don’t normally work on weekends. I’m pretty busy for the next week with choir rehearsals for a CD recording, so I’m just making up time.

Gnomes with cousins

I’ve finished The Anxiety of Influence, with a bit of relief because I need to be getting on with my writing sample. However, to prove how entertaining/bonkers/bewildering literary criticism at its best can be, here is a short excerpt.

The God of poets is not Apollo, who lives in the rhythm of recurrence, but the bald gnome Error, who lives at the back of a cave; and skulks forth only at irregular intervals, to feast upon the mighty dead, in the dark of the moon. Error’s little cousins, Swerve and Completion, never come into his cave, but they harbor dim memories of having been born there, and they live in the half-apprehension that they will rest at last by coming home to the cave to die.

Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, p. 78.

In other news, I’ve had an abstract accepted for the Oxford postgraduate conference, ‘The Famed and the Forgotten’, in June. I’ll be speaking female absence in Northern Irish poetry pre-1995, which was the subject I spent most of last term working on.


This is apparently the cover of a book about gnomes by Wil Huygen.

The Critical Field

One of the things I’ve found most difficult about working on an unusually contemporary area of literature is the feeling that I’m alone. If you work on a major author – Joyce, Auden, Eliot or anyone else who no longer requires a forename – there is a strong chance that you will find someone in your institution or nearby who works on them. There may be a seminar series, conferences, even whole journals dedicated to the critical field. I’ve been feeling like my field is empty.

I don’t really dislike this – I love my area and the feeling of starting a dialogue. My work does also participate in lots of wider critical dialogues – with others working on contemporary poetry, modern Irish writing, women’s writing, feminism and so on. So my field does neighbour some others. Finding them can be a little difficult though, but I have some good news on that front.

I’ve just received a grant from my college to cover my membership fees of three of the research associations which relate most closely to my area. I’m joining the British Association of Irish Studies, the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association and the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association.

I suppose the Contemporary Northern Irish Women’s Poetry Association is a bit much to hope for right now.

Thia is intended to illustrate academics hanging out in a critical field.

Blog at WordPress.com.