Chain Reaction

It is funny how things seem to come round full circle sometimes. I received an invitation to attend a reunion for the Ignite! Creative Sparks scheme which I can credit with not only providing the funds to help me start up PoetCasting, but also really fostering my fledgling interest in poetry as a teenager. I hardly feel old enough to attend any such reunion, but it has indeed been 6 years since I met the group and started down this whole poetry path.

As a condition of my funding I kept receipts and notes, which I tried to down size considerably before my move across town. In the receipt pile I found the Amazon invoice for The Full Indian Rope Trick by Colette Bryce which has gone on to become one of my primary texts for my DPhil. It looks an unassuming piece of paper, but for me that invoice has been the start of so much more.

Rick Hall, the Director of Programmes at Ignite!, has an exercise I’ve seen him deliver many times now. He gives groups a box of random materials and tells them to think creatively to make connections between the objects to produce a chain reaction. Every time the groups come up with new ways to pop a balloon or raise a ball in the air. For me, the chain started with a pile of poetry books and Ignite! – but who knows what other links are still to be put in the chain and where it will end.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on September 11th the Richard Attenborough Centre in Leicester. Of course, the venue is another poignant link in the chain for since the RAC is part of the University of Leicester’s Arts portfolio – and I used to live just down the road.

My Book Mania

When my books were safely on the shelves I gave no thought to their growing number and expanse, but as I popped them into 4 boxes and a small suitcase to move house I realised that yes, I do have more books than I thought. As I lifted the boxes I thought that maybe I have too many books. I squeezed them all into my new bookshelves – just about – and vowed that I would buy no more!


Except, when I went to buy a present in Blackwells I thought I might as well browse the second hand section, and then I saw one book that has been in my Amazon basket for ages since it has some early poems by one of my thesis poets, and another that I have already consulted in the library, but would be nice to have in my collection of Northern Irish poetry anthologies. Reader, I bought them both.


To make things worse I have the niggling guilt that my bedroom at home home (ie. back in Northern Ireland) is also slowly being taken over by the books I bring back in my suitcase. The shelves are bending under the weight so I’ve started piling them on the floor so they look like small mushrooms of modernist novels and little trees of literary theory. I’ve even kept some of my Old English texts because, I argue, I never know when perhaps I will be asked to give an impromptu seminar on Old English grammatical constructions in religious texts. (I hope this never happens). Also, once my books make it to Northern Ireland they rarely get let out again. When I have a house I dread their arrival, for Ikea Billy Bookcases may not cut it.


In penance I sat by my shelves and tried to pick out the lesser loved texts for the chop. I managed the grand total of 4. And I’m reconsidering one of them – what if it goes out of print?


Clearly this book problem isn’t going to get solved.

So, I can never ever move house again.



If you have been affected by any of the issues in this post you will almost certainly love Bookshelf Porn from which this photograph is taken.

Feeling moved.

I’ve moved across the city from the yummy mummy magnet that is Summertown to the more student friendly and less upmarket East Oxford. Not meaning to be ungrateful, but I couldn’t stick another year of halls. My new pad is a 1 bed in a converted 1871 terrace house with a pleasingly odd brick pattern and with all sorts of luxuries such as a double bed (!), a real sofa (!), a bath (!) and privacy. It also comes with less desirable features including more expensive rent, gas bills, electric bills and internet bills.


Since I moved to England at 18 I’ve now lived in 6 different houses/flats/halls. This means I’ve shifted boxes countless times – I’ve moved house by bus, courier, taxi, car and by simply dragging suitcases full of my stuff down the road. Moving like this is stressful and sweaty work – not least because I have accumulated stack loads of home wares from housemates past and have book shelves that could rival your local mobile library. For now, I would dearly like to stay put.

My Ford Ka did not look quite this bad coming up Iffley Road, but nearly.

Some day soon I’ll post a photo my new workspace, but I’d like to do some thesis work first to justify my existence.


Leg Work

I spent yesterday at the Saison Poetry Library which is based at the stunning Southbank Centre and holds the Arts Council poetry collection. This is a great resource for anyone interested in poetry since it holds an overwhelming amount of modern poetry, the books are available on inter library loan and they stock many periodicals too. Of course, it is even more important since many local libraries have abysmal poetry collections and university libraries aren’t open to everyone.

I didn’t really expect I’d have much cause to use it since the Bodleian is a copyright depository and therefore has virtually everything I require. However, the Poetry Library has a collection of newspaper cuttings and reviews on two of my three main poets – which is more than intriguing enough to get my attention and justify a trip on the Oxford Tube.

Altogether I was able to consult 18 reviews I hadn’t already come across in my research on various databases. This is quite a lot of material – some from small press periodicals that are not catalogued by content anywhere. Being able to have this presented to me in a plastic folder saved me many hours leg work, sending hundreds of stack requests, trawling through contents lists and desperately trying to photocopy a massive broadsheet in the corner of the library. I can only thank whoever did all that for me!

What have I learned from this experience? That a bit of awareness about where resources might be out there saves time and effort. Also, the Southbank Centre sells the best brownies I’ve ever had.

The business of conferences

This week I have in mind the business of academic conferences. Prospectuses and assessment timetables don’t make any mention of the time you spend on them, but as a postgraduate they are a necessity not just to showcase research but to gain skills transferable to the mythical world of real-life/post-doctoral academia.


The problem with the two main outputs from a doctoral degree is that the thesis itself is too blooming long to effectively communicate it all to anyone aside from your supervisor and examiners. A conference paper, on the other hand, at around 3000 words is too short to deliver much more than a generalised observation of a topic with some loose connection to a wooly theme (that is the raison d’être for the whole gathering).


Today I’m writing a paper for which I feel like my use of theory is rather simplistic, and making statements that if questioned on I could talk about length about the reasons I could happily disagree with myself on that point. I’m also making meal choices for the outing and sending some biographical information for the programme which is a useful procrastination task. This evening I have a Skype meeting to delegate tasks for conference organisation. My inbox pings daily with calls for papers, registration reminders and calls of distress from peers also managing the business of conferences.  To tell the truth, almost every aspect of conference attendance seems to be some grand exercise in the administration of research and employability.


Blog at