Your research network(s) need you!

The Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network is currently recruiting new Steering Group members. The network is a cross-institutional and student-led initiative which aims to bring together postgraduate students working on contemporary writing by women. I’ve been on the Steering Group since 2010 and although I’ll be leaving when my doctoral studies finish it will be with regret because I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my peers.

I’m posting this to explain and reflect on the benefits of being involved in PG CWWN (in my case), but I strongly suspect it is true of any research network, group or association.

It is repeated time and again that doctoral students need ‘transferable skills’, and that even if you stay in academia, first class research often isn’t enough to secure that elusive first post. The nature of much literary research is that it simply doesn’t leave itself open to the kinds of activities which are necessary. I spend most days alone at my desk.

Being part of the network, though, means that I have experience in organising and hosting conferences and symposiums. I’ve built and maintained a website, run a blog and edited a newsletter. I’ve managed a mailing list and social media channels. I’ve applied for funding on both minor and major levels, and delivered the projects that funding was for. I’ve worked with my peers, represented postgraduate interests on a research association level and liaised with both literary writers and senior academics. I’ve reviewed abstracts and journal articles and edited a journal issue. I’ve also worked to find ways in which our network can build links with publishers and the public.  These things, of course, don’t guarantee me a job. They do however make me feel a little better about my prospects in the market.

I’ve also had fun. Doing all of the above on top of full time research isn’t always easy but, call me a glutton for punishment, I’ve enjoyed (nearly) every moment of it. I’ve built close relationships with the people on the steering group and I count many of those I’ve worked with over the time among my closest friends. Working together on various projects while at different stages of the doctoral journey has allowed for support, hints, tips, and encouragement when required.

This is the sort of fun you could be having in online meetings.

In a recent #ECRchat on Twitter, Charlotte Mathieson (@cemathieson) commented:

If what you need isn’t there, set it up! Make networks, journals, etc #feminism #academia #ECRchat

I quite agree. If it isn’t there – set it up. If it is there, make the most of it and in doing so make the most of your own research experience.

Woman (or man), your network needs you!


Sisters in Verse

I’ve been preparing over the past weeks for the half-day symposium I’m running tomorrow here in Oxford. The title is ‘Sisters in Verse: Contemporary Women’s Poetry’, which also seemed like a good title for a blog post on International Women’s Day.

With the notion of sisterhood in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to Tal al-Mallouhi, a Syrian blogger and poet who is two years younger than me. She was arrested in 2009 and has been in prison ever since. You can read more about her from English PEN, and I’m re-posting one of her poems here in the hope that you will take some form of action, like me.


You will remain an example

by Tal al-Mallouhi

I will walk with all walking people
And no
I will not stand still
Just to watch the passers by
This is my Homeland
In which
I have
A palm tree
A drop in a cloud
And a grave to protect me

This is more beautiful
Than all cities of fog
And cities which
Do not recognise me
My master:
I would like to have power
Even for one day
To build the “republic of feelings.”

(Translated by Ghias al-Jundi)


I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, but I’ve been very busy writing up my third chapter (which is about half way there now). In other news, an interview I conducted with poet Alice Oswald in January has been published in the new issue of Mslexia. You can read a sample from it on their website. I’ve also started my work for the Great Writers Inspire project. I’m doing all sorts behind the scenes, but I did publish a blog post on Sylvia Plath which is provoking some discussion over there.

Writing for outputs that aren’t my thesis is something I’m getting more and more comfortable with. Initially, I struggled when moving from regular reviewing work to my thesis writing. The issue was not so much a difference in register, but a difference in critical rigour and brevity. I was reassured when I discussed this issue with a PhD student friend who is also an occasional poetry reviewer and he confessed to meeting the same issue. Now, I try to make a self-consciousness about my register, topic and intended audience into a positive. It forces me to think about the writing as a presentation, rather than as a way of dumping my thoughts. That said, my blog is for dumping my thoughts (sorry about that).


CFP: Sisters in Verse: Contemporary Women’s Poetry

Sisters in Verse
Sisters in Verse: Contemporary Women’s Poetry

A half day symposium at the University of Oxford

Friday 9th March 2012

Keynote Panel Discussion: Kate Clanchy, Sophie Mayer & Jane Yeh

Adrienne Rich once stated that ‘the connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet’. This symposium aims to interrogate what these connections between women make possible in contemporary poetry. Given that a woman currently holds the British laureateship, we have clearly come some distance from deriding the ‘poetess’; this event seeks to evaluate recent transformations. From sisterhood and solidarity between recent generations of poets, to flat refusals to call one’s self a ‘woman poet’, there are many themes to discuss at this half day symposium.

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  •  Feminist poetics and écriture féminine
  • Protest poetry
  • Generational influence and anxiety
  • The development of twentieth century and post- millennial women’s poetry
  • The women of the ‘Next Generation Poets’ promotion
  • All-female anthologies and accusations of self- ghettoization
  • Relations between poets from different backgrounds
  •  Female laureateships; the journey from ‘poetess’ to poet laureate

Abstracts should be sent to by 17th February 2012. Full details at

Conference Retrospective: Time and Space in Contemporary Women’s Writing

I feel like I have lots to catch up on after ‘Time & Space in Contemporary Women’s Writing’ at the University of Hull last week. As part of my role on the Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network (PG CWWN) Steering Group, I certainly had plenty to be getting on with.

Around 50 delegates joined us for the packed programme. It kicked off on Thursday morning with Professor Ann Heilmann’s keynote on representations of 19th-century science in 21st-century women’s writing. Particularly striking for me from this keynote was the comparison between one of Darwin’s diary entries on the pros and cons of marriage with ‘The Balance Sheet’, Ruth Padel’s 21st century poetic rendering of that entry from Darwin: A Life in Poems (2009).

The second keynote from Welsh poet and writer Gwyneth Lewis followed on Friday morning. Followers of More Books, Please will note that this is the writer whose work I completed my MA dissertation on, so hearing her speak was always going to be a highlight for me. It turned out that her thoughts recently have been focusing on tradition and influence in women’s writing, which also happens to be one of the key elements of my thesis. Lewis set out the patrilinear model of tradition involving tribute to precursory poets through metrical imitation, and then suggested that such a model is increasingly flawed for women’s writing.

Other papers I chaired and particularly enjoyed included Emily Blewitt from Cardiff University on the ultrasound poem (something I’ve been thinking about myself in my second chapter), Mair Rees from Cardiff University on the female body as cultural space in welsh-language fiction and Sebastian Owen from York on Jorie Graham’s Overlord. There were other papers too, which I wish I’d been able to attend simultaneously.

My own paper “Where is she?”: Anthologies, Binaries and Northern Irish Poetry’ was on Friday morning. For the first time I brought some more sociological considerations into the mix, and provided photographs of paramilitary murals on a handout alongside short extracts of two poems central to my argument.

Just as valuable as the experience of presenting was the opportunity to attend Professor Mark Llewellyn’s career development workshop. Professor Llewellyn was frank about the challenges of the current and future higher education climate. His explanation of the REF process was encouraging in that he believes the end of the current phase in late 2013 may open up more jobs. His tips have been well noted.

Overall, more delegates were concerned with space than time. This perhaps suggests that critics still feel it necessary to consider contemporary women’s writing as carving a path through patriarchal canons. On a more practical level, perhaps, the term ‘space’ can simply be read in many more ways than ‘time’.

Just as one conference experience ends, another begins. I heard over the weekend that my abstract has been accepted for the CWWA’s Contemporary Women’s Gothic conference at the University of Brighton in November.

‘an end-of-the-line sense of freedom’

I’m in the middle of one of my busiest weeks for a while.

I was in Hull yesterday for a meeting with the PG CWWN steering group. We had a tour of the venue for our September conference, and sifted the abstracts into panels over lunch. We also had a gossip and a catch up, as ever.

Larkin quote in Hull station

Larkin quote in Hull station

I had a supervision this morning – my first of this term – and we discussed various aspects of both the work I’ve done and the work I’m planning on doing. I’m losing my voice though, and my tonsils were not amused at the rate of discussion. Still nothing on the transfer of status results, though.

I’ve also done some final prep on my conference paper for tomorrow’s Oxford graduate conference. I’m looking forward to the event, but I’m really hoping my voice holds out for the 20 minute paper.

On Saturday I’m heading to Brighton for three days, which will be a welcome break and will give me some freedom from my commitments for a few days. Naturally I’ve already looked up literary landmarks to look out for. I’ll hopefully visit some Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West related addresses and the only AIDS memorial in the UK. I watched Brighton Rock (the 1947 one) last weekend too – which is a fantastic movie, and I’ll see some (less highbrow) sights from Sugar Rush!

Thinking Conference-ward

Ms. The Plath Diaries has been posting about the wonderful world of academic conferences. She even has some useful tips on presentations, which I reccommend. This has reminded me, during my ‘holiday’, that I’m preparing a few conference related things in the next little while.

One is the paper I’m presenting at the Oxford English postgraduate conference, organised in part by Ms. Clamorous Voice. Most of the hard work has been done for this – although goodness knows what I’ll wear. I dislike fashion, if you weren’t aware.

Another thing I’ve been mulling around a bit is a plan for an abstract for another conference, which is due in before the end of April. The problem with this one is that it sounds good in three lines, but I’m not sure how to string it along for 20 minutes. In fact, I think the most important part of an abstract is not to suggest you will present on something you can’t/won’t/don’t actually want to present on. This is a no brainer, but sometimes I start on an abstract that flails wildly with some vague motion towards an obscure and wholly inappropriate conference theme. This generally happens on my down days, when my inbox seems to promise adulation at a sci fi conference in Nova Scotia.

Finally, I’m also working on the PG CWWN conference on ‘Time and Space in Contemporary Women’s Writing’. The deadline for abstracts for this is approaching – May 1st, by the way.

Really, however, the whole point of this post was to point excitedly at this song – ‘At the Academic Conference’.

Contemporary Canon = Anthologies?

So, I’m starting to settle into research here now, but not before dressing up for the matriculation ceremony.

Wadham Graduate Freshers 2010


Funny gowns aside, I’m doing some research training through the English Faculty and the Humanities Division, and I’ve agreed a deadline for my first bits of work with my supervisor. I’m starting by looking at female absence in Northern Irish poetry pre-1995, which allows me to look at the verse both literally in terms of the number of women publishing and how women were publishing and the themes of the canonical/anthologised verse. Pre-1995 work is a little out of my comfort zone, but it is still important.

I spent the weekend at the University of Leicester – my former home – at a PG Contemporary Women’s Writing Network event. I’ve just joined the steering group, so I can’t take any credit for the excellent ‘Theory and Practice in Women’s Writing Event’. The focus on feminist and queer theory combined with workshops on teaching and publication was a refreshing change from the usual conference panel structure.

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