Foodies, Fashion Gurus, Art Lovers, Poets: Exploring the East End

Personally, I believe that students of Queen Mary are extremely lucky to study in such a vibrant and interesting area of London. We get the best of both worlds. For those people who dislike the hustle and bustle of the inner city, the location of Queen Mary is perfect as it is tucked away in Mile End, surrounded by many different bars, pubs, and markets. On the other hand, for those cosmopolitan individuals who love the city life, we are only a few tube stops away on the central line from central London.

But for me, it’s all about the East End. Think about it, when people come to London for a day trip you usually hear them squealing excitedly about Camden Market or Oxford Street. You don’t tend to hear them exclaim ‘I can’t wait to go to Brick Lane for a curry!’ And it’s their loss. We are blessed to be able to study at the centre of one of London’s hidden gems. Shoreditch is just a short bus ride away on the number 25 or the 205, where you’ll find quirky cocktail bars and pubs. My personal favourite is Brew Dog (which can also be found in Shepherd’s Bush and Camden) as it sells craft beers and ales, which makes a nice change from the standard draught lagers that are found in every other pub. It also has a downstairs seating area which reminded me of Snape’s dungeon from Harry Potter, which was also an attraction. Another highlight of Shoreditch for me is the BoxPark because of the immense variety of food it has to offer! This is because businesses are given just a 12 month spot in the BoxPark, meaning that it is constantly fresh and exciting. There are also bars inside the BoxPark and, for those of you who are interested in poetry like myself, there is a Spoken Word open mic night there once a month called BoxedIn, which is definitely worth checking out.

Walk towards Whitechapel and swing a right and you will end up at Brick Lane, the student saviour! The area is brimming with Indian restaurants all scrambling to offer you the best student deals. Often with starters, mains and sides for £10 and the choice to ‘Bring Your Own Booze’, you really can’t go wrong as it makes for a fun and cheap night out. On a Sunday Brick Lane also hosts a massive vintage clothing market and food market, which offers a variety of cuisines. The vintage market is affordable and perfect for all fashionistas as its vast range and size means that you could easily spend the whole day browsing the rails.

Finally, my little hidden gem of the year: the Bow Arts Centre. Situated at 181 Bow Road, the ‘Nunnery Gallery’ is a contemporary art gallery and exhibits work from a different ‘emerging artist’ each month. The gallery is tucked away behind Grove Hall Park which, along with its small size, makes it seem intimate and secret. Inside the gallery is the Carmelite Café which, although slightly pricey, offers a fantastic range of lunches, cakes, breakfasts and snacks. Perfect for a special treat!

Here ends my whistle stop tour of the East End, all the areas that I believe are the perfect student hot spots. We have something for everyone: foodies, fashion gurus, art lovers, poets. I can honestly say that I would not have wanted to study anywhere else.

English Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future

Perhaps all I wanted to do was to confide or confirm my taste (probably unconditional) for literature, more precisely for literary writing. Not that I like literature in general, nor that I prefer it to something else, to philosophy, for example, as they suppose who ultimately discern neither one nor the other. Not that I want to reduce everything to it, especially not philosophy. Literature I could, fundamentally, do without, in fact, rather easily. If I had to retire to an island, it would be particularly history books, memoirs, that I would doubtless take with me, and that I would read in my own way, perhaps to make literature out of them, unless it would be the other way round, and this would be true for other books (art, philosophy, religion, human or natural sciences, law, etc.). But if, without liking literature in general and for its own sake, I like something about it, which above all cannot be reduced to some aesthetic quality, to some source of formal pleasure, this would be in place of the secret. In place of an absolute secret. There would be the passion. There is no passion without secret, this very secret, indeed no secret without this passion. In place of the secret: there where nevertheless everything is said and what remains is nothing – but the remainder, not even of literature.

–   Jacques Derrida, ‘Passions: “An Oblique Offering”’, trans. David Wood, in Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 27-28

Less well-known than his more famous (and frequently bowdlerized) elaborations of ‘textuality’, this formulation of Derrida’s pertaining to ‘literary writing’ articulates an unconditional relation to such writing which would put some pressure on familiar historical attempts to ‘defend’ literature qua sub-field of the ‘humanities’. If the homology isn’t hubristic, a similar concern lies behind our attempt, in this book, to bring together a collection of approaches to the discipline of English Studies which affirm literature in all its difference.

English StudiesEnglish Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future, is a text which hopes to articulate something of what is affirmed by the singular investments made in this subject by its practitioners, whilst avoiding the good conscience and defensive commonplaces found in the frequently-reductive journalism on the topic. The last hundred or so years of literary scholarship (and yes, ‘theory’) have given the lie to the claim that our wing (or crypt) of the humanities must or can somehow be ‘defended’; for who could presume to ‘defend’ something so dangerous, so enigmatically performative (and performatively enigmatic), as literature?

The book comprises a sequence of essays – organized, with a little licence, around the idea of the ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’ of the discipline – which cohere around the necessity not of intervening on behalf of the discipline, but gesturing toward some of the ways in which this intervention is constitutive of the discipline. Accordingly, the publicity material for the book will tell you that it ‘[Brings] together a proposal for English to be understood as a “boundary practice”; an exploration of the study-guide genre; an account of Derrida’s “the university without condition”; a consideration of how the subject might negotiate current technological changes and government interventions; the dilemma of cognitive literary criticism; a case study of English and “employability”; and the relationship between English in Higher Education and Secondary Education’. Nowhere in this collection is the ‘identity’ of the subject taken as read; indeed, an interrogation of this putative identity is shown to be methodologically fundamental to the affirmations of English Studies we find here. At some remove from ponderous debates about ‘canon’ (which take as read an idea of the discipline’s unwavering formal interior), and equally apart from insolent attempts to define the ‘essence’ of literature, the essays collected in this volume localize the importance of English Studies and its constitutive autocritique, historically, politically, epistemologically, and ethically.

English Studies… began life as a conference held at Queen Mary in June 2013. Our call for papers began: ‘Faced with pressure to quantify and commodify our research and our teaching through the narrow and potentially homogenizing parameters of concepts such as “impact”, many researchers and teachers in English departments seem to retreat from the challenge of affirming what it is that we value in the study and teaching of English.’ These pressures, if anything, have been exacerbated since then, and so this book is intended not as an overview of the ‘state of the discipline’, but as an invitation to continue discussions in this vein – discussions which, we believe, are crucial to the discipline’s future(s).

Performances that Changed Lives

I individually asked a group of 1st year Drama students at my University about a performance that changed their lives and why. A mixture of excitement and profundity, the answers were touching and made me smile all the way through this process.

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“A serious – and often seriously funny – writer”: Researching Beryl Bainbridge

My book on the novelist Beryl Bainbridge, imaginatively entitled Beryl Bainbridge, was published at the end of 2014, but the origins of the project go right back to my undergraduate degree. I first read Bainbridge’s According to Queeney (2001) on a final-year contemporary literature module at Hull and confess I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was something peculiar, ambiguous and intriguing that I found hard to pinpoint, something which undercut the sentimental cover image of a rosy-cheeked Hesther Thrale mère et fille. I filed it away in the mental folder marked ‘deserves further scrutiny’.

As I got towards the end of my MA at UEA and my thoughts turned to PhD research, I dusted off that folder and alongside a series of ludicrous and unmanageable projects, Bainbridge stood out. I also remembered Jane Thomas, who had introduced According to Queeney to the reading list at Hull, talking about how scandalously Bainbridge had been neglected by academics. These memories sent me hurrying to the UEA library to see what else she had written and whether I could face spending three or four years in her company.

Huw Marsh, 'Beryl Bainbrudge' (Northcote House, 2014)
Huw Marsh, ‘Beryl Bainbrudge’ (Northcote House, 2014)

I started to read Bainbridge’s back catalogue, first in a fairly piecemeal fashion and then more systematically. All sorts of connections began to emerge, not just between the earlier novels, which loosely follow the contours of Bainbridge’s adolescent years in and around Liverpool, but also between this period and the later historical novels like According to Queeney and Master Georgie (1998), which tended to be treated as a separate phase of her career. It seemed that whether she was writing about her own past or the world-historical past, Bainbridge was always asking questions about the nature of history, memory and representation. She was also engaging with pressing debates in contemporary fiction and criticism (particularly from critics concerned with the nature of the postmodern), and whilst her exclusion from these debates seemed wrongheaded it also provided me with a viable project.

In the absence of a raft of Bainbridge scholars, the application process was largely a matter of putting out feelers to see who was interested in supervising the project. Fortunately a number of potential supervisors expressed an interest, including Mary Condé at Queen Mary. I chose QMUL not just because I thought Mary would be a great supervisor, which she was, but also because of the Department’s reputation. And by reputation I don’t mean just the Top Trumps metrics of league tables and KPIs, but rather the comments and recommendations of tutors and other people who know the department and the atmosphere it fosters. It was also a shortish bike ride down the canal from where I lived, which helped.

I enrolled part-time for the first year and applied for and was awarded AHRC funding from the second year onwards (this was pre Block Grant, which ages me). The research itself was fun – genuinely – and although there must have been moments of crisis I seem to have blocked them from my memory. I was fortunate that early on I spotted a tiny, two-sentence report in the Guardian saying that the British Library had bought Beryl Bainbridge’s personal papers, and even more fortunate that they let me access the papers before they had been catalogued. It was exciting to know I was the first person to study these documents and I never quite knew what I was going to find. Sometimes I would trawl through final drafts or proofs that varied little from the published texts and at other times I would find an alternative ending, or an unpublished play, or an erotic doodle in the margins of a letter. It was hard to avoid getting side-tracked by tantalising detective work on fragments from diaries or letters, but dead ends and wild goose chases are all part of the process.

The archival work helped me develop a stronger understanding of how Bainbridge constructed her stories and of the underlying research she stripped away to create her elliptical novels. It also brought to the fore questions of fact and fiction and the ways in which Bainbridge narrativised the past in its many senses. Among the documents is a scrapbook prepared by Bainbridge, which gives a ‘key’ to the people on whom she based characters from her early novels, including photographs and short bios. For the biographer, this would have been invaluable, but for the literary critic schooled in postructuralism and suspicious of biographical readings it presented a series of questions: how much ‘weight’ should I give to Bainbridge’s claims that her early novels were fictionalised memoirs? Do they even work as such? If so, why were they published as novels? And are there any connections between these fictionalised autobiographies and her later fictionalised histories? It also spoke to a series of questions I had been asking about the ways in which Bainbridge’s personality and her anti-analytical attitude toward her work affected its critical reception. There was a tendency, I noticed, to dismiss Bainbridge’s novels as the ‘slight’ or ‘minor’ work of an eccentric, and to overlook the depth and complexity of the fiction itself.

All of these questions were complicated by the fact that Bainbridge was alive – and able to answer back – while I was researching and writing the thesis. I ummed and ahhed about whether to contact her, but when it was announced she would open the summer fete in the Suffolk village where my girlfriend (now wife) grew up, it was practically unavoidable. (N.B. Please be aware the above photo was taken some years ago and I have since rethought my hair choices. And yes, that is Terry Waite, who lives in Hartest and invited Bainbridge to open the fete.) We subsequently arranged an interview and spoke for a couple of hours, fuelled by strong cups of tea. As I expected she was welcoming but guarded and reluctant to analyse or attribute meaning to her work. The interview didn’t fundamentally change the direction of my research, though I’m glad I took the opportunity to meet her and it helped fill one or two gaps in the documents. In fact, it was worthwhile just to visit the Camden townhouse that formed the setting for several of her novels, complete with full-sized stuffed buffalo in the hallway and airgun pellet hole in the ceiling from when her mother-in-law tried to shoot her.

Such was the apparent eccentricity of Bainbridge’s life that it’s tempting to focus on the anecdotal when writing about her (see paragraph above), but when I reflect on it now I hope my research has helped to reveal what a serious – and often seriously funny – writer she was. Not only did my PhD inform my recent book but it also opened up avenues for current and future research projects on history and historicity, comedy, and contemporary canon formation. One of the things I love about research is that it opens up questions rather than closing them down.

As is sadly so often the case, an upsurge of interest in Bainbridge’s writing arrived only after her death, but there is a growing sense that she is now gaining the recognition she deserved. KCL recently staged an exhibition of her paintings, suggesting a whole new side to her artistic practice, and a biography is forthcoming from her friend and assistant Brendan King. More controversially, in 2011 the Man Booker committee awarded Bainbridge’s Master Georgie (1998) a posthumous ‘Best of Beryl’ award in recognition of her record five appearances on the Booker shortlist without a win. Too little too late, perhaps, and that seems to be the view of Mark Knopfler, singer and guitarist with giants of eighties rock Dire Straits, who I will forever associate with interminable childhood car journeys and my conviction that ‘Money for Nothing’ was about a man who got his ‘chips for free’. The lead single from Knopfler’s new solo album is entitled ‘Beryl’ and includes the lines ‘Beryl/Every time they overlooked her/When they gave her a Booker she was dead in her grave’. I may have spent years researching Bainbridge but I did not see that one coming…

Three Tips to Save Money in London

1) Get a railcard

To help with travel costs, get a 16-25 railcard to save a 1/3 on train fares (which is great for visiting family and friends across the country). More interestingly though, the card can be tied to your oyster card and will save you a 1/3 on tube fares too. Prices for the railcards vary but they’re frequently on offer online for under £30 online and they last for 12 months. Once you have your railcard, take it to a ticket office at a major tube station and ask a member of staff to tie the card to your oyster card (Stratford station is happy to do this for you and is just down the road from Queen Mary). You have to fill in a form which you can do online or in person, but it doesn’t take long. If you’re a mature student, don’t worry. Students over 25 and in full time education can still get the railcard for the same price and length of time as younger students.

2) Shop at large supermarkets

It’s easy to overspend anywhere if you’re not careful with your cash, but particularly in London it can be tricky to find larger supermarket chains within easy access of where you’re living. Stores on Mile End road such as Sainsbury’s Local and Budgens are great for grabbing some late night snacks or topping up your supply of bread and milk, but a weekly shop in local convenience stores will seriously set you back financially if done regularly. If you’re living on campus or in an area where there isn’t a big supermarket nearby, my advice would be to order online. This is a great option for cutting out the miserable agony of dragging endless heavy bags of tins, cans, and bottles across London and risking the carrier bag splitting and all your purchases exploding over a poor unsuspecting passer-by. If you order online as a group, be sure to keep a note of how much everyone owes to save hassle later. Be sensible with what you buy – try to avoid ordering vast quantities of your favourite junk food and think practically about which meals you can make with what you’re buying.

3) Think about what you’re eating and be prepared

Once you get busy at university, it’s easier to get lazy and order a takeaway or just scoff a family size bag of crisps than it is to prepare a proper meal. If you’re unsure about cooking, the solution is to learn how to cook basic foodstuffs (rice, pasta, noodles) and add vegetables and meat to make sure it’s balanced enough to give you energy and keep you full. Eggs are great for keeping you full and won’t break the bank – learn to make tasty omelettes and you’re sorted. Buy a loaf of bread and make sandwiches rather than buying them elsewhere.  Take a bottle of water/juice/squash with you when you go out instead of spending £1.50 on a bottle of Diet Coke in a corner shop. These little things will make all the difference and will mean you don’t have to fork out for overpriced items when you’re on the go.

You’re at the heart of London – get out there!

As students at a London university, we do not always appreciate the capital city enough. We take places close to us for granted. However, I was given the opportunity to study English and History at Queen Mary and I am making the most of it! Being at the heart of London, I have access to so many attractions and places to visit. You need a couple of years to fully experience and engage with the city. I never saw myself living in London, and yet here I am, accomplishing a dream that I never knew I had!

My interests lie in photography and history. So, a good place to start my exploration was at museums. The best thing about them is that they are completely free to visit and there are so many to choose from in London alone. I was lucky enough to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum for my module ‘Literatures in Time’ last year. Studying English at university is not only about reading books and articles but being able to visit exhibitions and attend lectures on a topic that interests you. In this way, we are actively learning and gaining a deeper understanding about our subject matter. You can either go with a specific motive or just enjoy the artifacts at your leisure.

Not only does the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection span two thousand years of art, it also covers work from all parts of the world. So if there is a particular period or culture you want to research, you can do so by admiring the products of their time and the changes that occurred since. You can make your own judgement as to whether there are similar traits within different cultures, as England is a multicultural country. There is beauty in the mixture of backgrounds and traditions as it indicates assimilation and appreciation of one another.

The Great Court at the British Museum, image by Jenny Chowdhury
The Great Court at the British Museum, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

There are a few modules that Queen Mary offers on architecture and museums around London alone which indicates the recognition of the importance of enhancing education through current research and artifacts to fully appreciate culture. It is a different experience to sitting in an hour’s lecture and only being given the chance to get an overview rather than the in-depth detail that we need. You can research further through resources outside of the university space. If interested in architecture, take a trip to the British Museum. The glass roof is spectacular. The Great Court used to be a courtyard and a competition was held to redesign the area. It is a two-acre space, allowing room for visitors to wander and rest and is known to be the largest covered public space in Europe. The work on the roof began in 1999 and was designed by Foster and Partners in such a way that the panes of glass are non-identical. It is definitely a sight to see!

Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum, image by Jenny Chowdhury
Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

If there is a question that you have had a burning desire to get answered, and you never had the courage to ask, then go and research it for yourself! A sense of satisfaction will be achieved. I have taken up the module ‘Black Writing in Britain’ and I was conversing with my peers about a question that has been on my mind since a Year Seven history class. My question was, ‘Would I have been considered black because of my brown skin colour?’ Now studying this course, it is helping me understand that Asians and Black people in Britain in the twentieth century were viewed as part of the same minority group. Although they are from different time periods, from the sixteenth century to today’s day and age, the conception of the ‘other’ remains within our mind-set in the modern day. After nearly ten years, I am still trying to understand my identity as a British-born Bangladeshi.

What I am encouraging you to do is to not leave any questions unanswered. Research, research, research until you find your answer. Grab any opportunity you can and make the most of your time at university. It’s the best time to explore and develop your learning through visiting extraordinary places!

‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ – Uncivil Genius

‘War is wonderful, until someone is killed.’ Such is the beauty – harrowing, hilarious – of Louis de Bernières’ ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’. This epigram is typical of the writer’s uncivil genius. Another stroke of it: ‘Honour and common sense; in the light of the other, both of them are ridiculous. 

The novel follows happenings on the Greek island of Cephallonia, during World War II. As Pelagia says of her eccentric father, Dr Iannis, Bernières ‘made my feet grow into the earth by telling me its stories’. This idyll and its citizens are devastated by invasion and we are taken through every stage with sympathy and delicious skill. Bernières juggles comedy and tragedy artfully – amidst the chirping lyrics of town life there are staccato beats and refrains warning of catastrophe that reaches an agonising crescendo. Through him, time travel is possible – he leads the reader behind the ‘moss and honeysuckle’ to a paradise of the past, turning the world into an amphitheatre, regaling a happiness now on par with myth.

Myth, allegorically, is the starting point: an Elysium the setting – which is raped and ruined – and villagers strong as Hercules; likened to Apollo; evocative of Persephone. The weather, too, is made magic: ‘We were enveloped in snow, and an accursed Arctic wind sprang up from the north that flung itself upon us like the bunched fist of a Titan.’ All this seems part of Bernières’ effort to keep the Giants of the past alive, thus spotlighting the existing Earthly Gods: Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini etc. What Bernières seems to be asking is, what is wrong with fantasy? Or even, is there such a thing? He fluctuates from romanticism to reality throughout. When Socrates, sufferer of neurasthenia, is healed by a Saint’s Day parade he ‘performed the most athletic and spectacular tsalimia that any of them had ever seen’ – do you readers disbelieve, he asks? Yet you can conceive a war of pandemonic proportions?

Bernières augments the poignancy of it by zeroing in on individual’s tragedies. As a storyteller, he shows himself to be a master of the polyphonic. In the first eight pages we have sympathy and can laugh with Dr Iannis. The second chapter, purely using the speech of one man to illustrate a scene, is so starkly different from the former narrator but recognisably Bernières in the deft use of vocabulary. It is the defiling of a fisherman, Madras, who swims with befriended dolphins, ‘A man who jumbled marriage together with whitebait and war […], with dolphins’ that in some ways eclipses, defines, epitomises, if even for a moment, all the horrors of war. Such specifics make WWII- an intangible fantasy to many- raw and real. Metaxas, a ‘poodle amongst wolves’; ‘A formidable widow who sometimes dreamed in Turkish but had forgotten how to speak it.’ – the cast is as formidable and intricate as Isabel Allende’s in ‘House of Spirits’.

Almost sacrilegiously (for a war novel), the story is jubilantly weaved with long syntax buoyed by effervescent vocabulary. This creates a highly comical voice rich with hyperbole and bathos. Visconti Prasca is, for example, ‘A meteor who turned out to be an incandescent fart’. Bernières sophisticates simplicity, as is seen in the passages below:

“You have an exorbitant auditory impediment,” replied the doctor, ever conscious of the necessity for maintaining a certain iatric mystique, and fully aware that ‘a pea in the ear’ was unlikely to earn him any kudos. ‘I can remove it with a fishhook and a small hammer; it’s the ideal way of overcoming un embarrass de petit pois.’ He spoke the French words in a mincingly Parisian accent, even though the irony was apparent only to himself.’

‘He took the old man over to the window, threw open the shutters, and an explosion of midday heat and light instantaneously threw the room into an effulgent dazzle, as though some importunate and unduly luminous angel had misguidedly picked that place for an epiphany.’

‘It had been a good day for payments; he had also earned two very large and fine crayfish, a pot of whitebait, a basil plant, and an offer of sexual intercourse (to be redeemed at his convenience).

The prose is poetry:

It exposes colours in their original prelapsarian state, as though straight from the imagination of God in His youngest days, when He still believed that all was good.’

‘[…] the Morse code of virgin light glancing after the perpetual motion of the waters, conspired together and unknotted the dry bones in his heart.’

Its pupil began to transfix her like an awl.’, not – one can note – ‘she was hooked’.

Bernières mocks the human race for its arrogance whilst simultaneously lionising them, making clowns of the ringmasters and star acts of commoners. Personification and anthropomorphism are prevalent techniques for this, in themselves symbolic of humans’ attempted domination of all, and the animation of the inanimate provides tension in the surprise of what will affect the story next. There is mastery in characterising a mine as ‘forlorn-looking’.;‘With a metallic crash the gun leapt backwards, its base hopping on its bed like an excited dog jumping for a tidbit.‘; ‘martens […] gathered together in groups […] waiting like opera-lovers before the overture begins.’ This raconteur knows the imagination and entertains it as a gifted host.

What is further evinced by the above is Bernière’s ear for exciting language. ‘Insufficiency of fish in the ocean‘- this gorgeous rush of sounds echoes the ocean itself. A character ‘spoke as if it had a pebble in its throat and a bee up its nose’, ‘talks Greek like a Spanish cow.‘ The title of the book proves prudent as this theme of sound, of musicality, is cardinal. Corelli is a name that sounds like the sweet strum of a mandolin, and the man is one with ‘nightingales in his fingers.‘ His love story with Pelagia- a resplendently intelligent and liberated woman- is lovely but was not the focal thread for me, so wrapped was I in the whole tapestry. Bells are struck by bullets and ‘she listened to the ominous silence of the morning, and realised that it was more consoling to listen to the barrages and thunderbolts of war.‘ Such attention to the aural is perfect given the traditional nature of the setting and the inhabitants affection for the inherited past, as when stories were oral events.

It is a book that is as enlightening as it is reproachful, contemptuous and sensuous, centering on the heartbreaking truth of the fallibility of humanity. I loved this book for what it taught me and finish this laud with a final quote:

I have always tried to show you the affection that I have felt, without taking anything from you and without giving you anything that you did not want.’

*********

This review originally appeared on LibraEve – Book Reviews from Eve.

Mastering a Masters (or trying to)

My three years at Queen Mary is flying by, and for me and my friends it’s time to start thinking about the Future. Grim. For me, it’s the pursuit of a postgraduate degree, and since I’ve begun researching and applying for masters study I thought I’d offer some advice.

What follows is not the wisdom of someone who has completed postgraduate study, but a selection of tips and bits of information that I’ve found useful, crucially as a final year student still in the process of mastering the search for a masters.

 The personal statement

‘This is far too meek and please-sir-can-I-have-some-more. The idea should be to bust down the doors, jump on the table and shout “I am something very special indeed”.’

These are the words of a very trusted friend of mine, a doctor, who read a shoddy draft of my personal statement over Christmas. For many of us, such a task has not been undertaken since our UCAS application, which I wrote three years ago. As much as it was then, it’s a tricky business trying to score the perfect balance between professional modesty and proving your worth. And there’s little assistance to be sought from reading over your old statement; I cringe to think back to my opening line (how proud I was of it at the time!): ‘In the words of Virginia Woolf…’

Oxford’s advice guide states that ‘A statement which indicates the likely dissertation research area the candidate wishes to pursue is more useful than one which presents personal interests, achievements and aspirations.’ At graduate level it doesn’t matter whether you’ve achieved Duke of Edinburgh Awards or play polo – what matters is that you like studying English and, more importantly, that you’re good at it.

Leave out the hobbies, but don’t leave out the showing off. On the contrary, says my reviewer, ‘Bring out intellectual fireworks and do some serious boasting about all the stuff you’ve done’. Your dissertation should be the non plus ultra of your degree, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk about how great an independent researcher and thinker you are through a discussion of your project.

Finally, do not be embarrassed about getting people – clever people – to read it. Ask lecturers, PhD students, good undergraduates for help, and don’t worry if they say, as mine did, to rewrite it – your application will be better for it.

Be clear on funding

After undergraduate loans and grants the world of postgraduate study can seem a very scary place. As it stands there is no state funding for masters students, and very little funding from the universities, especially for arts and humanities students. There is, of course, the odd bursary here and there, as well as fee discounts for continuing students (at Queen Mary, for instance, we get a grand off if we stay).

Last year, however, I woke up to news on my phone that the chancellor had announced the introduction of postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 set to start in 2016. And in that moment it seemed all of my worries had gone away. Considering that I’d become so disillusioned at the reality of current postgraduate funding (the lack of it), the prospect of ten grand certainly cheered my spirits.

This is a very important development in higher education, but don’t give up hope on 2015. For those of us who are graduating this year, and who pay the nine grand tuition fees, universities are offering some incentives in the form of bursaries to encourage students to come along in September.

Maybe there is some hope.

Cast your net wide

When I began looking at postgraduate courses I had pretty definite ideas about the kind of places I wanted to study, and even firmer ideas about where I didn’t want to go. I knew I was at an up-and-coming institution, with a vibrant forward-thinking English department, and in east London, not a traditional setting for a Russell Group university. I wanted to avoid universities I perceived as being stuffy or boring (the kind that don’t teach loads of critical theory), and where loads of posh people go.

What I was guilty of, however, was being too closed-minded about many of these institutions. Consequently, I forced myself to look up courses in, make enquiries at, and research as many different universities and departments as possible. At this point, I made the courses and the departments my point of interest, not the preconceptions I had about the institutions.

As I look at all these English departments, north and south, British and international, old and young, I find each offering something particular and unique that makes me want to study there. Many of them are different, even opposing, in outlook and style. We should be excited by different options, though, and investigate these places as a way of trying to figure out what it is we actually want when we apply to study somewhere.

Do you want to learn there?

If we’re not going to base our choice of programme on what is familiar to us or what we thought about the university, what can we look out for? Ask if you want to learn at this institution, in that department, with these people.

It might work to begin by looking up the academics that work in the department, whether you know them or admire their work, and if they seem to offer the kind of ethos you want to work with. In my applications, I have noticed that some critics I have referenced in essays pop up here and there, and this was a good way for me to judge what kind of work gets produced in these places, and whether I want to be part of that. There are also, of course, those celebrity academics we’d all jump at the chance to work with. A word of warning, though, there is of course no guarantee that you would be taught by any particular academic, and, as I learned, they do tend to move around. Having written why I wanted to study under a lecturer at one university, she subsequently (and very inconveniently) moved to another.

Another way to gauge the character of the department in question, without looking to individuals, is to check out their research environment. All departments will list their current projects, and their research strengths and interests. Does their research look helpful to you and does yours look complementary to theirs? Look out for graduate seminars, whether they host conferences, and if they explicitly favour an interdisciplinary or comparative research culture. Do these fit into that you want to study?

More than ever before postgraduate study is about what you want, so investigate how each English department works as well as what it works on. Have you preferred being taught in lectures or in seminars? Queen Mary, for instance, teaches only in seminars, whereas Birkbeck incorporates both.

Do they want to you there?

Are they too busy pouring water to have a proper conversation with you? This is a question I had to ask myself when I attended a postgraduate fair at Senate House last year. A member of a university admissions team really didn’t seem bothered in having to sell their institution and wasn’t very helpful. It is so important to think about whether that university wants you there, whether they value you as a contributor to their intellectual life, or if they regard you merely as someone privileged to be studying with them.

This final point relates to all of the previous. You are paying a lot of money to be at your chosen university, you are beginning to work as a mature and independent learner, and you want to choose somewhere you want be a part of. You have to sell yourself in the application, but a good university will try to sell itself to you, too. Think about whether they seem to value their students – do they offer you as much as you offer them?

Empty Words: Writing Medieval London

In this post I publish my PhD thesis, ‘Verba Vana: Empty Words in Ricardian London’, which was completed in 2012.

Two things prompted me to publish my project here. Firstly, three years after submitting it, I have finally reached the stage where I’ve forgotten enough of the thesis to no longer be embarrassed by it. Secondly, while I have moved sideways in the intervening three years (staying in HE, but moving into the administrative sphere), I remain interested in developments in the field. In particular, recent and on-going discussions about London scribal practices suggested to me that there may be broader interest in my discussion (and transcription/translation) of the 1388 Guild Petitions, including the Mercers’ Petition – sometimes thought to have been written by Adam Pinkhurst.

The links below lead to two pdfs of the thesis (the first contains the body of the thesis, the second the appendices and bibliography). These faithfully reproduce the thesis that was passed by my examiners: Professors Ardis Butterfield and Mark Ormrod. The thesis does show signs of intellectual naivety, and my weaknesses in palaeography and languages will be obvious. But it also contains some fresh analyses, both of canonical literary texts (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide) and little-studied civic documents (including extracts from Letter-Book H and the Westminster Chronicle, as well as various petitions). As such, I hope this thesis may prove useful to some.

Feel free to contact me (r.ellis@qmul.ac.uk) with any questions or comments you may have.

Thesis

Volume 1 – Thesis (*.pdf)

Volume 2 – Appendices (*.pdf)

Abstract

Verba Vana, or ‘empty words’, are named as among the defining features of London by a late fourteenth-century Anglo-Latin poem which itemises the properties of seven English cities. This thesis examines the implications of this description; it explores, in essence, what it meant to live, work, and especially write, in an urban space notorious for the vacuity of its words. The thesis demonstrates that anxieties concerning the notoriety of empty words can be detected in a wide variety of surviving urban writings produced in the 1380s and 1390s. These include anxieties not only about idle talk – such as janglynge, slander, and other sins of the tongue – but also about the deficiencies of official discourses which are partisan, fragmentary and susceptible to contradiction and revision. This thesis explores these anxieties over the course of four discrete chapters. Chapter one, focusing on Letter-Book H, Richard Maidstone’s Concordia and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale, considers how writers engaged with the urban power struggles that were played out on Cheapside. Chapter two, examining the 1388 Guild Petitions, considers how the London guilds legitimised their textual endeavours and argues that the famous Mercers’ Petition is a translation of the hitherto-ignored Embroiderers’ Petition. Chapter three, looking at several works by Chaucer, John Gower, the Monk of Westminster and various urban officials, explores the discursive space that emerges following justified and unjustified executions. Chapter four, focusing on Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and John Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide, contends that the crises of speech and authority that these poems dramatise can be productively read within the context of the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Through close textual analysis, this thesis analyses specific responses to the prevalence of empty words in the city, while also reflecting more broadly on the remarkable cultural, linguistic, social, and political developments witnessed in this period.

Full Contents

Volume I

Preliminary Materials

Declaration
Abstract
List of Tables
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
Acknowledgments
Notes on Quotations and Appendices

Introduction

A Prelude: The Variable Fortunes of Nicholas Exton
Introduction

1. ‘Chepp, stupha, Coklana’:  Ricardian Cheapside and Urban Power Struggles

Introduction
Conceptualising Late Fourteenth-Century Cheapside
‘[T]am tubis & fistulis ducatur per Chepe’ (4.3): Order and Transparency in Letter-Book H
‘[I]nsurreccionem congregaciones & conuenticule’ (5.2): Sir Nicholas Brembre’s Anti-Associational Rhetoric
‘Mediam dum rex venit usque plateam’ (275): Mediation in Richard Maidstone’s Concordia
‘For whan ther any ridyng was in Chepe/Out of the shoppe thider wolde he lepe’ (I.4377-78): Conflict Irresolution in Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale
Conclusion

2. ‘[D]olium, leo verbaque vana’: Strategies of Legitimation in the 1388 Guild Petitions

Introduction
The 1388 Guild Petitions: Context and Form
Group One: Modelling Petitions
Group Two: Expanding Models
Group Three: Experimentations with Language, Rhetoric, and Voice
Recontextualising the Mercers’ Petition: The Mercers as Translators
Analysing the Mercers’ Petition: The Mercers as Innovators
The Language of Petitioning: A Second Mercers’ Petition
Preliminary Conclusions
‘[O]ue graunt noyse’: Strategies of Legitimation
Conclusion: Verba Superflua

3. ‘Lancea cum scutis’: Language and Violence in Exemplary Narratives and Historical Records

Introduction
The Rest is Never Silence: Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale and Questions of Doubt
‘Hold conseil and descoevere it noght’ (III.779): Gower’s ‘Tale of Phebus and Cornide’ and the Triumphing of Silence
Gower’s ‘Tale of Phebus and Cornide’ in Context
‘This thing is knowen overal’ (III.1893): Gower’s ‘Tale of Orestes’ and the Fame of Death
‘Diverse opinion ther is’ (III.2114): Clytemnestra’s Death and Orestes’s Shame
‘[T]ho befell a wonder thing’ (III.2172): Gower’s Women and the Problems of Tale-Telling
Gower’s ‘Tale of Orestes’ in Context: The Many Lives and Deaths of Clytemnestra
The Life, Death, and Afterlives of John Constantyn, Cordwainer
‘[U]t volunt quidam’: Constantyn, the Westminster Chronicle, and the Spread of Public Speech

4. ‘[P]ira pomaque regia thronus’: Judging Speech in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide

Introduction
‘[S]he brast on forto wepe’ (Boke of Cupide, 210): Competitive Speechifying
‘[A]l that euere he wol he may’ (Boke of Cupide, 16): The Failures of Regal Authority
‘[W]hat may been youre help?’ (V.459): Supplanting Monarchs    277
‘[W]ith that song I awoke’ (Boke of Cupide, 290): Revisiting the Aesthetics of Irresolution
‘I can for tene sey not oon worde more’ (209): The Boke of Cupide and the Politics of Irresolution
‘[Y]e get namoore of me’ (V.343): Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Politics of Irresolution

Conclusion

 

Volume II

Notes to Appendices

Appendix 1 – The Stores of the Cities

1a) Text and Translation

Text
Translation

1b) Additional Comments on Stanza 1
1c) The Stores’ description of Lincoln: A Walking Tour?

Appendix 2: The Variable Fortunes of Nicholas Exton

2a) Nicholas Exton’s indecentibus verbis

Text
Translation
Manuscript Image

2b) Nicholas Exton’s Slander

Text
Translation
Manuscript Images

2c) Nicholas Exton’s Pardon

Text
Translation

Appendix 3 – John Godefray’s False ‘cappes’

Text
Translation

Appendix 4 – John de Stratton’s Forgeries

Text
Translation

Appendix 5 – Richard Norbury, John More, and John Northampton’s Insurrection

Text
Translation

Appendix 6 – Brembre’s Proclamations

6a) Proclamation 1

Text
Translation

6b) Proclamation 2

Text

6c) Proclamation 3

Text
Translation

6d) Proclamation 4

Text
Translation

6e) Proclamation 5

Text
Translation

6f) Proclamation 6

Text
Translation

Appendix 7 – The 1388 Guild Petitions

7a) The Pinners’ Petition

Text
Translation

7b) The Founders’ Petition

Text
Translation

7c) The Drapers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7d) The Painters’ Petition

Text
Translation

7e) The Armourers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7f) The <…>steres’ Petition

Text
Translation

7g) The Goldsmiths’ Petition

Text
Translation

7h) The Saddlers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7i) The Cordwainers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7j) The Embroiderers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7k) The Mercers’ Petition

Text

7l) The Cutlers, Bowyers, Fletchers, Spurriers, and Bladesmiths’ Petition

Text
Translation

7m) The Leathersellers and Whittawyers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7n) The Tailors’ Petition

Text
Translation

7o) The Anglo-Norman Mercers’ Petition (Partial Transcription)

Text

Appendix 8 – The Mercers’ Petition and the Embroiderers’ Petition Side-by-Side

Appendix 9 – Anti-Victualler Statute

Text
Translation
Manuscript Images

Appendix 10 – Table of Correspondences among the 1388 Guild Petitions

Table 4 – The Correspondences amongst the 1388 Guild Petition
Notes to Table 4
Key to Petitions
Key to Accusations

Appendix 11 – A document associated with the Leathersellers and Whittawyers’ Petition    508

Text
Translation

Appendix 12 – Official Responses to John Constantyn’s Execution

12a) Brembre’s Petition

Text
Translation

12b) Royal Warrant

Text
Translation

12c) Royal Ratification in Letter-Book H

Text
Translation

Appendix 13 – William Mayhew’s Protest

Text
Translation

Appendix 14 – Further Images from Letter-Book H

Bibliography

Manuscript Sources
Reference Works
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources

Hollywood is Calling…on February 22nd

What’s that I hear? Clicking of paparazzi cameras, prattling and nattering press interviews, the roaring applause of a swanky and stylish audience in their seats? (I would say sexy, but not all of them are). Yep, everything is all set: the cameras have reeled, the red carpet has been rolled, and character costumes have been dropped for staggering and stunning floor-length dresses. We have most definitely been here before. Brace yourselves people, it’s that time of year again: the Oscars!

If there’s any time to get starry-eyed, it’s now. On February 22nd at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, Hollywood’s finest will gather under one sparkling roof to celebrate a year of fantastic film at the 87th Academy Awards, with first-time host How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris providing the laughs. And it has certainly been a pretty grand-spanking year hasn’t it? In case your head has been floating somewhere on a cloud nine for the last few festive weeks, let me recap for you: American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s film based on the most lethal sniper in American military history has totally hit the target for an Oscar nod, and of course there is cheeky-chappie Eddie Redmayne’s truly admiral portrayal of the enigma that is Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Sadly, with every glamorous Oscars night comes its share of face palming snubs and, unfortunately, this year’s happened to be the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl that most probably left you shivering long after the popcorn had digested. Hmmph.

Still, there is plenty to smile about, and perhaps for all those flying union-jacks in their hearts most of all. Don’t tell me you don’t know? We’ve received victorious news about ‘the British invasion’. The Americans, it is fair say, have been well and truly conquered by the Brits – or at least by about two thirds, but due to their size (England can fit into the United States approximately thirty eight times you know), that’s probably as close as we’re going to get. Like Redmayne, English rose Felicity Jones has been nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her powerful portrayal of Jane, Hawking’s first wife, in The Theory of Everything; another nominated duo starring in the Imitation Game is Keira Knightley, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and newly engaged Sherlock-turned-superstar Benedict Cumberbatch (cue the screaming fan-girls). Who knows, maybe Benny’s fingers might be stretching for more gold than a wedding ring this year… Only time will tell.

The Oscar nominations were announced on the 15th January and, in case you were busy at the pub or catching some valuable me time in Dixie Chicken (we’ve all been there), here is the list of the nominations for the three biggies:

BEST ACTOR: Steve Carell – Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper – American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton – Birdman, Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS: Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore – Still Alice, Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon – Wild

BEST PICTURE: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Watch the 87th Academy awards on 22nd Feb on Sky Living or Sky 1 at 11.30pm (GMT), or access live coverage online. Even better yet, be at the Oscars next year. (Drama students I nominate you).

QProjects: New New Year’s Resolutions

Your new New Year’s Resolution: build your CV

New Year’s articles about getting fit, developing ‘mindfulness’, and making positive changes seem to be everywhere this month. However, the Careers & Enterprise Centre has another resolution to add to your list: get some work experience. Not to be the bearer of stress-inducing tidings, but although it may only be the first week of Spring Term, summer will be here before you know it. Will your CV be ready to compete for the onslaught of summer internships, work experience placements, and (dare I say it) graduate jobs that will be popping up over the coming months? If your CV isn’t quite up to scratch, why not use these next few months of Spring Term to gain some relevant experience and improve your application and interview skills through taking on a QProject?

What is QProjects?

QProjects is Queen Mary’s very own Guardian University Award winning work experience scheme that places Queen Mary students into CV-enhancing projects at local charitable organisations. You will get the chance to gain some impressive experience on your CV whilst helping the local community. QProjects last for 3 months, take up only 1 day a week of your time and are flexible around your schedule, meaning you still have time for societies, studying, and (of course) essay writing. Although unpaid, travel expenses are covered and all applicants receive application and interview feedback, access to an online pre-training module and a one-on-one skills debrief with a Careers Consultant at the end of their project to help them update their CV and get any careers advice they may need.

How can QProjects help?

Over the past 3 years almost 100 English & Drama students have taken on a QProject. According to 2014 English graduate Anum Ahmed, the 2 QProjects she did during her degree helped her to land her graduate job in the Civil Service:

I certainly wouldn’t have been able to secure my job without the amazing experiences I had at my QProject placements.  Throughout my interview I was referring to all the skills I had acquired and demonstrated whilst at my QProject placements and I really hope every student at Queen Mary seizes the opportunities available.

2013 English graduate Alex Huxtable fed back that his QProject led him to his current career in marketing:

The project really cemented my future career choice as I was encouraged to try out different things. It gave me the confidence to provide real examples of skills I felt that I already had, but just couldn’t prove on my CV or job applications.

Apply for a QProject today

So kick off 2015 by applying for a QProject. You can find a full list of current projects here: www.bit.ly/qprojectswork.

Stay updated when new QProjects comes up by signing up to the mailing list here www.bit.ly/qprojectsmail.

Lindsey Shirah, QProjects Coordinator

QM Careers & Enterprise Centre

Satisfyingly Toasty: The Grapes Pub, Limehouse

As part of our Victorian Fictions module, we had a visit in Week 10 instead of attending a lecture. We were given lots of interesting options, such as the Dickens Museum, the John Soane’s Museum, the Museum of Childhood and the V & A Museum.

However, naturally, I chose to go to a pub in Limehouse called ‘The Grapes’, which is owned by none other than Sir Ian McKellen.

My friends and I toThe Grapes pub, Limehouseok the DLR to Westferry and the pub is just a five minute walk from here. Embarrassingly, we were huddled around my friend’s iPhone, struggling to find the place on Google Maps when a local man took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction. Situated at 76 Narrow Street at the edge of the river, and at nearly five hundred years old, The Grapes pub is one of the oldest pubs in London and has inspired many writers over the years. Indeed, the pub features in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and is described thus:

“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”

I read Dickens’ excerpt after I visited the pub, and I believe that he captures perfectly the rather precarious-looking stance of the public house as it seems as though it could topple into the river at any moment.

As you can see from the rather blurry photograph taken by myself, the pub is quite small, but expands upwards rather than outwards, Fire at the Grapes Publikening it to the TARDIS as it is actually slightly bigger on the inside, with an upstairs restaurant. We were unfortunately too late to order food, which smelled delicious and looked amazing as I gazed greedily at other people’s plates. So I would definitely recommend having dinner if you visit this pub.

We visited at the best time of the year and at the best time of the evening. There is simply nothing better than walking through a dark, cold street, breath billowing out before you, hands raw and numb with frost, to then take refuge in a warm, cosy pub lit by a real fire. I mean, when was the last time you saw an actual fire in a pub? Perhaps we’re just deprived of pub fires in my home town (and, incidentally, Dickens’ city of birth) Portsmouth, but it was seriously exciting. And satisfyingly toasty.

Wall at the Grapes PubEvidently proud of the pub’s Dickens connection, the owners have decorated the walls with pictures of Dickens’ most famous characters such as Bill Sikes and the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist and Captain Cuttle from Dombey and Son. There were copies of Dickens’ greatest novels on the bookshelf, giving a welcoming and homely atmosphere and prompting greater enthusiasm in all Dickens fanatics.

This pub is definitely worth a visit. Even if you don’t like Dickens, its cosy ambience and reasonably-priced drinks make it student friendly and welcoming. It is also rather quirky and perhaps not somewhere you would usually visit as it is a bit off the beaten track, so it’s always good to check out new and different places. If it’s good enough for Gandalf, it’s good enough for me!

 

English Postgraduate Research Seminar Series (Spring 2015)

The English Postgraduate Research Seminar is a series of research seminars run by PhD students in the Department of English, Queen Mary University London. The English PGRS welcomes speakers from a number of academic institutions, who come to discuss their current research-in-progress with staff and postgraduate students in the English Department. The papers are followed by a question and answer session, a drinks reception in the Lock-keeper’s Common Room, and dinner in a local restaurant.

Seminars typically take place on Thursdays at 5:15pm in the Lock-Keeper’s Cottage on Queen Mary’s Mile End campus.

The schedule for Semester 2 below is correct at time of publishing, but check the English PGRS website and their Twitter feed for updates.

  • Week 1 – 15. January 2015: Alexandra da Costa (Cambridge), ‘Marketing Forbidden Books and Training Illicit Readers: Evangelical Printing in the 1530s’
  • Week 2 – 22. January 2015: Bonnie Greer
  • Week 3 – 29. January 2015: David Attwell (York)
  • Week 4 – 05. February 2015: Chris Holmes (Ithaca College)
  • Week 5 – 12. February 2015: Rosanna Cox (University of Kent)
  • Week 6 – 19. February 2015: Garrett Stewart (University of Iowa)
  • Week 7 – 26. February 2015: READING WEEK
  • Week 8 – 05. March 2015: Mary Talbot
  • Week 9 – 12. March 2015: David Herman (Durham), ‘Storytelling beyond the Human: Modelling Animal Experiences in Narrative Worlds’
  • Week 10 – 19. March 2015: Susan Wolfson (Princeton)
  • Special Event Week 11 – 25. March 2015: D.A. Miller (UC Berkeley), time & venue tbc
  • Week 11 – 26. March 2015: Graduate Panel tbc
  • Week 12 – 02. April 2015: Stefan Collini (Cambridge)

 

Little Circles of Dancing Light: On Poetry

Poetry, poetry, poetry. I love poetry. I like putting on a silly voice to impersonate T. S. Eliot whilst reciting ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and deepening my voice to imitate Dylan Thomas’ melodic reading of ‘Fern Hill’. That’s just how I spend my Friday nights. I particularly enjoy spoken word poetry and I remember the first time that I encountered it. I was in my A-Level English Literature class and, in preparation for the practical criticism section of our exam, my teacher asked us all to teach a lesson on a poem of our choice. A guy in my class called Ben brought in an intriguing poem called ‘A Letter from God to Man’ by the spoken word artist Scroobius Pip. Fireworks erupted in my head, creating little circles of dancing light and all my nerves were fizzling. I liked it a lot. I proceeded to search for this mysterious Pip figure on YouTube, watching his videos to much more crackling and sizzling throughout my body. From this, I found Kate Tempest. Watching her perform makes every hair stand on end, her passion, her masterful command of rhythm and the raw, gutsy subject matter of her poems makes me want to scream ‘YES!!!’ Poetry is beautiful. And this intense love was only to grow more and more passionate during my first year at Queen Mary.

One lecture that particularly stood out was that entitled ‘The Line’. This was one of the first lectures on the module and it was memorable because Katy Price made us rip up a poem and rearrange it to see how line structure and length can affect a reading of a poem, its meaning or its overall effect. It made me realise just how creative you can get when analysing poetry and the extent to which you can deconstruct it: nothing should be taken for granted. I found this particularly interesting, especially the emphasis on sound within poetry and how it should be read aloud in order to gain a better understanding of it. This, of course, had been taught at A-Level, but the teaching at Queen Mary made poetry seem much more accessible and dynamic. The use of videos and music to illustrate points about rhythm and sound were particularly useful (Peter Howarth also used the music video for ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ by The Smiths to assist his explanation of irony, which was another highlight). The enthusiasm with which the lectures were delivered and the fresh and innovative way in which poetry was presented helped to nurture my passion for it and confirmed my undying love for it.

My personal highlight from the entire first year was the Poetry Performance week. When I first heard that in Week 8 we would have to do a ‘performance’ I was bricking it. I hate doing presentations and speaking in front of lots of people, so the thought of having to actually perform made my blood pressure sky high. Week 7 came. It was time to plan my performance. It had been explained that we didn’t actually have to do a performance in which we stood up in front of people and recited a poem, we could do anything creative that showed our interpretation of the poem, such as make a video or a voice recording of the poem. However, in a sleep-deprived moment of panic and utter madness I decided to perform ‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath. But I came to the conclusion that a simple performance was not enough. I decided to make awful collages which were supposed to represent certain key phrases or ideas within the poem and I intended them to look child-like to link with the poem’s theme (and to disguise the fact that I am really not artistic). Once I arrived at the seminar, most of my fear had disappeared. Everyone was really supportive of each other and there was such a fun, friendly atmosphere in the class that I actually really enjoyed it! It was interesting to see people’s interpretations of the poems we’d studied and I loved that it really helped to bring poetry to life. People have so many misconceptions about poetry: that it’s boring, pretentious and you’re forced to read it in stuffy classrooms whilst people talk at you and tell you what it’s about and how you’re supposed to interpret it. I found the course at Queen Mary very liberating. It was great to discuss ideas with like-minded people in seminars and the performance week was particularly freeing, allowing us to own our ideas and interpretations in a creative and fun way.

QUORUM Research Seminar Series (Spring 2015)

QUORUM is a series of research seminars run by PhD students in the Department of Drama, Queen Mary University London. QUORUM welcomes academics, artists, professionals, and practitioners working in performance and related fields to share and discuss their recent and on-going research.

Seminars take place on Wednesdays in the ArtsOne Building, Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London. All are welcome, and wine and snacks are provided.

The schedule for Semester 2 below is correct at time of publishing, but check the QUORUM website and their Twitter feed for updates and for venue information.

14 January    Dr. Matthew Shlomowitz
University of Southampton
‘The Theatre of Music Making’ with performances of Matthew Shlomowitz’s work by dancer Nefili Skarmea & percussionist Serge Vuille

28 January    Clark Baim
Birmingham Institute for Psychodrama
Applied Theatre and Personal Narrative: Ethical and aesthetic considerations when people’s personal stories are used in performance

11 February    Dr. Katie Beswick
Queen Mary, University of London
The Council Estate as Hood: Grass-roots arts practice as cultural politics

4 March    Dr. Jaquline Bolton, Dr. James Hudson & Dr. Agnes Woolley
University of Lincoln / Royal Holloway, University of London
Joint Research Project Presentation, title tbc

11 March    Dr. Michael Shane Boyle
Queen Mary, University of London
Container Aesthetics, Blockade Logistics: The Logics of Innovation in Shunt’s The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face

25 March    Professor Peter Boenisch
University of Kent
Title tbc