poetics definition

People’s reactions to poetry intrigue me. Of all creative writing genres it seems the least popular. When I ask family and friends to read poetry they nearly all say it’s not for them, they’re not ‘academic enough’ or they don’t like poetry yet often can’t tell me why.

cat yawning

Some colleagues in other HEIs are exploring poetry as an academic development tool. There are also links between poetry and research. I’m exploring these myself.

Poetry is the original linguistic method to retain, repeat and reinforce knowledge. All cultures have poetic foundations and revered those charged with retelling histories and myths, often accompanied by music. There is much to be said about poetry and higher education. Watch this space…

or watch Dana Gioia’s lecture on poetry as enchantment

Original Library of Congress page and lecture transcript

header-imageI’d listened to a Manchester Met CELT TLC webinar titled ‘Using poetry in teaching’ with Sam Illingworth and suggested we set up a lunchtime poetry club together. We formed #poetryfeedHE which sent subscribers a poem to read with their lunch once a week. Currently taking a break  from poem delivery, previous poems remain at  https://poetryfeedhe.wordpress.com/

July 2017

This is it – six years of my creative writing B.A, has come to an end. I was awarded a First and won the Best Extended Portfolio Award. I’m now looking to get my dissertation published.  The PhD and poetry are still in competition for time and space in my head and my heart!

gold stars

October 2016

magnitic words for making poetry

It’s a new academic year and the final year of my p/t Creative Writing degree.  For the dissertation I’m producing a poetry portfolio inspired by Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Over the years I’ve beeen retelling the stories of women in Greek myths; Cassandra, Leyda, Helen, Andromache, Hecuba. My portfolio will be based on the life of Thetis, sea nymph and mother of Achilles. The Iliad and the Odyssey book coversFor me, poetry is about language and philosophy. It emerges from observation of reality (however it is experienced) and, within that observance, poetry ponders on how we know it – making ontology and epistemology both poetical concepts. Some early thoughts about the links between poetry and research can be read in a piece called War of the Words (Issue Five Creative Academic Magazine pp 58-60).

... the poet’s cognitive attention to layout, grammar, punctuation, and above all clarity, are essential requirements for the research dissertation and thesis…to be able to write clearly and concisely is the heart of research publication yet the skills of writing-up are woefully neglected. Many of us will have struggled through paragraphs of turgid text, unnecessary words needing a dictionary, where less would have conveyed the message in half the time with greater understanding…there’s no pleasure in obscurity. The ability to write readable prose is an art which all researchers should be proud to claim as their own.

Creative Academic’s Editor, Norman Jackson, challenged me to write a ‘poem’ to go alongside the text. This is it…

War of the Words

Now Barthes once said ‘The author is dead’
so I have to let go of my prose,
however redeeming, whatever the meaning,
it’s only the reader who knows

how words which are read (like things that are said)
can take on a whole different meaning,
as issues of who (and knowledge and truth)
depend on who’s doing the reading.

All writers will find, below each bottom line,
there’s a host of mixed interpretations,
with lots to be learned from the postmodern turn
and its crisis in representations.

As we start to unravel the roads we have travelled
which bring us to our destinations
we see how the ‘asks’ in our research-based tasks
are linked to our social locations;

but what matters more are the battles and wars
which are fought between structure and agency,
where so much depends how we manage this blend
between self-hood and who self might want to be.

It’s the same for the poet and life as they know it,
reflected in all their renditions,
where words try to strive, to catch and describe
all the quirks of the human conditions,

so I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not hard to see
how research and poetry blend,
how issues of seeing, of truth and believing,
are similar things in the end,

and the skillset to write what is clear and concise
is all part of the art of creation,
whether PhD thesis or poetry treatise
they both have the same motivation.

For wordsmiths and seers and text engineers
and dabblers in quests and hypothesis,
for teams of reformers or lonely explorers
of credence and theories of consciousness,

what your words mean (and how they are seen)
is based on the world we’re all living in,
and this knowing in turn depends how we’ve learned
to interpret our social conditioning.

At the end of the day whatever you say
or do to express creativity,
people will moan, they’ll grumble and groan,
for you can’t control their subjectivity.

So I have to conclude all meaning is skewed
as we all possess unique philosophies,
and what we receive and what we believe
helps build our creative ecologies.

Our epistemology and our ontology
all affect our observations,
so you might write the words but it’s clearly absurd
to expect to rule interpretations.

Researcher or poet it’s not how you know it,
it’s all about setting it free,
because Barthes spoke true and whatever you do…
the meaning is all down to me!

I’m not a great fan of rhyming verse; too often  I find it appearring forced or contrived. The only time I like rhymes is when they’re for fun or entertainment – like these… 

Ode to the ice in my glass

ice and lemon in adrink

I know the ice in my glass makes a ripple
when mixed with my favourite tipple
but I still need to test
if it works out the best
with a single, a double or triple.

Ode to Phenylalanine

dark, milk and plain chocolate chunks

There’s a word which describes
the feeling inside
which you get from a dark chocolate crème

which chemistry tells us
is down to a dose of
that feel good drug called dopamine

and there can be no doubt
the best sense in the mouth
derives from the cocoa nut bean

so the challenge today
is a word you can say
which rhymes with phenylalanine.

nibs of chocolate

Ode to a Christmas Jumper

selection of different Christmas jumpers

The time has come to venture forth,
to leave the land of drawer,

to brace your face for being placed
o’er breasts and chests once more,

to come into the light of day –
hurrah, it’s time again

for exposing Pa Pa Christmas
with his reindeer and snowmen,

for laying bare your baubles
and for lighting up your cakes,

your Christmas trees and holly leaves,
your penguins and snowflakes;

it’s time to face the world,
prepare for fun and getting plumper

as your owners take you from the dark
to wear their Christmas jumpers.

Seven is a play on the number 7.

There are seven stanzas of seven lines, each with seven syllables.



October is the gothic
month; mildewed roses blacken,
squash cords rot on frozen earth,
death is wearing tatty rags,
petals droop while pumpkins glow
and crisp swarovski spiders
spin out crystal studded webs.


Hail All Hallows Eve, when the
sun shrinks and cold space between
warm living and cold death fades
to gossamer. Iced air chills.
Veils shiver in the dark, as
ghosts stir, waiting to be hailed
and summoned by the living.


The wheel turns. Icy Mabon
fingers shred the veil between
the worlds; the dead look through the
ragged spaces, once kissed faces
grey as mould, drained of blood, search
for lovers lost, pleading eyes
desperate for impunity.

Come back my love, look I’ve set
a place for you beside me;
here are your favourite things and
see? I wear the velvet dress
you liked the best. Come back to
me tonight, let me see your
smile and smell your skin again.


Wet snow kisses melt like dreams
which fade on waking. They say
every flake is different,
and I try to understand
but the uniqueness of each
complex shape escapes me
like your presence in my dreams.

Sprinkled with frost diamonds the
earth sleeps, its cold, quiet rest
undisturbed by growth, only
brassicas bear witness to
the intricate complexity
of sugar-peppered iced loam
topped with tiny cabbages.


This is the time clairvoyants
turn to paisley curls of frost
for divination, or skry
flicking flames of fire as they
invoke salamanders to
their charge and demand they bring
the sun inside for winter.

A pumpkin poem inspired by reports of sabotage in the pumpkin fields of Lincolnshire. (Palimpest in this context refers to a visual image of piles of pumpkins as well as layers of different pumpkin recipes)  

pumpkin clipart from pixabay

Pumpkin Palimpsest

Oh hail all hallows eve and the turning of the year
when spirit lives and spirit breaths
and culling time for pumpkins.

Hail guardians of the watchtowers, archangels of the dead,
raise your swords these witching hours
and please protect our pumpkins.

There are thieves in rural Lincolnshire, who come out after dark,
trampling through the muddy mire
and stealing all our pumpkins.

There are children dangerous and armed, wearing evil faces,
believing they are safe from harm
and slashing at our pumpkins.

There are families with no grace or faith, who really should know better
than risk the wrath and wroth of wraith
by mutilating pumpkins.

Oh hail the annual pumpkin fest, one hundred boring recipes,
an orange feast of orange flesh
and crime against all pumpkins.

Oh hail the world of ghoul and ghost, cast shadows over all.
and chill the bones of those who boast
of doing death to pumpkins.

Oh hail All Hallows Eve and the turning of the year.
when veils between the worlds grow thin and dank dark death draws near,
make your resolutions now, take care of all that lives,
be good to those around you
and always kind to pumpkins.

pumpkin image from pixabay

To talk poetics please do get in touch. email s.watling@hull.ac.uk or tweet @suewatling

images from pixabay  https://pixabay.com