Ranting is Never A Good Idea

So I have been in bed for the last two days with a flu/stomach bug type thing.  More accurately I have been lying on the sofa along with the two dogs and the cat, the remote controls, copious amounts of tissue, asprin – you get the general idea.

I have been well enough and bored enough to spend more time on the internet than I would normally – mainly flicking listlessly through Facebook/Twitter on my phone and have been watching CreativeWritingCoursesGate unfold with increasing amounts of irritation.

So the first thing that happened was that Hanif Kureishi, a novelist who I read and admired when I was a student at music college was quoted in The Telegraph as saying Creative Writing courses are a waste of time.  You can find the whole article here – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10674887/Creative-writing-courses-are-a-waste-of-time-says-Hanif-Kureishi.html

The article is quoting from a talk that Kureishi gave at the Independent Bath Literature Festival.  Ok – so it did annoy me to read this – and I briefly considered sticking up for creative writing courses on Facebook or Twitter.  Then I read this great response from poet Tim Clare on his blog and I thought it’s ok – that is such a brilliant post there is little more to be said. You can find Tim’s post here: http://www.timclarepoet.co.uk/?p=2236

And I didn’t think about it again – but then today I’ve just read this lovely (I say that sarcastically) inaccurate portrayal of what a Creative Writing course is like and it made me so irritated I thought I would write a blog about it.  This article is by someone called Alex Rodin and is published in The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/hanif-kureishi-is-right-i-would-rather-write-in-the-real-world-than-the-pleasant-womblike-embrace-of-a-creative-writing-course-9173708.html

The thing that most annoyed me was this quote by Rodin

“I don’t want to leave my world of real jobs and real people, the world of choosing to stay up way past bedtime just to squeeze out my one-thousand words.”

What planet does this man come from?? When I did my Creative Writing Course I can’t remember anybody who was swanning about in the ‘womb-like’ embrace of the university.  I was working full time as a brass teacher, driving to 20 + schools a week as well as teaching ten pupils at home privately.  There was someone who was working part time as a nurse in a home for the terminally ill.  There was someone who worked as many hours as he could get in Argos.  There was someone who worked as a landscape gardener.  We were all working our arses off to earn a living and we had decided to do a part-time MA.  Obviously we all had different reasons for doing it – and I also accept that there are differences, vast differences between poetry and novel writing MA’s.

I didn’t do my MA to get published, or win a competition.  I didn’t even do it to write a collection, although the end product of the course was to write a portfolio of poems which would amount to a collection.  I did it to have one evening a week where I could think about nothing but poetry, where I could talk to other people who loved poetry as much as I did, so I could widen my reading, so I could learn about poetry.  I did it to get feedback on my work and to learn to give feedback in return.  I knew nothing about feminism or politics before starting the MA – but through the tutors and my peers I feel like I widened my horizons.  I was starting to become disillusioned with teaching – having that one evening a week brought about a massive change for me – I started to enjoy teaching again.  I stopped putting my hopes and aspirations on my pupils and then being disappointed when they didn’t practice and started listening to their hopes and aspirations, probably because I was getting on a train for two and a half hours every week and thinking about my own.  My point is doing a creative writing course shouldn’t be about getting published.  It should be about expanding your mind, about learning to think for yourself and to question things.  It should be about reading – why is it being touted in these various articles that students on MA courses don’t read – why are they all saying go and read for ten years instead of doing an MA course?  Why can’t you do both? I used to go into the Manchester Met library every week and take home four books to read on the two and a half hour train journey back.  I know not all MA courses are wonderful and I’m not saying the Manchester Met one is perfect.  But I met some fantastic poets on it – one of whom is my best friend David Tait.  I can’t put a price on that friendship – the swapping of poems over the last five years, the blunt but invaluable feedback, the endless conversations about poetry whilst tramping over some fell in the rain – maybe that sounds like you have to do an MA to find a friend! But I don’t mean this at all – I mean that the MA was a doorway into finding all these things – some of which I didn’t even know I was looking for until I found them…


5 comments on “Ranting is Never A Good Idea

  1. Hope that makes you feel better, Kim. It certainly put a smile on my face. And I agree with everything you say – doing any creative course of study broadens the mind and fills out the student’s character. And in such circumstances, anyone is bound to be e better writer at the end of it.
    Get well soon

  2. one of the abiding problems of journalism, in this culture at least, is laziness; it’s shared, as it happens, by far too many politicians. the laziness takes two forms – one means that there is no research (or reading, ironically enough, given that this feeble polemicist seems to think that doing a lot of reading will get you well on the road to being a writer; that and doing ‘a proper job’…never defined, of course), and no genuine interest in evidence-based thinking; the other is intellectual laziness — the complete lack of any rigorous or honest testing of its own logic. What’s the basis of Rodin’s argument? What’s his premise? Roughly that MA and other courses work by osmosis, involve no work, but a lot of mutual back-slapping. As it happens, I did an MA course that was a disgrace; no structure, no discipline. I could go to town on that, but since I already did that in the appropriate quarters, there’s no need. It’s just that I truly know of what I speak, just as I know lots about teaching English, just as I have written books about the teaching of writing, just as I was a consultant for the development of the National Curriculum. And I know why I pay money to continue to go on writing weeks, and writing days. It’s the same reason that people in ‘real worlds’ go for golf lessons, and have personal trainers in gyms, and do courses in welding and electronics. Because they want to get better at it. Actually, if Rodin didn’t suffer from intellectual laziness, he might stop to think about why we invented schools, and why people are trained to be teachers rather than just winging it, and why successful professional writers are happy to become mentors in writing programmes. I realise that this is remarkably restrained, given my normally splenetic response to this kind of slack-minded arrogance. I despair of the way in which debate about important issues is characterised by arguments wholly based on unchallenged but totally dishonest premises, such as that comprehensive schools have failed (NO), that schools have been hotbeds of sloppy-minded left-wing liberalism (NO) that bankers require huge bonuses or they won’t work (NO)….what’s worse, Rodin’s piece is actually a bad piece of writing. Spleen becomes over-burdened. F*** ’em.

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