Friday, 22 August 2014

'I carpenter a space for the thing I am given.'

It's August and still I continue to trundle along, writing up. I've thought about blogging many times in the space between March and now, but what else can I really say except I'm trying to write, thinking about writing and sometimes actually doing a bit of writing. 2014 has been a year of loss and it feels like I haven't had time to process significant events in my own life, like my beloved, complicated grandmother dying and uncle passing away. Seeing deeply-loved friends suffer grief and loss has also been an immeasurably painful experience this year and I am a changed person. I set so much faith in the bonds that tie human beings together in love and friendship. But I have learned that nothing can fill cavernous loss. All we can try to do is be human together, failing and falling together. Things like a PhD pale in the comparison with loss and realising the fragility of life. For a time I did despair of 'thinking' and 'research' - what do education and learning matter, really? The truth is that learning, reading, thinking, writing does matter very much. Learning and thinking may not have tangible value, but it has meaning and is important. I think of my grandmother, a woman who was widowed with five children in 1950s Ireland. A deeply intelligent woman who did not have the opportunity to receive an education. I also know how unused intellect can be transformed into something negative. Being unable to express what you think and feel often leads to crippling psychological issues, alcoholism, other frustrations. Having this time to write and think is a privilege and in honour of the people I care about, who did not have this opportunity, I am being honest and hardworking to the best of my character.

I have been living back in my rural family home for almost a year now and I feel that this was the right decision to make. Throughout the whole PhD process I have always felt like I was running behind everyone else, playing catchup. This has been my own fault. My fears and nervousness that I really didn't deserve to be here or to do this. Imposing restrictions on myself geographically has enhanced my ability to think and create, away from distraction. In an essay about silence in women's writing Jeanne Kammer writes that creative women often develop their poetic tactics in 'relative isolation and independence, making choices stubbornly in response to a personal, private aesthetic'. I feel that sentence could be applicable to me at this present moment in time. In my own isolated privacy, I can independently work to create my own ideas, develop them at my own pace and learn. In 'Thalidomide', Plath writes 'I carpenter a space for the thing I am given'. I think this is one of her most beautiful sentences. These past months have seen me carpenter my space, to coax out words and claim ownership of this thesis as my own.

Recently, I watched a documentary programme called 7UP. It looks at the lives of children every seven years, so you get to see how these children grow up, mature, and what they do as adults. It is a brilliant programme and really shows how life can change irrevocably in such a short space of time. So much of academic life is about looking to the future. What are you going to do next? How long is this taking you? While, of course, it is really important not to let a PhD drag on into decades, I can't help but think constantly looking to the future is a bad way to be. It is important to stop thinking about the next 'episode' in life. I am trying to concentrate on writing, forcing confidence on myself and reminding myself that this is an opportunity too wonderful to be squandered by the hopes of 'what's next'.

I thought this Guardian article about finding your voice in your PhD was a great article - very much in same vein of the point I've been trying to make here. Hopefully the next blog post here will be a beautifully instagrammed picture of my full thesis... but that would be me looking to the future so perhaps I've already jinxed myself! :-)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

February/March... and beyond.

I was absolutely shocked coming to the blog and realising that I hadn't updated since January. Where has time gone in 2014! I cannot believe it is March already. Hope that everyone who reads is having a nice year so far. I have been continuing the thesis write-up and aside from a few weeks of lethargy (which I am only beginning to come out of now), everything has been going ok with my dissertation.

Along with writing up, I had been completing some administrative-related tasks in regards to the Ph.D. In February I was awarded a fee free extension for the year by my University as a result of some bumps (that couldn't be helped) that hindered my progress back in 2011/12. To have no monetary outgoings and a small amount of income via teaching has been such an amazing help to me and I'm so appreciative that my University Research Graduate School have been supportive. I think that this extension illustrates that working with people and being open about problems/concerns/hindrances is key to getting as much as you can out of the Ph.D. process. I definitely think I have learned to navigate red-tape a lot more during the Ph.D. and have certainly become a lot more calm and assertive in getting things done.

Writing-up is still hellish and I get frustrated at myself for not being able to work harder, better, faster. But along the way I've had a lot of advice from people who have been through this process who tell me to relax, enjoy this moment for what it is and just keep chipping away. I intend to.

My cat... Yes, she only has three legs :-(
This however means that I don't actually have anything relevant to post on here. No-one wants to hear the laments of a person slowly going mad ;-) I have begun to formulate plans about what I'd like to do post-PhD. but nothing is set in stone yet so I don't want to jinx myself by writing. I suppose it isn't too much of a spoiler to write how I've become increasingly interested in the research area of Plath, Ireland and Irish writers. I've been thinking a lot about Plath's time here in Ireland and her references to/teaching of Joyce, love for Yeats and the like. As a result of this interest, I've decided to dip my toe into the Plath/Irish writer pool and present a paper on Plath and Seamus Heaney (my blog post about his passing is here) at an upcoming conference celebrating Heaney's life, work and legacy at QUB. It's intimidating trying to write a paper about Heaney because I haven't ever written academically on Irish writing. Not since I completed A Levels in school! However, I hope that this paper will be a good first step and I'm excited to hear other speakers and learn at the conference. Frankly this event is the only "day out" I have on my entire spring/summer calendar so the thought of communicating with people other than my cat is just too exciting!

Here's my paper abstract and after the conference I'll be sure to link to my PowerPoint presentation for those interested.


‘I lie waiting’: Unearthing trauma and influence, Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath.

In his critical essay written in 1986 and entitled ‘The Indefatigable Hoof-taps: Sylvia Plath’, Seamus Heaney offers a detailed examination of the poetry of Plath that principally concentrates on how her strict and regimented early verse develops into the unique poetry that, ‘time and space had been waiting for’. However, despite his acknowledgement of Plath’s literary prowess and flashes of artistic brilliance, Heaney ultimately concludes that ‘this poet’s youth’ and the entanglement of biography and unadulterated rage that fills Plath’s later work, ‘overdraws its rights to our sympathy’ and irrevocably limits her writing. With this conclusion, Heaney appears to consciously disassociate his own writings and artistic philosophy from Plath’s poetic objectives and achievements.
          Taking into consideration Heaney’s personal friendship with Ted Hughes, this paper will offer a revised interpretation of ‘The Indefatigable Hoof-taps’ and contend that Heaney in fact shares an uniquely strong poetic connection and imaginative inner world with Plath. By devoting particular attention to the similarities found between Heaney’s North (1975) and Plath’s Ariel (1965), this paper will argue that the most striking commonality between these two poets is how their writings respond to and navigate traumatic events and the memories of trauma that permeate both of their lives. Tim Kendall remarks that Heaney and Plath are united in their use of a ‘higher consciousness’ that enables them to comprehend and document themes of trauma and conflict in poetry. Consequently, this paper will explore how Heaney and Plath both poeticise their deeply complicated relationship with instances of death and legacies of mass slaughter by juxtaposing blunt, visceral language with a poetic landscape that is filled with distances and space, bodies that ‘say nothing’ and mute corpses.
          Finally, this paper will make the case that Plath’s navigation of trauma informs and inspires Heaney’s narratives, and by unearthing this Plathian influence that has lain unnoticed by many critics, we may approach Heaney’s work from a new position.