The UK'S First Undergraduate Creative Writing Conference

Keynote Session – Sam Riviere

Many thanks to the Centre for Modern Poetry for co-sponsoring Sam Riviere’s keynote session today. Sam Riviere is a Faber & Faber poet and we’re very happy to have him here today. He studied at the Norwich school of Art and Design. His first book ’81 Austerities’ was published in 2012. Kim Kardshian’s Marriage was a password-protected blog viewable on request from 05.05.13 – 14.07.13, and Standard Twin Fantasy (f.u.n.e.x., 2014) is a new pamphlet of poems. 

He is reading from his book, a pamphlet and a bit from his blog this afternoon.


With our closing remarks for the day we’d like to thank Sam Riviere for coming down. We’d also like to thank Sam O’Hana for organising the conference. 


Fourth Panel – Writing Practice: Articulation & Generation

This panel is made of three delegates who will be reading their creative work. It’s composed of Sam O’Hana, Joe Hill, and Sarah Fletcher. This panel is chaired by Peter Adkins. 

Sam O’Hana is a third year English Literature and Creative Writing third year student. He will be doing a Masters in Creative Writing at Kent next year. He is also the organiser of the Vox Conference. He will be reading an extract that is about a third of his final poem. It tries to encapsulate how to explain experience. It is called ‘Scenario’. 

Joe Hill is up next with a collection of poetry prepared in the run up to the publication of his collection of poems called ‘Tremors’. He is a third year English Literature and Creative Writing undergraduate student at Kent too, he is also going on to do a Masters in Creative Writing at Kent as well. 

Next up is Sarah Fletcher. She joins us from Durham University where she studies English Literature. Sarah is asking, in response to an article she found in a newspaper on the train where Jeremy Paxman states that poets need to engage more with the ‘real’ world, how do we engage with the ‘real’ world in poetry. Sarah is interested in the internet and how it allows anyone to have a voice. It has given the anonymous a platform for expression and is able to allow people to find an audience. After Googling ‘poetry’ in preparation for the conference and found that the third result was poetry.com that purports to have the most important new poems. She found the poem that was chosen as the best seemed to be neither the most important or well-crafted new poem at all (she read the poem out for us). She proposes that hyperbole and abstraction is ruined by the internet and that the only way to engage with the ‘real world’ now is through hyperbole. Many writers are engaging with the ‘real’ world through slam poetry – because it’s an auditory experience it is more immediate and can’t be revisited which adds to the pertinence of their work. In light of these issues of engaging with the ‘real’ world she is reading one of her own poems. 


We are now taking questions and in twenty minutes we will be introducing our Keynote Poet Sam Riviere.

Third Panel – Cusp of the Script: Thresholds of Agency

Coming back from lunch we’re ready for the next panel. This one is going to be led by Alex Braithwaite. We have Kat Peddie of Zone Magazine set up outside the lecture theatre with some of Kent’s creative publications. This panel is Alyssia Macalister and Matthew Walpole.


Alyssia is a student at the University of Kent and is going to be head of the Creative Writing Society next year. Her paper is called ‘The untranslatable: Interactions and Image in Creative Translation in Poetry.’ The paper looks at the semiotics and complexities of works translated into and interacting with images. Alyssia states that no poem needs the original work, or source text to be read if it is successful.  Alyssia describes a method called cut-up where a poet takes an original source and cuts it up in order to find a theme for the translator to work off. This is only one of many methods that translating poets can use. We are looking specifically at Tim Atkins’s ‘Petrarch Sonnet 204’ (2007) and Sean Bonney’s ‘Astrophil & Stella’. On first look at Bonney’s work the pictures look like scribbles but on closer inspection it is clear that the images are attempts to draw stars. Alyssia highlights that there is no space in this paper to talk about what is poetry and what is art – when poetry uses image alone, it begins to be seen as art and using the work of Mary Ellen Solt highlights this blurred area (we are looking at ‘Moon Shot Sonnet’, 1967).


Matthew Walpole is a first year student at the University of Warwick and he is up next with his paper ‘The Indefinite Definite: The Poetics of Jouissance’. He is looking at the infinite potentiality of a poet’s subject. He looks at how William Carlos Williams’s ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ makes no attempt to redefine a meaning that Williams’s work has a lack of the notion of relativity in its presentations of its objects. Matthew proposes that this lack of relativity is the life of language and so poets take the plunge into the poetic. The exploding of the frames allows the poem to exist in the liminality of ‘negative capability’. He explains the notion of duende and talks about the role of poetry as a part of the flux in the moment. Moving onto Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ Matthew points to how the poem, how Ginsberg’s poem contains a poetics of expression, and that he brought poetry back into something that was performed, and is performative of a personal force. In the breaking of forms, as with Emily Bronte’s poetry, Matthew is talking about the line between being and unbeing and how that in this it is what poetics can reach.



Keynote Session – Kate Duckney

Kate Duckney is joining us from the University of East Anglia where she did her undergraduate degree and is now doing a Masters in Creative Writing there. She won a the Poetry Next to the Sea Prize for most interesting dissertation last year. She studies under Sam Riviere, our later Keynote Speaker. She is reading about 40 poems of her work for us in a half hour session. 

Second Panel – Vocal Impact: Politics, Conflict, Reform

Following a coffee break we’re back for our second panel all caffeine fuelled and ready to go. This panel will be chaired by Joanna Maskens and we’ll hear from Alex Braitwaite, Neelam Saredia and Pape Gueye. 

Alex Braithwaite is organiser of Switchboard at the University of Kent and has recently published his first novel ‘White Horse’ this autumn. Starting with an anecdote about the loss of the letter ‘t’ and the loss of the word ‘no’ to be replaced by tutting as he was growing up. In secondary school everyone became family; ‘bruv’, ‘fam’. He’s now mentioned the appearance of the word ‘crotch’ – to sit somewhere. What Alex learnt from this is that nobody owns language, you can reject certain uses of language but what we do own is voice. Alex approaches the idea that writing is a regression away from personality and he challenges that to say that writing is personality. If things matter to you as a writer, then they matter. Alex claims that ‘Our voice makes our something something. Our voice makes our somewhere somewhere […] I could be reading someone else’s paper, someone else’s poetry, and it would become mine because it’s my voice.’ Alex leads us on to a talk about how important our voices are now, that the specific intellect, in Michael Foucault’s terms, has taken over since the early twentieth century and it is important to find a universal intellect again, using our voices. In this time we are keenly aware that we are only of 7 billion people, however, we need to use our voices to remind ourselves we do exist as individuals. Alex reads a poem he wrote for a friend which he says he chose to read, he wrote it as an encouragement to him to keep writing and he thought is more appropriate. 


Next is Neelam, she has just finished her undergraduate degree at Kent is about to start an MA in Creative Writing at Kent. She is a performance poet and she will be talking about LGBT issues and reading from her poem ‘(WO)MAN’. She talks about LGBT history month in June – 16 countries allow same sex marriage nation-wide. Nigeria, however, has banned gay-marriage this year. In India homosexuality was re-criminalised in December of last year. Neelam states that the law is more than words or one voice, it has an effect on society as a whole.  Neelam reads her long poem about an androgynous, bisexual character. 


Now we’re going to hear from Pape. He is head of the Creative Writing Society at Kent. He’s going to be reading poems about African politics and jazz. Pape is giving us some background to his first poem about the 2008 Senegalese re-elections. His next poem is a response to the lack of enthusiasm in Black History Month even within the black community. Pape is now moving on the topic of jazz, he found jazz difficult to incorporate the feeling of jazz into his writing. He is therefore going to read from a poem that has come later in the later development of his poetic voice that reflects the instrument of the contra-bass. Pape’s next two poems come from him listening to jazz in transit and they come from the combination of listening to jazz and being on the move. 

We’re now taking questions from the crowd. 

First Panel – Within, Without and Beyond: Reframing Voice and Thought

Peter Adkins is delivering a paper on Heidegger’s conception of the environment in The Question Concerning Technology and how literature can represent nature. From Heidegger Peter moves on to Christopher Manes’s statement that nature is silent in our culture. With a look at the Romantic poet William Wordsworth and the contemporary writer Will Self in the way that their works move to free nature from it’s Heideggerian frames and to, in some sense, give nature a voice. Peter then concludes with an extract from his work in progress ‘Jurassic Way’. Peter’s work can be found here: tiny url.com/jurrasicway. 


Joanna Maskens is looking at blank space and the ‘artist’ independent of a person. She opens with a reading of her own poetry. Joanna shows a visual representation of some of her poems. She talks about the use of blank spaces in poetry to show how they create confusion and disorientation and how this, for her, approaches truth. Joanna explains how she is interested in mind-recycling, using images in the back of the mind to make something. Joanna introduces the poet Niels Lyngso and discusses how typographcial layout creates meaning for the poem, opening out ways of reading to the reader. The poem is made a puzzle in which the question ‘how do I read the poem?’ is soon made ‘how do I want to read it?’. What we can take away from this talk, ultimately, I think, is to discard text paths and pay attention to space paths and see where it takes you. Joanna concludes her paper with another reading of her own poetry. 

We’re now taking questions from the audience for the panel. 

Welcome Address

Our Welcome Address comes from Sam O’Hana, the conference organiser. Beginning with thanks for today’s speakers, the staff and lecturers at the School of Kent for their support, the organisers of the Full English Festival including Peter Adkins and Georgie Evans who are in attendance, and the conference co-organisers Alex Braithwaite, Joanna Maskens and Tami Cassar. 


The notion of agency began the idea of the conference. Sam outlines the central questions of the conference: What agency is there in speaking out? When should we not speak out? 


With a quick look at the role of censorship and control in popular culture. In a culture of signs, how do we talk about useless signs? 


These are some of the issues raised in Sam’s Welcome Address and has set the tone for the day. Next up we have our first panel with Peter Adkins and Joanna Maskens. 

Good Morning – Start of the Vox Conference

Good morning everyone and welcome to the Vox Undergraduate Creative Writing Conference at Kent. You’ll be hearing about the conference throughout the day from us. We’ll be updating the blog with highlights and events as they unfurl. At the moment we’re waiting for our Welcome Address to get things started with. Hope everyone’s enjoying this fine English weather and we’ll be back soon with some information about the Welcome Address. 

Conference Outline: Specification

The following text gives a specification of the kind of outline the conference team is looking for in applications.

Vox 2014 will give delegates experience presenting and discussing writing amongst peers. As part of themed panels, they should expected to present in a 15-20 minute slot a presentation of critical or creative work relating to the subject of voice and/or agency. This for example, can be an academic paper, a performance of poems written by the delegate or a reading from a longer work that they are engaged in writing. Ideally the content will be written specifically for the conference, though existing work on the subject of voice and/or agency will certainly be considered. This is an opportunity to cultivate your skills in writing, performing and working as part of a network in the field of creative writing in preparation for a professional career.

The required outline of 100-200 words neeeded to apply to the conference should, if the work is critical writing, follow the style of an academic conference abstract or, if the work is creative writing, be a synopsis/project proposal. In both cases, the applicant should provide an overview of their proposed conference presentation in order to give the conference team the clearest possible idea of the content they’d like to present. Admission to this conference depends on a concise, well-written and enthusiastic sketch of the scope and extent of the applicant’s idea(s) for the conference as well as how they are to be applied in their writing.

The conference will host speakers on the subject of voice and of agency. Agency is a term borrowed from social and political theory to describe action or intervention that produces a particular effect as well as a thing or person that produces such a result. Concerned here with literary agency through articulation, the conference  encourages applicants to send in outlines that will examine with an uncompromising view the potential effects that texts can have when we ‘do’ them, that is to say, read, perform, publish or act them out. Also welcomed for discussion is the notion of the unvoiced- subaltern, silenced and unwilling voices in text and how they are evidenced.


Example Outline: Critical Writing

(Please note this example outline is from previous conference on a different subject)

Project Title: ‘Back Roads To Well-Being:  Remedial Landscapes In American Cinema And Poetry’

During the last sixty years, American society has undergone a transformation in how it conceptualises health, both in terms of the well-being of its human population but also, in the wake of environmentalism, the health of its natural landscape. This paper considers the coexistence of these shifts in attitudes, exploring how contemporary conceptions of individual and environmental health are not only interrelated, but often interdependent. In comparing the presentation of the natural landscape as a remedy for the effects of ill-health in Mark Doty’s poetry collections My Alexandria (1993) and Atlantis (1995) and David Lynch’s film The Straight Story (1999), as well as other poetry and films, it is possible to delineate some of the principles which inform contemporary American conceptions of self, environment and health. Drawing on eco-critical approaches and post-structuralist theory, in particular the notion of Différance and signification, the paper will quantify how Doty and Lynch’s texts both substantiate and subvert dominant perceptions of the relationship between individual health and ecological health.  Furthermore, in exploring the texts’ presentation of society and environment, the paper will look outline how contemporary American culture remains engaged in a dialogue with eco-historical narratives and Manifest Destiny.


Example Outline: Creative Writing

Project Title: ‘Scenario’

Presenting the completed work at the Vox Conference 2014, my work-in-progress, a long poem entitled ‘Scenario’ looks at the cultural conditions that inform our conception of happiness and pleasure. The poem aims to articulate an exploration of such notions as understood by the generation that would be teenagers and young adults in the 21st century, or Generation Y. ‘Scenario’ will work towards an agency that is motivated by approaches found in psychology, philosophy and verse poetry in an attempt to clarify what constitutes pleasure for the mentioned generation, in addition to a problematisation of verse itself. The work should push limits of meaning and structure in an attempt to better understand the function of poetry as a giver of pleasure to the reader. Thus the poem should help to explore agency in literature by provoking questions about what, beyond pleasure itself (if indeed literature can provide this), the text of a poem can ‘do’ for readers & audiences and whether literature should ever go beyond the functions of entertainment in the search for a voice of a generation.

Call For Content

The good poets defy things

with their heart

This is how a fragment

enters the people

Don’t say beauty say the beautiful

say the people

Say it is through chants that writing

entered the people

– Peter Gizzi, ‘A Note on the Text’, Threshold Songs

The organisers of what is expected to be the UK’s first undergraduate creative writing conference would like to hear from students of any discipline who are engaged in the production of text on an intuitive, research & practice-led basis.

The event will give enthusiastic and ambitious students an opportunity to share their work and gain invaluable skills typically required of prospective graduate students and professional writers. The conference will provide support for a network of young and/or emerging writers in order to cultivate and better understand relations between writers across geographical, generational and genre-based boundaries. Plenary speakers will include published writers and postgraduate students in the field of writing and literature.

Leaning towards questions of voice, the conference will seek to examine what it means to speak a thing through writing, how, why and when to speak with or against agencies of authority and how to approach textualised voice in contemporary and globalised societies. Successful applicants will be invited to present as part of themed panels either creative writing of their own, or critical writing on theories of creative writing/practice.

The presented content by delegates will be published as a perfect-bound anthology and made available for free to all contributors and for sale at selected outlets. A travel bursary is available for delegates travelling to Kent from locations north of Birmingham and west of Bristol  (inclusive of both locations), and who are receiving means-tested student finance.

Interested students are invited to send a 100-200 word outline of the work they would like to present along with brief details about their background, as well as any inquiries to Sam O’Hana at voxconference2014@gmail.com by midnight 15th April 2014. The conference is open to undergraduates as well as recent graduates yet to enroll on a graduate course and who are working with writing of various kinds, including poetry, drama, fiction, memoir, criticism, experimental journalism and text-based performance & media.


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