Tuesday 24 August 2010

First Steps!

Matthew and I met yesterday to discuss the creative writing workshops and the theory behind them. I was fascinated. My background is as a writer and teacher of creative writing, and I've never thought about the theory of audience, except insofar as I hope my readers like my writing!
Writing is one thing - performance is another. Writing fiction is a 1 to 1 communication. Performance involves a great number of people. And dance is wordless. How, then, do we understand what is meant by dance? Can we experience dance in a 'pure' way, or do we get sidetracked by human emotions such as envy of the dancers' agility or our own feelings of inadequacy in not knowing how we are supposed to respond? Can dance convey an experience which can be transmuted into another art form?
All these are fascinating questions and I'm hoping the project will suggest some answers. I'll come clean and say it's many, many years since I've seen a dance performance. I hardly know how I'm going to respond, let alone the workshop participants. For that reason I'm holding off constructing the workshops until I've seen the performance. The way I develop workshops is by thinking, what would I like to do, what would I like to write? I know a workshop won't be successful unless I wish I was doing it too.
Which makes me reflect ... I think of dance as a communal activity - something we do together at celebrations, parties, on the dance floor. Dance as a performance seems alien - what is the audience supposed to be doing? Admiring? Thinking? Not thinking?
We shall see!!

Sherry Ashworth

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Poetry as Method

Sandra Faulkner's book Poetry as Method explores a range of issues relating to the use of poetry within social research, although her emphasis is on the potential for 'reporting' social research through verse. Her reasons for this include the ability of poetry to evoked emobided experiences and to manifest the complexity of the social world.

A sizable element of the book is concern with poetic craft and the study as poetry as a form, which Faulkner argues is essential for an researcher wanting to use poetry as a methodology. In one interesting passage she writes:

My interest in poetic craft was born out of frustration with some poetry published as academic research that seemed sloppy, ill-conceived, and unconsidered. Just because research poetry is published in academic journals, read at academic conferences, or merely labeled academic, does this mean there should not be a concomitant interest in poetic craft? (2009: 19)

If considering the reporting of research through poetry this is perhaps fair enough: poetric research needs to be good research and good poetry. However, when considering participant written poems this is potentially problematic, as it appear to devalue responses on literary grounds that are nothing to do with the integraty of the individuals response.

However, thinking about this project there is an element of this suggestion that participants' ekphrastic or literary responses to dance should be as 'good' - as crafted - as possible that I think is worth holding in mind. And that is that if we believe in the ability of poetry, or any form of creative writing, to communicate and embody thoughts, feels and ideas in a powerful and meaningful way then this ability is (obviously) enhanced when the writing is as good as it can be.

This is why the workshops and process that we are engaging in here is more than simply another form of focus group where the motivation is to gather responses that can then be analysed or sifted through for meaning. It is also why the often held methodological imperative not to influence or interfer with the way participants respond is being discarded. Instead the objective is to work with the participants and with their writing to craft and hone their responses and enable their deeper or more refined sensibilities to emerge.


Ekphrasis is the literary description or recounting of an event, thing or experience in the world. More commonly, as in ekphrastic poetry, it relates to the description of a work of art. "The goal of this literary form", writes Marjorie Munsterberg, "is to make the reader envision the thing described as if it were actually present."

As an intial point, writing about an art work experienced, this could be seen as what we are engaged with in this project. Particularly we are interested in what happens if we pay particular attention to this act of writing and work on this writing being the 'best' or most 'crafted' that it can be. Crucially with ekphrastic poetry the interest is not on the impossible, the poem cannot make present again the art work that is not there, but on the act of translation that allows the reader to imaginatively see something new which is informed by not just the original art work but also the sensativity of the poet.

As a research methodology it is this last point that is crucial.

At the same time it is worth thinking about in what ways could the writing about dance that this project is engaging in not be considered ekphrasis? What is the relation, for example, between descriptive evocation and other modes of written resposnes - such as a critical, reflective, personal and evaluative?