A poem a day: Thresholds (and a bit of PhD pondering)

When I talked to my students a little about my work yesterday, there were many questions I had by the end of the session that snuck into my brain during the morning coffee. As mentioned yesterday, there are still many questions around this idea of communities and collaboration.  Secondly, I’m once again questioning my research and writing approach, these “creative-critical responses to Rochdale”that I’m writing.

  • What are creative-critical responses, creative-critical thinking, creative-critical writing?
  • What could creative-critical”, “critical-creative” or “creative/critical”, “critical/creative” mean?
  • Will this type of thinking or writing add anything to the way in which anyone can understand Rochdale? (I’m including myself in that seemingly amorphous “anyone”.)
  • The usual: what’s the point?*

(Short answer to the last bullet point: like anything else, it’s not going to change the shape of the universe, however, it may help us develop empathy, or our understanding of a place, perhaps extending this thinking/nuances of this thinking to other places.)

In academia, there’s a little bit of a buzz around this idea of creative-critical (see here, here, here and here for a chapter on “creative and critical” thinking.) There’s an excellent paper by Miranda Ward that addresses some of this (which I’ll try to blog about at another time, it’ll be cited in my thesis regardless).  In answer to the first question, and rather crudely for the sake of brevity, you could suggest that creative means “divergent” and looks like a “brainstorm”, whereas critical means “logical” and perhaps looks like a “formula” with “curiosity” uniting both words. (Incidentally, I don’t subscribe to the left brain = critical, right brain idea = creative idea proposed by, among others, Dorothea Brande in her otherwise excellent writing primer Becoming a Writer; this has been debunked as a “neuromyth”.)  In answer to the second question, I am currently of a mind to not see creative-critical as a spectrum but as a way – until there’s possibly a better term – of pushing at the borders of non-fiction/fiction writing.  A type of writing that maybe oscillates, blurs boundaries, crayons over logic, formulates poetry. It’s hybrid writing that both tiptoes and stomps over thresholds.  For now, ever in search of a metaphor, perhaps the – or the / are a physical symbol represents that threshold.

In terms of the third question, I’m not sure; any representation in text (literary, travel guides, maps) and interpretation (how the text is written, read, and understood) of Rochdale is bound to be subjective.  I found some of the 19th Century dialect poetry plodding yet I thought some of Oliver Ormerod’s dialectical adventures  were hilarious. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked the same aesthetic?  Wouldn’t it be just so much homogeneous beige?

As ever, though, this thinking, writing, attempts at understanding are all still very much a work-in-progress.

* I have nightmares that this will be the first question that the examiners ask in my viva: “What’s the point of this?” Followed by: “Why have you bothered doing this, you have wasted your life and our time?”.  And: “Why do you appear to not be wearing any clothes and have written this thesis as your overdue A Level Music coursework?”

As for today, I’m again off prompt. Here’s a sonnet instead.



The line that is drawn in chalk on the floor,

is to divide that side from this. Come in,

mind the thin wooden strip before the door.

We’ll make you tea, you’ll tell us how you’ve been,

tell us all the gossip from Mizzy Road.

You stop on the line, unwilling to cross,

do you prefer to be out in the cold?

You always the one that argues the toss,

always more willing to be the Yale key

that doesn’t fit the familiar lock.

No snick as you turn. You will always be,

in this mill town, the black sheep of the flock

Step over, it’s not too late to turn back

from this border, high wire balancing act.



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