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On a literary education (or lack of), dealing with the social media hate-storms, etc

Is it the end of June already? I wonder how you’re getting on. Well, I hope. If you need a shot of positivity, I find Wee Granny still helps…

Reading matter

Recently arrived in the post: two anthologies and issue #3 of Finished Creatures magazine. Finished Creatures was having not one but two online launches, so I thought it would be good to have a read of it beforehand and was looking forward to hearing some of the poems in particular … but did I make a note of the launch times?? I had it firmly in my mind that they were in July, but I’ve just checked the invitation email only to find they were last Thursday and Sunday, so I missed them. DUH! How %@**&! annoying. All I can blame it on is Lockdown Head – that thing whereby you only have two things to do all week and you still forget. Or is that just me??

The anthologies were Poetry & All That Jazz which Barry Smith publishes each year – its contributors are generally poets who have a connection to the Chichester poetry events that Barry organises, although anyone is welcome to submit something. There are many familiar names here, some of whom also feature in Frogmore Press Poetry South East 2020 anthology, a collection selected by the press’s editor Jeremy Page. It’s ten years since the last Poetry South East, which happened just before I started writing seriously and submitting poems to magazines. So it’s a great privilege to make this one. According to the cover blurb the Poetry South East anthologies represent ‘a comprehensive survey of poetic activity in the region in the first decades of the 21st century’. I certainly discovered some favourites old and new, including Janet Sutherland’s ‘Hangman’s Acre’, Robert Hamberger’s ‘Sleeping with uncertainty’, Stephen Bone’s ‘Inventory’ and John O’Donoghue’s ‘His Plane’.

I know it sounds unlikely, but actually I’m motoring through Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (Bennett & Royle, Pearson 2005), as part of my self-education (see below). It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds!

Submissions latest

Another rejection from Ambit, on what I think may have been my fifth attempt over eight years, so I think I can safely say my work ain’t a good fit there – oh well, onwards! Then two poems accepted by Prole, which is always good news. So that’s cleared the decks, which means I need to get some more poems out this week.

Thoughts about what next

I’ve been thinking off and on for a few years about what’s going to push my writing on. I’ve thought about finding a mentor, but I’m not sure that’s it. Something that’s been nagging away at me, even though I try not to let it, is that a respected editor who I paid to critique a manuscript, when I’d asked if he would mentor me further, replied that it would be a steep upward curve for me as I have ‘no literary education’. It’s true I have a haphazard approach to reading. If I’m asked to write a review, or judge a poetry competition, I do feel a bit of a fraud (and no it’s not just ‘imposter syndrome’). As writing buddies, I have the Hastings Stanza, a supportive and talented group. I’ve always longed for something else as well, but not been able to define it.

Part of me doesn’t want to go down the Creative Writing MA route, having spoken to people who have. It’s also a huge luxury and not one (especially given the current financial climate) I’m sure I can afford to take. But the prospect of being given directed reading and focus, together with sustained critiquing that develops my writing and helps me situate it in relation to the ‘canon’, is tempting. Interestingly I nearly enrolled for a Creative Writing MA twenty years ago, when I came back from the US and wanted a fresh start. But my head ruled my heart and I took a Digital Media MA instead, which I don’t regret as it set me up for a new career. But it makes me a bit rueful all the same.  So, all of this is a longwinded way of saying I’ve decided after all to apply for that CW MA, and see what happens. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

On trying to stay informed without going down the social media hate-drain

There’s so much bitterness expressed via social media these days, which is unsurprising I suppose, given what the world is going through, and social media is basically seen by many people as their only opportunity to make their opinions heard. Trouble is, we don’t all need or want to be hearing them, especially as the repetition encouraged by ‘sharing’ quickly turns into an endless storm of hate.

I’ve noticed a few people recently announcing their withdrawal from social channels. I took myself off Facebook some years ago and don’t regret it for a moment. I’m not planning to come off Twitter as I still find it entertaining and useful, plus it’s my only regular social media presence these days. I’m proud to be one of its very early adopters and feel a responsibility to keep on using it as it was intended. But oh my, it can be depressing on Twitter these days. I manage my presence there by muting certain people, unfollowing others, encouraging and supporting good (ie social!) behaviour, continuing to share or create what I feel to be informative and/or entertaining things where possible, staying curious and feeling delight when I come across someone new and interesting to follow. Meanwhile I get the news from The Guardian and The Times online, and never, never, never watch any TV news.

Other stuff I’ve been up to

I’m still practising my handmade notelets/notebooks. Here are a couple. The cover of the dotty one is made from a Sainsbury’s bottle gift bag!

hand made notebooks

The garden continues to provide work and endless fascination. I love the strange and curious shapes the courgettes are putting out…

crazy shaped courgettes

And the small white turnips which are new this year, plus strawberries (when we can get them before the snails etc):

garden produce


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  1. Mat Riches Mat Riches

    Hi Robin, excellent post – as ever. Not sure if this helps or hinders, but the Finished Creatures events were cancelled, so yo’ve not missed anything. Something to do with poor interweb connections for Jan.

    Good luck with the MA. I know what you mean about feeling the Imposter syndrome.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Mat, and thank you – oh I didn’t know the FC launches were cancelled! That’s good in a way (but a shame for everyone else of course) – I hope there’s going be a relaunch date in that case. I’ll ask Jan. Cheers. Rx

  2. Diana Brighouse Diana Brighouse

    Good luck with the CW MA. Your post implied that you had received negative feedback from people who’d done a CW MA, so I’d like to add a dollop of positivity. I finished my CW MA a year ago and found it a steep learning curve (my first degree is in medicine) but enormously encouraging and rewarding. The workshop group that I was in for our second year (most of us were part time over two years) was a wonderfully constructive and supportive group of diverse people, and we have continued to meet on a regular basis since finishing our degree.

  3. Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

    Hello Diana – thank you for leaving a comment, and I’m pleased to hear you got a lot from your Masters. That does sound positive. May I ask where you did the course? I wouldn’t like to say that everyone I’ve spoken to has had bad things to say about their courses, but quite a few were so-so, and it’s a lot of money (and time) to commit for something that’s just OK. I guess who you spend a year workshopping with is pretty crucial, and you don’t haven much control of that. Thanks for the positivity 🙂 Rx

  4. Lovely, informative, inspiring. ressuribg. Love Ann ❤️

  5. Jennifer Jennifer

    Dear Robin, if you are doing your Creative Writing MA with the Open University you will find it most stimulating as it will expose you to poetry forms you probably had no idea existed. Just do it and enjoy it but keep true to yourself. Remember, to misquote Hemingway, to be a writer or poet means putting in the hours every day, bum on seat, pen in hand. And it is ok to indulge in such delightful self indulgence of playing with words.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thanks Jennifer. Actually I did include the OU in my research, but their course is too general for me as I want to focus solely on poetry. The shortlist came down to three universities all with excellent reputations for poetry, respected poets on the faculty and strong connections to the poetry world. And OK to indulge, yes, if the finances allow!

  6. Hi Robin. Thank you as ever for your generous and honest writing. I am sorry and sad that a mentor told you you had no literary education. If mentors sign up to mentor people they should sign up for the long haul and walk with people on their journey of learning more. As we say: you begin where people are, not at some idealised point in the future when they have already published five volumes with Faber (ahem)! It makes me so angry, this kind of comment, and I am so sorry it happened to you. I really hope your CW course will reap the rewards that you want it to.
    On another note, I am so impressed you have hung in there on Twitter. Each day I go without it I miss it less (same with FB and Insta). I do get the odd pang of wondering ‘What is X doing or saying now?…’ but it quickly fades.
    Wishing you all the best and all power to your elbow and writing as ever, Anthony

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you Anthony, for your kind words. That comment did sting rather – although with hindsight I can see he had a point, and I’d rather get an honest answer than paying for a mentor who is always positive about whatever I write. And when the work he deemed ‘not of a publishable standard’ won the Cinnamon pamphlet comp, he seemed genuinely pleased for me. It wasn’t as bad as the critiques I received in my earlier writing days, from someone anonymous via the Poetry Society’s ‘Poetry Prescription’. I could never find out who it was, but his or her comments set me back at least a year, in writing and in confidence. That did make me angry.
      Well done for eschewing social media. I do drop into Instagram occasionally and enjoy the photos, but I’ve never been ‘involved’ there. Twitter is still quite useful for routine things like getting quick replies from people. It is a shame what it’s become though. O for the heady days of the turn of the century, when ‘information wanted to be free’ and before business and politics took over. Best wishes to you! Rx

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Robin Houghton 2021