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poet ● novelist ● arts collaborator ● teacher

Writing, Teaching and Collaboration

The articles and chapters listed here aren't simple how-to texts. Some are part of conversations between academic students of creative writing; some talk to a wider audience. All of them are an invitation to ask thoughtful questions about a process that should always have an element of un-knowing and uncertainty.

Each entry gives a taster of the thinking in it, with links to follow up online where possible. The others are worth hunting down in print.

Oh, So That's Where We Were Going: an interview with Philip Gross, with Brian Monte

.... ‘Writing a poem’ is often not what I think I'm doing when I start. One might emerge from the general mulch of thinking and setting down words. Other times, such as being offered an invitation to write to a commission or a wish of my own to write for a person or occasion, I might start from a kind of alertness for the poem that might resonate in that space, with no idea yet what it might be...
Quite a number of poems that have appeared in my books began life in a workshop or a writing game... only to reveal themselves later to be part of a train of thought and feeling going back for years, underground, not breaking surface till they had that provocation. You can tell from that answer that I often don't know, almost don't believe in knowing, where a poem needs to lead until it's done. Or rather, the experience of done-ness is exactly that, when I look at the poem and think: Oh, so that's where we were going!

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Halfway-to-Whole Things: Ecologies of Writing and Collaboration, in Barry, Peter (ed) Extending Ecocriticism, Manchester University Press, 2017 pp.30-46

... natural phenomena and processes may offer themselves as a way to see the process of an individual's self — to imagine the self, in fact, as an ecology, with disparate elements in shifting but interdependent relationships with each other. What emerged in the course of several collaborations was that the same might be true of the collective ‘self’ of a collaboration — that ‘living space between’.
... If I once worried that an ecocritical approach must mean self-denial, with a stern subordination of creative play to political ends, what a liberation it might be to know that ecology simply describes what is the case, around us and inside us, and includes us, creativity and all.

Together In The Space Between, Collaboration as a window on creative process, Axon, Issue C1: Axon Capsule 1: Poetry on the Move 2015

... With apologies to Charles Babbage, early father of computers, I would like to borrow the term he used for his machine: the difference engine. Cross arts collaboration is a difference engine, as is working with another writer when each of you is trusting enough to be distinct and open to each other. (So, maybe, is any good relationship.) The difference, held across the space between you, gives that space its energy, and shape... This sense of collaboration goes beyond writers working with creative artists. On a recent interdisciplinary project, I found myself working with a visual artist and with an environmental biologist, a cultural ecologist and a natural resources economist...

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Mind The Gap: Philip Gross on writing words and silence, in The Author (March 2018)

... Listening is what white space on the page invites, what it stands for. Even prose poems, without stanza or line breaks, tend to float in more than usual white space. It's a sign to us to listen up, to listen well. Unlike the writing that says Sit down, pin back your lugholes and listen, it says: You're a participant in this poem. See this white bit; it's a space for you.

Surface Tensions: Framing the Flow of a Poetry-Film Collaboration Philip Gross worked with the film maker Wyn Mason and critic Kevin Mills on a poetry-film about the River Taff, which became an interactive website.

... Some collaborations are destined to resemble the water boatman and pond skater, forever facing each other across the seemingly impenetrable divide of the water's surface. The metaphor can only be transcended by performing that visionary leap where two face-to-face profiles magically transform into a single candlestick and the possibility of willingly switching back and forth between the two opposing images. Learning to focus on negative space, the space-between, is a trick of the eye and of the mind that can become habitual for both visual artists and collaborators...

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Voices In The Forest: three ways of conceiving of a work in progress (with selected prose-poems from the sequence Evi and the Devil) in Axon: Creative Explorations, Vol 4, No 1, July 2014 (print) and Issue 6: Poetry: Writing, Thinking, Making

... There is a voice in the forest. The tone, the timbre of it, is unfamiliar to me ... though the forest, and the island on which it lies, both are real enough. They exist on the map. How they come to be inhabited by that disembodied voice ... that is another question...

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The Lonely Crowd anthology (online) has readings of three recent poems, with a short thought-piece on their differences and how they came about.

... The movement of a poem, its dynamic... Sometimes when I try to explain what a poem is getting at, I find my hands modeling it, moulding a shape in the air. Maybe that's what a poem — or my sort of poem, at least — is about. To use a birdwatcher's term, it's the jizz of the thing...

Thinking about about-ness How he lay

Then Again What Do I Know: reflections on reflection in Creative Writing in Marggraf Turley, R. (ed), The Writer in the Academy: Creative Interfrictions, English Association / Boydell & Brewer, 2011. pp. 49-70
One chapter in a rich and varied book of contributions from people teaching Creative Writing in universities, this piece follows one of his own new poems through its twists and turns to trace what writers might know, and not know, about their writing.

... we need abundant evidence of the differences, both wide and subtle, between different writers' practices. I suggest that good reflective writing will have specificity and individuality. It will not be self-serving in the sense that it compels one reading, chosen by the author, of their own work; it will leave its evidence available for re-interpretation. What locates it as creative knowledge is that it will be productive. If it gives rise to searching questions about process and its understanding, and most particularly if it widens the writer's range of possibilities, if it leads to new experiments in practice, then we will know it by its fruits. It will create.

Words on the borders of the body is a moving piece about writing poetry connected with his father's dying. It was published in The Lancet, Volume 386, No. 10006, p1816-1817, 7 November 2015

'Beyond the point where he could physically say anything, or even think it, my father was asking the most searching questions about language, about what it means to be a self, and yes, about poetry. That day, in High Care, words were out of the question, apart from those words on the medical notes, and the numbers on the monitors around him, all beyond me. What else could poetry do, from a hard chair at the bedside, but attend?

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Material Poetics Panel — Revisited: Caren Florance, Sarah Rice, Melinda Smith, Philip Gross, Axon, Issue C1: Axon Capsule 1: Poetry on the Move 2015
Four writer-educators talking about the stuff of making poetry, and seeing poems as physical objects.

... My notebook is less book than compost heap, mulch, seedbed — full of scraps, false starts and fragments, sticky strands of words that gradually stick to others, an old curiosity shop in which all kinds of disregarded things might be found years later, or might link up with each other almost of their own accord...

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Caves of Making Poem Cave Diver In The Deep Reach, and reflective essay, in the anthology Creative Writing: Writers on Writing, ed. Amal Chatterjee. (Newmarket: Professional & Higher, 2013) 9781907076749 X

... Has this unfinished poem failed? The answer might depend on your poetics. If the job of a poem is to compel a response, then this whole chapter is confession of its failure. Or maybe you value the reader's creative response. If so, my own urge to be that reader, to write about and from the poem is not proof of its incompleteness, but shows that the best conclusion is to make the reader, at least the one called Me, want to think on. ... It might be better to see the poem, then, not as a thing as a location, a concourse. The elements may go on changing; new ones are attracted, some discarded and yet — here is the practical mystery for which we are trying to find terms — the thing the poem is remains itself.

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Small Worlds, in Does The Writing Workshop Still Work? ed. Diana Donnelly (Multilingual Matters, 2010) pp.52-62

For teacher and learner alike, the workshop setting involves skill. Skill develops by practice, by trial (and error), by reflection and repeated new trials over time. A workshop is a small world, which reflects and refracts worlds outside. It is impure, a hybrid of several models, not quite faithful to any one. It is a species of play, in the sense that all creative art is play. It continues the developmental business begun in childhood where wide possibilities (some of them risky or absurd) get tested with thought and imagination, within boundaries. ... it embodies something distinctive, something not and maybe not-to-be formulated, about what Creative Writing is.

Something Like The Sea: Thinking Through My Father's Aphasia, in Poetry and Voice, ed. Stephanie Norgate (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012)
This piece was written from a talk Philip gave to a conference on Poetry And Voice at the University of Chichester. It thinks through the background to writing the poems about his father that made up the collection Deep Field.

Under the poems lies the irony of meeting my father, fifty years on, in almost a mirror-image experience, in which I had the freedom of speech that he was losing. I repeat: these poems do not claim to be an imitation of my father's speech. It is off the point to ask whether the voice of the poems is my father's or my own. What the poems hope to explore is the internal shapes and force fields of our conversation — the way each of our voices acquired a new resonance in the shared creation, structured by his history and mine, of that ‘space between’.

The White Bit Round The Edges, in In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry, ed. Helen Ivory and George Szirtes (Salt, 2012)
A wide intriguing mixture of poets writing now, taking a look at what is happening when they write.

Communication deals in more than words, and more than meanings. Maybe the urge or instinct I find these days to let more space and more physical shaping make its way in among the text is an acknowledgement of that. A courteous welcome to the not-quite-verbal to be present too.

The Tale of Silly and Boring: matters arising from a simple writing game, in Story: the heart of the matter, ed. Maggie Butt (Greenwich Exchange) 2007

The play-acting feel of this game, with everyone sitting in one circle and a listener as its hub, is more than just ice-breaking. It is creating a physical shape for the story — necessary because however much we can articulate the process theoretically it is something more physical — or physiological - that leads the story-making in our heads or in a circle of listeners in the playground or the pub. We are a circuit. By putting the story shape out there around us in physical form, we can think about it less, yet be aware of it more. And isn't much of the work of stimulating writing about finding ways to be thoughtful, alert, intent... without thinking too hard?

Other recent interviews and pieces

Behind the Desk with Philip Gross: in conversation with Fiction Editor, Rebecca Lawn. The Cardiff Review, 2 17-124

Writers' Rooms in Wales Arts Review (online) April 2016

A Walk in the Abstract Garden: How Creative Writing might speak for itself in universities, in Writing in Practice: The Journal of Creative Writing Research vol. 1

Roots In The Air: teaching of Creative Writing in UK universities European Association of Creative Writing Programmes website.

Accounting for the Unaccountable: a foreword in 42 tweets, in Harper, G. (ed), Creative Writing and Education (Multilingual Matters, 2015) xvi-xx
A retrospect on the changes in universities and the place of Creative Writing in them, written in tweet of 140-characters-with-spaces

Writing Alongside, in Poetry and Childhood ed. Morag Styles, Louise Joy and David Whitley (Trentham, 2010)

Devolved Voices is Aberystwyth University's comprehensive database on contemporary writers working from Wales.
For a feature on Philip, with video interview and reading;
... with full listing of reviews up to 2014