The uppiest of updates

Well, how do you follow a blog post like the last one?

Dear Jennifer

Graduate Teaching Studentship Bursary award

On behalf of the University of Salford I am pleased to inform you that your application for Graduate Teaching Studentship bursary funding for admission as a full time candidate for the award of PhD has been approved to start in October 2015.

I think I’m going to need a bigger pencil case.


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#FeministTakeover @Manchester Art Gallery


A couple of weeks ago I had confirmation that my piece ‘Lolita’s Sleepover’ aka my hands-and-knees MA quilt had been selected for exhibition at at even for International Women’s Day.

So yesterday I bundled it up, braved the Manchester one way system in search of a car park and finally arrived at the gallery. I knew that the night was going to be special when two women, seeing me wandering round gormlessly looking for the right studio greeted me with a cheery ‘Are you a feminist? It’s in there.’

It’s always lovely to meet the people who were previously just names on the bottom of emails, and after a few introductions, and a fiddle about working out how to display the quilt with the plinths available, I trotted off for a cuppa and to meet my lovely friend AJ who had braved the train all the way from Birmingham to share the day with me. Gossip exchanged, we started our wander around the galleries, and bumped into my friend and mentor Phil, of arthur+martha, and grabbed a programme – and of course looked to see where my work was and hurried off to have a look.

art view 3

And there is was, in the gallery ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’, in front of Astarte Syriaca by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I was in awe to see my work next to such a beautiful, iconic painting. The other feminist artwork in the same gallery was fantastic – I thought I’d had a hard time embroidering over paper but the art opposite mine was a dressing table with mirror writing embroidered into the wood. My quilt wasn’t the pinkest thing there, either, Pink to Make the Boys Wink by Robyn Nichol, complete with vibrators, baby name band, Feminax and shoes, outpinked me by a factor of ten. Kate, one of the organisers, displayed a handmade book (a woman after my own heart).

quilt mcr

< Photo by Jenny White @photo_jenn

I probably shouldn’t admit to how much I enjoyed looking at people looking at my art, so we will gloss over that bit. Scott, my MA course leader arrived, shortly followed by my children (kindly delivered by my ex-husband), giving me more excuses to go back for another look.

There were fantastic pieces of art throughout the galleries, performances and even a rock band making some excellent noise. The gallery was buzzing (during the introduction it was so rammed that AJ accidentally butted a man with the back of her head as he tried to squeeze past and we retired to the gift shop where there was more breathing space).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I was surprised, reading the information about the event, to find out that several of the galleries are normally completely devoid of work by female artists. The Feminist Takeover was a true transformation of the space. The people I met were brilliant and I hope we can work together in the future. I am so proud to have been involved with such a fantastic, successful event. Here I am being all pleased with myself.
art view

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Lovin’ it.

Urgh, Valentine’s Day. So far February seems to have gone quickly, in a blur of PhD proposal rewrites and submissions, going back to uni (I am now into my Literary Research Module, just this one and the dissertation then I’m done. How did that happen?), busy busy at work and all the other usual stuff.

I’ve put my quilt forward for an exhibition in Manchester so waiting to hear back about that. Everything seems to be happening at once, but it’s all good stuff. Apart from Valentine’s Day. Anyway I was reading this sciencey article about love being chemical and whether you could improve/sustain your relationship with love drugs (there is a novel in there, somewhere) and I accidentally wrote a poem. It might be quite a good one though so I’m keeping it to myself.

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A quick poem

Just a titchy one, because such things pop into my head when I’m meant to be writing something more important. There is a short story mulling around in there trying to burst out too, but it can just behave until the PhD application is all sorted out.

under my skin

spit licked
by an unknown kiss
alien palm urged to
second base breast
scab peeled
crinkle picked
a temporary tattoo 

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A poem that sounds like a toilet

I went to bed later than usual last night, after some more work on my quilt (which is coming along nicely, thank you for asking). When I got to the bathroom and turned on the tap there was no water, not a single drop. After a quick google (burst water main a couple of streets away) and a quick sing of one of my favourite ever songs Tell me, what’s gone wrong?/ I tilt my head back under the faucet/ When I turn it on/ Dry as paper/ Call the neighbours (name that tune) I dropped off thinking no more about it.

But then, I woke up again. In the morning, my sons’ radio wakes me from their bedroom before mine goes off, a distant burble of language that I can’t quite capture. And waking, hearing burbling language, I thought it was morning. A look at the clock revealed it was only 2.15am. The ‘language’ was actually the noise coming from the toilet cistern which was refilling after the loss of water, and my brain misinterpreting it as words.

I went back to sleep thinking, that’s what I like to do in my poems these days, to write in snippets which the readers’ brains have to interpret into some kind of meaning (which isn’t necessarily there). I do love a poem with a wonderful image in it, that moment where a poet tells you that a raven is like a writing desk and you ‘see’ it for the first time, and wonder why you never noticed that before. But I am much more interested in messing around with the fabric of language. And fabric in general.

So this morning I have the urge to write a poem or two, but also to go back to bed for a bit! zzzzzzzzzz

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This is what ‘writing’ looks like in my house this holiday. I’m making a quilt as part of my next MA project and this is my (very pink) progress. So far I’ve managed to trap about 40 (out of 92)  pieces of magazine under organza, ready to be embroidered with words that I’ve collated from Lolita. I’ve got some lovely grey thread, the colour of graphite standing by and I really need to get on with it because the deadline is looming.

The making has been a complete nightmare. The background is a girlie pink blanket that’s so fluffy it’s like trying to sew a marshmallow. The organza is really slick and slippery, so much so that the pins just slide out. You can’t pin the paper pieces in place without leaving behind pin holes. You can’t use glue which dries hard because then you can’t embroider through it. So I bought a special fabric glue which is like a Pritt Stick, which doesn’t work. I think I’d be better sticking them down with a bit of spit and it would have been a lot cheaper! Everything has been sliding about all over the place, so I’ve had to spread the blanket flat on the floor and sew on my hands and knees. Not what I had in mind when I started out!

Oh Lolita Dolly Lo, what have you done to me?


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The Curious Incident of The Curious Incident

My daughter managed to score a couple of free tickets for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at The Lowry, through her acting connections. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ditch the boys so I could go to watch it with her, so she invited a friend. As luck would have it though, the boys went off to their dad’s for the afternoon, leaving me free to buy a ticket of my own and join the girls.

In the queue at the box office I was explaining to the nice ticket blokey that I needed to buy an extra when someone piped up behind me that he had a spare ticket, because his friend couldn’t make it. Something had gone a bit pear-shaped with his allocated tickets though, so they’d ask him to wait there for a manager. By the time it was announced that the show was about to start in ten minutes, no manager had appeared and neither had the tickets. Eventually it turned out that they had reserved them under a misspelling of his name and off we went to settle into our seats.

During the wait we had a little chat. He’d been offered complimentary tickets, through an autism group he attended because he had Asperger’s – like Christopher in the play (although it is never actually named in the book or play). He explained that the group is really helpful because a lot of people with Asperger’s get very fixated on certain hobbies or activities so it’s a good way of them widening their horizons. He told me he wasn’t like that himself, he was more sociable and married with a family.

The show started (we had great seats!) and all was well, until my new companion started shuffling about a bit, rustling as he fiddled about with his coat, much to the annoyance of a man in front of us who kept turning to glare. Then an alarm went off BEEP BEEP BEEP – time for my companion to take a dose of medication maybe? it would explain the rustling – more dirty looks from the seat in front. There were further episodes, rummaging for juice in his bag, as the show went on.

It struck me there was something amazing about it, being sat there watching this charming character on stage with all his quirks and strangeness presented to us for entertainment, while the real life version, beeping, rummaging and rustling, was causing annoyance.

I enjoyed the show but my new found friend gave me a lot more to think about!


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The poetry bug

Projects seem to come along like buses, none for ages then three come at once.

I’ve been busy writing my for my next assignment for the MA. This module is Writing Workshop, no essay this time just a big fat piece of writing, accompanied by a statement of poetics. 6000 words if you’re doing prose, which I won’t be. We get suggested equivalences for poetry or scripts, or pieces that don’t fit into the box.

I always wonder how you can really measure that goes into a piece of creative writing. Writing poetry has always been a slow business for me, my record is six months for one sestina. Traditional form is not my thing, this was for an OU assignment where we had to write in form. Incidentally, the OU measure poetry by number of lines, which is pretty sensible but can lead to temptation to enjamb your lines in a peculiar

fashion just to

get the line



It seems I am in excellent company though, this article about Christian Bök’s Xenotext Experiment reveals that the project has taken him around fourteen years so far, with four years to write two poems. The project involves implanting poems, translated into genetic code, into the genomes of bacteria. This code forms an instruction to the bacteria to produce a new protein, making a new poem. Read about it, it’s awesome.

Meanwhile our class has bacteria on its mind too, having been invited by students on the MSc in Microbiology to collaborate with them on some creative work in response to a project they’ve been doing, communicating the risks of infection and how to prevent them. I’ve been working on a ten metre long patchwork tapeworm poem but he has had to go on the back burner while I grapple with my assignment. And writing my PhD proposal. And starting my research project. And my boiler burst. And and and…


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Writing in the age of technology

This week I have been mostly wasting time on the internet reading about Kenneth Goldsmith’s new course ‘Wasting time on the internet’ and wondering how our digital lives can be reflected in our writing. Meanwhile, in The Guardian, technology is something that writers need to ‘rise above’ because it threatens the future of reading.

Has writing really evolved much since the days of the invention of the printing press? I love e-books but really they just duplicate the flat page-after-page of a physical book ( I did once prod my finger onto a word in a paperback and feel quite disappointed that a dictionary definition didn’t pop up). Technology doesn’t even seem to feature much in the day to day lives of most fictional protagonists – unless I’m not looking in the right places?  On my first OU course I wrote a flarf poem before I even knew that such a thing existed, so experimenting with technology is something which seems to come naturally to me. Is technology something writers should fear, or is it high time we explored it and started to think beyond the paper page. I’m going to sign up to Kenneth’s course and find out*




*in my dreams

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Snips and wisps

A lovely long poem has landed in my inbox, ready for me to edit. Not just fiddling about with a comma here or there, but a proper chop job where it needs to be cut by half. The only stipulation is that I need to shape it into fourteen line stanzas.

Fourteen lines in the length of a sonnet, so this has got my mind ticking over (and flashing back to the module on my last OU course where we wrote in subverted forms) so it’s time to get the scissors out and see where it takes me.

I’ve also got my paws on my first batch of submissions from Word Bohemia for review. So a few days of looking at writing from other people, rather than writing my own. And with little time to write, wisps and snippets of poems start to circle inside my head…

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