Dr Helen Tookey

Liverpool Screen School

Creative writing: Poetry and poetics

How you include and use your research to shape, develop, share, discuss, interrogate and experiment within your subject: Within my work as a poet, one of my interests is in ekphrastic writing (writing in response to visual art), the different approaches this can take and what it can unlock in the writing process. I have given presentations on this topic to the LJMU English research seminar and to the Newcastle University/Poetry School MA in Poetry, and was scheduled to give a paper on the subject at a conference titled ‘Poetry and Painting: Conversations’ at the Faculty of English, Oxford University, in March 2020 (the event was cancelled due to Covid). I introduce ekphrastic writing to L4 students as part of the Observation and Discovery module, which aims to introduce the students to new ways of thinking about the writing process and starting points for writing. We do class exercises responding in writing to visual images and have (prior to Covid) made class trips to galleries including the Tate and the Walker (which also has the benefit of introducing the students to Liverpool’s key cultural venues). I also link the idea of responding to visual art with thinking about place and belonging (via discussion of my own response to the painter George Shaw), and the broader idea of how the students can explore their own ‘ways of seeing’ in relation to where they come from.

Any specific strategies you use to maximise the teaching and learning impact of your research: A short creative piece written in response to a visual prompt is part of one of the assignments for the module. Students have frequently commented, in module appraisal, that they enjoyed this approach (which is almost always new to them) and have found it a useful and often unexpected way of unlocking their writing. I build on this at L5 in the poetry module, where we have a session dedicated to exploring ekphrastic writing by a range of poets, and follow that up with a class visit to Tate Liverpool to do hands-on writing in the gallery space. Again, the emphasis is on drawing out the different ways writers can respond to images and how this can open up the students’ writing in terms of voice and approach, while also honing their skills in observation and description.

How your students engage with and respond to your research and the teaching: Students often comment positively on this approach as something they would not have tried by themselves, and class visits to galleries help them gain confidence to engage with the city’s cultural venues in a way they would often not have done without this starting-point.