Yesterday I submitted my PhD – a practice-led doctoral thesis in Creative Writing – to Newcastle University. The result of three and a half years of work, I began the research project formally in September 2015, first plotting it in the winter of 2014.
The Poets’ Hyem is an exploration of what it means to generate poetic placemaking in England’s North-East. A critical exegesis analyses four postwar poets, making a case for International Regionalism as a hallmark of modern poetry written about the area since the mid-twentieth century. The second – and majority – component of the thesis, Errata Slip for a Northern Town, is the manuscript for my first full-length collection of poetry, which I hope to have published as a book in the near future.
I’m hopeful that at viva, in the spring, it will make a sufficiently original contribution to knowledge and not require major amendments. From my current vantage (which, I admit, may be coloured by the glow of having handed in), the thesis makes for a robust addition to discourses surrounding place and poetry, and has the potential to catalyse further work — either by myself, in a post-doc capacity, or by other researchers interested in regionalism and writing belonging to Bernicia.
Submitting a PhD comes with a kaleidoscope of emotions. I feel relieved to have finally handed the thing in, for it to (temporarily) not be of concern, but I also feel pretty melancholic. This is probably compounded by the anti-climatic nature of actually submitting the documents: I took two soft-bound copies and a USB stick to a centralised drop-off point at the university and was given a receipt. Quite a clinical, formulaic transaction, really. No bells or whistles, no banners and balloons.
I sat for a while afterwards in the Town Mouse and had a few pints. Did I feel less burdened or more, having jettisoned this significant portion of my adult life? I don’t really know yet, to be honest. I do think that my work is intelligent, nuanced and of doctoral standard. I have faith in my poems: they read well as a cohesive whole. Insofar as I have contributed to discourse, I feel that my critical argument – what I am calling a polyparochial poetics – is in keeping with the zeitgeist. In short, I think the PhD will set me up well and has value beyond Newcastle University and the North-East of England.
But I’m also not naïve enough to think there won’t be rough patches ahead. Notwithstanding the elephant in the room (the ‘B’ word), a PhD is by no means a golden ticket to a career in academia. If being part of a DTP (Doctoral Training Partnership) has shown me anything, it’s that there are hundreds, thousands, of highly talented ECRs (Early Career Researchers) out there, all vying for a limited pool of fellowships, lectureships and post-doctoral positions.
So, significant groundwork has been laid, but what gets built on it remains to be seen. I will write again after the viva, hopefully in late April, but for the time being I’m going to let all of this compost through my brain and work out where it might take me next.