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The International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) launched New Zealand's first PhD creative writing programme in 2008.
The writers who have joined the programme are working on a wide range of topics, and their supervisors come from an equally wide range of academic departments. While primary supervisors are usually staff from the IIML, co/secondary supervisors have come from Schools as diverse as Architecture, Art History, Gender and Women's Studies, the Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, the English and Theatre programmes of SEFTMS, and Te Kawa a Māui / Māori Studies.
Regular group meetings provide a forum for PhD students (and their supervisors) to discuss their work in progress and take turns to present aspects of it in an informal and supportive atmosphere.
The descriptions below reflect the students' thinking at the time they contributed. However, we attempt to update these from time to time, to reflect the progress of each project.
Angela Andrews is investigating the relationship between medicine and poetry. Having previously trained as a doctor, she graduated with an MA from the IIML in 2005. Her first book, Echolocation, was published by Victoria University Press in 2007. Her poems have appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Sport and Landfall.
Angela's project examines the clinical encounter—the meeting between doctor and patient—through a hybrid thesis combining the forms of poetry and essays. Her poems approach the clinical encounter from the perspectives of a patient, family member, medical student, and doctor. The essays situate the poems within the broader academic literature concerning the philosophy of the clinical encounter.
The discipline known as 'medical humanities' has undergone considerable growth over the last few decades. Humanities subjects have been incorporated into undergraduate medical curricula of many universities, including the two medical schools in New Zealand. Worldwide, there is substantial interest in what poetry might offer the practice of medicine. By using poems as a constituent part of the thesis, Angela aims to explore poetry itself as a mode of thinking, considering the ways in which such an approach can deepen our understanding of medicine.
Angela writes: 'I started my MA pretty much straight from a clinical job in the hospital. It was a vastly different way of seeing the world, compared to what I'd learnt at medical school. Ever since then, I've been thinking about the contrast, and complementarity, of the two schools I've attended at university. I'm interested in how that relationship might be relevant to medical practice.'
Airini is the author of three collections of poetry;Secret Heart (2006), Western Line (2011), and Dear Neil Roberts (2014), all published by Victoria University Press. Secret Heart won the NZSA Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry at the 2007 New Zealand Book Awards. Airini's poetry and short fiction has appeared in a range of print and online journals.
The book-length poem, Dear Neil Roberts, takes the form of a personal address to a young punk anarchist who deliberately blew himself up outside the Whanganui Police Computer centre in 1982. It is also an exploration of local histories and the ways in which they can be remembered, told, and connected with.
The experience of writing this poem led Airini to consider the challenges involved in the form of the long poem, including the structuring of a narrative, the uses of verse forms, and the ways in which historical and/or political material can be presented. Airini's PhD project has been designed with the further exploration of these issues in mind.
The critical component focuses on the contemporary long poem in New Zealand and Australia. Case studies of book-length poems by six writers working during the last 25 years explore the question: what possibilities are offered by verse form, that distinguish poetry from other narrative media? Specifically, this thesis will consider how segmentive aspects of verse form, including sections within a book, poems within a sequence, line breaks, stanzas, and meter, affect the narrativity of a text, and the narrative(s) therein. The notion of segmentivity as poetry's characterising feature was developed by Rachel Blau du Plessis in her 1995 essay 'Manifests'.
Airini's creative project is a series of long poems drawing on histories of the Whanganui river region, with a focus on social and environmental issues. The poems will bear in mind a human geography, considering the complexities of interactions with the natural environment, and the effects of economic processes on individual lives.
Victoria University Press author page
Peter completed his MA in 2002 at the IIML with his TV series project The Insider's Guide to Happiness, which went on to be produced by Gibson Group and screened on TV2, picking up six awards at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards, including best drama series. Since then, the TV series' Peter has created and/or developed have won more than 30 NZ Film and TV awards, and have been distributed in Australia, Canada, the UK, Asia and Europe, with format rights being sold in countries as diverse as Russia and the US. He has also been the recipient of the Buddle-Findlay Sargeson Writer's Fellowship, and won best new NZ Playwright at the Wellington Chapman Tripp theatre awards.
Peter writes: 'The creative side of my PHD focuses on two different television series ideas: one is somewhat of a drama; one is somewhat of a comedy. The critical side of my PHD focuses on the function of television "writer's rooms" – particularly in light of the increasingly popular "auteur" view of the US "quality cable" TV series creator/showrunner. How have the conditions of "niche" cable television programming given rise to the concept of the showrunner/auteur? How does this new auteur theory of television authorship mesh with the necessarily collaborative nature of TV serial writing? How does the practical "on the ground" functioning of writer's rooms reflect the authorship of the creator/showrunner?'
Amy Leigh Cutler is a poet from New York City. She holds her MFA in poetry from The New School (2014) and her B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from the The King's College (2009). She is the author of Orange Juice and Rooftops (Eloquent Press, 2009) and a few chapbooks, and her poems have appeared on The Best American Poetry blog. She served as a poetry editor for NYSAI Literary Magazine and writing instructor before moving to Wellington with her husband to undertake her PhD at IIML.
Amy writes: 'In James K. Baxter (Oxford University Press, 1977), Vincent O'Sullivan wrote that Baxter's verse 'is the most complete delineation yet of a New Zealand mind. The poetic record of its shaping is as original an act as anything we have.' For the critical component of this dissertation I will focus on the life and work of James Keir Baxter as a national figure, or as he has been called, 'the people's prophet' of New Zealand. Placing Baxter's life in the context of New Zealand history, I will explore personal narrative, landscape, and expressions of national identity for Māori and Pakeha people in order to better understand what set him apart and continues to make him a household name and an international icon.
'The creative component will be a collection of poetry focused on landscape, personal narrative and national identity as an expatriate in New Zealand. Poetic forms will be employed to contrast the mystery and variables of landscape and culture. As the subject material becomes more familiar, the forms will vary to sustain the contrast. I might begin with a sestina if the first walk home from the library is full of wrong turns, strange birds, white clouds, and homesickness. Six months later when that walk has morphed into a familiar route, a free-form poem would allow intimate impulsive reflection on a few tui taking flight just as someone wearing my mother's perfume passes by me on Salamanca Road.'
Allan originally studied science, obtaining his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. He subsequently worked in medical research and later in medical publishing. Allan changed direction in 2006, and studied English and creative writing at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, before obtaining his Master of Creative Writing in 2012 from the University of Auckland. His poems and short stories have been published in Poetry NZ, Ingenio, Hue & Cry, Takahe, Bravado, REM Magazine, Blackmail Press, and JAAM. Allan won the inaugural Ingenio Short Story Competition in 2012, and was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2013.
Allan's creative project aims to fictionalise John Milton's life after the Restoration in 17th Century England, during which time Milton completed and published Paradise Lost. This proposal was originally inspired by a love for Milton's epic and a desire to understand how such a work can be written. Allan has also become interested in determining the ability of fiction to help us understand and interpret genius – using Milton as a model for genius.
Allan's critical work will focus on Milton's characterisations in Paradise Lost, and how the characterisations were performed from within the 'negative space' provided by the original biblical narrative. Lucy Hutchinson's Order and Disorder, another long poem from the same period that retells the narrative of Genesis, will serve as a comparison text. Particular attention will be given to the application of speech-act theory and the concept of performative utterances to the process and outcomes of characterisation in the two poems.
Kate is a novelist and short story writer based in Aro Valley. After completing the MA in Creative Writing in 2000, her novel Breakwater (2001) was published by Victoria University Press. She has published in Landfall and Sport, and been anthologised in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (2009) and the Anthology of New Zealand Literature (2012). Kate held the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University in 2004. She taught short fiction workshops at the IIML from 2010-2013 and continues to supervise for the MA programme while working on her PhD.
Kate writes: 'My creative project is a novel narrated in the first person. My critical project takes this narrative mode as a starting point. I want to research contemporary novels which have a single first-person narration, particularly novels where the reader is locked inside the subjectivity and language of the protaganist-narrator as he or she wanders through the geography and time of the novel. W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz and Vertigo, Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy and Teju Cole's Open City are influential works (although these are not the ones I propose to study). I'm interested in the history of the wandering first-person narrator in the novel, particularly when that narrator is figured as romantic wanderer, urban flaneur, pilgrim or tourist. I'm interested in the identifications the reader may be invited to make between author and character in novels where a first-person narrator with characteristics close to the author is deployed. I'm particularly interested in novels by women which use a first person male protaganist-narrator. I want to investigate what effects such novelists are trying to achieve by using this narrative strategy.'
Gigi Fenster’s first novel, The Intentions Book, was published by Victoria University Press in 2012 and shortlisted in the Fiction categorgy of the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. She has published short stories in various literary journals, both in New Zealand and abroad. She has a masters in creative writing from Victoria University and various law degrees. She was the 2012 recipient of the Todd New Writers' Bursary.
Gigi writes: 'In my PhD, I am exploring the theme of fever, as it is portrayed in literature and viewed by writers. In particular I am interested in exploring works which were inspired by, or which describe, feverish dreams. My thesis will be a work of creative non-fiction which explores the implications of somebody wanting to induce a fever in themselves for creative ends. Creative and non-fiction elements will be used to interrogate the concerns which inducing a fever for creative ends might bring to the fore. What legal, ethical, medical, economic and philosophical issues might the self inducing of a fever raise? Are these issues different when the fever is being induced for creative reasons to when it is induced for medical or scientific research?'
The Intentions Book: NZ Herald review
Helen Heath's debut collection of poetry Graft was published in 2012 by Victoria University Press. In 2013 it won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry in the New Zealand Post Book Awards, and was the first book of fiction or poetry to be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize.
Her poetry and essays have been published in many journals in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA. She won the inaugural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 for her poem ‘Making Tea in the Universe’. Her chapbook of poems Watching for Smoke was published by Seraph Press in 2009; the same year she completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria. She has been known to blog sporadically.
Helen's research project explores how science is represented in the work of post-war, contemporary poets writing in the 80s and 90s.
Helen writes: 'The domestication of technology has helped scientific concepts, imagery and vocabulary become part of our daily lives. Few people can explain the workings of a smart phone or computer, but these technologies are increasingly part of our everyday lives. In fact I would go so far as to say that we are all cyborgs now, in that we have incorporated technology not only into our lives but into our bodies. From hip replacements and pacemakers to computers as prosthetics, even plastic surgery and spectacles – we augment ourselves and merge with technology. This merging of humans with technology is the direction I am taking the creative component of my dissertation. I am writing a collection of poetry. I intend to write lyric poems although I am aiming to find some new forms for my work, possibly, in some instances, digital.'
Read some of Helen’s work online:
Therese's poems have appeared in print and online publications including Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry, Jacket2, Metro, Turbine, and the AUP series New Zealand Poets in Performance, .
In 2006 she completed the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria's IIML, and was awarded the Schaeffer Fellowship to spend a year attending the acclaimed Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Her first full-length book of poetry, Other Animals, was published by Victoria University Press in 2013.
Therese writes: 'The aim of the critical component of my thesis is to direct a channel of enquiry into how and where the genre of poetry known as ekphrasis—the verbal representation of visual representation—is being written about the branch of contemporary art called "new media". New media art, a form dating back to the photographic inventions of the late 19th century, includes time-based elements such as video, film, or computer-based technologies.
'Since Homer’s description of Achilles' shield in The Iliad, ekphrasis has been a dynamic and enduring mode of poetic description. The ekphrastic poems that we are most familiar with (Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn"; Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts"; Ashbery's "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror") all address a painting or sculpture. Often the poet first encountered the work in a museum setting, viewing the artworks at his or her leisure, with the knowledge that they could return to view the work at a later date. I'm interested in the ekphrastic exchange between the poet and the ephemeral work of art: a work that is concept driven rather than representational, and a work that may or may not (depending on the longevity of its technical components) be returned to for subsequent viewings.
'Taking the premise that there is not a great deal of poetry about new media art, in comparison to the wealth of poetry about painting for example, my research will initially focus on the ekphrastic poems of Canadian poet Anne Carson. By unpacking the rhetorical and poetic techniques Carson employs in her ekphrasis, I hope to gain a foothold into how to write my own poems about new media art.'
Monica Macansantos holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She was born and raised in the Philippines, spent her early childhood in Delaware, USA, and earned her Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing, magna cum laude, from the University of the Philippines in 2007. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in The Masters Review, The Fictioneer, Five Quarterly, Your Impossible Voice, Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs, and TAYO, among others. Her short story, 'Stopover', earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Fiction Open and was featured in the University of Pittsburgh Writing Program's Longform Fiction. Her work has been recognized with residency fellowships from Hedgebrook in Washington State and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska.
Monica writes: 'The creative component of my dissertation will be a novel set in the Marcos years in the Philippines. My novel-in-progress is about two brothers, Carlos and Gabriel, who become estranged during the early years of the Marcos regime. I turn the spotlight on the 'Martial Law Minors', or the generation of Filipinos who were too young to know what it was like before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. I have taken an interest in the Martial Law Minor generation, particularly in how their understanding of history, as it was taught to them, altered the way in which they came to understand the importance of freedom and individual rights. Gabriel, Carlos's younger brother, is a member of this generation, and the novel is told from his point-of-view.
'The critical component of my dissertation remains a work in progress, but may deal with Filipino perspectives of America as a colonizer and liberating force in the Philippine Historical Novel. My key texts will be Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart, Edilberto K. Tiempo's To Be Free, Edith Tiempo's The Alien Corn, Wilfrido Nolledo's But for the Lovers, and Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado.'
'Stopover' (Five Quarterly)
Excerpt from 'Stopover' (Longform Fiction)
'The Day I Was a Comfort Woman' (Your Impossible Voice - audio recording)
'The Cup of Knowing' (Quarterly Literary Review Singapore)
The Masters Review 2012, ed. Lauren Groff: 'The Feast of All Souls'
The Fictioneer: 'Maricel'
Alison has a Bachelor of Arts in english and film from University of Auckland, a BA (hons) from Victoria University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from the IIML. She was awarded the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in 2013 for her MA script – a television drama titled The Staceys.
Alison writes: 'For my project I will be looking at the relationship between chaos theory and TV narratives.
Chaos theory is the study of non-linear dynamics, which examines the idea that hidden within the unpredictability of chaotic systems are deep structures of order, and that hidden within structures of order are random and unpredictable systems. Complex systems often rely upon an underlying order and, in turn, very simple or small systems can be the cause of complex behaviours or events.
'I see parallels between chaos theory and TV narratives, in that a television series as a whole can be seen as a single and cohesive structure or frame that contains progressively smaller frames and structures – seasons, episodes, acts, and multiple plot-lines and character arcs that interweave, collide, and sometimes never meet or even end – all of which are then "reassembled" through the process of reception and interpretation.
'For my creative component I will be writing three separate TV series, each adhering to a central idea in chaos theory that the sensitive dependence of initial conditions are an inescapable consequence of the way small scales intertwine with large.  In each project I will place the "initial condition" at different points in the narratives so as to explore and emphasise the multitude of story-telling possibilities in television.'
 Gleick, J. Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable. London: Vintage, 1998
Sue Orr has published two short story collections – Etiquette for a Dinner Party (Vintage, 2008) and From Under the Overcoat (Vintage, 2011). From Under the Overcoat was shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Awards 2012, and won the People’s Choice Award. Her work has also been published in the NZ Listener, Sport, in various anthologies and has been broadcast on Radio New Zealand National. Sue also occasionally teaches creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland. In 2011 she was a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow.
Sue’s creative component is a novel set in rural New Zealand in the 1970s. It has a working title of The Party Line, referring to the shared telephone lines of that era. Her research component will examine eavesdropping and voyeurism in New Zealand writing, with particular reference to the work of Maurice Gee and one or two other authors.
Anna has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography, a Bachelor of Arts in English and Art History from Auckland University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington. In 2006 she won the Landfall Essay competition for her essay Dr Yang, and Victoria University Press published her collection of essays, Brainpark.
Her doctoral project, begun in 2012, has the title Material and immaterial: The economy in written images. It is a single work of creative non-fiction, combining the required 'creative' and 'critical' components of the PhD in creative writing. Within this genre, the work is most closely connected to 'New Narrative', a literary movement associated with embodied forms of writing, and 'experimenting in fragmentation, poetic strategies, and autobiographical allusions.' 
The study might read as an aesthetically-oriented 'folk' engagement with the economy.  It aims to 'render' the economy, like a written form of drawing. At the outset the all the narrator really knows is that the economy is a difficult thing to grasp (for her and for many non-economists ), because of its pervasiveness, its boundarilessness, its abstractions, and its complexities. Like a notion of God, the economy seems to be everything and nothing, in that nothing escapes its influence, but it cannot be seen in itself in the world. There is a sense of economic ways of seeing being almost natural law, inextricable from the fabric of life.
The narrator then, begins an enquiry by making observational writings mostly from her local area which includes Wellington's 'Terrace'. The resultant first section is a sequence of fragments based on dreams and images (Piero della Francesca's St. Jerome, Colin McCahon’s Gate III), spaces (the 'Bowen Triangle', the green belt, Wellington's Central Library), books and stories (Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, V.S. Naipaul's Tell me who to kill, the anonymously authored Cloud of Unknowing) and events (economics conferences: EHSANZ, Reserve Bank, GEN, NZAE).
The work aims, with some understanding of how economists understand and represent the economy, to, nevertheless, represent it differently, with methods more appropriate to visual and literary art. The writer wants to know what would happen if she uses 'wrong' perceptual frameworks and thinks of the economy as an object or entity which might have form and substance, even consciousness. Within this, the approach is to find images, and to let those images speak without explicit interpretation.
The specific research question then, is: 'Can image be a way to hold a paradox (the economy as at once graspable and ungraspable) together in the same space for view?' With Bruno Latour's notion of the economy as 'first nature' and Robert H. Nelson's work on economics as theology  in the back of her mind, the narrator of this work tries to bring visible form to the economy’s cloudy— qualities and jurisdictions.
The work is currently at the point of collecting clusters of short interviews/exchanges with economists, seeking their input on these questions of the nature and jurisdictions of the economy. The importance of speaking and listening in person is important for two reasons. Firstly, to honour spoken voice as Franco Berardi identifies it, a unique and unrecombinable imprint.  Secondly, spoken voice is important because this project understands itself as 'embodied writing'; there are no pure ideas, they are all filtered through bodies, and extensions of bodies in the forms of the artefacts we produce. 
 'There Are Reasons for Looking and Feeling and Thinking about Things That Are
Invisible: A Two Day Event on New Narratives in Art Writing - Western Front,' accessed March 17, 2015. This event brought together four writers associated with this West Coast literary movement: Eileen Myles, Jacob Wren, Lynne Tillman and Maria Fusco.
 I learned of this term from a paper given by local economist Matt Nolan, who referenced: Paul H. Rubin, 'Folk Economics,' Southern Economic Journal 70, no. 1 (July 1, 2003): 157–71, doi:10.2307/1061637. My usage is probably a reclamation and a broadening of the phrase.
 'Real people, as manifest in "society," have been melted down into an abstraction called "The Economy" which we all serve, as if it rises above us. No-one any longer seems to be able to speak a human language of economic change; instead politicians recite the latest figures as if they were magic charms.' This, taken from a newspaper column by Australian journalist Donald Horne, is an example of the kind of sentiment, often expressed figuratively, by non-economists. Tony Bennett et al., New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005).
 Robert H Nelson, Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics (Savage, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1991).
 Franco Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).
 An extrapolation on embodied writing can be found in Robert Gluck, 'Long Note on New Narrative,' accessed March 18, 2015.
Originally from Chicago, Steven Toussaint came to New Zealand after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2010. His poems and other writing have appeared in numerous publications, including Court Green, The Cultural Society, Hue & Cry, Jacket2, SET, TYPO, and Web Conjunctions. He is also a regular contributor to the website Occasional Religion, an interdisciplinary forum for contemporary religious discourse. He operates a personal blog at to-forge-the-eye-is-a-mountain-in-the-empyrean.
Steven writes: 'The sense of (or sensibility for) music in poetry is both my fascination and my task. A literary artifact has no literal volume or pitch. But a poem need not be spoken, sung, or performed to have musicality: a poem’s sonic properties haunt the page, silently.
'Ezra Pound refers to this phenomenon as melopoeia, "wherein the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning." The central aim of my Ph.D. thesis is to explore how Pound’s dictum has been interpreted and internalized by succeeding generations of poets. Specifically, I hope to discover how structures in musical compositions have informed and continue to inform modern poetic practice. My particular interest lies with those poets who seek out musical exempla in order to revitalize poetic form, those whose experimentation leads them deep into the acoustic materiality of language. Approaching both individual poems and musical compositions from a broadly formalist perspective, I hope to analyze their respective periodic forms and structures in order to discover where and how musico-poetic convergence might be possible.
'One supporting assumption of my critical dissertation is that it is a practical study; that is, its findings, whatever the result, should be useful to practicing poets. After illustrating potential connections between compositional practices in the two art forms, I hope to perform my own melopoetic experiments. I am especially excited about the formal possibilities present in both medieval sacred music and contemporary minimalist and drone music, in which subtle variations in repetition and duration can produce such a wide range of effects, from continuity, ecstasy and meditation, to dislocation and doom.'
Links to Steven’s writing online:
The Cultural Society
SET ( 30MB .pdf document)