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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 from 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 is a poet who has previously trained and worked as a doctor. She completed the MA programme at the IIML in 2005, and published her first book, Echolocation, in 2007. Her poems have appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Sport and Landfall. Angela's PhD explores the relationship between medicine and poetry.
Angela writes: 'Over recent decades, in parallel with the general rise of "the medical humanities", poetry has increasingly appeared in undergraduate medical school curricula, medical journals, medical websites and anthologies. I'm interested in what has brought about this growth, what poetry offers doctors and medical students, how it might contribute to their clinical acumen, and ultimately, in what ways it might help medical professionals achieve the goals of their clinical practice.
'I'm particularly interested in the ways in which poetry offers a "way in" to the clinical encounter, which is completely different (and complementary) to the conventional biomedical approach. In academia, amongst the general public and within the medical community itself, there is concern that the biomedical focus of the clinical encounter has become too dominant, at the expense of other ways of thinking. The shortcomings of the biomedical approach, with its "objective" gaze and focus on the body as an object to be studied, have been the subject of much discussion within medicine, philosophy, ethics and the medical humanities over recent years. Failure to take a wider, more integrative approach to the clinical encounter has arguably constrained doctors' abilities to achieve the fundamental goals of medicine.
'The PhD has both a critical and a creative component. These two parts of the whole are, in themselves, an exploration of the ways in which experience can be approached from different directions, through different modes of "seeing", "understanding" and "knowledge". The creative component is a collection of poems about my experiences as a medical student, doctor and patient, as well as a family member and friend of someone who is unwell. The critical component encompasses a survey of the history of clinical medicine, an examination of the fundamental goals of medicine, and an exploration of the literature concerning phenomenology* and medicine, in an attempt to answer the questions: what are the components of knowledge and understanding required in clinical practice, and what are the limits of biomedical knowledge and the biomedical approach? In what ways can poetry contribute to clinical knowledge? Is medicine an art or a science? If the clinical encounter has – as many critics claim – become mired in its over-emphasis on science, to the extent that its fundamental goals and core values have been obscured, can the arts, and in particular poetry, offer a way back to the humanistic tradition of the profession?
'*Phenomenology studies consciousness itself – the act of perceiving – searching for the true nature of the objects of experience. The phenomenologist aims to set aside their taken-for-granted perceptions about the world, and instead tries to pare back reality to immediate experience. In doing this, the idea is to recognize the ways in which experience is coloured by factors as culture, gender, profession and modes of thinking, and make them explicit. Although it is not necessarily deliberate or conscious, or always the case, it seems to me that poets are often concerned with this sort of thing too.'
Michalia Arathimos is a Greek-New Zealand writer. She has published short stories and poetry in several publications, including Best New Zealand Fiction Volume 4, Lost in Translation, Sport, Turbine, Metro, The New Zealand Listener, Blackmail Press, Otoliths and JAAM. She completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the IIML at Victoria University in 2006, and was the Writer in Residence at Robert Lord Cottage in 2008.
Michalia writes: 'The creative element of my PhD is comprised of a novel. Fracture is about two people who meet at an environmental meeting. The book is set at a pa that is threatened by an oil company’s exploratory drilling. From the outset the interests of local iwi and activists conflict with those of the oil seekers. In the midst of all the meetings things start going wrong at the drilling site and the community is accused of sabotage. The two main characters come under suspicion, and, after a violent demonstration, the police get involved. No one knows who’s doing the damage, and, as tensions rise and the very land under their feet starts to go bad, the campaign and the relationships within the group begin to come apart.
'My critical component examines the construction of "otherness", around authors as public, read figures. In contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, stories by authors outside dominant Pakeha culture are actively celebrated. By examining the media’s reception of the first works of six New Zealand authors, Witi Ihimaera, Keri Hulme, Tusiata Avia, Karlo Mila, Kapka Kassabova, and Cliff Fell, I hope to better understand how we read "others," and how we read "ourselves." How much does the celebration of "otherness" re-enact and re-enforce cultural stereotypes? How exactly is status awarded, and who is it that is doing the awarding?'
Airini is the author of two collections of poetry, Secret Heart (Victoria University Press, 2006) and Western Line (VUP 2011). Secret Heart won the NZSA Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry at the 2007 NZ Book Awards. Airini's poetry and short fiction has appeared in a range of print and online journals.
Airini's PhD project will involve a critical component focussing on narrative poetry written in Australia and New Zealand within the last 25 years. Using a range of long narrative poems as case studies, her research will look at differing 'levels' of narrative and how poets combine and interact form and narrative, in order to tell a story. Airini's creative project is a series of poetic narratives of the Whanganui river region, with a focus on economic and environmental issues.
Victoria University Press author page
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 has taught short fiction workshops at the IIML for the past three years 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 geograhy 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. 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
David Fleming is a writer from Boston, Massachusetts. He holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop (2008), and his short stories have appeared in Mississippi Review and Chicago Quarterly Review.
David writes: 'The creative component of my PhD will be a novel about a family of fundamentalist Christians living in the western United States. I am interested in the increased prevalence of these "closed" groups in American society, and the ways that these groups reflect (and react against) the larger culture.
'My critical component is still in formation. Partly, I intend to research the ways authors have used God-and-Devil figures to reveal the conflict inherent in the development of individual identities within changing social contexts. Starting with Melville's Moby Dick, and proceeding to specific works by William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and others, I will discuss the ways that writers have framed their analysis of changing social contexts by creating figures that embody religious archetypes. What is gained in this process, both within the novel and as an element of craft? How has this pattern evolved in literature?'
Helen Heath’s debut collection of poetry Graft was published in May 2012 by Victoria University Press. Her poetry and essays have also been published in many journals in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML in 2009. Helen’s chapbook of poems called Watching for Smoke was also published by Seraph Press in 2009. Helen 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 saying 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.'
Helen won the inaugural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 for her poem ‘Making Tea in the Universe’.
Read some of Helen’s work online:
Lynn writes: 'I began my PhD in 2010, six years after I started writing with a year of fulltime study at Whitireia Polytechnic. In 2008 I completed an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML. My MA thesis, which was the first version of Dear Sweet Harry, won the Adam Foundation Prize for Creative Writing in 2008. Auckland University Press published Dear Sweet Harry in 2010. Dear Sweet Harry won the 2011 New Zealand Society of Authors' Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry in the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It was fantastic to think of a jury of strangers reading the book and enjoying it.
'My thesis explores the human activity of searching for, documenting and re-constructing what is lost. This includes people, species, cultural practices and words. The thesis examines artifacts constructed with the intent of preserving memory, and the tools and processes used to construct these artifacts. It explores some contemporary ideas about memorials, including the possibility that once an event has been memorialized, everyone can safely forget about it. It examines memorial at a very large scale and at an intimate scale. It also examines the roles of chance and deliberate re-use and re-cycling in rescuing stories and objects from the process of disintegration or loss. It will also explore the question of whether the presence of the past is only apparent to those who are already familiar with a certain piece of history.
'The thesis will be a single work which is a hybrid of critical and creative writing. It is also a hybrid in terms of genre.
Activity Theory, a theory of learning with origins in German philosophy, the writings of Marx and Engels and t'he Soviet cultural historical psychology of Vygotsky, Leont'ev and Luria, will provide a steady drum beat behind the writing in the thesis, drawing attention to questions such as "What makes this system tick?" "What moves it?" "What are its mechanisms? Its interconnections?" "Who does what work?" '"How are they rewarded?" "What tools do they use?"
'The PhD is a fantastic opportunity to read really widely and to write as part of a community of practice which includes the PhD group and my two supervisors. In this way it feels a bit like the MA programme. But over three years there is time to learn more about other resources in the University and to develop some other skills which you may not have thought you wanted to learn but are helpful in a writer's life, such as applying for grants and scholarships. The structure of the PhD with its regular supervision and goal setting has been extremely helpful to me in keeping the project moving. Having supervisors for three years is another interesting aspect of doing a PhD. It means that your work is always being read by excellent writers who know your aspirations for it and are committed to the end result almost as much as you are. Who wouldn’t want that?'
Read Lynn's poems online:
For a glimpse of Dear Sweet Harry see: Auckland University Press 2010
Gavin writes: 'The subject of my thesis is the process of adaptation; I will be looking at the manner in which a scripted work needs to be altered in order to successfully move into a new medium such as from stage to screen. I will be exploring this by adapting my own work from theatre to film and vice versa with two different pieces, while also examining established works which have crossed the mediums.
'The differences between the two forms, the reasoning behind the changes and examination of how dialogue, location, character, scale and narrative - among numerous other factors - need to be considered and the method in which these operate differently for stage and screen will be detailed.
'Adaptation became very interesting to me when I had to heavily alter a stage play of mine "Stand Up Love" for radio; a process I found both thrilling and challenging. A lot has been written about adapting novels into films but the adaptation of works of theatre into film is generally overlooked, which is surprising considering the number of Oscar-winning or nominated films that originated on the stage.
'My background is in film, having graduated from both the New Zealand Film School and Waikato University where Film (along with History) was my double major for my BA. It was at Film School that I discovered my love of writing and began to write these little scripts with no idea where they would go.
'I was very fortunate to be accepted in 2005 into Ken Duncum's MA course in Scriptwriting. It was here I discovered the amazing world of theatre. I began to dabble in play writing which I soon fell for in a major way. I'm thrilled to now be able to combine my two loves in such a unique way.
'To date I have had six plays produced: "After Service", "Stand Up Love", "Shipwrecked Beneath the Stars", "Handy Man", "Hamlet Dies at the End" (2011) - which I'm adapting for film - and "Holding On" which opened at BATS Theatre in August 2012. "Captive Truths" and "Stand Up Love" have also been produced as radio plays.
'I mentored the EAT (Emerging Artist Trust) scriptwriting group for two and a half years. I have tutored Scriptwriting for The New Zealand Film School and taught Scriptwriting for both Victoria's Continuing Education department and in Honours for the Film/Theatre department.'
Hannah is a scriptwriter and PhD candidate focussing her attentions on the New Zealand stage. The contextualizing critical component of Hannah's research has a working title of 'Keeping Mum, Performing Marriage and Growing Women' and shines a spotlight on the representations of women, and particularly mothers, depicted on stage in New Zealand between 1920 and 2012.
Alongside her research, Hannah is writing several full length plays that explore the changing representations of women and mothers within New Zealand’s theatre history.
Hannah graduated from the IIML's MA Programme in Scriptwriting in 2009. Her MA play, and arguably the start of her fascination with writing family drama, was entitled 'McKenzie Country'. 'McKenzie Country' was joint winner of the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in Scriptwriting for the best major project, received the Dominion Post Scholarship, was read as part of Writers on Mondays, shortlisted to the final four for Write Out Loud Wellington 2009 and recently received its stage premier at BATS Theatre in June 2011, produced by Hannah and mounted by her company of Page Left playwright producers.
Hannah's first theatre script after completing her MA was a second family drama entitled 'The Avon Lady', which made the shortlist for the Adam Play Award (for best NZ play) and was joint winner of Write Out Loud Wellington in 2010.
When Hannah's not at the IIML or in the theatre, she writes for a Government department and is involved with a great number of creative projects including short films and role playing events. Hannah has a passion for acting and the visual arts and often employs these skills on stage or around it though designing stage posters, flyers, and theatre programmes etc.
Hannah spent many of her formative years abroad but has always called New Zealand home. Alongside her love of language and literature Hannah has a passion for cricket, Rockabilly, classic Hollywood and 1950's Broadway. Above any genre, Hannah has an unswerving interest in people and their stories. Whether on stage or screen, what moves her most are credible characters and their incredible journeys which begin in the everyday.
Stephanie de Montalk is a former nurse, documentary filmmaker and member of the New Zealand Film and Literature Board of Review. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. She is the author of the memoir/biography Unquiet World: the Life of Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk (Victoria University Press, 2001; also published in Polish translation), the historical novel The Fountain of Tears (VUP, 2006), and four collections of poetry, the first of which, Animals Indoors (VUP, 2000), won the 2001 Best First Book Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. In 2005, she was the Victoria University Writer in Residence.
Stephanie writes: 'I propose a study of the language and state of being of physical pain. My dissertation, Beyond Words: Literature, Language and Pain, will interweave the degree's creative component, a pain memoir, with the critical research component, an assessment of the effect of pain on language and the effect of language on pain.
'Of special consideration: chronic pain, "the wild west of medicine" (Alice Sebold); physical pain's "unsharability" and "resistance to language" (Elaine Scarry); the proposition that while emotional and mental suffering play central roles in the creation of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, the number of literary texts that deal with bodily torment, although growing, remains small; the suggestion that physical pain is under-represented in literature because literature does "its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind" (Virginia Woolf); and an examination of the lives and works of selected writers in pain, including Alphonse Daudet who believed that, for victims of incurable pain, literature "is a solace and relief ... a mirror and a guide".'
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 Arts in photography, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and art history from Auckland University. She has been writing since 1994 when she co-founded Monica, a short-lived but impactful magazine of art criticism. Since then she has authored many parallel texts to elucidate the work of various artists. Since 1998 she has lived and worked in Melbourne, Rotterdam and New York. She returned to New Zealand in 2004 and completed the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria the following year.
In 2006 Victoria Univeristy Press published her collection of essays, Brainpark. In November 2007 Anna was shortlisted for the 2008 Prize in Modern Letters, designed to acknowledge and advance the work of emerging writers in New Zealand. In the same year she was a recipient of the Arts Foundation's prestigious New Generation Award.
Project description to come.
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)