Messages In Bottles
: Creative Writing, Distance Learning Pedagogy & Poetics

  • Graham Mort

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    For this PhD programme I will submit three projects and an overview as follows:
    1. One book-length collection of original poems written during the period 1990-1997. Circular Breathing was published by Dangaroo Press in September 1997 and received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.
    2. One book-length collection of original short stories, Why I've Always Loved Fishmongers, written or revised from earlier versions during the period 1989-1999. Not yet published in book form but many of the stories have appeared in literary journals or have been broadcast on radio. 
    3. A folio of Open College of the Arts 2 distance learning creative writing courses and tutorial support systems. Starting To Write, The Experience Of Poetry, Storylines and the Advanced writing courses cover academic levels 1- 3 of undergraduate study and were accredited by the University of Glamorgan in 1996, becoming the first accredited undergraduate distance learning creative writing courses in the UK.Designed and written by me, these courses launched by OCA and accredited during the period 1989-1997, represent a significant contribution to this field of study. During this same period I also edited distance learning courses in autobiographical writing, Lifelines and creative reading, Reading Between The Lines, to which this study will make reference.
    4. An overview, Messages In Bottles, which will deal with how these projects informed each other; how my own experience of writing related to the creation of a new suite of distance learning writing courses; how that, in turn, led to the creation of a learning network which gave support to writers and students and evolved a methodology of response to new work which itself mirrored the creative process. The poet Paul Celan described his poems as 'messages in bottles', raising important issues about human isolation and communication, about how literature is able to move through time and space to find its readership. Further issues about meaning, intention and understanding are raised by the metaphor and these too find a parallel in an educational process mediated through distance learning. Writing as a creative practitioner and teaching as an educational one creates a continuum between creative and pedagogic expression. In the distance learning context, written feedback on students' work often reflects issues in the tutor's own writing and itself has form and structure just like any work of literature. The reflexive nature of writing and teaching find a correlation in the writing and learning process that a student undergoes. The continuum which exists between the roles of writer, writing tutor and student writer connects closely with the formative process by which writers attempt to move through the arc from creative artist to objective reader in each new piece of work. Central to the understanding and development of these relationships are the critical perspectives created by acts of disclosure through the teaching and learning process; these may be developed from personal disclosure in an educational context to a wider sense of audience and the possibilities of publication. The use of a learning journal  produces a text which parallels and comments upon the creative process. This, together with the tutorial report and the emergent creative work form a vibrant Virtual workshop' and a powerful educational process. These ideas will be explored with special reference to distance learning, taking in issues of:- The strategic development of learners into 'autonomous' writers- The role of professional artists as tutors, writers as artists and teachers, students as learners and apprentice writers- The development of tutor/student relationships into writer-to-writer relationships- Language function in creative and educational writing - the expression of human experience in pedagogic development- The continuum of writing into reading: how writers become readers of their own texts, how readers become actors in what they read - Learning through time and space: the processes of tuition through distance learning and written media - Frameworks for assessment and self-criticism, the function of the learning journal and the reflective process- Writing development and disclosure: how tutorial responses move the student's work towards the public domain- How distance learning developments relate to the author's other educational workshop experience, drawing from and contributing to it through a working model of the imagination- How educational and creative work find common objectives through experiential learning linked to the exploration of new literary forms in performance, broadcast and installation.
    This overview will develop from my own experience as a professional poet,short story writer, workshop leader, creative writing coursebook author and distance learning tutor, ft will draw upon the experience of OCA tutors as writers and educators and upon the experience of students as learners in the tutorial relationship and as apprentice writers. It will also make reference to other literature in the field and access the archive of tutorial reports and student correspondence which exists at OCA.
    Date of AwardAug 2000
    Original languageEnglish


    • Language and culture

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