‘The Blood-Self’: reflections on prison writing.

Swann, David (2017) ‘The Blood-Self’: reflections on prison writing. Doctoral thesis, University of Chichester (an accredited institution of the University of Southampton).

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Abstract

This thesis analyses the development of an original body of creative work written in response
to experiences gained during the 14-month period when I was employed by the Arts Council
of England as a Writer-in-Residence at HMP Nottingham Prison (housing mainly lifers and
long-term inmates).
The creative work arose from a specific jail environment, described in the thesis as
being formed from an uneasy combination of punitive, managerial, and rehabilitative
concepts. The thesis argues that the creative work owes a direct debt to the ideas and
practises that confronted me while I was attempting to build literacy skills in the prison.
However, jail is stultifying for both teacher and student – and, ultimately, the thesis goes on
to identify the additional, unexpected imaginative prompts that were necessary before the
creative work could cohere into a collection.
As well as offering analysis of the work’s slow evolution, the thesis incorporates a
selection of 23 creative prices that emerged. Many of these were collected, a decade after my
residency, as a hybrid of prose, poetry, and wood-carvings, entitled The Privilege of Rain
(Waterloo Press, 2010), shortlisted in 2011 for the Ted Hughes Award.
The creative work was fuelled by a growing desire to pay witness to the ‘Prison
Works’ programme, which transformed the jail. This desire was influenced by my journalistic
training, but the thesis describes how I began to discover poetry’s potential, and analyses a
transformation from reporter to poet. In tracing this transformation, the thesis considers ways
in which journalism and poetry differ from, and resemble, each other. Further, it considers the
beneficial ‘aura’ (Parini, 2009: 89) of writers who proved influential in the transformation,
including Smith, Colburn, Parker, Liardet, Robison, Swift, and Lawrence.
The thesis holds out a measure of hope. As well as discussing poetry’s vital part in my
own ‘human flourishing’ (Hesmondhalgh, 2013: 17), it considers the role that Creative
Writing may play in the rehabilitation of offenders. First-hand instances of rehabilitation, and
verbal evaluations of the efficacy of my residency, are combined with inmate writing to
suggest that it is possible for individuals to develop imaginative paths through the jail’s
‘forest’. However, fear and inertia are identified as two pressures upon the incarcerated
imagination. And the thesis argues that these pressures are connected to societal attitudes and
policies that are adding to, rather than diminishing, our problems with crime.
Underlying the discussion are three main questions: (1) What pressures does jail exert
upon the imagination, and creative expression? (2) What forces operated to create the specific
prison environment I encountered? (3) Can writing help in the rehabilitation of offenders?

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions: Departments > English and Creative Writing
Depositing User: Ann Jones
Date Deposited: 18 Feb 2019 15:34
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2019 15:34
URI: http://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/4248

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