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    Writing the West Midlands: A GeoHumanities Approach to the Poetry of Place

    Burdett, Natalie Anne (2023) Writing the West Midlands: A GeoHumanities Approach to the Poetry of Place. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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    Abstract

    This thesis investigates how creative-critical practice, predicated on the writing of new poetry, opens up new ways to imagine and understand the complex geographies of the urban West Midlands. The thesis presents a varied selection of new poems intertwined with: creative-critical field-notes; original literary close reading of my own and others’ poetry; reflection on my experience-in-place and creative practice; and discussions of extant geographical and literary critical writing which is relevant to my practice and themes. The thesis structure embodies the project’s iterative development, with varied practices provoking and informing one another. It is organised around my poems, in chapters which consider broad themes emerging out of practice and experience-in-place. These themes are: fieldwork; embodied practice; history; socio-political issues; and the materialities of physical borders. The thesis explores two further preoccupations. First, it examines the rich potential of borders, demonstrating that paying attention to lines that divide or constrain us enhances understanding of urban place, and the poetry of the city. Second, it explores gender, considering how my being a woman influences my experience in urban place, and challenging gendered assumptions of how women write the city. My poems are expansive in their consideration of place, looking beyond a single theme in order to explore the simultaneity of the world. They explore a variety of borders including those between poetry and geography, between past and present, and between self and place. The thesis affirms my use of creative perception, grounded in materiality; but at the same time explores my ambivalent relationship with the post-industrial West Midlands, as well as my interest in the region’s future potential. My creative writing research is consciously practice-led. Rather than a pre-ordained process, linear timeline, or singular restrictive methodology, it relies on creative risk-taking, experimentation and openness to new ways of working. My thesis emphasises the benefits of the self-reflexive, transdisciplinary approaches found within the GeoHumanities. It affirms the borders between poetry and urban place as dynamic, flexible, and inspirational.

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