Creator or Critic? It's your Choice...

Way back, when I was in sixth form studying English literature, one thing I remember very clearly is the attitude of my teacher to creative writing. When someone asked her if she wrote her own ‘stuff’, she announced rather proudly that if she couldn’t write as well as Shakespeare, she thought it best not to write at all.

Therefore the study of ‘A’ level English consisted largely of the academic process of reading and regurgitating the opinions of critics on the books and poems chosen for us by examiners.

That was the easy part.

However, it was also rather boring.

We were allowed one, individual critique of a previously unread poem during the actual exam – which was treated by most of the class with great suspicion and fear. So used to being spoon fed with the opinions of others, we had little experience to enable us to approach the task with confidence. And that was the full extent to which we expected to apply our own thoughts and feelings in our study of English literature.

It prompted me to ponder what is the role of literature, art and music if not to provoke an emotional response in the reader/viewer/listener?

The year I sat the exam, the great ‘unseen’ was the poem ‘Futility’ by Wilfred Owen. Set amongst the killing fields of the first world war, a piece which reflected nothing of the life experience of a class of teenagers living in the Welsh valleys in the late 1980s. Therefore quite possibly a futile exercise in itself… Inspiration came rather unexpectedly in the form of a new headmaster with an interest in Japanese culture and literary tradition. Another presentation of something seemingly totally unrelated to the life experience of a bunch of insular welsh teenagers, you may think? However, he presented us with the creative opportunity in the form of a Haiku competition.

Haiku is a Japanese, un-rhyming verse form of poetry, conveying a complete image or feeling in just three lines of syllables; and is usually concerned with nature or natural things.

Although to some it seemed too constricting and ‘alien’ a format; for me it had the effect of opening up a whole new world of writing possibilities. This one exercise served like a portal into another dimension for me. It taught me to concentrate on the conveying of meaning with as few words as possible.

It also made me realize that literary critique appears easier as there is a already an apparent ’whole’ to evaluate; whereas the fear of apparent ‘nothingness’ at the start of the creative process often stops people taking the plunge and composing something original. Perhaps closely compounded with fear of the reductionist review of the critics.

However, the most successful original creations also have a structure; their roots are based in reality and their message is often conveyed with meaning in a clear, simplistic, manner or form.

Critique has its place, but for me it fills a rather small space in the grand scheme of things. Give me the wide-open opportunity to create rather than critique any time.

Comments (2)

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8:13pm Wed 5 Aug 09

Denis Watkins says...

Dear Helen,
I enjoyed reading your article. Wilfred Owen's name caught my I first. He is a hero of mine: And "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a great anti-war poem. He was only 25 when he died right at the end of the war.
I also enjoy HAIKI and this is probably the nearest I come to being spiritual: Zen Bhuddism.
We gave a little help to some Japanese Tourists a few years ago. One of them was a Zen Bhuddist and it was a privielge to meet him. He sent me a marvellous book of Haiki with wonderful drawings. In the spirit of Zen I gave it to the nearby Bhuddhist Retreat.
Regards.
Dear Helen, I enjoyed reading your article. Wilfred Owen's name caught my I first. He is a hero of mine: And "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a great anti-war poem. He was only 25 when he died right at the end of the war. I also enjoy HAIKI and this is probably the nearest I come to being spiritual: Zen Bhuddism. We gave a little help to some Japanese Tourists a few years ago. One of them was a Zen Bhuddist and it was a privielge to meet him. He sent me a marvellous book of Haiki with wonderful drawings. In the spirit of Zen I gave it to the nearby Bhuddhist Retreat. Regards. Denis Watkins
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8:52am Fri 7 Aug 09

Helen Noble says...

Hi Denis,

Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Your comments helped me get a few things in perspective! Given his age, I can can now see why the poetry of Wilfred Owen could have been pertinent to teenagers.

I watched the televised funeral of Harry Patch this week and learned that he was only 19 when fighting in the trenches of the first world war.

My class of '83 was caught up amongst the emotionally charged miners strike , when lots of people suffered financial hardship and the social stress that ensued - that was
our 'challenge'.

I am wondering where the nearby Buddhist retreat that you refer to is situated?

Kind regards
Helen
Hi Denis, Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Your comments helped me get a few things in perspective! Given his age, I can can now see why the poetry of Wilfred Owen could have been pertinent to teenagers. I watched the televised funeral of Harry Patch this week and learned that he was only 19 when fighting in the trenches of the first world war. My class of '83 was caught up amongst the emotionally charged miners strike , when lots of people suffered financial hardship and the social stress that ensued - that was our 'challenge'. I am wondering where the nearby Buddhist retreat that you refer to is situated? Kind regards Helen Helen Noble
  • Score: 0

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Helen Noble aka The Juggler is a mother of 3, living and working in Pembrokeshire. Having previously lived in other parts of Wales and the UK she has settled here with her family and continues with her balancing act. Helen has worked in psychology and law and believes that if you can see the problem clearly then the solution is firmly within your grasp. However, she knows how tricky it is to keep all the balls in the air at the same time and is up for sharing ideas and offering suggestions to help.

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