J acob Polley had come very close to winning the prestigious T S Eliot Prize twice before. But it looks like third time’s the charm — as last year, he finally bagged the prize for his book of poems titled Jackself.
The UK-based poet, who currently teaches creative writing at Newcastle University, is mighty impressed by the current generation of students, “In a way, I wouldn’t be impressed by me had I met myself at their age,” he shares. We ask him more about creativity and ‘teaching’ it to this generation, and of course, his masterpiece, which earned him the elusive prize.
Have you tried any new method of teaching or dealt with certain aspects of creative writing differently?
I try to foster curiosity and attentiveness in my students, and I’m always looking for ways to do this. These ways might include sharing a poem or a short story that I think might incite this curiosity and attentiveness.
Or I might have them practise their writing, as one might practise an instrument, in order to find out what sounds they can produce and whether these sounds are worth letting a stranger hear. An awareness of the stranger – the reader – and the writer’s responsibilities to that stranger is something my students would probably say I go on about.
How does one ‘teach’ creativity?
We can be convinced that ‘creativity’, whatever that is, can’t be taught, that it’s a kind of raw energy with which one is gifted with . But we can fully commit ourselves to believe in the value of an apprenticeship or a mentorship.
I don’t play the violin, but I can pick up a violin and start scratching away with the bow. I shouldn’t expect anyone to then listen to me for long. And I would be a fool to doubt the value of having a concert violinist show me the rudiments of technique and point me towards other violinists from whom I might learn something.
Ruth Padel called Jackself “a firework of a book”. Which elements of the book make it explosive?
When I was a boy, on Bonfire Night in Britain, we used to get a hold of boxes of bangers/firecrackers, and I remember the excitement of that box, packed with six or eight bangers. I think all poems are devices, like fireworks, that contain one kind of energy and release another. It might be that Jackself, because it’s a story-sequence (and if I’ve been lucky), packs in and concentrates something of this energy, quite like those boxes of bangers.