Dr John Clarke
Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing
Office Hours: You can book an office-hour meeting with Dr Clarke here
Dr John Wedgwood Clarke (Queens Building Rm 218) is a poet, prose nonfiction writer, editor and academic. He builds creative-critical dialogue and collaborative practices into his writing and teaching.
His 2017 poetry collection, Landfill, explores the poetics of rubbish and marine ecology. It was funded by Arts Council England and The Leverhulme Trust. Poems have been included in PN Review, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland, POEM, Poetry Wales, The New Statesman, The Guardian and others. Dr Clarke was interviewed and read from the collection on BBCR4 Today Programme.
Dr Clarke is Principal Investigator of the £168k AHRC-funded Leadership Fellowship project: 'Red River: Listening to a Polluted River', which runs from 1 December 2019 to 31 May 2021. He discusses the project in its planning stage on the BBC R3 programmed Free Thinking. Visit the project website here.
Dr Clarke is a co-investigator on the £700k AHRC-funded project 'Wastes and Strays: The Past Present and Future of English Urban Commons', a collaboration between The University of Exeter, The Universty of Newcastle and the University of Brighton.
Recent public-art poetry commissions include ‘Above 8’ for the Offshore exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery & Hull Maritime Museum for Invisible Dust/Hull2017, and Voices Over Water for Caloustie Gulbenkian Foundation.
These commissions inform his AHRC-funded Leadership Fellowship project Red River: Listening to a Polluted River.
Dr Clarke was born and raised in West Penwith, Cornwall. His current lifewriting project explores his Cornish childhood and move to London to train as an actor the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is represented by literary agency RCW.
My practice-based research interests are in the genres of poetry, prose non-fiction, and text in public-art situations. Project themes include:
1. Poetics and Aesthetics in the context of Climate Crisis and environmental damage
This includes the AHRC-funded project Red River: Listening to a Polluted River, for which I am Principal Investigator.
The Red River in West Cornwall has been described as the most 'unnatural' or 'modified' river in the UK. No part of its 7.5mile length has been untouched by the effects of the Cornish tin-mining industry. Although little more than a stream, it has played an important role in the industrial revolution in Cornwall, and the development of hard-rock mining around the world. This history has been recognised by the designation of the area through which it flows as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it continues to be a source of innovation through the development of new techniques for reducing pollution from the toxic heavy metals that issue from the disused mines that feed its waters. Yet despite these contaminants, the Red River contains a genetically-unique population of brown trout that has evolved to survive its toxicity.
In their way, they are as much artefacts of the industrial revolution as Cornish engine-houses, and may operate, along with the river, as a multi-dimensional metonym for our complex interaction with our environment. This complex combination of natural, industrial and post-industrial history makes the Red River a rich subject for an eco-poetic and critical exploration of the human/nature interrelationship. The fellowship will test the ability of creative writing as practice-research to create knew knowledge that reveals the complexity of this interrelationship through the combination of creative-critical textual research, fieldwork, poetic composition and socially-engaged research practices.
There is a growing understanding that we need to confront the mess we're making of our environment. Beach cleans, environmental activism, media campaigns and legislation have drawn attention to the impact our addiction to plastic has had on the world's the oceans and rivers. Through working with local communities and ecological agencies the fellowship will offer poetry as a gathering place for the social meaning generated by individuals and communities involved in changing their environment. The project will address both visible and invisible pollution connected with the Red River, and visible and
invisible feelings about the landscape; it will address the conspicuous history of EU-funded signboards, as well as the invisible and ephemeral histories of those who live along its contaminated banks. Set alongside more celebrated rivers like the Dart and the Severn, the Red River may come to operate as an exemplary 'shadow site' counterpointing, through the complex human/nature interaction it embodies, ideas of the wild, sublime and picturesque.
The catchment area for this practice-as-research investigation will be mapped through detailed research into archaeological reports, SSSI statements, historical documents, the literature of rivers, eco-poetics, acoustic ecology, visits to local community groups and schools, interviews with subject experts in aquatic ecology and mining, field-walking and
river surveying. It will borrow the ecological concept of the 'ecotone', or meeting place of biomes, as a conceptual instrument for both reading the marginal environments of the Red River and as a metaphor for the way texts shape and are altered by close observation of ecological objects. The fellowship will result in a book length poem, a sound installation, and a scholarly article derived from the knowledge generated through practice-as-research. Findings will be presented at conferences, literary events, in art galleries and heritage sites. The fellowship will demonstrate leadership in developing new methodologies for socially-engaged research and conducting trans-disciplinary arts/science collaborations. These findings will be shared at discipline-specific conferences and online. It will co-produce educational materials for schools and curate a 'Parliament of Waste' event bringing together local people, politicians, artists and experts to debate the environmental impact of pollution and waste on health and wellbeing.
Previous work in this area includes Landfill, funded by Arts Council, England through their 'Grants for the Arts' funding stream.
2. Romantic Legacies and Marine Ecology.
A poetic exploration of human and non-human systems of communication at the coast and in the sea. How can we use poetry to address the impact of climate change on the way aquatic organisms communicate? How far do previous representations still shape the way we read the sea? Can we speak for the sea? And if so, how might we do this in a way that animates and contextualises scientific methods of description? Previously funded by Callustie Gulbenkian, Invisible Dust & Arts Council England.
New work in this area includes a collaboration with the artist Susan Derges for the Sea Gardens exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
3. (Un)Natural Histories of the Self: an exploring identity, being and place, with a specific focus on West Cornwall and the relationship between religion (Methodism), sex, shame and art.
New work in this area includes: an autobiographical collection of poems provisionally titled Boy Thing; a prose exploration of acting and psychoanalysis.
4. Playing Places, Performing Heritage: an on-going exploration of the role creative writing can play in place-shaping and enhancing well-being in specific locations. Previous and on-going examples include; the Cultural Olympiad multi-disciplinary project Sea Swim, which combined creative practices with bathing in the sea (Arts Council funded); Dictionary of Stone, a poetry and performance exploration of the Cleveland Ironstone strata of the North Yorkshire Coast (Arts Council funded); In between, a poetry and sound exploration of the 'snickleyways' (or alleys, passageways, ginnels or snickets) of York for York Curiouser (Arts Council funded); and a commission from the Shakespeare's Schoolroom and Guildhall Trust.
New work in this area includes the AHRC-funded (standard grant) project with Newcastle University & Brighton University titled Wastes and Strays: Urban Commons in Britain, Past, Present and Future.
Co-investigator on Wastes and Strays: Urban Commons in Britain, Past, Present and Future, a collaboration between The Universit of Exeter, The University of Newcastle and The University of Brighton.
I am open to discussing research proposals on any relevant subject related to my research expertise in poetry and pose nonfiction. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interests in the following areas: poetry and ecology; poetry and science; poetry and place; the poetry of rubbish; poetry and the sea; poetry and visual arts (particularly Modernism).
Other areas include lifewriting and the role of creative writing in public and/or participatory art.
- Mandy Goddard: Writing from the soil: the perspective of the landworker in countryside writing f/t (Lead Supervisor)
- Charlotte Deadman: While the Sedum is in Flower: William Butler Yeats: A Biographical Novel p/t (Lead Supervisor
- Michael Cooper: The impact of war on the writing of the poet Charles Causley p/t (Second Supervisor)
At the University of Hull I was first supervisor for the PhD scholarship poets Rachel Allen (Faber) and Lesley Harrison (New Directions/ Mariscat).
Research through practice
Much of my work listed in previous sections invovles practice-as-research.
Resounding Mulgrave, commissioned by Scarborough Museums Trust for their Arts-Council funded project Dictionary of Stone, is an example of my practice-as-research work that cuts across artistic disciplines.
External impact and engagement
Public engagement and participation play an important role in Dr Clarke’s practice, research and educational ethos. Projects and activities delivered since 2017 or on-going include:
Take Flight: an education project commissioned by the Royal Albert Memorial Exhibition for their Birds exhibition (2019).
A new course titled the 'Poetics of Rubbish' for The Poetry School (Spring 2018);
A new HLF-funded commission and series of workshops for Shakespeare's School Room and Guildhall (Autumn/Winter 2017);
'2778 nautical miles': an education project with 16 schools in Hull and 14 schools in Freetown, Sierra Leone, exploring people and places through poetry and sound. Funded as part of the 'No Limits' programme organised by Hull2017 Education (Spring/ Summer 2017);
'Hull Rises': a poetry and bread-making participatory creative-writing project for the University of Hull as part of 'The Word is Hull' programme for Hull2017 (Summer/Autumn 2017);
Above 8: a long poem and soundscape for Hull Maritime Museum & Ferens Art Gallery commissioned by Invisible Dust as part of the Hull2017 City of Culture programme (Spring/ Summer 2017). Exhbitions visited by 391,000 people.
‘Writing the Photograph’ creative writing workshop as part of the 'Larkin Reflections' programme for University of Hull & Hull2017 City of Culture.
Presenter for BBC4 documentary Through the Lens of Larkin (2017) & The Books the Made Britain (2016).
Sea Swim, an on-going project (multiple funders), which started as a Cultural Olympiad project exploring the impact of sea-bathing on creativity and sense of well-being and place (2011 on-going).
Contribution to discipline
UK & Ireland Poetry Editor, Arc Publications
External Advisor, University of Brighton BA in Creative Writing
Presenter for BBC4 documentaries Through the Lens of Larkin (2017) & The Books the Made Britain (2016).
Radio 4 Ramblings: Andrew Marvell (2015).
BBC R4 Today: interviewed about poetry colletion Landfll 07.41-07.47, 5/10/2017.
Dr John wedgwood Clarke is Director of the MA Programme in Creative Writing.
He is a Fellow of HEA.
I don't draw a line between creative and critical writing, but see them as part of a continuum across which exciting work happens, particularly so at the point where the two approaches meet and blend. As all literary endeavour is dialogue—the more people you talk to and read the more interesting your writing becomes—I place significant emphasis on analysing and inhabiting the ways in which exemplary writers have approached the questions I’m asking my students to address. How can you write well if you don’t know how the best practitioners have solved the problems you’re trying to solve?
Creating a rich research context in which to write is central to my practice. My latest poetry collection, Landfill, saw me research the waste processing industry, history of waste management and the archaeology of the midden. Consequently, as a teacher I try to help students find the right personal research contexts in which they can make their best creative work. While inspiration may strike the writer, they also needs techniques that enable them to surprise themselves into creativity, so I also place emphasis on the importance on playing seriously with language. Writing may be arduous, but it should also be exciting to make.
Dr John Wedgwood Clarke was born and raised in the West Penwith area of Cornwall. He is a poet, prose non-fiction writer, lead artist, editor and academic, who also directs collaborative, multi-disciplinary, grant-funded arts projects. He trained as an actor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama before going on to study literature and completing a D.Phil. in Modernist poetry at the University of York. He set up the Beverley Literature Festival and Bridlington Poetry and ran them for ten years before leaving to undertake a Leverhulme Artists' Residency at the University of Hull in 2012/13. Prior to his current appointment, he was a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Hull for four years.
His poems have been published in periodicals of national and international significance, including PN Review, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland, POEM, Poetry Wales, Oxford Poetry, The New Statesman, Guardian on-line, Rialto, Magma, Antigonish Review and many others. His first full collection Ghost Pot (2013) was selected by New Writing North for ‘Read Regional 2015’ and by the Poetry Book Society as an ‘Emerging Voice’. T.S. Eliot Prize-winner Bernard O’Donoghue declared it ‘a masterpiece that rewards continual rereading.’ ‘Outer Harbour’ from Ghost Pot featured on the side of Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, as part of the anniversary celebration of the Festival of Britain. He has been invited to read from it at National Poetry Live at the South Bank Centre, The National Gallery, The National Maritime Museum and many literary festivals. He is represented by the leading literary agents Rogers Coleridge and White and currently working on a prose non-fiction work. His latest collection, Landfill, published in September 2017, was begun during a Leverhulme Trust Artist’s Residency and completed through assistance from an Arts Council England (ACE) Grants for the Arts award. Television credits as a presenter include presenting the BBC4 programmes, ‘Through the Lens of Larkin’ (2017) and ‘The Books that Made Britain’ (2016).
Recent impact-intensive, multi-disciplinary research projects have included: ‘Above 8’ commissioned by Invisible Dust for the major Hull2017 exhibition Offshore (a long poem about the ecology of the Humber estuary); ‘Voices over Water’ commissioned by the Caloustie Gulbenkian Foundation for ‘Valuing the Oceans’ symposium (a poem-soundscape exploring aquatic communication); ‘Greensand Way’ commissioned by Surrey Arts for Greensand Way national trail; Dictionary of Stone (a poetry and sound installation at the Rotunda Museum, Scarborough); the Cultural Olympiad Project Sea Swim (exploring how sea bathing influences creativity); In Between (a sequence of site-specific poems installed in the snickets of York for York Curiouser); ‘Ouse’ (commissioned by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for Watercycle); and a ‘Suite for Artificial Voices’ for the University of York’s AHRC-funded Creative Speech Network.