Becoming a prize-winning poet
Gary Studley is a graduate of our 2015 online poetry course

We recently caught up with Gary Studley, an alumnus of Helen Ivory’s Creative Writing Online poetry course in 2015, to find out more about his projects since completing the course and becoming a prize winner in Canterbury Festival’s Poet of the Year Competition 2017.

When did you decide to enter the Canterbury Festival’s Poet of The Year competition?

The competition is launched in March of each year, with the award ceremony as part of the Festival Umbrella in October. By April I had shortlisted about ten poems to submit, with ‘Scuttle’ staying in the running as it remains a poem with energy and vivid imagery, and is possibly more accessible to readers.

You wrote ‘Scuttle’ during the Creative Writing Online poetry course, taught by Helen Ivory. How did the course influence the poem?

Module 1 of Helen Ivory’s course was entitled ‘Making Strange’, wherein we were challenged to take something familiar and look at it afresh. At the time I was predominantly writing poems about social conscience or detailing the ups and downs of modern relationships, so the assignment took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to be more playful.

‘Scuttle’ consists of three stanzas starting individually with the words When, Then and Now, each one representing a life of the coal scuttle in a different family home. Helen critiqued the poem and we discussed line length for performance or reading; my use of enjambment to give the start or end of lines interest; and the need to flesh out a few points to allow the reader easier access to my inventive viewpoint. The version of the poem I later entered for the Canterbury Festival’s Poet of the Year was edited twice.

What was it like studying a poetry course entirely over the internet?

I am a bit of a luddite and computers tend to go slightly zapped when I’m around. In addition, until July 2017 I had no time for social media, preferring to phone or meet up to chat with friends and other creative folk. Therefore, I was initially slightly daunted by the forum practicalities and quite frequent postings by other course members. However, I soon enjoyed the poems of my peers; the supportive feeling that we were all in it together; and the feedback we shared. The beauty of an online course is that it can be done anywhere, so some of my coursemates were abroad, some in far-flung corners of the UK, and as such it was difficult to stay in touch with them face-to-face, but we do keep up with each other online.

How has your poetry changed over the years?

Some of my poetry has always had a political/social conscience and whilst that drive, anger and need to write hasn’t changed, the way I present a poem has, in that ranting is not enough – there has to be craft and content. In addition, as I’ve had more relationships and fascinations, my poetry now addresses both, via block, chain haikus and free-verse.

I’ve always written quickly and used to think the first draft was best but now I undertake both personal and group critiques and change what is unclear. I revel in word-play, create compound words, and say a poem over and over to ensure that it not only scans well but can be delivered with the pace and emotion that each poem requires. I am pleased to say that I now perform very regularly – something I was once shy of doing.

What projects have you worked on since completing the Creative Writing Online poetry course?

I have just written a play called Poem for Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, as part of their community-based Remembrance project, Return of The Unknown. It was staged at the Powell Cotton Museum at Quex Park, where it was happily very appreciatively received.

This year I made a film of my favourite poem, ‘Piano Play’, working with the very talented Seb Reilly.

With my colleague, Jeffrey Loffman, I co-run a poetry group in East Kent called SoundLines. I designed the cover and wrote poems and content for our eponymous anthology. I recently published, There Is Another Way, available through SoundLines, which contains poems on life at the peripheral; battered love; the state of the UK and hope.

What’s next for you?

In my work-life, I’m teaching creative writing for adults at venues around East Kent, with each course designed to fit the needs of the writers – whether poetry or prose. At Beach Creative CIC Herne Bay we are now approaching our fourth term and every week I write from prompts alongside my pupils. Next year I am leading a six-week course there investigating TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, wherein we will write our own, 21st century, East Kent version. This will lead directly into my running Herne Bay’s first Literature & Arts Festival, The Cruellest Month, on Saturday 21 April.

In the New Year, I will also be working at Margate’s Turner Contemporary, enabling inexperienced young adults to not only write poetry but work on improving their performance skills. I currently run or co-run three Spoken Word events each month and regularly perform at most East Kent festivals, including Wise Words.

My long-term project is writing a one-hour, one-man show based on my life, mixing embarrassing personal photos and early (possibly even more embarrassing) poems from the 70s/80s with new material. My aim is to tour it at festivals in summer 2018.

<p><a href=Take a look at Gary’s Facebook page.

Gary’s blog posts as Poet in Residence at Canterbury Roman Museum.

Find out more about our range of online courses here.

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