My PhD research focuses on the American poet, Frank Bidart – in particular ‘Madness through Poetry: Voice, Auto/biography, Sources and Survival in the poetry of Frank Bidart.’ My study concentrates on his famous dramatic monologue poems – Herbert White, Ellen West and The War of Vaslav Nijinsky: the creative element will be a collection of poems that reflects on subjectivity and madness through the life and biography of Nellie Bly. My reasons for choosing Bly as a subject are various: she invented herself through writing, through journalism, at a time in America when there were few women journalists; she practiced an early form of investigative journalism (more sensationalist than investigative). This is nowhere better shown than her first ‘scoop’ Ten Days in a Madhouse which documents her stay in the asylum (following her presentation as an insane woman) on New York’s Blackwell island. Her purpose in part was to test the expertise of those charged with the care of Blackwell’s inhabitants. Her concerns were always to learn from those experiencing the phenomenon she was investigating whether incarceration, factory work, world travel or the conditions of Mexico. Nellie Bly also interests me as she tells stories yet few documents exist relating to her biography other than her journalism – so she offers a rich source of imaginative possibilities both through voice and the ‘pre’-modern moment in which she found her fame. She also offers a strong subject through which experiment with poetry, and experiment with prose and form seems appropriate in reflecting on narrative, story, autobiography and poetics.
In my PhD research I have become more and more concerned about ethics of representation in expressions of madness.
In Oct 2013 I started as a part-time PhD student at Liverpool University researching the uses of poetry in mental health services (through my own practice as a poet-in-residence in a large NHS Trust). In 2015 I changed to study full-time and my research has developed into a literary study and a collection of poetry. My target date to finish is December 2017, although my final official deadline is Sept 2018.
I have considered arts-in-health practice as well as literary studies relevant to poetry and madness. I am interested in Winnicott’s ideas about the in-between space of creativity through which the the internal mind negotiates between the self and the external world. I am also looking at Ricoeur on Narrative and the poetry of Frank Bidart, as well as Survivor Poetry.