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Writing Nature: Ecology, Place, Memoir (Creative Writing) (EASM156)

StaffDr John Clarke - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to introduce you to a diverse range of writing about the natural world, in poetry and prose nonfiction, and other literary-based artistic practices.

Through writing exercises and regular tasks, you will learn to develop your own creative-writing prose or poetry projects informed by the module’s set texts.

Through detailed practical analysis of texts you will develop narrative strategies, patterns of imagery, voices, ideological positions and experimental textual practices appropriate to your personal projects.

You will learn to integrate autobiographical exploration with research that may be drawn from across the humanities and, where appropriate, from field work.

Key concepts and questions explored during the module will include:

  • What do we mean by ‘nature’ and how have these ideas evolved?
  • Does wilderness exist?
  • What part might the writer play in environmental activism?
  • How are we changed by encounters with the natural world and what is the source of these transformations?
  • How might ecological imperatives help us reconceive the subject/object and self/other relationship that has preoccupied writers and philosophers for centuries?
  • Key terms such as ‘edgelands’, ‘shadow sites’, ‘commons’ and the ‘Anthropocene’ will be explored for their potential to shift a writer’s perspective and open up new material for writing.
  • We will look closely at the idea of ‘non-predatory’ and ‘predatory’ writing in relation to our position as top predator in the ecosystem.
  • How has pollution and waste marked our planet’s ecosystem and shaped the way we write about it.

The convenor will provide research-enriched creative writing techniques and materials that will help you to develop creative writing projects combining the personal with a range of discourses that enable us to read, describe and, where appropriate, speak on behalf of the natural world.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an advanced understanding of either narrative structure or poetic form pertaining to their chosen area of research and nature writing and genre
  • 2. demonstrate an advanced ability to gather, analyse and integrate appropriate theoretical and practical research into their development of nature writing projects
  • 3. demonstrate advanced readings skills necessary to analyse and adapt techniques and strategies present in model texts for their own nature writing projects
  • 4. evaluate their own work and the work of others at an advanced level, and demonstrate the ability to justify those evaluations in depth, and with reference to contemporary nature writing and theory

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. analyse and critically examine, at an advanced level, diverse forms of writing
  • 6. present sustained and persuasive written and oral arguments concerning their own creative writing and the work of other authors, both peers and published authors, and to use such ideas relating to their own work to develop their creative ideas
  • 7. demonstrate the ability to independently originate and develop creative writing projects that respond positively to appropriate criticism and genres and styles covered by the module

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. demonstrate advanced communication skills and the ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 9. demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, advanced skills of creative expression, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 10. demonstrate an awareness of readership, publishability, market and an understanding of the purpose of formal structures, layouts, and techniques
  • 11. demonstrate the ability to plan and manage time effectively in order to meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

The syllabus will be organised around the following topics:

  • Introduction: What do we talk about when we talk about ‘nature’? Using our own experience combined with a brief history of ideas informing our construction of nature, we’ll build a map of some of the key themes addressed by the module.
  • Attentive Visions: How do writers name and describe the natural world? We’ll dwell on the relationship between words and things in poetry and prose extracts to identify key stylistic features in nature writing and eco-fiction and the philosophical positions they imply.
  • Nature Narratives: How do we turn luminous details into compelling narratives? We’ll analyse contemporary narrative tropes in nature writing to find ways of shaping our stories. We’ll focus particularly on narratives that involve physical journeys into the wild – whatever and wherever that may be.
  • The Nature Cure: Nature writing features strongly in the depression-recovery memoir genre: we’ll explore the combination of personal psychological information with direct engagements with wild things that has made this so compelling.
  • Ecopoetry: We’ll explore the implications for poetic form of engaging with ecological thinking and the more radical approaches to nature/ecological writing that poets have explored.
  • Maps of the Territory: We’ll look how the writers across genres have engaged with the politics of the landscape and ecology by walking and rewriting overlooked, hidden, undervalued and damaged places. We’ll also consider the role visual arts and other disciplines may play in helping us to produce creative maps of places.
  • Finding the Commons: We’ll consider the balance between experimentation and accessibility as we review, shape and edit work for assessment.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities22Seminars
Guided Independent Study33Study group meetings and preparation
Guided Independent Study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study175Reading research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
A research assignment1000 words5-6, 9, 11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up. Tutor and cohort feedback via seminars/ online platforms
Weekly creative-writing exercises and presentation of workVarious7-8Tutor and cohort feedback via seminars/ online platforms

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Either: a portfolio of original, new poems OR a creative non-fiction prose work/ creative essay75Poetry: 250 lines, Prose work: 5000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up. Cohort feedback via seminars
A reflective essay based on module research, reading and creative process251500 words1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up. Cohort feedback via seminars

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Either: a portfolio of original, new poems OR a creative non-fiction prose work/ creative essayEither: a portfolio of original, new poems OR a creative non-fiction prose work/ creative essay1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11Ref/def period
A reflective essay based on module research, reading and creative processA reflective essay based on module research, reading and creative process1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11Ref/def period

Re-assessment notes

  • Reassessment exercises will carry the same weightings as the original assessments
  • Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.
  • Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative Core Texts

  • Fisher-Wirth & Street (ed.) The Ecopoetry Anthology
  • Tim Dee (ed.) Ground Work: Writings on Places and People
  • Kathleen Jamie Sightlines
  • Nan Shepherd The Living Mountain
  • Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk
  • Alice Oswald Dart
  • Roberts and Farley Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness
  • Indicative Secondary Reading
  • Jim Dwyer: Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-FictionWhere the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010).
  • Roger Deakin: Waterlog
  • Tim Robinson: Connemarra: A Little Gaelic Kingdom
  • Robert MacFarlane: The Wild Places
  • Jen Hadfield: Nigh-No-Place
  • Edward Thomas: Collected Poems
  • Tom Chivers & Martin Kratz (eds), Mount London: Ascents in the Vertical City
  • Harriet Tarlo (ed), The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry
  • Alice Oswald (ed.) The Thunder Mutters
  • Gareth Evans and Di Robson Towards Re-Enchantment: Place and Its Meaning
  • Tim Morton The Ecological Thought
  • Richard Kerridge Writing the Environment: Ecocriticism and Literature
  • Gruen, Jamieson & Schlottmann Reflecting on Nature
  • Mark Cocker Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet
  • Jos Smith The New Nature Writing: Rethinking the Literature of Place
  • Richard Mabey The Unofficial Countryside
  • Richard Mabey The Nature Cure
  • Granta (102) The New Nature Writing (Summer 2008)
  • Iain Sinclair Lights Out for the Territory

Students opting for the poetry element will be expected to read whole collections from at least two contemporary/modern poets new to them in addition to the key texts.

While adhering to syllabus plan, the balance of texts on the course may vary according to the interests and needs of students undertaking the module.

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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Key words search

Creative Writing; Nonfiction; Poetry; Narrative