We had a chance to catch up with Dr Maria Sledmere, who is a Lecturer in Creative Writing - with a particular emphasis on Poetry - and teaches at both Undergraduate and Postgraduate level.
Tell us a little bit about your career so far...
I recently graduated with a DFA in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, after teaching on the undergraduate and postgraduate English Literature and Creative Writing modules there. Although I’ve always been a writer, it took me a few years to work out that creative writing was an academic calling: during my MLitt in Modernities at Glasgow, I took a course on short fiction with Elizabeth Reeder, wrote a story about a salesman who codes himself into paradise, and the rest is history. My PhD was a practice-based project of ‘hypercritique’ which responds to the im/possibilities of anthropocene thought via poetry, essaying and journaling – exploring concepts of meadowing, shimmer, the everyday and elemental media. I’ve always been drawn to writing that is hybrid and capacious: capable of holding thought in process and unmastering how we come to know the world, while also questioning that position from which a subject might claim to know or speak. Poetry – specifically the lyric, and linguistically innovative poetry – was at the heart of that project and continues to be my passion and focus. I’ve published numerous pamphlets of poetry including nature sounds without nature sounds (Sad Press, 2019), Rainbow Arcadia (Face Press, 2019), Chlorophyllia (OrangeApple Press, 2020), infra·structure – with Katy Lewis Hood (Broken Sleep Books, 2020), neutral milky halo (Guillemot Press, 2020) and Sonnets for Hooch — with Mau Baiocco and Kyle Lovell (Fathomsun Press, 2021). My debut collection, The Luna Erratum, was published in 2021 by Manchester-based indie press Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and a book-length poem, String Feeling was recently published by Erotoplasty Editions, based in Seoul. In this time, I’ve performed, exhibited or hosted activities at arts festivals including Assembly (Aberdeen), The European Poetry Festival (Manchester), No Matter (Manchester), NEoN (Dundee), Poem Brut (London) and UNFIX (Glasgow).
I’ve had something of a many-stranded, interwoven career as an academic, critic, editor and artist. I am editor-in-chief of SPAM Press: an independent publisher, podcast and magazine of post-internet poetry, which operates as a community interest company between London, Glasgow, Leeds and Berlin. I’m also a member of A+E Collective: a group of Glasgow-based creatives working in design, film, food and writing, who work together on art projects which galvanise ecological imaginaries, offering thoughtful and sustainable design and producing multidisciplinary public events. I also teach at Beyond Form Creative Writing: a community-focused creative writing hub which offers courses, mentoring, publication and events focused around experimental and hybrid forms. Most recently, in spring 2022, I delivered a course on ‘Writing the Everyday’, which took everyday life as its field of study and explored creative practice through attention to such areas as ritual, consumerism, technology, sick time, rest and dreams. In general, my research spans contemporary and modernist literature, ecology, energy and environmental humanities, visual art, pop culture, queer theory and feminism, the internet and experimental forms.
All these collaborative and community activities feed into my research and teaching. I joined Strathclyde in spring 2022 and over the coming months, alongside teaching on the BA and MLitt programmes, I will be working on publications and funding bids centred around creative approaches to ecology, energy and poetics.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career to date?
In November 2021, SPAM hosted a reading event in London to celebrate the launch of a new season of pamphlets. It was the first big event we’d done in a while. People came from all over and the venue was so packed out I could hardly believe they were all there for poetry. The readings were brilliant, eclectic, enlivening. It felt so special that so many folks came out to support us, especially after the pandemic had disrupted our regular stream of live, in-person events. I met so many Zoom friends for the first time that day! It was testament to the real forms of community that come out of poetry and the hard work our team had put into making it all work during challenging times.
What is your role within the school?
As Lecturer in Creative Writing, I’ll bring the poetry energy to Strathclyde’s burgeoning Creative Writing department, which has recently joined up with English (happily uniting my own two subject areas!). I teach on the BA English and Creative Writing as well as the MLitt in Creative Writing. My primary specialisms are: poetry and poetics; creative nonfiction; writing that spans genres, media and form; experimental criticism and art writing; short form fiction and the novel. At Strathclyde, we truly embrace hybridity in both the form and content of our teaching. Students can be prepared to read widely, read in the now, and think carefully and critically about how their own work is shaped by the craft of other writers. I’m excited to contribute to thinking cross-genre with students, putting work in sociopolitical and historical contexts and fostering a lively community of writers. It’s great to be working with a diverse range of specialists in the team – novelists, screenwriters, life writers and poets alike.
What inspired you to enter your field/profession?
From running an undergraduate creative writing society to an independent publisher, being involved in the day-to-day business of writing has long been a dedicated part of my career. I absolutely love working with peers, colleagues and students in bringing projects to life at all stages from editing and design to publication and performance. As a constantly expanding field, Creative Writing invites a diverse range of thinkers and makers with different motivations around taking their practice to an academic sphere. Entering that space as a lecturer means I am constantly learning from other forms, genres and approaches, the experiments of students and the endless possibilities of the seminar and workshop. Every day and every class are different. I’ve always enjoyed pursuing those folds between critical and creative research: projects which put creative writing at the heart of what it means to explore an idea from a fresh angle. A lot of my research areas are by necessity interdisciplinary; being in the university means I can bring a poet's perspective to the table, while also pursuing scholarly interests in critical areas such as internet culture and the environment.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field?
In the poetry world, community and publishing are often as much a part of the art as writing is. Typically, our budgets, readership and print runs are smaller; but we can make that go a long way. Make friends and find your people: other writers who share your interests. They might be producing very different work, but that makes for fruitful conversation. Be generous with swapping writing in progress and giving honest, constructive feedback. If you’re having trouble getting published, keep trying and don’t be disheartened – but also, maybe there’s a gap in the market! Why not start your own press? All it takes to make a zine is a photocopier and stapler, or a website which you can build from free templates. It can be a thrilling and generous act to explore different levels of editing and publication yourself, and even help you think more carefully about layout and form in your own work. Sign up for open mics and reading nights – Glasgow has plenty – or even start one yourself if you have a niche and a decent venue. Don’t be afraid to play with genres and forms, to combine them, to bring in other creative aspects such as visual art and music. Aside from deadlines and assignments, try to keep a regular writing practice that focuses more on process, reflection and craft than final outcomes. If you ever find yourself stuck, read Bernadette Mayer’s list of journal experiments or Tawnya Renelle’s Prompts.
What initially attracted you to the University of Strathclyde?
The joint undergraduate degree programme in English and Creative Writing has long been a unique feature of Strathclyde’s BA. As someone who moves between both critical and creative approaches to literary study, this is obviously appealing! Whether through reading groups, performances or critical projects, I collaborate frequently with other writers, academics and creatives, and Strathclyde’s innovative and interdisciplinary research ethos seemed like a good fit for this. Writing of all stripes can of course be an isolating business – the lone academic in their garret etc – but there’s plenty of team energy to our subject area and opportunities to pool creative and pedagogical resources. With the Creative Writing department growing, it seemed like no better time to join and hopefully contribute to offering something world-leading, supportive and ultimately very cool (!) for our students.
What are your biggest professional challenges?
In teaching, I aim to approach what students bring to class in terms of their creative influences, interests and histories. In Creative Writing, while we have specialisms, we assess and supervise a wide range of work in terms of form and content. I’m finding new ways all the time of understanding a work on its own terms, paying attention to the grammar of influence and form as both a point of departure, accumulation and resistance.
A lot of my work centres on the topics of ecology, technology and everyday life – all of which can take their emotional toll. I would say my work is interested in the contemporary understood as an experience of intersecting crises, and their mediation, but also in a critique of the often gendered, racialised and able-bodied assumptions of these crises. Writing about these topics, and teaching them, brings up all sorts of feelings, assumptions and knowledge frames to work through. This is something we can learn together, as staff and students. It’s an ongoing process.
Tell us about any research you are currently involved in...
Currently my work loops around three loose strands of ecology, technology and the everyday. I have an article in review focusing on lyric poetry and ‘solarity’ – its quality of being influenced by the sun or questions of solar power. As part of the Infrared reading group, led by Rhys Williams at the University of Glasgow, I’m developing an interest in the poetics of infrastructure – something I initially explored in a 2020 pamphlet, infra·structure, written in collaboration with Katy Lewis Hood after an ASLE conference in Orkney. I’m working towards an article on poetry as fieldwork, specifically using the figure of ‘meadowing’ as a more expansive alternative and thinking through writers such as Verity Spott, Anne Boyer and Lisa Robertson. Leading upcoming public workshops on themes such as mall aesthetics, glitching the poem and Glasgow’s printing cultures, I’m generally working towards what I tentatively call ‘post-internet ecopoetics’: uniting environmental concerns with questions of mediation in our increasingly virtual world – from the poetics of retro gaming to poetry and artificial intelligence, the necropastoral, elemental media, glitch aesthetics or the attention economies of Web 2.0. More substantial publishing projects right now include adapting my hypercritique thesis into a publishable volume and writing a book of experimental poetry and prose structured loosely around the figure of ‘corona’, aka the aura of plasma around the sun.
As for collaborative research projects, I recently joined a working group based at the University of Bangor which fosters interdisciplinary thought around poetry, ecology and biology. With the87press and Broken Sleep Books, based between London and Talgarreg, Wales respectively, I’m working on various editorial projects aimed at expanding communities of experimental poets across the UK. With Aaron Kent of Broken Sleep, I’m co-editing an anthology of writing in response to the band Frightened Rabbit. With A+E Collective, I’m planning a field-based workshop on printed materials and canal ecologies, as part of Civic Street Open Day at Civic House. We ran an online installation, The Dream Turbine, in collaboration with The NewBridge Project in 2021, and themes of dream ecologies still run through my own work. Other areas of ongoing study include failure and impossibility in writing, epistolary modes, postcapitalist desire and ‘play’.
Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for any prospective students?
Don’t be disheartened by rejections, because they certainly happen to all of us. When it comes to creative writing, what counts is the work you put in, the skills you learn and the friends and mentors you make along the way – some of them for life! Keep your options open, your projects agile and your field of submission opportunities nice and wide. Who knows where your work will take you.
Any special thanks or shout-outs you'd like to give to colleagues who have helped or inspired you throughout your career here?
As a new member of the department, I’ve been nothing but welcomed warmly by my colleagues in English, Creative Writing and the administrative support team within HaSS. The atmosphere is collegial, professional and nurturing.
If you could switch jobs with someone, who would it be?
A conservationist or painter. I’d love to spend all day outside or in a studio covered in colours.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
Running SPAM Press, contributing to A+E Collective and doing occasional music journalism soaks up most of my non-work hours. I’m also a visual artist and have a regular illustration practice, and sometimes do design work in the small press publishing world. I go to gigs or exhibitions. Aside from that, I love to walk around the city.
You can view some of Maria's work here:
- String Feeling (Erotoplasty Editions, 2022)
- The Luna Erratum (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2021)
- ‘I Cloud, Staging Atmospheric Imaginaries in Anthropocene Lyric’, Moveable Type, Vol. 13 (2021).
- ‘“Just to distract you like the inside”: a correspondence wrapped up in Bernadette Mayer’s poetry’, co-authored with Colin Herd, Post45 Contemporaries: Bernadette Mayer Cluster (2021).
- ‘Hypercritique: A Sequence of Dreams for the Anthropocene’, Coils of the Serpent, Vol. 8 (2021)
Published date: June 1, 2022
Photo credit: Robin Silas Christian