Fatherhood is key theme in university lecturer's new collection of poetry

Hugh Dunkerley, Reader in Creative Writing and Contemporary Poetry
Hugh Dunkerley, Reader in Creative Writing and Contemporary Poetry

Fatherhood is a major theme in Kin, a new collection of poetry by Brighton-based Hugh Dunkerley, reader in creative writing and contemporary poetry at the University of Chichester.

The volume has been published by Cinnamon Press.

“With the last book, Hare in 2010, I had been amassing poems for quite a long period of time,” says Hugh, who runs the university’s MA in creative writing.

“So then it was a question of seeing how they sat together and taking certain ones and writing some more.

“This book was a bit different. I knew what the main theme was.

“Once I started writing, I pretty quickly had an idea where I was going to go and that fatherhood would be a strong element, having become a father in 2009. Nature is also an element in the poems and there are also some about mental health in there as well.

“But I had a strong idea about the fatherhood element, though it has taken nine years – partly because of writing three times as many poems as are published.

“Basically, I keep notes and ideas and jot down things. I have got a notebook that I fill with ideas and half-formed poems which I work on when I have got more time.

“Some of them come easily in one go and don’t change much. More usually I go through several versions and just try different things to make them work.

“But really I wanted to explore my experience of fatherhood. A lot of women have written poetry about motherhood, but not a lot of men have written about fatherhood. I suppose motherhood is much more central to a woman’s experience. But I have certainly found that fatherhood is challenging and exhilarating.

“Initially, I guess it is the shock of parenthood, the way it takes over your life completely and takes control of everything.

“You feel your life narrow down… and there is also that element of lack of sleep. But there is also that good thing of being no longer the centre of your universe. You loosen up because you are no longer the most important thing in your life, and as my son has got older, it has got much more joyful. He is ten this year. He is quite interested in poetry and loves music.”

Hugh writes short fiction as well.

“But poetry is my main thing. When I was younger, I tried lots of different things as you are trying to find out what you can do. But it has become my natural way of expressing myself.

“A lot of people write poetry when they are teenagers, and maybe some poets just keep it quiet, just doing it privately. But then it develops into much more of an art and craft.

“There is a point where a poem is private, but what is interesting about poetry is when other people look at it, they are looking at the subject matter which is something I have thought about long ago. By then I am just looking at the craft. I am thinking ‘Is this word right?’ or ‘Does that image work?’ The subject matter I have worked out long ago. But to some extent a poem will always take on a life of its own.”

Inevitably, the poetry informs Hugh’s academic life: “I do talk about creativity. I am coming up against literature and poetry at work all the time, and I am learning from my students all the time.

“If I am teaching creative writing, I think it is vital that I am writing as well. You have got to know the process from the inside.”

As an academic subject, creative writing took off in the 1990s.

“And Chichester has got one of the oldest creative writing programmes.

“The MA has been going for 25 years. I think the growth of creative writing courses was partly a reaction against literary theory.

“Literary theory is very intellectual. I think the creative writing courses were a rebalancing.”

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