About your editor

I have been writing, in one form or another, since childhood, and can’t seem to stop. I was a teacher, at various levels in the post-school sector, for 30 years, and I certainly don’t rule out doing some further teaching. I’m now branching out into publishing and editing. To try to explain what I’m trying to do with this website, I need to talk about all three of those activities together.

Perhaps because I went to grammar school – and later to university (Kent) – for years the main thing I was trying to write was what you might call a mainstream, “literary” kind of poetry. I had some success with it, occasionally getting published in magazines such as The Rialto, Iron, Lines Review and so on – which were quite difficult to get work accepted by, so you could call that an achievement. (I used different pen-names back then, so even if you could find old copies from the 1980s you’d be hard pushed to find my poems.) But I had reservations about that whole approach to writing. Who actually read those magazines? Probably it was mostly people who were trying to get their own poems into them. Traditionally, publishing in those magazines was the gateway to getting a book accepted, by Faber or by one of the smaller presses. But that never happened for most of us. And even when it did, not that many people read those books, either.

I had other interests, and other influences. For one thing, I’m part of a generation that grew up with rock music, and with the “folk revival” of the 60s, and part of me sometimes felt that songs were more interesting than literary poetry. Or just more fun, perhaps. So while I was trying to write in something like the style of (say) PJ Kavanagh, or WH Auden, or even dare I say it TS Eliot, I was also writing intense songs under the influence of Roy Harper, Tom Waits, Jake Thackray. But I couldn’t bring the two together. I was a victim of the education system, which was dominated in those days by the Leavisites, who taught that “serious culture” and “popular culture” moved in totally different universes that could never mix, like red squirrels and grey squirrels. You could do one or the other but you couldn’t do both. It seems laughable now but that’s what it was like in the 70s. Even the 80s.

I was writing other things too. Somewhere, I’ve probably still got some embarrassing fragments of at least 3 or 4 novels that I began and abandoned. And a few short stories. I had a go at a little freelance journalism too. I was a teacher, and I wrote and published a few articles and booklets about adult education while I was working for a Community Education Project that encouraged that sort of thing (most colleges don’t give you any time for it). And I was doing academic writing too, for qualifications rather than for publication: essays for my degree of course, and for my postgrad teaching certificate for what that’s worth, and later an MA dissertation, then a PhD thesis. Both these last were attempts to draw together my interests in language and linguistic theory, literature and literary theory, and educational theory and practice. Briefly, the MA dissertation was about how students who aren’t used to reading go about reading, and the PhD thesis was about how students who aren’t used to writing go about writing.

I started teaching in 1980, in adult education in London. For many years my main teaching involvement was in Adult Literacy, as it was then called, though before long it changed its name to Adult Basic Education (ABE). It’s called “Skills for Life” now and it’s much more bureaucratised and ticky-box driven: back then it was much more idealist and probably more naive. I was also teaching English Literature on occasional evening classes for London University’s Extra-Mural Department, as well as Creative Writing for the WEA, and various other odd courses for various other odd colleges. While I was doing my PhD I gave a few lectures and led a few seminars at Wolverhampton University. After that I worked in mainstream Further Education, first in London and then in Lancashire, teaching GCSE English (with teenagers and adults), A-level English (with teenagers) and Access (with adults). For the last few years my main teaching focus has been HE-in-FE, that strange hybrid: degree courses, validated by a university but taught within FE colleges. It’s cheaper than going to a university and attracts mainly people who can’t get to one, usually for a mixture of financial and geographical reasons. I’ve taught on degrees in Cultural Studies, Media Studies, and of course, English.

All this experience has shaped my attitudes to writing, both to my own writing and to other people’s. I’d never been happy with that old Leavisite approach to reading and writing, and over the years I’ve moved further and further away from it – as indeed most people have. While I was working in Adult Literacy I discovered grassroots writing groups, the tradition of working-class writing, and the Federation of Worker-Writers and Community Publishers, where the emphasis was on the articulation, and documentation, of experience, rather than on the finer points of the craft of writing. At some point I got caught up in the Performance Poetry scene, which seems to overlap into what could be called “world poetry”: in many countries (and in some circles within this one), poetry is seen primarily as an oral and performance art, rather than as something to do with books. Or with schools and colleges. And then in Britain, Bloodaxe Books came along, trying (with some success) to combine “literary” quality with an appeal to a relatively wide general readership. The Leavisite attitude peers down its nose at all this stuff. Meanwhile, the Cultural Populist movement (or some forms of it at least) celebrates the popular and the “accessible”, and rejects anything more complex or difficult as elitist and irrelevant. I don’t like either extreme. Just as I love classical music as well as blues and folk and rock, I see a wide range of writing as all linked up in a continuum, and I want us all to feel free to move around in it at will, and to combine whatever elements we want from different cultural forms and traditions.

In recent years most of my own writing has been songs rather than poems as such. I’m also doing journalistic writing, in prose, on a range of topics, often nothing to do with literature. I also expect to write some more literary critical articles and even books, but very definitely not in that esoteric scholarly style associated with academic refereed journals (which, like those aforementioned poetry magazines, nobody reads, except the more ambitious students and people who are trying to publish similar pieces). I also want to finish at least one of those novels I started, and I’m sketching out a completely new one too. One of my motives in starting this website is to give myself a motive for finishing more pieces of writing.

The most recent college I worked for has now decided that HE-in-FE no longer means Honours Degrees in English, or even in Cultural Studies or Media Studies: instead it means Foundation Degrees in strictly vocational topics, linked to the specific requirements of local employers. Last time I looked, the college was offering a Foundation Degree in Golf Course Management. My knowledge, skills, experience, such as they are, are no longer valued: the need for them “has diminished and will continue to diminish”, as someone in the Human Resources office puts it in one of my redundancy letters. In time, some other college may emerge from the shadows with different attitudes, but in the meantime, I’m putting my energies into this website. It’s partly a platform for my own writing, but it’s also a vehicle for moving a few other people’s writing on, and potentially connecting with new audiences, and encouraging new readers. As a teacher I’ve developed habits and skills, over the years, in encouraging people to write, in various forms and styles, at all those levels from ABE to BA. Not everybody wants to write – which is fine: not everybody wants to cook, or play guitar, or climb mountains – but I know that plenty of people do have an itch to. People know about something, or have a peculiar angle on something, or have had an experience they want to communicate, but often don’t know how to get it out and shape it, or they can’t imagine who’d want to publish it let alone who’d want to read it. Well, maybe Natterjack can help. This could be your chance to get your work published and read, alongside mine, and in time as the project gathers momentum, I hope alongside work by better known and more established writers too.

For more information about our editorial policy and procedures, have a look at the How to submit work section. And get in touch, either through the Forum (Natterbox), or by emailing me at mick@natterjackmagazine.com.

Happy writing.


Michael Bruce 2010




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