Graduates 2021: Joseph Lee: Creative Writing

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learnt is the confidence to stand up and say ‘I am a writer’. Small words with huge potential.

Please tell us a bit about your work and your influences

As a creative writer and poet, I used to describe my work as ‘parading in the middle ground of colloquial angst and existential gratitude’ but now I know all that really means is ‘I write to better understand the world around me’. Elaborate words are impressive, but simple communication gets right to the heart of what you are trying to say – a truth.  Russian Literary Theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (who I’d never heard of before my Creative Writing MA at Brighton), states ‘Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction’. It is this searching for truth through collective understanding and discussion that continues to impact my work.

My writing influences vary from Romantic and Victorian poets, activist poets such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, music producers such as Mike Skinner to Old Norse Scholars who crafted epic poems and sagas. I believe a mixed bag of reference points is fundamentally important in the world of Creative Writing! I’m really interested in how structure, form and poetic devices can inform the experience of the reader, too. I’m a big fan of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who coined the terms ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’, communicating the specifics of something and how the poet feeds into the reader’s perception and experience.

During my rhetoric module, I explored the relationship between the meaning and form of myth where I wrote a newly discovered (mini) epic poem about a Viking battle and its contextual supporting article on a fictitious tourist board website. This work provided an unlikely cohesion of postmodern digital media and ancient poetic form – a blending of worlds in dialogue with each other.

How have you found your course and time at Brighton?

COVID impacted my MA experience massively. In fact, it created an entirely new way of learning at University, as my course has been delivered completely remotely over Microsoft Teams, except a couple of walking writing workshops. I moved to live specifically in Brighton for the course, to find out just two weeks before term started that everything was ‘going online’… it was a frustrating start. That being said, the course has challenged me to adapt to the new situation and commit to take charge of my own learning. Doing the MA course full-time, working a part-time job and also leading copywriting at a small creative agency, meant organisation was paramount for me. I became Student Staff Rep where I was a conduit between students and staff to deliver specific module and course feedback. Course Leader, Jess Moriarty, has been so receptive and supportive, encouraging all students to make their mark on the course and develop as writers.

Through the course I have been introduced to lots of opportunities, including working with literary community Writing Our Legacy and recently being part of a major installation at Brighton Festival 2021. I have actively contributed to The Verse Student Newspaper, writing pieces on culture and lifestyle, including an article about pandemic-induced isolation in Brighton. Decadence radio picked up the story and I was invited to talk a bit more about my experience on their student show.

During the publishing module I project managed the publication of ‘I Object’ an e-book now available on Amazon Kindle. This was a difficult task to complete, especially working remotely, but I’m proud of this collaborative achievement with my fellow student cohort, independently self-publishing our poetry and short story anthology.

In my communities of practice module I became an artist in residence for the Creative Writing MA, where I created an online platform to share writing insights – interviewing students, tutors and writing mentors. I created an Instagram feed, video and written blogs… and also Creative Writing at University of Brighton’s very own TikTok page!

During this module assessment I presented my residency experiences as well as my involvement in Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness, published by Brighton Festival 2021. Under the mentorship of Director & Writer Neil Bartlett OBE, I worked with 14 diverse Brighton-based writers to produce poetic verse exploring the loss and hope experienced over the past 12 months during a global pandemic. This project culminated in a one-off, sold-out, spoken word, light and sound installation in Theatre Royal, which included a live opera performance of Francois Couperin’s Tenebres. Guest director of the festival, Lemn Sissay, joined the Tenebrae writers on his birthday for a live performance of the show.

On this course students have genuinely supported each other and their writing development, sharing opportunities. Fellow MA student, Lucy Townsend, edited Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Short Story Anthology which celebrated their 60th Anniversary, where one of my poems Getting the giss opened the collection. I feel this course has opened doors for me to make connections and be an active part of writing communities. I’ve put lots of work into it, but the rewards have surpassed my expectations. Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learnt is the confidence to stand up and say ‘I am a writer’. Small words with huge potential.

How did you choose your course – why did you choose to study Creative Writing?

I graduated with a BSc Hons Geography & Natural Hazard Management from University of Chester in 2014. I had been writing poetry throughout my undergrad but never really shared it. I moved back to where I’m from, The Black Country, in the West Midlands, where I started attending poetry workshops and performing sporadically at spoken word events in Birmingham. I worked in a few different industries whilst developing professional writing skills as a freelance copywriter. I was looking to expand my personal writing skills with an interest in poetry and my professional writing skills to help me as a copywriter.

I was originally interested in the Creative Writing MA in June 2018, after dropping a speculative email to Jess. She was so welcoming and passionate about writing, I wanted to attend the course that year, but I’d already planned a trip to explore Southeast Asia and when I came back, I moved to London to work as a research copywriter at a creative agency. Three years later I joined the MA here in Brighton and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

What are your plans after graduation?

First, I need to complete my dissertation, where I’m exploring the role of the modern-day saga writer. I am also continuing my position as Lead Creative Copywriter at branding consultancy, vaabs creative.

As for Creative Writing at Brighton Uni, I hope it’s not goodbye forever. I’d really like to continue the close connections I’ve made with students and staff alike. What’s next in terms of my creative writing and poetry? To keep regularly writing, stay passionate and inquisitive and challenge my own perceptions of what writing can do. Beyond that, I’m not ruling out a PhD at some point along the line and I feel it’s only a matter of time before I produce a poetry pamphlet…

Read ‘The Sussex Wildlife Trust 60th Anniversary Anthology’

Read the ‘Creative Writing MA blog’  

Get ‘I Object’

Joseph’s  website

Joseph’s Instagram @joeyyy_lee

Find out more about MA Creative Writing

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