Creativity in Cambridge: Can a supervision essay be poetry?

jrj33 3 November 2015

Jade Cuttle is a third year MMLer who writes her supervision essays in poetry. Yes, poetry. In this article she presents her case for why it’s important to keep the creative juices following during term time and her take on why the art of rhythmic composition is more than just aesthetic.

It may seem like a terrible idea to toss reason to the linguistic wolves of rhetoric, to justify constructing an argument around a concept because it alliterates or is centred on a striking metaphor you just can’t shake from your head. However, embracing creativity when expectations are to churn out essay after stale essay has actually served my studies well. It is not simply the symptom of shallow superficiality – at least I hope not – but the sign of something much more substantial.

The essence of an essay, stripped back to its bare flesh and bone, is an act of exchange with a consumer, but with intellectual merchandise rather than material or monetary. Applying a poetic approach can increase accessibility, particularly if the ideas cast a slightly sketchy shadow, though overload, of course, can be obscuring. Whether alliteration, sound symbolism, metaphor or metre, attention is drawn to material substance – it’s drama and dance as it sprawls across the page.

Image credit: Fredrik Rubensson

Admittedly, there’s a very fine line between poetic persuasion and shameful self-indulgence. If the essay is too obvious in calling attention to its own linguistic material, this points too much to the importance of perception – or rather, style over substance. A distinction must be made with regards to subtlety, in rather attempting to turn the essay’s attention to its own material in a process of self-conscious investigation. My supervisor has agreed that this approach works fine, in my case, as long as poetry and metaphor help me arrive at my conclusion.

It is probably best to present ideas in their pristine state, to concentrate on clarity rather than creativity, in most subjects and maybe even in my own. Nevertheless, the art of any essay involves dynamic interplay within the stasis, intellectual development and innovation, where going against the grain from time to time, sprinkling a dash of poetic spice, at least stops the world turning stale.