Thursday, March 22, 2007

PhD drama

I've been having terrible insomnia off and on for three or four weeks now, and the reason is so silly. I've been unable to keep myself from brainstorming dissertation topics and wondering about different PhD programs. Stupid! SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) scholarship applications aren't due until the fall, and applications to get in aren't due until December for most schools. However, I know myself well enough to realize that I needed to sit down and write out all of my ideas and find answers to my questions before I would be able to sleep properly, so I've been doing just that for a couple of days.

I surprised myself last night by sitting down and writing out over a dozen ideas for a doctoral dissertation. In reality, coming up with ideas right now is premature, as I won't be required to settle on a dissertation topic until my second or third year. However, it's a good idea to have some sense of what you want to work on for SSHRC applications and statements of intent. SSHRCs are really competitive, as essentially every graduate student in the humanities in Canada applies for them, but they are also really lucrative. Having a SSHRC grant is also invaluable when it comes to getting a job; in the minds of employers, if you are worthy of a SSHRC, you are worthy of a job, and potentially a tenure-track one at that. I'm still just learning about all of the politics and processes involved in getting a tenured job, but I'm trying to do all that I can to put myself in a good position when I finish my PhD. But as for my dissertation ideas, here are a few of my favourite, which are also some of the most feasible:

  • An edition of Anne Wilkinson's letters: she corresponded with many people, but I'm especially interested in looking at her letters to and from A.J.M Smith and F.R. Scott (both notable Canadian poets and both her lovers after her divorce), as well as her correspondence with Alan Crawley. Crawley was a little magazine editor who functioned as a critic and inspiration for an astonishing number of Canadian poets, and doctoral students around Canada are working on his correspondence with other poets right now.
  • Motherhood & poetry: Wilkinson and a number of other female modern Canadian poets wrote extensively about the difficulties of being both a mother and a poet. I've always been interested in looking at the ways that women negotiate artistic production and biological production, and I'd be interested in doing the same here. It would be fascinating to see how they dealt with doing both, and to come to some conclusions about whether they felt the need to focus on one or the other, if they felt good at only one, or if they felt like a failure at both.
  • Canadian anthologies of poetry: A.J.M. Smith described himself as a compulsive anthologist, so I would have lots of material to look at. I'm interested in looking at which poets end up being included in anthologies, which end up being excluded, and the reasons why in either case. However, I think that this would probably end up being a slightly boring and theoretical project, so it's not one of my top picks.
  • Rosedale modernism: this is what my thesis supervisor describes Wilkinson's poetry as. She comes from a wealthy family, and this is reflected in her poetry and her life writing. I'm interested in looking at how her own perception of her class and the perceptions of others around her affected the reception of her poetry. A big issue when she was writing was poetry for it's own sake, or poetry for the sake of social commentary, especially of the Marxist/socialist kind. I think I might be able to make an interesting study of the neglect of her poetry because she was rich. There are also patronage issues that come in here that could be interesting, as she was looked to as a financial backer for here and now and Tamarack magazines, and there is continued debate over whether this was because of her talent, or her money.
So these are my favourite ideas at the moment. I particularly like the idea of doing an edition of Wilkinson's letters because a) that's one area of her writing that hasn't been published yet, b) my supervisor would probably be thrilled, c) it would be a good candidate for funding, d) it would mean that I would have something to publish once I was done, which is key to getting a good start, e) her writing goes out of copyright in 2011, which is exactly when I would be getting to work on it (her son is very protective of his mother's image and reputation, and so there is no way that I would be able to publish this with his consent), and f) it sounds like fun!

As for programs, I am currently looking at applying to UofT, York, Queen's, Western, McMaster, and Dalhousie. UofT would be ideal, but it is beyond competitive, so my acceptance is nowhere near guaranteed. However, any southern Ontario school would be fine, as PhD students are only on campus full time for the first year of study. I'll just commute for the first year, and then I'm home free. Queen's and Western have faculty who are really well known in my area, so going to one of them would be wonderful as well. All in all, I'm really looking forward to getting the process started and seeing what happens.