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'We should be united': deploying verbatim methods in poetry to (re)present expressions of identity and ideas of imagined community in the 2011 Birmingham riots

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posted on 22.06.2017, 16:08 authored by Sophie-Louise Hyde
Despite the upsurge in fact-based and verbatim theatre in recent years (Fogarth and Megson 2009: 1), engagement with the form as a technique equally suitable for poetry has been especially limited. This thesis examines the deployment of verbatim methods in a series of poems which constitute the creative element, written in order to (re)present expressions of identity and ideas of imagined community during the 2011 riots in Birmingham. Located in the context of this particular disorder, United We Stand explores both individual and group experiences of the events that took place in Birmingham. The series of verbatim poems draws on data extracted from 25 semi-structured, life-story interviews with participants who lived or worked in the city during these incidents. In doing so, both the thesis and the creative practice that informs it critique Benedict Anderson s earlier model of the nation as an imagined community (1983; 1991; 2006). While quantitative network analysis is deployed to establish the ties between media channels and ordinary citizens that were maintained online through social networking, creative and reported responses published by these same media sources are analysed in relation to national narrative conventions (Billig 2001; Mihelj 2011). This demonstrates that new and popular media played a significant role in (re)presenting imagined communities in this setting. By providing evidence for the existence of these shifting imagined communities across various geographical, social and cultural scales, the thesis suggests that Anderson s decision to focus on the nation is problematic. It argues that his framework is partial and that a new definition of imagined community as both fluid and emergent is necessary. Literary context for the thesis is found in the origins and developments of verbatim; exploring early documentary theatre practice and contemporary verbatim productions by Richard Norton-Taylor, Alecky Blythe, and Gillian Slovo. Through an analysis of Bhanu Kapil Rider s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (2001), the thesis illustrates how existing poets have organised comparable methods in their own work. This culminates in a demonstration of practice as research by producing a ground-breaking body of work: United We Stand is a series of poems crafted through the deployment of verbatim methods. The thesis demonstrates that deploying verbatim methods in poetry is suitable for (re)presenting expressions of identity and ideas of imagined community in this context. By transforming the voices of ordinary people of Birmingham, United We Stand reflects the media narratives that precede it: the poems are a direct engagement with the same fluid and emergent imagined communities that they argue existed. More importantly, though, this thesis goes beyond contemporary techniques of verbatim and establishes the evolutionary nature of it as a poetic practice. The combination of verbatim methods and visual-digital tools that I deploy throughout United We Stand results in a new creative process which I have termed Digital Poetic Mimesis .


Loughborough University, Glendonbrook Fellowship.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Sophie-Louise Hyde

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This version of the Thesis has been redacted: for more information please contact the author. A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.