Inaugural Lecture Explores Poetry in Professional Learning
Education academic Professor Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan’s inaugural lecture on the Edgewood campus was titled Finding Poetry in Professional Learning: A Polyvocal Bricolage.
Pithouse-Morgan’s explorations in self-reflexive and arts-informed research have given rise to a distinctive formulation of poetic professional learning as a literary arts-inspired mode for researching and enriching professional learning. She has worked with many others, in South Africa and internationally, to cultivate a portfolio of work that engages the power of poetic inquiry for researching and performing professional learning.
‘My focus is not principally on composing poems that demonstrate literary expertise or innate artistic merit; my main emphasis is on using poetic language and forms of expression for the educative purposes of studying and enhancing professional learning,’ she said.
In her lecture, Pithouse-Morgan showed how she revisited her portfolio of work to explore its impetus and impact, asking the question “What difference can poetry make to professional learning?”
To respond to this question, she created a “poetic bricolage” using words and phrases from nine professional learning poems, composed over a span of five years. Some were composed individually and some with others; however, the poems she composed on her own were inspired by the voices and stories of students and colleagues. Pithouse-Morgan sees all the poems as polyvocal.
She chose to arrange the poetic bricolage using the traditional Japanese renga form, which is a type of linked-verse poetry, typically generated by two or more poets as a kind of conversation. The title was, Our words changing my story.
Pithouse-Morgan invited some of her local and international research collaborators and postgraduate students to join her in presenting a dialogue developed in response to the renga.
The voices featured in the dialogue were, in order of appearance: Dr Edwina Grossi (read by Ms Nosipho Mbatha); Professor Thenjiwe Meyiwa (read by Dr Lungile Masinga); Dr Delysia Timm; Professor Linda Fitzgerald (read by Ms Makie Kortjass); Dr Lorraine Singh (read by Dr Lungile Masinga); Professor Anastasia P Samaras (read by Dr Bridget Campbell); Professor Nithi Muthukrishna; Mr S’phiwe Madondo; Professor Theresa Chisanga; Professor Daisy Pillay; Dr Chris de Beer; Ms Lee Scott (read by Dr Anita Hiralaal); Professor Relebohile Moletsane; Dr Linda van Laren (read by Dr Anita Hiralaal); Professor Inbanathan Naicker and Dr Jean Stuart.
The medley of voices presented in the lecture communicated how students, teachers, and academics who might not necessarily describe themselves as experienced or well-qualified poets can come together and play with the imaginative possibilities of poetic language to produce relatively simple poems as research data, representations, and interpretations.
‘Even when the poems themselves might not stand on their own as literary or artistic texts, the experience of poetry making, especially when it is collective, can permeate professional learning research and practice with imagination, feeling, and sensory impressions in ways that intensify and interconnect self-insight, care for others, and social awareness,’ explained Pithouse-Morgan.
Through carefully selecting and arranging words as poems, Pithouse-Morgan believes we can articulate, encounter, and become immersed in thoughts, feelings, and lived experiences that might be difficult to communicate or grasp in conventional academic language.
She said, ‘Composing poetry with others in a mutually supportive environment can facilitate creative, multi-perspective meaning-making to reimagine ourselves and our educational practice in ways that respond to pressing social concerns. Overall, poetic inquiry can enrich professional learning research and practice in arts-inspired ways that can contribute to personal and social change.’
Pithouse-Morgan notes that fostering affirming and generative experiences of poetry making is vital in contexts such as South Africa, ‘where lack of access and generative exposure to poetry and other art forms in the school curriculum remains a pressing issue of social and cultural injustice.’
She added, ‘When disheartening teaching approaches continue to make many people feel that they are not qualified to create or understand poetry, it is critical to open up possibilities in schools and Higher Education Institutions for supportive and gratifying poetic encounters.’
Words: Melissa Mungroo
Photograph: Albert Hirasen