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Paul Robinson reading poetry

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Workhouse poetry collection awarded

Creative writing

Publish date: April 1, 2022

A Creative Writing student from Edge Hill University has been recognised for his unique poetry collection that gives a voice to historic and modern-day poverty.

A Creative Writing student from Edge Hill University has been recognised for his unique poetry collection that gives a voice to historic and modern-day poverty. 

Recent Masters graduate Paul Robinson, from Liverpool, received Edge Hill’s Mark Flinn award for his manuscript Spikes in recognition of its extensive use of historical evidence. 

Through Spikes – a slang term for workhouses – Paul has brought together his comprehensive research into Liverpool’s 19th Century workhouses, commentary on the modern-day benefits system and his personal experience of hardship.

Said Paul: “Spikes interweaves imagined historical voices and contemporary ones, showing parallels between the benefits and workhouse systems and how people are treated. I see it as both a valuable historical source and a thought-provoking work that makes us question our attitudes to poverty.” 

Paul Robinson

Excerpt from poetry piece Robert Tressell from Spikes by Paul Robinson

Failure haunts the poor
Nothing horrors our corpse
inscribe a coffin plate to distinguish riff from raff
no mutes or sprigs administered

Paul’s writing takes inspiration from writers like George Orwell and Charles Dickens, Victorian poets such as John Clare and present-day ones like Alan Morrison.

His work is based on real places, events and people. It draws on records and correspondence held in places such as The National Archives and Liverpool Record Office.

The names Paul searches have often come from visits to Liverpool sites with workhouse connections.

“Cemeteries are a valuable door to the past. Starting with gravestones etched with just the surname and date or more elaborate crypts, I could uncover the lives of Liverpool’s poor and elite. They were often woven together through a shared workhouse history – one that encompassed connections to the slave trade and religious organisations.” 

Paul was attracted to the structure and creative freedoms of Edge Hill’s MA Creative Writing Course. He saw it as a way to realise the idea of his workhouse project, building on his long-standing passion for poetry, his love of history and his own experience living off Universal Credit.

Paul applied for the £500 Scholarship award himself, aware that his extensive historical research put him in good stead.

The money has supported Paul through his self-financed studies and has given him room to pursue getting Spikes self-published. He is also sending it to publishers. 

Paul is training to be an academic mentor at a local school, hopeful that he can forge ahead with his next writing project during the school holidays.

“I have so much research material to inspire a new project. Spikes was a poetry collection populated by so many voices I want my next work to concentrate on one person and their journey from their home, into Liverpool, homelessness the workhouse and beyond.” 

The Mark Flinn Award recognises and celebrates students who are keen to develop their skills by undertaking a research project which makes extensive use of historical evidence. The Scholarship was founded by long-serving former Edge Hill University Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Flinn. He was instrumental in transforming Edge Hill from a higher education college to a successful University. 

Edge Hill University has a broad programme of scholarships for prospective and current students, recognising practical and academic excellence.

Edge Hill’s MA Creative Writing is for practising writers keen to improve their craft. It combines intensive workshops to hone writing techniques with a detailed study of chosen literary fields. It supports students to develop their creative works to the point of final manuscript and possible publication.