Poet laureate obtains PhD in Creative Writing from UP

Posted on May 13, 2024

“I ought to write about important things” is the opening line of Important Things, a poem in the first full poetry collection by Dr Harold “Harry” Edward Owen (74), who has graduated from the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Humanities with a PhD in Creative Writing.

And that is exactly what he has gone on to do. Dr Owen’s poetry focuses on the natural world, and through his words, he hopes to highlight the unprecedented extinction of wildlife and ecosystems. He feels poetry is the best (and perhaps only) way he can begin to make sense of things.

“As a parent and grandparent, I fear that if we do not find a way to preserve natural environments, future generations will be worse off,” he said.

As for why he chose UP to further his studies, he says: “I chose the University of Pretoria for my PhD in Creative Writing because after doing research and consulting with my peers, the common consensus I received was to contact Professor David Medalie. David is an exceptional supervisor, and working with him was a delight.”

Dr Owen’s journey as a poet and writer began in the UK in 2000 with the publication of his first full collection, Searching for Machynlleth, although he wrote the occasional verse during his 30-year tenure as a secondary school English teacher. But he really began to immerse himself in his craft after retiring from teaching – in fact, Dr Owen became the inaugural poet laureate for Cheshire in the UK in 2003 before he moved to South Africa in 2008. His most recent publication, his ninth collection of poetry, titled Thicket: Shades from the Eastern Cape (Minimal Press, 2022), was first published as an e-book, and pays tribute to his time in the Eastern Cape, touching on everything from the beauty of the landscape to the inequality of the standard of life.

Dr Owen’s thesis – titled ‘Towards a new default discourse for the Earth: The poetry of Chris Mann and Dan Wylie’ – focuses on the dominant discourse of modern Western society, narrowing in on corporate capitalism, and how the language contributes to attitudes and practices that damage the world. Through samples from eco-centric African poets Chris Mann and Dan Wylie, Dr Owen argues that a new “default discourse” needs to be created that places the natural world ahead of the current acquisitive, profit-driven norm.

“Working with Dr Harry Owen on his PhD was one of the most gratifying experiences of my professional life,” said Prof David Medalie, who is the Director of the Unit of Creative Writing in the Faculty of Humanities. “Dr Owen is a remarkably skilful poet, one whose deft use of language delights and enthrals the reader. He writes with passion about ecology, the natural world in its great variety and the threats it faces.”

- Author Noluthando Buthelezi

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