Steve Ely

In the summer of 2016 I was appointed Director of the Ted Hughes Network in the English Literature & Creative Writing Subject Area at the University of Huddersfield.  The University is virtually equidistant from Hughes’s two major Yorkshire centres of Mytholmroyd and Mexborough, and is thus ideally located to become a hub for Hughes studies.

The THN’s brief is to develop research into the work of Ted Hughes at the University and to create an international network of academic and non-academic organisations/individuals with an interest in Ted Hughes – with a particular view to facilitating the engagement of non-academic communities with our research and Hughes’s work.

Shortly after my appointment, we were delighted to recruit Dr James Underwood to the Network.  James is a specialist in modern and contemporary poetry and is currently writing a monograph on Philip Larkin (the THN swings both ways!) and researching Hughes’s National Service period in Patrington, Holderness. The THN team also includes Professor Jessica Malay, and Dr Merrick Burrow, Dr David Rudrum and Dr Michael Stewart.

During our first year we have networked furiously and developed fruitful partnerships with the Ted Hughes Society, The Elmet Trust and the Ted Hughes Project (South Yorkshire). Carol Hughes, Ted’s widow, has been very supportive of our work. Our first PhD student has begun work; Ruth Crossley’s ‘Mapping Elmet’ is based on her late father Donald’s correspondence with Ted Hughes about his Elmet poems. The University holds Donald’s archive at Heritage Quay. We have also acquired a number of rare limited editions of Hughes’s work for the Heritage Quay archive, most notably a complete set of the booklets and broadsheets produced by the Morrigu Press and some rare Ted Hughes/Leonard Baskin prints from Cave Birds. Poet and Hughes scholar Mark Hinchliffe gave talks on both Cave Birds and the Morrigu Press materials.

The THN sponsored Hughes-related events at the 2016 festivals of the Elmet Trust (my talk on Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire) and the THP(SY) (poetry readings from Vidyan Ravinthiran, Greg Leadbetter and Ed Reiss followed by the panel discussion, ‘Ted Hughes’s Politics’). The THN facilitated and supported the Obra Theatre Company’s innovative adaptation of Hughes’s narrative poem Gaudete, by providing free tickets to students and community groups, running two creative writing workshops based on the Gaudete epilogue poems, and hosting a public lecture on ‘Gaudete and Shamanism’ by Professor Neil Roberts, one of the world’s leading experts on Hughes. All these events were great successes – although responses to Obra’s bold and ambitious performance were mixed!

The THN is very fortunate to have secured Dr Heather Clark as International Visiting Scholar this summer. Heather is the author of The Grief of Influence: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath and The Ulster Renaissance, a study of the ‘Ulster Poets’. She is currently writing a major biography of Sylvia Plath that will be published in 2018. Heather will be giving a talk in Mytholmroyd during her visit, as well as participating in University-based events. The THN is sponsoring Heather’s talk at the 2017 Ted Hughes Poetry Festival in Mexborough as part of a ‘Sylvia Plath Afternoon’ (on Saturday 24 June) that will also include a workshop by poet and Plath scholar Andy Armitage, readings by Melissa Lee-Houghton, Kim Moore and Charlotte Wetton, and a chaired panel discussion about the relevance of Sylvia Plath to contemporary female poets.

On the 15th-16th June this year the THN will host a symposium at the University’s Heritage Quay. Twenty-six papers will be presented on the accommodating theme ‘Ted Hughes and Place’. Keynotes will be given by Heather Clark, Professor Terry Gifford, Neil Roberts and Dr Mark Wormald. Multi-award-winning poet Andrew McMillan will give a reading at the symposium. Further details can be found here. In accordance with our brief, we’ve kept the price down to make the conference as accessible as possible: £15 for both days for waged, and free to unwaged and students. Major thanks are due to James Underwood who has done the lion’s share of the work in organising the conference.

Peter Newman, Ed Miliband, Steve Ely, March 2017

The THN is also leading a consortium of groups and individuals in developing a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant application to establish a Ted Hughes Literary and Heritage Trail in Yorkshire. The consortium includes representatives of the Ted Hughes Society, the Elmet Trust, The Ted Hughes Project (South Yorkshire), Calderdale and Doncaster Councils, Hebden Royd Council, elected representatives for Mexborough, Mexborough Heritage Society, Welcome to Yorkshire, Doncaster Library Services, Royd Regeneration and other organisations and individuals. The consortium will be developing a vision for the trail and planning it in a variety of site meetings and other activities across the summer; anyone wishing to get involved can email me at All are welcome. The Trail project has received high profile support from MPs Ed Miliband and Caroline Flint – much of the South Yorkshire dimension of the Trail will be developed in their constituencies.

2017-18 will see consolidation and further development in the THN, with continued partnership working with Hughes-related organisation and individuals, the Trail R&D crystallising into a HLF grant application, the development of additional postgraduates, publications and work looking at Hughes’s creative process, his methods for teaching creative writing and their status, value and relevance to contemporary poetry. It’s an exciting time to be involved in Hughes studies!

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