Mariah Whelan joins Homerton as first ever Poet-in-Residence

Homerton College, Cambridge has appointed Oxford-based poet Mariah Whelan as its inaugural Poet-in-Residence, a role which is believed to be a first for any Cambridge college.

The position is generously funded by Dr Norman Bardsley, in memory of his wife, Jacqueline, who attended Homerton from 1960-62. Mrs Bardsley, who died last year, was a lifelong writer and lover of poetry, and was actively involved in several poetry societies near her home in California.

“Homerton has a long tradition of stimulating creativity and encouraging students to develop knowledge and skills that go well beyond their major academic studies,” says Dr Bardsley.  “My family and I hope that the Poet-in-Residence programme will help to develop greater participation in the arts by future students and alumni.”

The introduction of a Poet-in-Residence is intended to enable Homerton to foster a culture of poetry among its students and alumni, an ambition which correlates directly with Mariah’s previous experience. Currently completing her PhD at the University of Manchester, and the author of two published collections of poetry, she is also the former Director of the Oxford Writer’s House, which brings diverse communities together through writing. Mariah is a member of Truth Tellers, an interdisciplinary collective that brings together Arts and International Relations methodologies to explore questions of identity in contemporary Britain.

“The thing about bringing people together to write poetry is that most people don’t do it professionally or in an academic context, so it’s a wonderful playground,” she says.

The Principal, Professor Geoff Ward, says: “I am delighted to welcome Mariah Whelan as the first Poet-in-Residence at Homerton College. Not only does Mariah have an excellent reputation as a published poet, but also brilliant ideas for building a poetic community here, even under the tough conditions brought about by the pandemic. Poetry is quite rightly experiencing a revival of interest during these troubled times, when people are looking not only for solace but for new ideas. Mariah Whelan’s poetry is full of the new, but will appeal to all, and I am delighted to welcome her on behalf of Homerton College.”

Mariah plans a threefold approach: writing new poetry for the college in collaboration with students and staff, teaching and bringing in contemporary poets to give readings, and conducting research. She describes her approach to writing as “very interactive” and aims to either run a three-day residency focused on creating new work while engaging with students, or a digital takeover depending on Covid restrictions. She has also agreed to host an interactive session as part of this year's online Alumni Reunion Weekend. 

“Poetry gives people new ways of thinking about the world,” she says. “It’s not a decoration on top of life, but fundamental to the way I live my life.”