Portrait of the Academic as a Student: David Devanny


David Devanny, Lecturer in English & Writing, reveals what he was really like as an undergraduate student

What did you study at university, and why did you choose that subject? 

I studied English and Creative Writing at Warwick University. I had some amazing English teachers at school who were superbly inspiring and very encouraging; I had a passion that was well nurtured so it was always going to be in that discipline. Why Warwick? Well I wish I could say something intellectual about the land of Shakespeare or doing my research into the staff or course, but in truth it was the only place that gave me an offer. I’d say I was very lucky that the team and course were ideal for me at that point, but I think calling it luck underestimates the important and knowing role admissions tutors play in getting the right people to the right places.

Which book changed the way you viewed the world or yourself? 

This is a difficult question for an English lecturer because there really are so many. Sometimes I’d go for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, or a Charles Bukowski selected I was given as a teenager, both of which made me re-think what poetry could be and do. Critical books have also really changed the way I think and feel (springing to mind are books by Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and Thomas Docherty).

But today I’ll say High Windows by Philip Larkin. I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone or written about it before, but I was given this book as a teenager and I just love it. For me it’s a dark, sad, and perfectly formed articulation of Englishness. Superficially it’s quite simple but the poems skate over undertones of paradoxical attitudes to the decline and fall of empire which still underpin English cultures.

If you could give your eighteen-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t rush. Slow down and enjoy it. 

What was the hardest thing to learn?

 This is a bit meta- I suppose but for me the hardest thing to learn was how to fail. Like many people I learn through failure, in my creative practice but also in general. Accepting that in order to improve I need to make mistakes took me a while to get my head round. Mistakes are ok.

What was the soundtrack of your undergraduate years?

I was friends with a lot of musicians so I normally let them educate me and control the stereo while keeping a guilty pleasure for Brit Pop (appealing for much the same reasons as the Larkin). In the clubs though at the time I’m afraid to say they seemed to only play ‘Low’ from Flow Rida and loads of MGMT, especially ‘Kids’.  

Show us a shelfie

Here's a close up of one of the poetry sections ...and yes those are tins of potatoes propping up my messy bookshelves.


David Devanny is a multimedia artist and poet. His research is in publishing and digital literatures. He lectures on the English and Writing courses at Falmouth University.