This course will help you get started as a writer, or develop as a writer, by enabling you to improve your existing skills and cultivate your imagination. It will guide you through the process of writing, from brainstorming to writing to revising.
People who never read poetry don’t write poems that are worth reading. … It seems odd to me that anyone who hates reading poetry should want to write it at all. Are there amateur painters who never go to an art gallery?
(Wendy Cope, ‘How to write poetry’)
In these sessions, we will take seriously the suggestion that in order to write well, we need to develop our ability to read well. Each day, we will take our lead from two sources: firstly, a piece of prose-writing about poetry (a manifesto, a piece of criticism, a letter, a commentary, and so on); and secondly from a poem (predominantly twentieth and twenty-first century, ranging from canonical verse to small-press publications). Through close reading and discussion, we will seek to develop our analytic skills as we engage in the focussed, playful, and seriously attentive practical criticism of a wide range of poems from a variety of poetic schools or groups. We will take our lead from, for example, the provocations of Gertude Stein – ‘poetry is concerned with using and abusing, with losing and wanting, with adoring and replacing the noun’ – from essays by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, or Ginsberg, as well as the polemic writing of more recent poetic practitioners. By paying attention to how others write, we will seek to develop a reflexive practice which will enable us to be both inspired and instructed by the techniques and intentions of seminal poets: these lessons will then be employed to provoke, initiate, or even constrain our own writing, which will be the focus of each afternoon’s sessions.
During this week, we will all aim to produce a number of poems, not in imitation of, but hopefully inspired by, our mornings’ reading. The intention of developing our reflexive practice is not to copy, or to produce anachronistic mimicry of period poetic forms; rather the intention is to appreciate the intent and techniques employed by a range of poets, in order to inspire and provoke our own practice. Indeed, as poet Michael Hofmann suggests, in these seminars there should be ‘no uniform, no team shirt, no battle or plan of battle, no weapons, … no hierarchy, no ranks or badges except for homemade ones that don’t count’, and consequently, we will avoid homage, pastiche, or impersonation. We will be guided by the thoughts and methods of some brilliant poets, and enjoy the realisation that, as Hofmann concludes, ‘there are plenty of fellow travellers’.