Parts of sentenceHere’s an idea. Next Tuesday, 29th April, is the first class of the new term.

Just imagine! a dewy-fresh poetry class, dripping in the sunlight as blossoms and flowers burst forth in all the colours of the rainbow, while the birds warble away at their songs – what is that but POETRY? 

‘If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to the tree’ (Keats wrote), ‘it had better not come at all’.

But this doesn’t mean Keats thought poetry shouldn’t need work, or knowledge, or practice, to write. He meant that because writing poetry is the most natural thing to a poet, it can’t be faked. But once you know the right techniques to give your poems shape, momentum, music, and overall coherence – in whatever your own style is – then you can ‘play’ your poetry almost like a musical instrument (or a tree) (or a birdsong). Pure melody here, a great chord there, a refrain, syncopation, perhaps a variation or two… it will work together and be truly YOUR poem.

In the summer term of Poetic Technique we’re going to be looking working with:

  • Line: lengths, styles, where to break, how to decide
  • Metrics and rhythm: what is which and how do they work
  • What is form?
  • And more!

We’ll also talk about how to revise a poem – looking at poems in various stages of their composition and how they became the poems we know.

Each week there is homework involving practice of the techniques we’ve been discussing, and each session starts with a sharing session – not an in-depth critique, but  a chance to hear each other’s work.

This is a rolling one-year course; you can join in any term, repeat the year (I try to vary it), and generally do what you like with it. It suits anyone, at any stage of their writing life, who wants to know more about how poetry works. We read a wide range of work from across the centuries and in many styles, and everyone is encouraged to write more like themselves while feeling challenged to experiment.

Here is more information on the class. If you’re interested, drop me a line. You can find me on the Contact Me page.


NPM_Poster_06_LargeSecond April, so the fools have departed, thank God, with their fake headlines and their practical jokes that were never quite practical enough… One friend joked that he had had an amazing stroke of good luck and then had to spend the evening frantically letting everyone know it was only a jape, and feeling humbled by how so many people thought this wondrous news had indeed befallen him. Another joked that something happened to his bike, and then something did. They were both poets, too, you’d think they’d know better than to tempt fate like that. It seemed an inauspicious start to to a whole month of poetry…

Then the dust that was so mysteriously covering all the cars on Monday morning – as well as the leaves of my little bay tree, though the papers never mentioned plants – turned out to be the sands of the Sahara, blown in, and is still with us. Very romantic. Dreams of camels, Bedouins in billowing robes, the desert scene in Half Magic (‘I for one’, said Martha, shaking sand from her roller skate, ‘will never play in a sandbox again’), all swirling down to rest on my little balcony. And today we’re informed that we’re on Level 9 pollution, from that and other things. So it’s not Chaucer, exactly; more like ‘that April with his shours of soote’.

The air is feeling rather heavy out there; it’s the sand, or some lead they didn’t tell us about. Maybe that’s a good reason to stay inside. You can write some poems. I was telling some of my students the other week about NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing month. It’s an American thing, where this is indeed National Poetry Month, and it comes from the annual November jape, National Novel Writing month. I know lots of people know all about this already and have done it, worn the T shirt, and collapsed. But my class didn’t know about it. Basically, you write a poem a day for the month of April.

Never fear, there’s a website to help you! The NaPoWriMo website. If you sign up officially, the idea is to have a blog where you post your poems every day. Every day the main website features the blog of a participant, and a small press or magazine, and a prompt for a poem.

Can’t get fairer than that, can you? And I have a friend who did it one year and wrote the tiniest little poems you can imagine, and later strung them into one long one in sections. Yesterday’s prompt was to go and click the button – like what used to e spinning the wheel – at the rather bizarrely wonderful Bibliomancy Oracle. (I’d think it was even more wonderful if it hadn’t answered my question – me there, trembling as at the mouth of the cave, with my life problem hovering on the rim of my brain, ready to spill over into everything – with a little bit of minimalist gobbledegook about a dog.) So go on, you can do it. Click the clicker and write a little poem.

And if that isn’t enough prompts, the wonderful poetry being that is Jo Bell is running a project for the whole of this year – it started on New Year’s – called 52. Its strapline is, ‘Write a poem a week. Start Now. Keep going.’The website essentially features a weekly prompt, and there’s a Facebook page where people are posting up their poems; I know a couple of people taking part and it’s great, and a massive success. Once a month a guest poet does the prompt, and some of the prompts are more like brilliant exercises; it’s a chance to see lots of different approaches. To approach from many different angles.

The prompts come out very Thursday morning, so tomorrow is the next one. It hardly needs to be said – or does it – that these activities are open to absolutely anyone, anyone at all, who has a feel to write some poems with some help, and maybe share them. You can be a well-published writer, a famous (ahem) poet, or a complete newcomer who feels like putting some structure on your cravings.

It’s April, it’s the poets’ month. We may as well try and enjoy it.

N.b., In the interests of full disclosure. I once tried to do NaPoWriMo. I used my time walking across Green Park to the tube to think about poems, and I wrote a few, but none of them ever got anywhere. I think I lasted till Day Six.

PS: I was going to use this year’s National Poetry Month poster, but it gave me hives. sorry.

Timing is the secret of poetry

March 23, 2014

What makes a poem a poem. I was telling a student just yesterday how a poem, in one sense, can operate like a joke: the setup, more elaborate or less so, and the punch line. And we all know that ‘Timing is the secret of comedy’. So, timing. In a poem. One, and the way […]

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Oh Hugo Williams we love you get up

March 20, 2014

Today marks the official publication of this book: the first new collection from Hugo Williams since West End Final in 2009 (with its brilliant poems evoking his mother, the very glamorous actress, Margaret Vyner). But  this isn’t just any new collection. It coincides with a campaign by  the poet’s family to get him a new kidney, […]

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This Mother’s Day, let’s get rid of the old bag. Har har.

March 14, 2014

Here at Baroque Mansions we get a lot of PR emails. Very, very rarely do they have anything to do with the contents of the blog, or with anything we might even conceivably have an interest in. I made a mistake once, years ago, of clicking ‘lifestyle’ on a media listing – back when I […]

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Happy St David’s Day, everyone

March 1, 2014

My annual St David’s Day e-card has arrived from Cousin Ceri, and here it is: So wear a daffodil, eat a Welsh cake, and sing something, and you’ll be celebrating the day. Nearly spring now.  

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New poetry, old clothes, work, more work

February 21, 2014

SO MUCH to say. I’ve been working a flat-out day-job contract for the past four weeks – scriptwriting for a series of 24 three-minute videos, which take the form of a little mini-soap, for an English for Integration project. It’s one of those jobs you say yes, four days a week, and instantly it swallows […]

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And another one: RIP PSH

February 2, 2014

It’s hard not to feel a bit buffeted, isn’t it. Here’s what I just wrote on my Facebook: Well THAT was a rollercoaster! Amanda Knox, then Woody Allen – and no, I don’t want to hear what you think of it please! And no, every statement isn’t an invitation to hours of relatively hostile cross-examination, […]

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