Writing Poetry

What’s your notion of poetry? For some, it’s the traditional British mainstream verse taught at school, for others it’s the experimental work that’s evolved in the UK since the 1960s. And for an increasing number it’s spoken word performance, with elements of hip-hop or stand-up comedy. In this one-day workshop we’ll explore examples of different approaches  and encourage you to develop your own poetic voice, using different techniques and a variety of writing prompts and exercises. We’ll also discuss ways of presenting your poems, whether in print, on-line or at the microphone.

What is Poetry?


Poetry  - from the Greek poiein, “to make”: a poem is something made.


'Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.'  (Wordsworth) 


‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. (T.S Eliot) 


‘Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does’. (Allen Ginsberg)


‘Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle’ (Dylan Thomas) 


’Poetry consists of gists and piths’ (Ezra Pound)


‘One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception’ (Charles Olson)


'A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.' (W.H Auden)


‘But there are no thoughts except through language, we are everywhere seeing through it, limited to it but not by it. Its conditions always interpose themselves: a particular set of words to choose from (a vocabulary), a way of processing those words (syntax, grammar): the natural condition of language. There is no natural look or sound to a poem. Every element is intended, chosen. That is what makes a thing a poem.’ (Charles Bernstein)



Poetry Currents




“Clarity of expression” — normative language use 

Coherent narrative, transparency of reference, functionalism 

Single point of view, the lyric voice,  English influences - iambics, metrical forms.

Rhetoric or argument
Closure — epiphany
Foregrounded use of metaphor and simile 


Examples: Shakespeare' sonnets; Philip Larkin; Seamus Heaney; Carol Anne Duffy




Non-normative language use: extended vocabulary and/or broken syntax, parataxis Foregrounding of modes or registers, language as material or sound, constructivism Multiple viewpoints or foci, lack of authorial “presence”
Politics of poetic form. American and European influences
Open form, use of indeterminacy.

Metonymy — material/metaphor overdetermination 


Examples: Allen Fisher; Ken Edwards; Bob Cobbing; Jeremy Prynne




A broad designation for poetry intended for performance. Though some spoken word poetry may also be published on the page, the genre has its roots in oral traditions and performance. Spoken word can encompass or contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theatre, and jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. Characterised by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and word play, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community. Related to slam poetry, spoken word may draw on music, sound, dance, or other kinds of performance to connect with audiences


Examples: Linton Kwesi Johnson; Kae Tempest; John Cooper Clarke





In poetry, the “problem or solution”of  “how to render poetic truth” — is really a heterogeneity of different complexes of problem-solutions, each attaching to itself a tradition and a community which that particular poetry both constructs and is constructed by. 


This makes it impossible to rank all poetry hierarchically in terms of “merit” or “excellence”, that is, the extent to which it corresponds to the norms set by the dominant paradigm — with the upper echelons gaining promotion to that Premier League known as “the canon”. 


Yet that is how “official culture” (as embodied in the poetry publishing policies of the mainstream publishers, the book review columns of the national papers, the National Poetry Competition) sees it. There is also a left-wing version of this centralist fantasy: a would-be radical position that rejects anything that is deemed to be “incomprehensible” or does not appear to speak to (or for) “the community” (the vogue word in former times would have been “the masses”), forgetting that each poetry has a corresponding community. 


(Adapted from The Two Poetries  by Ken Edwards)



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©Paul Green 2017