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The Practice of Poetry

CW209 Mondays

Aims and Objectives:

This module is solely for Year 2 students of English and Creative Writing. The module will introduce students to a range of traditional and experimental approaches to writing poems. In 2022-23 the module is taught through a series of poetry workshops. The workshops encourage you to study and create poems, and to understand and adopt the techniques that suit, as well as challenge, your developing voice as a poet. There are workshops on different types of form as well as opportunities to experiment and break fresh ground. There is an emphasis on learning and teaching as an experience and event, group work and real world creative practice.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of this module the student will have:
1. Worked in several forms of poetry and created poems using a variety of media: page, spoken, conceptual, ekphrastic.
2. Received an introduction to the work of some contemporary poets writing in English, and how their work may be used as models for the student's own practice - through the use of weekly handouts.
3. Acquired some knowledge of the power and practice of imagination in poetic creation.
4. Worked in metred and unmetred verse, using a variety of rhyme strategies, and through working in various forms.
5. Appreciated the diversity of contemporary verse strategies, including prose poetry, and the role of performance.
6. Acquired a practical understanding of their own poetics, and that of other poets, with regard to poetry.
7. Acquired a realistic knowledge of the marketplace for poetry.
8. Improved their skills in writing and thinking about their poetry.
These outcomes reflect those in the QAA benchmarks for creative writing (February 2016).
Teaching Methods:
There will be one group taught online on Mondays. You are urged to use the office hours provided by Writing Programme tutors: this is important receive one-to-one feedback. You are recommended to attend free Warwick Thursday events.
Structure of the module:

The module offers a mixture of writing workshops, readings and discussions of poems. The syllabus and reading for the module can be accessed at the Moodle:

There will be writing assignments every week which will be read and discussed the following week. All poems must be presented in Industry Standards formats.

Week 1: Free Verse

Week 2: Ghazal

Week 3: Song

Week 4: Sonnet

Week 5: Pantoum

Week 6: Writing Week

Week 7: Sestina

Week 8: Villanelle

Week 9: Terza Rima

Week 10: Golden Shovel

Week 11: Writing about Practice

Week 12: Translation and Sound Poetry

Week 13: Wordlessness

Week 14: Art

Week 15: Concept

Week 16: Writing Week

Week 17: Guerrilla Poetry

Week 18: Power Workshops

Week 19: Power Workshops

Week 20: The Poet and the World


Students will submit a portfolio of their own poetry (60% of final mark). It should be no fewer than 25 pages and no more than 30 pages. Each poem must be accompanied by a commentary which explains the aims and processes behind the writing of the poem. The word count for all the commentaries put together is 1,500 words long.

Students will also submit an assessed literary essay of 3,000 words on the practice of poetry. The essay will account for 30% of the final mark. Students are encouraged to pursue their own enthusiasms and obsessions for a topic in consultation with your tutors. The essay will carry a full bibliography. Consider a literary essay to be like any other essay but written as a piece of creative writing: as literary nonfiction.

Students will also submit ONE of the following (10% of final mark): a recording of a spoken word performance of no less than 10 minutes; OR a piece of poetry-derived conceptual art with a 300-word commentary on its aims and processes. If you are submitting a digital assessment on YouTube, paste the digital link of the recording in a Microsoft Word document with a title and written description of no fewer than 40 words. Submit that document.

Industry Standard for Submitting Poems for Assessment

Send your poems in one file in Word only (PDF cannot be edited). Use 16 point font for titles: no underlining, CAPITALS or bold. Use 12 point font for poems. Use single space or 1.15 at most. Use a font that publishers will welcome e.g. Garamond or Palatino or Times New Roman.

Research Questions - these might be starting points, springboards for your ideas
  • Which prose fiction writers are the greatest influences on your poetry and that of other contemporary poets, and why?
  • The aural and visual significance of the line- and stanza-break with reference to your own poetry and that of three other poets.
  • What do you understand by the restrictive freedom of poetic form? Discuss your response with reference to your own experience of writing terza rima, sonnets, pantoums, sestinas and villanelles.
  • Are certain poetic forms more or less suited to particular subjects? Discuss this with reference to your own experience of writing terza rima, sonnet, haiku, sevenling, pantoum and villanelle etc.
  • An essay on the non-verbal life of a poem (space, punctuation, indentation, shaping, etc.)
  • What do you understand by cadence, tone and inevitability in the crafting of poetry? Write an essay with reference to your own poetry and that of three other poets
Topic Questions - again, these are here to catalyze your own thinking
  • Write this essay in reference to your own poetic practice and that of five or six other poets.
  • What are the uses of poetry?
  • Is poetry a living art?
  • Everything is poetry. Discuss.
  • Is poetic design a form of fiction?
  • What is a poet’s poet?
Topics that Open with Quotations on Poetic Process:
  • ‘The fact is that poetry is its own reality and no matter how much a poet may concede to the corrective pressures of social, moral, political and historical reality, the ultimate fidelity must be to the demands or promise of the artistic event’. (Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue, London: Faber and Faber, 1988) Explore this statement with reference to your own understanding of the demands or promise of writing poems.
  • ‘Some gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.’ (Ian Hamilton Finlay, quoted in Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Jessie Sheeler, London: Francis Lincoln, 2003). Using Finlay’s axiom as a starting point, describe a large-scale, outdoor conceptual poetry project you wish to carry out. Discuss the research you will need to do; describe the methods and resources required to execute the project; and explain what impact you hope to have on the public’s consciousness of poetry in the world at large.
  • ‘The duende is a momentary burst of inspiration, the blush of all that is truly alive, all that the performer is creating at a certain moment. The duende resembles what Goethe called the “demoniacal”. It manifests itself principally among musicians and poets of the spoken word, rather than among painters and architects, for it needs the trembling of the moment and then a long silence’. (Federico Garcia Lorca, In Search of Duende, New York: New Directions, 2010) Discuss your response to Lorca’s statement using your experience of writing poems and listening to spoken word performances.
    ‘The theory of progress in literature represents the crudest, most repugnant form of academic ignorance. Literary forms change, one set of forms yielding its place to another. However, each change, each gain, is accomplished by a loss, a forfeit. In literature nothing is ever ‘better’, no progress can be made simply because there is no literary machine and no finish line toward which everyone must race as rapidly as possible’. (‘On the Nature of the Word’ by Osip Mandelstam, Mandelstam: The Complete Critical Prose and Letters, ed. Jane Gray Harris, trans. Jane Gray Harris and Constance Link, Ann Arbour: Michigan University Press, 1979). Discuss this statement with relation to your own understanding of ‘progress’ in contemporary poetry.
  • ‘In a sense, every poem is about writing poetry, since the art itself is supremely self-conscious’. (‘A Murmuration’ by Mark Ganier, In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry, ed. Helen Ivory and George Szirtes, Cromer: Salt Publishing, 2012). Is every poem about writing poetry?
    Writing about the poem ‘Tar’ by C.K. Williams, Robert Pinsky comments, ‘The art of the poem is that it achieves an intense cadence that is neither prose nor iambic: that is one way of defining “free verse”.’ (Robert Pinsky, The Sounds of Poetry, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998). How would you define “free verse”? Answer this question with reference to your own poetry and that of three other poets.
  • ‘Emily Dickinson would not have had a Facebook page, although her cryptic lines make excellent status updates’. (‘Emily Dickinson, Vampire Slayer’ by Sophie Mayer, Stress Fractures: Essays on Poetry, ed. Tom Chivers, London: Penned in the Margins, 2010). In what ways have social media affected the writing and reception of poetry by contemporary poets?
  • ‘The emotional, aesthetic and existential value is the same … when looking into a microscope…and when looking into the nascent organism of the poem.’ (Miroslav Holub, The Dimension of the Present Moment, London: Faber and Faber, 1990). Discuss this statement with reference to your own perceptual experience as a writer of poetry and that of at least three other poets.
  • ‘If a poem is concentrated, a closed fist, then a novel is relaxed and expansive, an open hand: it has roads, detours, destinations; a heart line, a head line; morals and money come into it. Where the fist excludes and stuns, the open hand can touch and encompass a great deal in its travels’. (‘A Comparison’ by Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber, 1979). Discuss your response to Plath’s statement using your experience of writing poems and writing prose.

Students will also submit an assessed literary essay of 3,000 words on the practice of poetry. The essay will account for 30% of the final mark. A suggested list of sample topics and research questions is available to students on this web-page. However, students are encouraged to pursue their own enthusiasms and obsessions for a topic in consultation with your tutors. The essay will carry a full bibliography. Consider a literary essay to be like any other essay, but written as a piece of creative writing: as literary nonfiction.

Students will also submit ONE of the following (10% of final mark): a recording of a spoken word performance by the student of no less than 10 minutes which can take the form of a vlog; a piece of poetry-derived conceptual art with a 300-word commentary on its aims and processes; or a review of no less than 600 words in total about three current poetry collections (current, as in published in the last two years). The review can also take the form of a vlog. If you are submitting a spoken word performance, paste the link to the recording in a submitted Microsoft Word document with a written description of no fewer than 40 words. No material from your portfolio can be re-used in this performance. Material from one form of assessment cannot be used in another.

This submission will account for 10% of the final mark.


Course packs will contain poems that will be studied during class.

The best reading you can do is to read poetry, and to read contemporary poetry from around the world.

Always have the best dictionaries and thesaurus beside you as you write. You cannot work without them. I recommend you do not use the thesaurus from your Word programme as it is deeply limiting to the possibilities of language.

Books about the practice of poetry:
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes (latest edition);
  • The New Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics (latest edition);
  • Roget’s Thesaurus (latest edition);
  • Oxford English Dictionary;
  • John Keats, Letters (ed. John Mee, Oxford, 2009);
  • Mary Rueffle Madness, Rack, and Honey(Wave Books, 2012);
  • Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (Penguin 2012) – also on internet;
  • Jo Bell and Jane Commane, How to Be a Poet (Nine Arches Press, 2018);
  • Mary Kinzie, A Poet’s Guide to Poetry (Chicago University Press, 1999);
  • William Packard, The Art of Poetry Writing (St Martin’s Press, 1992);
  • Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook (Harvest, 1994);
  • Mark Strand and Eavan Boland (ed), The Making of a Poem (Norton, 2000);
  • John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason (Yale, 2001).

The most useful resource for rhyme is The Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes (OUP, 2006) whose organization relies more on indirect rhyme, sound’s side-tracks and echoes. Its lists of rhymed words not only blend traditional/ancient with modern/contemporary but also introduce place names, and technological and scientific terms.


The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics is the definitive, brick-wide handbook for working poets.

Spoken Work Resources

The Electronic Poetry Center is the place to begin. Materials formerly housed at the EPC have been moved over to, and greatly augmented at, PennSound: opens in a new window

There are many websites for the spoken word, but for poetry The Academy of American Poets ( and The Poetry Archive carry online recordings, as well as essays by and about contemporary poets and links to other poetry sites. opens in a new window

The Poetry Library in London's Royal Festival Hall

The single best place in the UK for researching and writing your essay. opens in a new window

What is the Poetry Library?

  • The most comprehensive and accessible collection of poetry from 1912 in Britain
  • It is the major library for modern and contemporary poetry funded by the Arts Council England
  • Poetry is available in many formats: books, pamphlets, audio cassette, CD, video and DVD for reference and loan; magazines, press cuttings, photographs, posters and postcards for reference. See our links pages for our pick of web-based poetry
  • The Poetry Library is the home of, an ever-growing full-text database for UK poetry magazines of the 20th and 21st centuries
  • There are comprehensive education and children's sections
  • The Poetry Library promotes the reading of poetry for people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds in collaboration with Learning and Participation


  • The library contains 200,000 items and is growing all the time
  • We acquire two copies of each book and audio title, one for reference and one for loan
  • We aim to stock all poetry titles published in the UK with a representation of work from other countries including work in parallel text and English translation
  • An exhibition space featuring works by artists engaging with the Library's collection, text and poetry in general, and projects and events at Southbank Centre
  • The librarians meet once a month to consider self-published and small press items for the collection and will always respond to those who submitted something for consideration

Opening Hours

  • Tuesday - Sunday, 11am - 8pm
  • The Library is closed to the public on Mondays

Membership and Lending

  • The Poetry Library is free to join for all members of the public on display of current ID with proof of address e.g. bank statement, utility bill, driving licence etc
  • The Poetry Library is part of the national inter-lending service, so the loan collection is available via the public library network
  • There is a postal loan service for members with sight problems Link opens in a new window
  • Other members may return loan items in the post
Term One
Workshops in term 1 are practical, immersive experiences, providing an apprenticeship in the craft and process of making poems. Workshops explore the craft and process of form, including alertness to rhyme, line, stanza; negative capability, duende, and attention to drafting; to making, reading, and speaking forms such as villanelle, riddle, song, ballad, ghazal, speech acts, terza rima, sestina, double-sestina, pantoum, found poems, Golden Shovel, short forms, non-verbal poetry and punctuation, shape poems, sonnet and crown of sonnets. A series of practical poetic exercises is set for the Christmas vacation.
Term Two
Workshops in term 2 explore how poetry can work within the world and involve outdoor fieldwork and a visit to a gallery. We practice poetry alongside other art forms, concepts, knowledge systems including science, art, and languages. Topics include: poetry and memory, asemic poetry, blackout poetry, poetry and visual art, poetry and walking, poetry as conceptual art, poetry and translation, free verse, poetry and myth, spoken word, editing and reviewing, poetry awards, poetic vocation and careers.