Centre for Continuing Education

The Poetry Workshop

Creative Writing. Express yourself with the written word.

Develop your creative style the smart way with Creative Writing courses at the University of Sydney.

Description: What a Poem Is; What a Poem is For; and How You Make One

A poem is a sculpture of voice. It’s what a poet’s heart says to her mind, and her voice finds a body for. Each good poem is shapely god; keeping its own secrets, it tells us our own.

Poetry, in a sense, is what happens—to the writer and the reader—when we insist on more from language than we do in daily life and prose.

A poem, says Marie Howe, is a small pot that carries mystery in the world. How well it works its magic depends on how sound you make the vessel.

A good poem pays close and generous attention to the things of the world, to the feelings in our hearts, to the struggles of existence, and to the life of the mind; poems pay the same kind of fierce but loving attention to language itself and use it with care to do justice to the facts and mysteries of our places and our lives. Poetry is not just a genre, then; it is a practice of mindful living. The better the poem you write or read, the better you belong in your life and your world and days.

A thing—an idea, an experience, a love, a loss, a place on earth—said and known poetically is known more deeply and adequately than it can be known in any other form of expression. Poetry is an ancient and persistent way of getting things said; more than that, it is a way of seeing the world and being in it. This workshop explores what poets know about the craft involved in all that.

Form and voice are a big deal in a poem. By forcing hard linguistic choices on a poet, line after line, poetic form frees language (forces it, perhaps) to do the other work we need language to do (beyond its functional duties in the market and the kitchen and the story): the work of recasting life’s exquisite spell, transfiguring pain, naming injustice, unseating banality, throwing soft bombs, making semantic jazz, hymning, that kind of thing.

Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Discover what goes on inside a poem, how to make theirs sing and how to see and write their life more fully.
  2. Unpack some fine poems that may show them how to write their own with more grace.
  3. Write poems in new ways.
  4. Utilise the insightful feedback received on their work.
  5. Practise the techniques that poets, through the ages, employ to wake their language and their lives more fully to the facts and mysteries of existence.
  6. Employ some forms, tricks and devices to attend more closely to their language and turn out poems more likely to satisfy themselves and find their way to publication.

Content

Among many things The Poetry Workshop covers in this introduction to the nature and uses and practice of poetry, we will explore:

  • Poetic forms, conventions and architectures (sonnets, haiku, free verse, villanelles, sestets, quintrains, couplets, prose poems…)
  • The nature of a line and the uses of enjambment
  • The place of punctuation and the use of syntax
  • Speech music, rhythm and rhyme
  • Point of view, sensibility and voice
  • Fashion, style, convention and performance
  • The necessary opacity of a poem—how to keep your secrets, but tell your reader hers; how to tell all the truth, but tell it slant
  • Devices for getting out of your own way and letting the poem find you and speak itself in your voice
  • Poetic modes and sensibilities: lyric, confessional, declamatory, ironical, casual, formal, conversational, operatic, oracular, academical, comical,…

Intended Audience

The Poetry Workshop is a one-day introduction to, and a refresher in, the nature and techniques of poetry. It is suitable for beginning poets as well as writers who’ve written some poems but are looking for guidance in craft and technique.

The workshop is for everyone curious about poetry (and literature in general). It is as much about how to read a poem as how to write one, so it will work for those interested in knowing how poems work and how we might make the most of reading them, even if you have no particular aspiration to write poems.

The workshop is especially useful to English teachers looking for insights to guide their own teaching of poetry and creative writing.

Poetry—reading it and writing it—improves our prose, as well as our lives—by making us more mindful of the language we use. The function of poetry, wrote the haiku master Basho “is to rectify common speech.” So prose writers, and everyone who writes at work, will benefit from what the workshop demonstrates about all that poetry knows (about language and life).

Delivery Style

The Poetry Workshop is an immersive experience in poetry, combining pedagogy, practice, and participation.

Participants will have a chance to write a poem in class (or bring a poem along) and get some feedback and guidance from presenter Mark Tredinnick-—one of Australia’s leading poets and the winner of the Montreal (2011), Cardiff (2012), and many other poetry prizes. Mark is an experienced and inspiring teacher; you can expect a journey through big ideas and technical tips that will keep you engaged all day.

Readings sample many of the forms and devices of poetry that Mark will talk you through in his presentation. Mark will also read closely a couple of contemporary and classic poems, guiding participants toward a deeper understanding of all that goes on in a well-made poem. He will talk though his own creative practice, as an instance of what it takes to make a poem; to this end, he leads participants through the drafts of one or two of his recent works.

Recommended Reading

Corn, A. 2008, The Poem’s Heartbeat, Copper Canyon, Port Townsend.

Fry, S. 2007, The Ode Less Travelled, Arrow, London.

Hass, R. 2017, A Little Book of Form, Ecco, New York.

Hirsch, E. 1999, How to Read a Poem, Harcourt, San Diego.

Hirsch, E. 2014, A Poet’s Glossary, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

Hollander, J. 2014, Rhyme’s Reason 4e., Yale, New Haven.

Milosz, C. 1998, A Book of Luminous Things Houghton Mifflin.

Oliver, M. 1994, A Poetry Handbook, Mariner/ Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Oliver, M. 1998, Rules for the Dance, Mariner/ Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Orr, G. 2002, Poetry as Survival, Georgia, Athens.

Parini, J. 2008, Why Poetry Matters, Yale, Yale.

Pinsky, R. 1998, The Sounds of Poetry, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.

Strand, M. & Boland, E. 2000, The Making of a Poem, Norton, New York.

Turco, L. 2012, The Book of Forms rev. ed., Dartmouth, Hanover.

Zwicky, J. 2014, Wisdom & Metaphor, Brush Education, Edmonton.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • The poetry course was fantastic and the presenter’s approachable and open teaching style made me feel immediately comfortable to participate. The feedback received on my own poetry was unexpected and invaluable. Thank you for a wonderful course.

  • The workshop was exactly what I needed being someone who has dabbled in poetry but was not entirely confident of where to go with the poetry I was creating. The tutor helped me greatly to realise how much more I can improve and has inspired me to make poetry a serious part of my creative life. An excellent teacher and I felt very privileged to have been in these classes.

  • Great to experience a passionate educator and experienced practitioner in operation... Wonderful learning experience.

  • The presenter was fabulous. A goldmine of information, references and rich content. Interesting, practical and inspiring. I would love to do a longer course if it was offered.

  • The presenter is very personable and engaged – his handouts are voluminous and comprehensive, and his feedback on one’s work is excellent.

The Poetry Workshop

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What others say.

  • The presenter was fabulous. A goldmine of information, references and rich content. Interesting, practical and inspiring. I would love to do a longer course if it was offered.
  • The tutor passionately delivered this course, making all believe that it is possible to write poetry even if it is one's first time.
  • Tutor had excellent knowledge of course content, and facilitated in a personable manner that was somewhat tailored to varying levels within the group.