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Studying and writing poetry

In this article, David discusses the advantages of reading deeply and widely when it comes to improving your own writing.
© The University of Newcastle, Australia

The secret to learning how to write well in any form is learning how to read well.

Generally, there are two ways you can go about reading – intensive and extensive. An intensive reading program would concentrate on one poet or kind of poetry and read over and over again. There’s much to be gained from this, particularly in detecting subtleties and nuances you might otherwise miss. An extensive reading program means deliberately reading across a range of periods, styles and cultures in order to be exposed to as many influences as possible. Of course, the more widely you read, the more you risk not getting to grips with the poem in all its details. In a short course like this we try both approaches – reading poems from many different periods, but also spending time on some of them and examining them in detail. You would be best off reading through our textbook The Weekly Poem, but also getting hold of some recent anthologies of Australian poetry. Additionally, you might like to check out an online poetry journal like cordite.org.au.

Most weeks, you will have the opportunity to post a poem for workshopping, which involves helpful but critical comments and suggestions from your peers and from me. You can post as often as you like.

Also, most weeks I’m going to introduce you to some of the wackier compositional methods which have emerged over the last 120 years or so. Some people often have recourse to some of these methods – usually they are called experimental, or avant garde – using them as aids to composition. Some poets use them as an end in themselves. For the purposes of this course, I’m going to call it ‘Funking it up’. If any of these funked-up compositional techniques interest you, I’d encourage you to see them as starting points in the process of writing a poem. Most poems written by experienced poets go through a number of drafts: these playful techniques might well be the first, tentative step in the writing of your poems.

Off the shelf

If you have a bookshelf, spin around and grab a book that has some kind of poetry in it. What are you holding? What’s the poetry like?

© The University of Newcastle, Australia
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Playing with Poetry: Creative Writing and Poetics

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