Final thoughts

When I started The Art of Poetry I had little experience  on writing it and my first assignment proved I needed a lot of help! Writing Poems by Peter Sansom made me think more about the process of writing poetry. In the first chapter of his book, Sansom (1994: 23) writes: ‘Our poems have to be spoken in our own voice, and they have to be true to our own experience.’ He continues: ‘But when you come to write a poem, you do that yourself and you do it regardless of how you think you ought to write.’ This was at the forefront of my mind when I started Assignment 2 and I started to think of poetry from a personal level and to write it from truthful experience.

My second assignment was much better as my tutor stated: Dear Rachelle, thank you for submitting your second assignment for this course. Your writing has really developed since Assignment 1 and I’m pleased you’ve put my feedback into practice and followed up on my reading suggestions. Your hard work is showing in the quality of your writing!

Keeping an eye out for archaic language and giving consideration to your use of capital letters and punctuation has also strengthened these pieces – they sound like they’re written by a twenty-first century poet.

 On reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, I started to understand the process of metre, rhyme and form and experimented with different forms of poetry. ‘Traffic’ was my first attempt at writing a villanelle and, because of this, I wanted to keep it simple with only two rhyme sounds thus making sure the frustration of sitting in traffic is evident on reading it. Whilst it is a demanding form of poetry, I enjoy the precision of it. Assignment 2 is one of my best assignments to date.

Assignment three I experimented with heroic verse, syllabics and rhyme. In doing so I spent too much time on form that distracted me from other aspects, such as creating interesting images and original subjects.  My poetry also exceeded the 80 line limit – I submitted 111 lines…I got carried away and forgot to check. I was introduced to the poetry of Wendy Cope and her book Serious Concerns. I enjoy her use of parody and humour and experimented with the simple 4-line rhyme scheme of abcb in one of my poems.

Creating interesting images and original subjects was my focus for Assignment 4; I varied the length of my poems and presented a quatrain. I used the anaphora technique in one of them, though I had to re-write another of my poems completely (it was too abstract) and change the title because it did not relate to the poem. I’d also presented a few clichés that I hadn’t noticed in my work. My biggest influence during this assignment was Fiona Benson’s Bright Travellers, in particular her poem ‘Demeter’.

I spent time on  Assignment 5 avoiding abstract language and clichés and presented more concrete imagery and original descriptions. I experimented with sibilance in one of my poems; I like how the repeated ‘s’ sound adds movement, thus making the line more lyrical.

I’m surprised by how much I have enjoyed The Art of Poetry. When I first started the course I didn’t understand the process of poetry but with careful attention and much encouragement from my tutor, I now have a collection of poems that I have sent for assessment.

Reading poetry has played an important part during the past year. I have read some wonderful poems by various poets who have influenced my work and I continue to read them today.

Lastly, my tutor has been fundamental in my progression through AOP. Her recommendations and guidance has encouraged me to write and experiment more openly in this genre and in doing so I have become more confident.

Course complete!

With my deadline looming towards the end of November, work taking up much of my time and the lead-up to Christmas, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with my blog.

So, whilst work is relatively quiet and most of my colleagues are in hibernation until New Year, what better way than to spend an hour surreptitiously writing about assignment 5.

In all, I produced four poems; two new and two previous poems (that had been re-drafted) within the 80 line limit. Upper most in my mind was to follow my tutor’s advice from my last assignment and cull my use of clichés and abstract language. As  my tutor comments: Dear Rachelle, thank you for submitting your fifth assignment for this course. There’s some good work here and you’ve clearly paid attention to removing abstract language and clichés, instead using concrete imagery and original descriptions.

However, with my two new poems ‘Visiting Day’ and ‘New York City Snow Day’ I need to make sure that I concentrate on my grammar and write with more clarity. Here my tutor states: There are still a few places where you can pare your writing back further, and some occasions where your grammar misleads or confuses things, but these should be straightforward enough to remedy.

Having read back my poetry a number of times and looked at my tutor’s annotations I’m able to see what needs changing for the better and can re-draft accordingly. My reflective commentary also needs work and I must analyse my poetry in more detail rather than discussing how my reading has influenced my writing.

I can see a great deal of improvement since my first assignment which was shocking! My tutor has definitely helped me become a better poet and her pointers for the next assignment fill me with hope: As before, this submission showed real improvement from your previous assignment – it’s great to see how well you absorb advice and apply it to your work. There are some wonderful images in these pieces, and ‘New York City Snow Day’ is particularly vivid. Look at my annotations and smooth out the grammar where it’s misleading, and be as tough as you can about what’s superfluous in ‘Visiting Day’. This will help those striking images to sing.

I have already decided my three assignments to send for assessment and will spend the coming weeks re-drafting them to the best of my ability and as always, my tutor’s advice will be forefront on my mind.

Until next time…




Reflecting on Assignment 4

Last week I received feedback from my latest assignment and I’m very happy with my tutor’s response: This is a good submission and focusing on more open forms has allowed you to write some beautiful and unusual pieces. The length of your poems is really varied which is also excellent – it takes courage both to sustain a piece of writing over the page, but also to present a quatrain!

My tutor’s advice is important to me, for it encourages me to progress and explore my poetry in different ways. Her poetry recommendations are equally important within each assignment and I am getting better at reflecting on my creative practice and how others influence my own work. As my tutor states in my latest RC : This is a good RC – you refer precisely to your own work and clearly show how your engagement with other practitioners is influencing your own writing.

Whilst there is much to be positive about Assignment 4, there are a few negatives that I must ensure do not happen in my next assignment: clichés! I have written quite a few. There are a couple of lines that didn’t work; most notably on my poem Genette. There was a line that stood out like a sore thumb (gosh, another cliché) – I knew the line would be picked out but couldn’t seem to make it work in time for my deadline, so stayed with it. This will be changed on re-drafting.

My final poem within this assignment was decidedly my worst. My use of abstract language was confusing; as my tutor points out: It’s unusual for you to use abstract language, but quite a few abstract nouns occur in this poem, such as ‘memories’, ‘thoughts of life’, ‘lust’, ‘dream’ and ‘fate’. It’s much better to use specific concrete descriptions in your writing. On reading this poem with ‘fresh’ eyes I could see what she meant. Abstract language is a  distraction, so I must remember her final pointer for Assignment 5: When you write a poem you need to create a vivid world for your reader; don’t just rely on the reader to bring their own associations into play. If you use an abstract word in a poem, you’re in danger of creating a poem that’s hard to visualise and therefore hard to follow and engage with.

And finally, titles. I didn’t consider how they work for the reader and on two of my poems I failed to connect the title to the rest of the poem.

When a deadline is looming it is difficult to remain calm and present and one forgets about the importance of ‘rules and regulations’ on writing. For Assignment 5 my tutor’s advice will be in the back of my mind as I finish this module, especially her final comment:This submission showed real improvement: your poems are full of wonderful images and confident experimentation with a wide range of techniques. Keep this up, but do be really tough on any clichés or predictable phrases that creep through your work – we all use clichés in our writing, but the trick is to spot them and remove them in the redrafting stage.

I go into Assignment 5 with a positive approach, let’s hope I keep up the good work…



Home Stretch

I worked hard this weekend to get my assignment finished and sent. What relief! It seems to have taken forever to get to this point and can now take a deep breath before I start my final assignment and reflective commentary.

Writing poetry seems to take a lot out of me. I really have to dig deep in order to put something remotely worthy on the page. I find it much harder than writing prose, possibly because it is truthful to my own experience. I’m also conscious of making sure every word is worth its weight within the poem; thank heaven for my thesaurus .

As each assignment is written and feedback is given, I always try to stick to my tutor’s advice for the following assignment. I have learnt a great deal so far and through recommendations from my tutor, have read some wonderful poetry. My book shelves are starting to flourish. My favourite contemporary poet to date is Fiona Benson. Her book Bright Travellers was my constant companion during assignment 4 and her work inspired me to become a better ‘poet.’ Her use of vivid imagery and metaphor is profound, and her poem Demeter remains a favourite of mine.

I was introduced to Andrew McMillan’s Physical. Again, another contemporary award-winning poet whose use of language is raw and honest. McMillan’s work is unusual because his poetry in this book is devoid of punctuation. As I read his work a number of times I focused more on my breath as each word was read. Quite something! Reading in this way had a much deeper connection and I did try to write a couple of poems without punctuation but didn’t feel experienced enough to make it work.

Whilst I struggle at times with writing poetry it does excite me when I finish a poem, more so when I read the work of such poets as Benson and McMillan. For the more poetry I read, the deeper the understanding.








Slow but Sure

I’ve finished a poem that I’m happy with. It took some time to get going which frustrated me. I had to push back my deadline for assignment 4; not something I wanted to do but knew if I didn’t, my work wouldn’t be at its best.

I’ve found this assignment to be the hardest. Perhaps the lack of exercises hasn’t helped, and whilst one could argue that this is in part about drafting, I feel it’s the exercises that give me focus and ideas in making my poetry better.

My notebooks have built up over several months and contain some interesting ideas that I have developed into poems, however there are a few pieces that, no matter how much I jiggle and adjust they just aren’t meant to be.

Writing from my own experiences (& truth) have produced better poetry and I have continued to do this within assignment 4. Strangely, memories from my childhood are forefront in my mind at the moment. Poetry brings out my inner child and is a good therapy session for me.

My best (I use that word loosely) poem to date is about a girl called Genette who disappeared on her paper round in 1978. I was nine at the time of her disappearance and a year later I was delivering papers through letterboxes with her elfin face beaming on broadsheets and tabloids, still no clue as to her whereabouts or what happened to her.

Words seemed to tumble onto the page with this poem. My ten-year-old self pedalling my bike in the depths of winter with a heavy sack of newsprint across my body, scaring myself witless along dark whispering lanes, wondering if what happened to her would happen to me.

Thankfully it didn’t. From that experience I was able to put pen to paper and conjure up memories that had once been a constant companion during that time.

And whilst I grieve about pushing my deadline back, I feel better from the advice that my tutor gave me: it’s much better to take the extra time and the OCA courses are designed to offer some flexibility.