Introduction

Hello, and welcome to my course ‘ The Confidence to be a Poet’. I have been lucky enough to teach a fair few poetry courses by now, from drop-in half-day classes to weekly term-long courses, and I have loved every one. I love teaching people poetry and I’m especially excited to teach this one as it’s the first online course that I’ve taught. I’ve thought very hard about the differences between a face-to-face course and an online course and I can think of two disadvantages that an online course has. The first is the lack of feedback on your poems, and the second is the lack of discussion that you will be able to take part in. I have tried, as much as possible, to make up for these disadvantages in this course. However, if at all possible, I would highly recommend taking this course with a friend, or getting yourself involved in talking about poetry with other people. Maybe through a writers’ group or similar. If you don’t yet have a community of poets to discuss work with, Twitter is an excellent starting point. If you don’t already use it, I recommend starting off by just following some poets whose work you like, and following organisations such as Poetry London and The Poetry Society. During this course I will also point you in the direction of podcasts, magazines and websites which might be of interest to you. 

While thinking about the differences between online teaching and face-to-face, I also realised that this course has a distinct advantage over a face-to-face course, which is this: most of the poetry you write you will write on your own. Sometimes the hand-holding that peers and teachers can give to you on a poetry course can make it difficult to go it alone in your own time. I’m hoping that this course will give you the confidence and discipline to write poetry at home, and the tools to read and discover your own favourite poems and poets. While community and peer support is important in any creative practice, the ability to work alone and, even better, to be able to identify your own weaknesses and strengths in your work, is a skill that all creatives must master if they are to be any good at what they do. 

When I start a face-to-face poetry course, I always begin by asking the group what it is they hope to get out of the course, so that I can make sure I’m delivering something which will be useful for them. Most of the answers I get can be boiled down to one word: confidence. Poetry can be a very daunting pursuit. It seems to have all these mysterious rules, and speaks in a language that is deliberately evasive. Poetry is like that person you were desperate to be friends with at school or work or university. They had a wry smile which suggested they knew more than you, and that they would be an excellent friend if only you were cool enough and clever enough to understand them. The secret, of course, is that while they were deliberately aloof, for all sorts of complex psychological reasons, all they really wanted was a friend. The same secret can be said of poetry. With this course, in fact with all my poetry teaching, what I hope to give my students is the confidence to approach and make friends with poetry. If you ever took the time to get to know someone like the person I just described, you will know that, while they could be complicated and fragile and evasive, they could also be incredibly fun, and interesting, and playful. I want to help you get confident enough with poetry – your own and other people’s – so that you can get to know the fun, interesting and playful side of it. After a while, you may even begin to enjoy the complicated, fragile and evasive side of it too! 

I have called this course The Confidence to be a Poet, out of respect, mostly, for the poets who have taught me. The confidence to be a poet was what they gave me, and I hope that I can give that to you in turn. When I was taking a second year poetry-writing module at university the tutor, Annabel Banks, began our very first seminar by asking us all if we considered ourselves poets. None of us did. She then asked us if we all wrote poetry. All of us did. “Well then,” she said, “you are all poets, and I want you to start thinking of yourself as poets, too.” I had never been given permission to be a poet before! I don’t know what I thought I had to achieve to finally be considered a poet – publication, maybe? Some sort of 

award? Who knew it was simple as being someone who writes poetry! Well, it was – it is! And so now I can bestow Annabel’s gift on you: you, my friend, are a poet, and I want you to start thinking of yourself as a poet, too. 

This course is broken down into five sections, the ‘themes’ of which I will go into more detail in in each section. Each section has a part ‘A’, in which we will read and consider other people’s poems, and then a part ‘B’ in which I will give you exercises to write your own poems. The entire course is approximately 20 hours long, but you can take it at your own pace, and I encourage you to do so. All you will need is something on which to write. For some of you that might be a word document on your computer, for some of you it will be paper and a pen or pencil. Use whatever works for you, there’s no right or wrong medium to use for writing poetry. This course also includes a lot of listening, both to myself and to podcasts and recordings of poets, so I recommend getting yourself a pair of headphones if you live with other people, and somewhere comfortable to sit, both for writing and for reading, listening and watching videos. Take regular breaks, pace yourself and, above all, have fun.