November 14, 2009

Mimi Khalvati gave a masterclass on poetry at Somerset House.

Top Tips

  • Marilyn Hacker has said that “writing is a difficult form of reading”. To write well is to read well. Practice the art of reading – with passion and delight, but also with a high degree of attentiveness. Read outside your habitual field, across genres, centuries, cultures and in translation. Steep yourself in a chosen poet, reading the work in depth, and around the work in biography, criticism, correspondence etc. Reading is the best teacher and the richest source of inspiration.
  • Reading can also teach you about form, not only how it is used in fixed and metrical forms, but also how it shapes free verse. The line break is the sine qua non of free verse, therefore pay particular attention to lineation and explore its dynamic relationship to style, syntax, tone, pace, music and meaning. Each poem, to find its optimal expression, must find its optimal form. Develop the formal skills whereby you will recognise what this form could be and have the means to put it into practice.
  • Surprise yourself. Any true poem will reveal something to its author – a sudden insight, realisation, a magical connection. A true poem, once written, will in some small way have changed your world. This is the event of the poem. The previous event or experience that excited you enough to want to write, things already known or felt, lead you to the threshold of the poem. The poem itself lies beyond in an open space. Keep it open. Trust that the poem knows something you have yet to discover. Listen carefully to it and privilege the poem’s desires over authorial intention. The poem knows best.

Reading List

Jo ShapcottOf Mutability
Alice OswaldDart
Louise GlückThe Wild Iris
Jorie GrahamThe Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems
Marilyn HackerEssays on Departure: New and Selected Poems 1980-2005
Brigit Pegeen KellyPoems: Song and The Orchard
Derek WalcottCollected Poems 1948-1984
Seamus HeaneyOpened Ground: Poems 1966-1998
Mahmoud DarwishThe Butterfly’s Burden
James WrightAbove the River: Complete Poems