Ars Poetica: Cold Showers & Restless Sheets

Ars Poetica: Cold Showers & Restless Sheets

Test the limits of ‘ars poetica’ to ask whether all poems are really about poetry?

‘The sheet won’t stay on the corner of | this moment, keeps pulling up to reveal | the blankness beneath.’ – Nuar Alsadir, Fourth Person Singular

There’s an adage that goes, ‘all poems are about sex, death or writing poems’. But Michael Donaghy once quipped, ‘Whenever I get the urge to write a poem about poetry I take a cold shower.’ Over this course we’ll unpack why such allergic responses to the genre can be so common and complicate these propositions with an essential question – given poetry’s inherent intertextuality, aren’t all poems, in a sense, about poetry?

To do this, we’ll look at the distinction between the ars poetica (‘the poetic art’) as defined by Horace, and the more common examples associated with Modernism – a period that prompted all forms of art to anxiously find new ways to account for themselves. We’ll be writing poems that may be explicitly or implicitly about poetry – so whatever poetic ‘themes’ you might usually take up will be welcome here – as we test whether invoking ars poetica results in a limitation, or expansion, of our poetic domain.

We’ll work through a range of writing prompts and forms, including lyric essays, poet’s prose, found poems, parody, and listening lyrics – foregrounding our practice rather than theoretical knowledge. Examples will be various, including poets like Nuar Alsadir, Vladimir Nabokov, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Steven Zultanski, and Wallace Stevens.

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks, starting  5 May 2021. Live chats on Wednesdays, 7–9 pm GMT; first live chat 19 May.

More information about how all our online courses work can be found on the Online Courses page.

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About Sam Buchan-Watts View Profile

Sam Buchan-Watts is the author of Faber New Poets 15 and co-editor, with Lavinia Singer, of Try To Be Better (Prototype, 2019), a creative-critical engagement with W. S. Graham and ‘an open invitation to think variously with and through the responsibilities of responsive reading’ (Kate Briggs). He is the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ Award for Poetry (2019). In 2018 he undertook an AHRC fellowship at the Yale Center for British Art. A pamphlet, Cloud Study, is published by If a Glyph Falls and his debut collection, Path Through Wood, is forthcoming from Prototype in 2021.

‘I did my first Poetry School course at the suggestion of my tutor after finishing my MA in Creative Writing. I wanted something that would challenge me academically and provide a supportive environment in which to learn and write. It was important that I could participate in a course online rather than having to travel a long distance. In the past 18 months the Poetry School has become a bit of a lifeline for me, as I’ve spent 6 months in hospital being treated for leukaemia, and the past 9 months recovering. Having work to focus on has given a structure to my days.’

– Autumn 2020 survey response

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