From Kansas to Oz Studio

From Kansas to Oz Studio

Disorient and delight as you whisk readers from the everyday to the extraordinary.

‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’ – Dorothy Gale

One of the most remarkable things that poetry can do is transport us – often in a very short space of time – from somewhere perfectly ordinary to somewhere extraordinary. A great poem can take us on a journey from the mundane to the magical with just a handful of everyday words. 

Billy Collins has been quoted as saying he likes to write poems that begin in Kansas but end in Oz. In conversation with Paul Muldoon for the New Yorker Poetry Podcast in 2016, he elaborates on this technique: ‘I hope to disorient the reader along the way… I think of disorientation as a literary pleasure… But if the reader isn’t oriented in the beginning, she can’t be disoriented later… I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem’. 

In another interview, for NPR, he puts it like this: ‘I want the journey of the poem to lead into some interesting places. I like the idea of Dorothy; you know, that the poem begins in Kansas, and ends in Oz. But a lot of poems start in Oz, and I think that puts people off. You don’t want the flying monkeys in the first line’. 

In this short course, we’ll explore poems that use everyday language, situations, and objects to orient readers at the beginning, before depositing them – disoriented but delighted – somewhere far stranger by the end of the poem. We’ll look at how such poems often start with commonplace scenarios, like standing in a queue, or with everyday objects, like a box of matches, using these as launchpads from which to take off to somewhere weird and wonderful. 

It’s hard to imagine two poets with more differing sensibilities and styles than Billy Collins and John Ashbery, but both have employed this technique. We’ll examine work by both poets, alongside poems by Ellen Bass, Ron Padgett, Clarence Major, Caroline Bird, James Tate, and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, to see what we can learn. How does each poet establish what Collins calls a ‘hospitable tone’ to entice readers into the poem? What tricks and tools do they use to disarm and disorient the reader as the poem develops? How does each poem, in its own unique way, succeed in transporting us from plain old Kansas to the Marvellous Land of Oz? We’ll write our own poems inspired by what we’ve learned and provide feedback on each other’s work.

Studios are 4-week intensive courses. Reading material will be distributed before the course begins. There are no live chats so they are suitable for both UK & International students. 


Concessions & Accessibility

To apply for a concessionary rate, please send relevant documentation showing your eligibility for one of our concessions to [email protected]; conditions of eligibility are detailed here. If you have any questions, wish to be added to the waiting list of a sold-out course, or require any form of adjustment to access our courses, please email [email protected]For more information visit our Online Courses page.

Image credit: @markusspiske

About Ben Rhys Palmer View Profile

Ben Rhys Palmer is a poet, translator and editor. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, and is currently based in Guadalajara, Mexico. In 2022, he won 1st prize in the Verve Poetry Competition. His poetry has appeared in The London Magazine; Poetry Wales; New Welsh Review; Forklift, Ohio; Under the Radar; Wales Arts Review; The Caterpillar; and Neon; and has been commended in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Prize, the Winchester Poetry Prize, the Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition, and the Welshpool Competition. In 2023, he was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. His debut collection will be published by Parthian in 2025.

Ben holds a BA in English Literature from Cardiff University and an MA in Creative Writing from Swansea University. As a translator, he has worked on award-winning art books such as Matter by Aleix Plademunt and Anarene by Mikel Bastida. Additionally, he works as a freelance style editor, proofreader, and copywriter, and as a reader for the literary agency Rolling Words.

Ben is also a songwriter, composer and music producer. His latest project, Owl Island, blends and blurs the boundaries between ambient, electronica, post-rock, and vintage film soundtracks.

"The Poetry School courses that I have attended have been top quality. I have learnt a great deal not only from the poetic aspects of the courses, but also about the tutor's area of expertise (including architecture, museums, insects, cinema). The way in which each field of knowledge was woven into reading and composing poetry has inspired me to take my own poems to another level, incorporating a wide range of subjects into my work."

– Autumn 2023 survey response

Related Courses