Retropoetics: Four Billion Years of Inspiration

Retropoetics: Four Billion Years of Inspiration

Adventure away from personal experience and delve into the treasure chest of history

‘We don’t reproduce the past, we create it’ – Hilary Mantel. This course invites you to adventure away from personal experience and delve into the treasure chest of history: an inexhaustible storehouse of inspiration with the potential to refresh our outlook and recharge our vocabularies. Over five sessions we’ll learn how to raid museum collections, plunder literary sources, analyse historical objects and appropriate anecdotes from the past to forge original poetic material. Of course, there’s no such thing as an objective account – which is why the collective past is the ideal starting point for an act of imagination. With four billion years of planetary history under our feet, and five thousand years of human documentation at our fingertips, we will charter the fascinating and perplexing boundaries of fact and fiction as we ‘try to know things about yesterday that yesterday didn’t know itself’ (Mantel, again). Through exercises and assignments we’ll cover aspects such as spotting a good story, conducting and incorporating historical research, handling narrative and drama, experimenting with point of view and finding a voice (or assuming a voice long since passed). Along the way we’ll look at the work of a range of writers (including Plath, Hughes, Heaney, Tara Bergin, Thomas Lux, Jane Yeh and Kei Miller) who are adept, in different ways, at turning old material into urgent, exciting and timeless poems that speaks both to centuries of the past, and centuries to come.

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks. Live chats on Wednesdays, 7-9pm GMT, first live chat starting 14 February

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

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About Rebecca Watts View Profile

Rebecca Watts studied English at Trinity College, Cambridge and completed a Master’s in 20th-century English literature at Oxford. Her poems have appeared in a range of publications, including PN ReviewThe NorthMagmaPoetry Ireland Review, the Guardian and New Poetries VI (Carcanet, 2015). In 2014 she was selected as one of the Poetry Trust’s Aldeburgh Eight. Her debut poetry collection, The Met Office Advises Caution, was published by Carcanet in 2016. A Poetry Book Society Recommendation, it featured in the Guardian and Financial Times ‘Best Books of 2016’ lists and was also shortlisted for the 2017 Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. Rebecca lives in Cambridge, where she works in a library and as a freelance editor. Her website is

The Poetry School holds open a valuable space for a diverse range of writers to create, share, explore, and learn. It is an important part of the fabric of the wider poetry field, dedicated to fostering passion, fun, expertise and new voices from all over the UK, and I suspect increasingly, beyond.

Summer 2017 Online Course Survey Response

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