Writing Alternative Poetic Histories

Writing Alternative Poetic Histories

Remake history and poetic traditions to imbue a chaotic present with meaning.

Poetry, Auden and Isherwood said in The Poet’s Tongue, is memorable speech and in the years of relative peace after WW2 English language writers have increasingly focused not so much on what they say, but on how it is said. But now, as the world approaches a possible global war, a new poetry will be needed that is as much about what is said, as how. 

Over the term, we will look at how previous generations of poets from various languages have tackled writing about big themes by inventing their own histories, or creating new stories based on historical artefacts. This course is for any poet who wants to shift the focus of their writing so that it can tackle what is happening in the present by drawing on the past.  

We will see how Heaney dredged his poetry from the peat bogs, how Yeats drew his samurai sword, and Saint-John Perse created a whole mythology that might have been carved on cuneiform tablets in some lost Eurasian kingdom. We will also draw the eerie parallels between Ukrainian poet Tychyna’s Gold Clamour, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ted Hughes’s Crow: from the Life and Songs of the Crow – three poems that are, as Hughes said, adequate to the ‘destructive reality’ we inhabit and imagine their own histories. Along the way we’ll also develop our own alternative histories, with guest appearances from The Thames, Che Guevara, and an imaginary Ukrainian cellist.  

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks. No live chats. Suitable for 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: @hrustall

About Steve Komarnyckyj View Profile

Steve Komarnyckyj’s literary translations and poems have appeared in Index on Censorship, Modern Poetry in Translation, and many other journals. He is the holder of two PEN awards for his literary translation work and his own poetry has been described as ‘the articulation of what it means to be human’ by poet and broadcaster Sean Street. His translations of Pavlo Tychyna were described as the poetry that ‘stands out’ in a Guardian review of an issue of Modern Poetry in Translation that contained work by Seamus Heaney. However, he spends most of his life looking after rescue dogs from Bosnia. Follow him on Twitter at: 


"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

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