The Writers' Greenhouse
Meddling with Poetry: poetry-writing course
  • intransitive v. To mix; to mingle
  • intransitive v. To interest or engage one's self; to have to do; – in a good sense
  • intransitive v. To interfere or take part inappropriately, improperly, or impertinently

They have been meddling in things man was not meant to wot of. (Pratchett’s witches)

... meddle first, understand later. You had to meddle a bit before you had anything to try to understand. And the thing was never, ever to go back and hide in the Lavatory of Unreason. You have to try to get your mind around the Universe before you give it a twist. (Interesting Times, Pratchett)

He would meddle with dark arts and distorted creations, malediction's and evil convolution's [sic] (The Teddy-Bear Rescuer, Tout)

This course will next run in 2020, dates to be confirmed. If you'd like an update when its dates are set, email me and I'll add your name to the list.

Course summary: poetry is for everyone

Poetry is for meddling with – part playground, part Dark Art – and for using. It's vital as an art form, as one of those things humans do (like singing in the shower and making food), and as an invaluable way of expressing yourself and processing thoughts and feelings. Writing poetry is far too useful to be locked away in an elitist golden cage: I want it to fly free and be accessible to everyone.

As with all my courses and workshops, this course is designed for absolute beginners and experienced writers alike – whether you’re still a bit scared of poetry from school, or working on your third pamphlet of acrostic wreathed sestinas. We’ll look at the musicality of language – rhymes, rhythm, and the effects of repeating different sounds, at poetic language and imagery, and at dozens of different forms, each of which allows you to play in a different way.

Course overview

POETRY FORMS: A wide range of forms, including traditional rhyme-and-metre forms, Japanese syllable-count forms, forms based on repeating phrases or words, and free-verse forms that follow other patterns

RHYME AND MUSICALITY: What counts as “pure” rhyme and other types of rhyme, ways of finding rhymes and tips for using them effectively, alliteration (repeated consonants) and our associations with different sounds, and assonance (repeated vowels) and how they speed up or slow down a poem

METRE: How to mark word stress and the special patterns of some types of words, how natural sentence stress works in English, the English “beat” and the different rhythms we can create with that

POETIC LANGUAGE: Working with imagery, the power of unexpected phrasing, economy of language, and a sense of meaning

Each lesson is themed around a poetry form and weaves in the other three strands, with time to write or start writing a poem in class.

Week-by-week outline

1. Free verse and sensory imagery

Free verse (no set rhyme or metre) lets us focus on everything else that makes something a poem – especially imagery and turning abstract thoughts into tangible images that use all the senses.

2. Old English poems and word-play

Old English poems are a joyful riot of alliteration, a great way to start playing with the musicality of language. They also invite kennings (where the river becomes a "swan-road") and offer a useful introduction to word stress.

3. Rondeaus and effective rhyme

Rondines are greedy for rhymes, so we’ll use these to explore how to find multiple rhymes, words which unexpectedly have very few rhymes, and how to use your rhymes to best effect.

4. Cinquains and economy of language

The tiny cinquain makes every word count: the perfect form to practise economy of language, and to try out the many poetic devices we can use to fold meaning into small spaces.

5. Sestinas and going with the flow

You can’t control a sestina, you can only follow it and see where it goes, so it teaches you to go with the flow of your poem, and invites all the poetic devices that create a strangness in our words – plus a lot of fun with words that have multiple meanings.

6. Decuains and natural metre

The decuain is the ten-by-ten: ten lines, each ten syllables, but you can pick whichever metre you like for it, so it’s a great way to explore the effects of different metres and natural sentence stress.

7. Glosas and keeping the meaning open

A poem needs a meaning but it needs to stay open to the reader, too. Writing a glosa of another poet’s lines creates the perfect litmus test: does each line give you enough to explore it, and does it let you explore it or does it belong completely to them, with no room for you?

8. Original forms and English rhythms

All the poetic forms were invented, whether centuries ago or a few years back, and we always get to keep inventing. Inventing forms is a chance to explore everything English rhythm lets us do as well as recap all the features of forms and poetry we’ve covered throughout the course.

The course also includes…

Optional: A poem a day

Each week, you’ll also get a booklet of poetry prompts for the week ahead, with a mix of suggestions for topics, new forms, and stylistic approaches to play with. I encourage you to take the “poem a day” challenge, but for those who’re busier, there’s also the option of a-bit-of-poem-writing-a-day, and you can reset which you’re doing on a weekly basis.

NB: Writing a poem a day doesn’t mean writing a great poem a day! This is like an artist doing daily sketches, not daily oil paintings. Lots of them will just be trying out new forms with doggerel, or little exercises, which will feed into your “oil-painting” poems. Through the booklets, you’ll also discover many more forms than we can cover in class alone, including a range of “quickie” forms for when you need to write a very hasty poem a day!

The course will end just before NaPoWriMo / GloPoWriMo starts on 1 April. This is National (/Global) Poetry Writing Month, when poets all over the world write a poem a day, and heaps of helpful websites offer daily prompts. So if you’ve caught the poem-a-day bug and want to continue, you’ll have plenty of company.


Individual feedback: In weeks 4 and 7, you’ll have the opportunity to submit a poem for individual written feedback.
Peer feedback is valuable with all writing and especially so in poetry. In the first week, we’ll look at how to give useful supportive feedback, what kinds of things you can comment on, and what to do if you’re struggling with someone’s poem. For the next six weeks, you’ll have peer feedback on one of your poems every second week in small groups of 4, maximum. You’ll be able to choose the poem beforehand: I’ll never ask you to share a poem you’ve just written in class.

Reading poetry

As well as the example poems we’ll look at in class, you can borrow a variety of poetry magazines / journals, to read other people’s contemporary poetry and see the styles each journal showcases.

To book

Email me at megan @ and I'll add you to the list to let you know when it's running next.

Poetry Advent Calendar

Can't wait to start? Curious to try some of this poeming business out? In the 16 weeks running up to the poetry course, I released a new type of poem for you to meddle with each week. Click on each pic for more details about it.

Elevenie poem Golden Shovel poem Triolet poem Ekphrasis poem
Cinquain poem Wreathed poem Fold poem Coupling poem
Rubliw poem Nonet poem Katauta poem Quintilla poem
Pleiades poem Roundelay poem Sonnet San san poem


Poetry course, coming soon


This course will next run in 2020, dates to be confirmed. If you'd like an update when the next dates are set, email me and I'll add your name to the list.


Upper Wolvercote (North Oxford). There's free parking, a great bus route (#6), and beautiful canal-side walking routes.


£240 total for 8 weeks, payable in instalments with a £40 deposit






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