What if innate poetic vision could be exposed, rather than writing poetry taught? In summer 2018 Scottish poet and writer Kirsten Norrie (Oxon), founded The Oxford School of Poetry to offer a unique alternative the plethora of poetry courses available elsewhere. Based on the Oxbridge model of one-to-one tutorials, the OSP also works with small groups, enabling intensive exposure to the poetic imagination. With excellent courses and mentoring available through other schools and sites on how to write poetry in all its technical intricacies, the OSP sidesteps these ideas of permission examining instead, how students might develop a poetic instinct or lens.
Ishion Hutchinson, Prize winning Faber poet a Patron of the Oxford School of Poetry
As such, the tutors selected understand and convey this ethos in their own work which might not necessarily be in mainstream poetry publishing. Damian Le Bas, for example, is best known for his recent work on Romany byways: ‘The Stopping Places’, (Chatto & Windus, 2018) and Norrie, who publishes with Bloodaxe, uses alternative modes of poetic construction in her poetry – from kaleidoscopes and tarot cards to writing in situ in remote parts of Scotland having scrambled over difficult terrain to reach them. They are professionals too, here you will find individuals who may operate outside of mainstream awareness but who are disciplined and have decided to dedicate their lives to their work; Niall McDevitt is one such person; a poetopographer who grafts and crafts intensive London poetry walks, now coming to Oxford to do the same. Luke Allan is a tutor who has unique insight into editorial, manuscript publishing and setting up presses of scope and precision, having worked as senior editor at Carcanet. Tutors are not mentors, however, in a resistance to manufactured overseeing. We believe true mentorship is happenstance and organic in a poet’s life and that one’s own inner intellectual, philosophic and poetic instincts should be sharpened through deep and sustained introspection, discipline and reading. As such, we are not another grooming school for the publishing industry.
So, what might you expect on an Oxford School of Poetry Course? There will be a reading list (and a watching one), a diminished sense of the ‘group crit’ or lightweight peer review and an enhanced responsibility on the part of the student to work. A previous student compared one of Norrie’s ten courses to a Poetry M.A. – and the emphasis is on deep and serious engagement with a commitment to thoroughly engaging with the material be it Byronic meteorology or Jean-Michel Basquiat’s language of the street. If a student commits to this, they will have understood capabilities within themselves, created a rigorous attitude and, hopefully, feel emancipated and strengthened with a clear poetic lens. We have a broad range of material from Women Romantic Poets – tutored by Dr. Jenny McAuley who researched Jane Austen’s holograph fiction manuscripts as stipendiary lecturer at St. Hilda’s to a ‘spotlit’ poem, anatomised by Alexis Thompson who is currently studying for the Creative Writing MSt at Oxford. The relationship between classical music and lyrical development is taught by musician and painter Cairine MacGillivray, looking at Lieder and the language of bells in poets such as Donne and Dickinson. Kirsten Norrie, who also tutors for the Poetry School, will be working with students on practical mnemonic and creative devices such as early British compositional techniques, the art of memory and confronting the alphabet of trees.
Image courtesy C. MacGillivray who will be offering
Hare by tutor Cairine MacGillivray, tutoring John Ruskin’s Poetry & Painting, Spring 2018.
a spring course on John Ruskin’s poetry and drawing.
We are developing courses for academics whose needs aren’t served as beginners on other courses, due to their levels of expertise but who have not yet confronted their creative writing seriously or even begun to write but would like to engage with a way to do that, offered by Dr. Jenny McAuley. Further links are being forged with Wolfson College and in Spring Term 2019 we will be adding to our roster of tutors to include poet photographer Justin Coombes who has been a lecturer at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University, for over a decade. Our ethos is not privileged or elitist, however. Our patrons: Asif Khan, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library; Ishion Hutchinson, award-winning poet published by Faber & Faber and Michael Schmidt, (OBE), Founder and Managing Director of Carcanet, reflect this and support our desire to engage students in a rigorous and intelligent exposure to ways of poetic thinking and being. All we ask for in our students is that they take their learning seriously, commit to in-depth study for the length of the course and remain open and curious.
The Oxford School of Poetry offers short and long courses for individuals and groups, one hour tutorials to work in depth on particular poems or ideas, manuscript assessment (offered by Luke Allan), and a course to build a collection for those with a substantial body of work. Courses can be offered online (predominantly), or one-to-one face-to-face in Oxford. Prices are scaled competitively – we have tried to keep them as low as possible and will be introducing subsidised and bursary places as the school develops.
The Oxford School of Poetry