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Have you always wanted to try to write poetry but never quite managed to start? This free course, What is poetry?, is designed to illustrate the techniques behind both the traditional forms of poetry and free verse. You will learn how you can use your own experiences to develop ideas and how to harness your imagination.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- understand the common techniques underlying free verse and traditional forms of poetry
- identify personal experiences that can be used when writing poems
- understand the basic terminology and practical elements of poetry.
- Learning outcomes
- Current section: 1 What is poetry?: an introduction
- 2 Forming the form
- 3 What is poetry?
- 4 Impersonation and imagination
- 5 Poetic techniques
- 6 Rhyme
- 7 Other rhyming techniques
- 8 Stress and rhythm
- 9 Metre
- 10 Hold that space!
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
1 What is poetry?: an introduction
Poems, unlike crosswords, don't have a straightforward solution. In fact, a careful examination of the clues laid by the poet may lead to more questions than answers. Let's start this course, then, with a question: is poetry simply about expressing feelings? People do turn to poetry in extremis. Prison inmates, often famously, have expressed loneliness and communicated with absent loved ones through poetry. Maybe this accounts for the egalitarian view often held of poetry – a view which doesn't seem to apply in the same way to opera-singing or carpentry, for example. If I sing, does that make me an opera singer? Certainly if I nail together a few pieces of wood that doesn't mean anyone would want to hire me to build their house. With poetry, as with any other craft, there are skills to be mastered. There is a need for ideas and a need for the poet to meditate on what might be termed his or her muse. But there is also a need for persistence and hard work.
A common description of the writing process is ‘10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’. The muse, expert at inspiring, may be lousy on the technical side. The art of poetry resides in the technical detail more than one might like to believe. The writer artfully uses technique with the express purpose of getting you to feel what he or she wants you to feel. The poet manipulates emotions just as a composer may write a piece of music to evoke a particular mood. The composer orchestrates not only the instruments but also the listener. This is the case in poetry too.
Listen to Track 1, ‘The purpose of poetry’. Note down some of the things that Jackie Kay and W.N. Herbert say about what poetry is for them. How do their ideas compare with your own notions of what poetry might be? Try to articulate not just what you believe, but why you believe that, and what supports your opinion.
Click below to listen to track 1.
Transcript: The purpose of poetry
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Literature courses or view the range of currently available OU Literature courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Wednesday, 27th January 2016
Last updated on: Wednesday, 27th January 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
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