Online courses: what Helen Ivory thinks



When did you run your first online course with The Poetry School and how were you briefed?

In 2011 I wrote the course ‘Transformation and Magic’ for the PS. The PS approached me and asked if I’d like to teach an online course for them, after teaching some day schools.  I suggested Transformation and Magic – a theme close to my heart. I was sent some examples of existing course documents which other tutors had written, as guidelines to the kind of thing the PS does, and some downloaded samples of the online live chat work-shopping sessions.  I was told that each of the five modules must culminate in an exercise which would generate the poems discussed in the workshops.

Was the experience anything like you expected?

I’ve taught online before for UEA, so a bit. The only difference was the live workshop sessions which I’d never done before. It was a bit like discussions on Facebook, with me orchestrating proceedings. I’ve never typed so fast!

How many students are typically on a course and why do you think someone should choose an online course from the Poetry School?

Twelve students on each course. I think people choose to study online generally because of the flexibility of working in their own time from their own home. It’s not always easy for people to get out, so studying online opens lots of opportunities for them. It’s also a great way of communicating with others who share your interests and also to study courses that are not available in your area. The Poetry School is a recognised and respected organization and its courses are taught by practicing poets who are experienced tutors. The courses are also tailored around very eclectic and exciting themes.

How do the “live-chats” run and what happens to all the feedback after the evening is over?

They run like normal creative writing work-shopping sessions. Participants share their poems a week or a few days before the live chat session, the tutor will put up a running order the day before, and we go through each poem one at a time. The next day, the Poetry School post a transcript of the chat so people can look through the chat in their own time.

Is there the opportunity to continue discussions in an online forum?

Each course has a wall which works like social media, so you can chat and share links and contribute to threads or begin threads.

Are you running any courses in the future?

I am just beginning to teach ‘Wunderkammer: Writing the Curious’ as a summer school for the Poetry School. It over-subscribed last term so I was asked to run it again.

Also, for my new job working with UEA and Writers Centre Norwich, I am developing some online courses in poetry and prose. These will be non-accredited University quality courses which we will launch in January 2015. They are toolkit type courses which will allow participants to work on their image-making, metaphor building and narrative writing skills, and so on.

Thanks Helen.


Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969 and began to write poems at Norwich School of Art in 1997, under the tuition of George Szirtes. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1999. She is an experienced creative writing tutor and workshop leader and has taught both undergraduates and in adult education for around ten years. She has also run workshops in schools and is a freelance tutor and mentor. She is currently an Editor for The Poetry Archive,  Editor of the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears, and Course Director for Creative Writing for Continuing Education at UEA. Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard. (2013)  She is Co-editor with George Szirtes of In their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry (Salt 2012).


Robert Peake on Reading at the Royal Academy

Stolen from his blog with kind permission: here

Last night I participated in a truly unique poetry reading sponsored by Ekphrasis. A dozen of us poets dispersed ourselves amongst installations in the Sensing Spaces architectural exhibit at the Royal Academy. As patrons wandered through the exhibits, we read poems to them, which we had written in response to these very spaces.

It was challenging. Bursting into poetry as the spirit moved me felt a bit like trying photo-1-300x300to be a one-man flashmob. Having never done any busking, I was unaccustomed to people wandering into or out of a room while I was reading a poem. Based on their responses, I think it was challenging, too, for the patrons. I saw many a bemused and bewildered smile.

Often, when we encounter something surprising like a provocative art installation, we seek guidance–in the placards on the walls, or the words of a knowledgeable guide. Yet we poets were the opposite of guides–raising yet more questions in response to their questions, bringing our own thoughts, music, and imagery to bear. The patrons were therefore simultaneously experiencing their own responses to the installations, and responding to ours. Challenging, indeed.

Yet challenge is not a bad thing in art; far from it. Being of service to an artistic experience, even if it is a bit personally uncomfortable to pull off, is always a privilege. To do something truly original like this is rare. We are so accustomed to the conventions of performance, so comfortable in knowing our place on either side of the “fourth wall”.

A film crew was on site to record the evening’s antics. Having individuals dressed in black point high-end videography equipment at you pretty well guarantees that people will gather in the form of an audience, and clap at the end. It is a familiar format; it tells us our roles. Yet some of the most interesting moments for me involved a more causal mix of reading, conversing, and admiring the spaces. I also managed to experience several other poets reading as well, which was fascinating, and made me feel proud to take part.

The challenge of it also brought us poets together with a sense of solidarity. For the patrons, I think it added an element of surprise. There was an atmosphere of playfulness last night that I had not experienced in my previous visit. You never knew when you might round a corner, and there would be someone reading a poem. I felt a bit like a poetry ninja.

Ekphrasis also put together a handsome anthology of the poems, which they made available to us all on the night. Hearty thanks are due, and congratulations, to Emer Gillespe and Abegail Morley for pulling this off with such grace, as well as Owen Hopkins of the RA, Kate Goodwin the curator of the Sensing Spaces exhibit, and of course the six remarkable architects who realised these installations for us all to enjoy. Here’s to more layered and provocative artistic experiences to come.

You can read all six poems I wrote in response to the Sensing Spaces exhibit, and listen to audio recordings, on my Sensing Spaces, Wandering Words page.

Robert Peake

Robert Peake is an American poet living in England. His newest short collection is The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013). His previous short collection was Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011).


EKPHRASIS at the Royal Academy

Sensing Spaces: Wandering Words


Friday March 7 2014 7pm – 9pm

Seven internationally influential architects transform the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Art in London, ten poets respond to their work in an exciting evening of peripatetic poetry.

‘Imagine, feel, share, explore, touch, reflect’ – where we are shapes how we feel, what we hear colours our experience… We are delighted to announce our first event in collaboration with the Royal Academy.

The poets contributing response to Sensing Spaces are:

Patricia Debney Sasha Dugdale Ian Duhig Martin Figura Vanessa Gebbie Emer Gillespie Helen Ivory Maureen Jivani Edward Mackay Abegail Morley Robert Peake Catherine Smith Tamar Yoseloff


Two members of the public will be invited to read as part of the evening alongside established poets. If you would like to take part, please send your work to info@ekphrasis.org.uk

Tickets for the event can be booked on the main RA website.

Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined

25 January — 6 April 2014



Abegail Morley, Catherine Smith and Emer Gillespie, together we share a passion for creating a dialogue between the arts.

‘It’s the exciting bit, really….how arts practitioners in one sphere can take something created by an arts practitioner in another sphere and see something fresh and inspiring in it,’ Catherine Smith

‘I find that what I see and read sets off a chain of thoughts in my own head that can lead to a poem I would never have thought of writing in the first place. The poem furthers my communication with a work of art, I can talk back to it, talk back to the artist who created it, or explore the resonance it creates inside me,’ Emer Gillespie.

EKPHRASIS provides an evening of conversation and exploration inviting collaboration with some of the most original voices working in poetry today.


New year poems from Helen Ivory and Ayesha Chatterjee


Artwork: Dana Bordelon

What the Snow Said

Saints watch open-eyed
as I plenty the air
with intolerable light.
You scoop handfuls
of flesh,
moulding me in your image.
You wished for me,
guided me here
with prayer and with song.
Gravestones peer
from my hands
like rotten teeth.
Go to sleep child,
I will free the world
of its clanking.


Helen Ivory is a poet and artist.  Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013) She has co-edited with George Szirtes In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry Salt 2012.  She teaches for the Arvon Foundation, The Poetry School and mentors for the Poetry Society. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is an editor for The Poetry Archive.


Bob Coles

Artwork: Bob Cole



Don’t underestimate the skill of blankness.
The beauty of exquisite intent, when multiplied
into a universe, can be a terrible thing, weighted
and pure. Watch how it stills perception into memory,
whole cities at a time, like bullets, like babies’ breath,
the gods of the new century put implacably
in their place, the sun the jewel in its crown.


Born and raised in Kolkata, India, Ayesha Chatterjee has lived in England, the USA and Germany. She now resides in Toronto. Her poetry has appeared in several magazines  including nthposition, Autumn Sky Poetry, Magma and The New Writer. Her first poetry collection The Clarity of Distance was published in 2011 by Calgary-based Bayeux Arts.  She has a poem forthcoming in Eyewear Publishing’s global anthology, The Poet’s Quest for God; 21st Century Poems of Faith, Doubt and Wonder.


Interview with Helen Ivory


AM: Waiting for Bluebeard has the wonderful Ivory trademark of observing the world from off-kilter perspective, but this is a story rather than a collection of poems. What was the inspiration behind it?

It’s my life! Well, it’s a metaphorical truth of how parts of my life have felt. I suppose I’ve been thinking about writing poems about my childhood for a while, and then about trying to make something positive out of an abusive relationship I was in for a decade, but it takes a while to transfer deep experience into any art form.
When I first met Martin Figura, he was writing the poems for Whistle, which are based on his own childhood, and for the whole of the time he was writing those poems, my own childhood seemed like a series of petty annoyances in relation to what he lived through. Then one day, when the show Whistle was being developed, I just started writing my own childhood. Seeing and also being in some ways part of the development of Whistle, made me think in terms of a body of work rather than a collection of poems which are grouped together and how you can tell a story through a series of fragments.

AM: If you were to categorise this collection would you say it was confessional or magical realism or a combination of the two?Ivory-Waiting-for-Bluebeard

It’s a combination of the two. Magical realism is a way of taking metaphors literally and trying to get at a realer real, if you like. Magical realism shows an alternative reality and it tries to convey other worldviews that exist, or have existed. I have always been interested in the otherworld, and while I was growing up, the women in my family did the Ouija board and there were ghost cats in our house. These things were givens, and existed alongside the more commonplace ideas of the real, which I think is one of the definitions of magical realism. I am also a visual writer and always take transformations literally – I see them happening so the poems are just the written interpretations of the slideshow that goes on in my head!

By going into the realms of the ‘magical’ I was able to explore the ‘real’ or the confessional more fully and brightly. I have been greatly influenced by Eastern European poets such as Vasko Popa who use metaphor to talk about things they cannot, for political reasons, say outright. The Bluebeard character in the second part of the book was my way in to writing about a complex person and tries to make the reader feel as I felt when I lived in his house, which represented an alternative reality for me.

AM: When you began the book did you have the two distinct sections or did they evolve as you wrote it?

I wrote poems about my childhood for about three years and then suddenly they stopped coming and I one day wrote a poem called ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’. Then more Bluebeard poems arrived. I thought initially that I was writing a different book, but then saw it was part of the same narrative. I was trying to understand what happened to ten years of my life, and retrace some of my steps that led me to Bluebeard’s door.

AM: At times your disappearing woman reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Marian in The Edible Woman who becomes separated from her body as she loses her identity. How important is the theme of identity in the book?

HI: It’s hugely important – especially during the second part of the book. The narrative ‘I’, which slightly falters in the first part of the book, is removed entirely, as the ‘I’ becomes a ‘she’ in Bluebeard’s house. Here, it’s almost as if I am watching my life and the woman who lived it. I was 24 when I crossed Bluebeard’s threshold. He was a lot older and I didn’t know fully who I was, and he went on to explain me to myself with great authority.

AM: Thanks Helen.

Helen Ivory’s Waiting for Bluebeard is out now from Bloodaxe.

First published in newbooks magazine


Snow Child

My new collection is out in November from Pindrop Press. Some (kind) people are saying the sort of thing I’ve pasted below. If you’d like to be a kind person please go to: Pindrop Pressand bag yourself a copy.

The launch is at the Phoenix Artists Club on November 15th at 7.30pm.

And one kind person says…
Abegail Morley’s Snow Child gifts us bold, unflinching, memorable poems, dazzling in their precision and clarity. This is a poet who faces life’s wonders, complexities and losses head-on, and invites us on a lyrical journey which will, at times, take our breath away.  Catherine Smith

“Intensely personal poems of love, desertion, obsession, written with great skill and delicacy yet with a disturbing sparsity and uncanny detachment. Snow Child is a captivating and impressive collection.”  Malcolm Carson

“At the heart of Abegail Morley’s powerful second collection is a deep sense of loss. The poems work at countering that loss with tangible visceral images that both disturb and sing with their own gorgeousness. Morley has captured just what it feels like to be living inside a skin so thin, the sun burns right through in all its lucid glory.”   Helen Ivory

Helen Ivory

Helen Ivory: Featured Poet

Hospital Visit

The waiting room is full
of all sorts, pretending
to be awake.

The bad mother,
deaf ear cocked
to the incubator;

the bogey man,
painted eyeballs on his hands,
wedged upright in the corner.

Even the alchemist
has discovered a way
to shoe horses in his sleep.


Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969 and lives in Norwich.  She has worked in shops, behind bars, on building sites and with several thousand free-range hens. She has studied painting and photography and has a Degree from Norwich School of Art.

In 1999 she won a major Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. Her third Bloodaxe Books collection is The Breakfast Machine. She has taught creative writing for Continuing Education at UEA for ten years and has been Academic Director there for six. She is an Editor for the Poetry Archive, Editor of Ink Sweat and Tears and is currently working towards an exhibition of her visual art.  Find out more here: http://www.helenivory.co.uk/