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).

Anna Kisby

Anna Kisby: Featured Poet

Anna Kisby



You carry this one back in a Waitrose bag,
her mother’s rosary pressed against
her warrant for arrest, head south
to the archive vault like crossing
the Styx. Each twist

———of the Northern Line
jostles a love letter closer
to her father. His stern moustache,
unwilling, tickles the words –Eve, I shall
rig up a mosquito net for you under the stars –

This is what keeps you awake: the dead
who all day long press upon you
wordy concerns, sepia stares begging
to be read. You smooth an obituary,
shelve two diaries

——–close as palms in prayer. Ladies,
necks achy in over-ornamented hats, you slide
between acid-free sheets. Tonight
you will turn and turn again, and think:
it is her dust that I breathed in.


Anna Kisby is an archivist and mother of three, living in Brighton. After growing up in London she studied Literature and Film at the universities of East Anglia, Sussex and the Sorbonne, taught English in Prague and sold cowboy boots in Massachusetts.

Her poetry has appeared in anthologies and magazines including Magma, Mslexia and The Moth and been placed in competitions. Recently she won The New Writer single poem prize and was a finalist in Live Canon 2012.

Some more poems:

Ink, Sweat and Tears

Royal Collection Trust

3.AM Magazine

Writing East Midlands

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/


Online Magazines

As The New Writer is girding its loins, embracing the web and moving towards online poetry publication, I have been looking at what is out there and gathering some ideas. The Poetry Library has an impressive and extensive list of e-magazines, blogzines and other online poetry sites “that follow an editorial policy similar to that of traditional printed poetry magazines.” In other words, they have weeded out the unmediated and provided a list worth exploring.

Todd Swift of Eyewear suggests you look at what the sites ask for, and what they offer before sending your work. “If a site doesn’t ask for money from the poet, offers them proper credit for their work, and presents the poetry in an attractive format, with other poets (some of whom are respected, published and recognized as serious) then all should be well.”

So once you’ve done that, what can you expect from publication on these sites and why send your work for online publication rather than print? At Ink, Sweat and Tears they have an enormous international readership, something not achievable with a conventional publication. How enormous is enormous? Charles Christian who launched Ink, Sweat and Tears has a monthly visitorship of 16,000 readers (measured as distinct URLs) and 55,000 page views, so on average each reader visits the site about once every 8 days. Approximately 60% of his readership is located outside the UK. Eyewear receives 17,000 visits on average per month and Michelle McGrane reports that Peony Moon receives between 100 and 200 hundred daily hits.

I find it quite difficult to keep up with all the poetry out there and am currently more comfortable with a printed magazine. But now realise I need to make room for both in my life. Do they co-exist or compete? Charles Christian suggests poetry sites do not compete with printed magazines. “There is still a lot of snobbery associated with printed magazines but this is really a generational thing. The world is changing, dead-tree publications, postage stamps and fountain pens are giving way to digital publications. We are committed to the iPod Generation, we are the future”.

It is not just the young who are online readers. Todd Swift sees everyone becoming more tech-savvy and interested, but thinks “under-40s are more comfortable reading online and more likely to consider an online journal the equivalent (at least) of one made of paper.” Peony Moon has readers from twenty to seventy leaving comments on the site and thinks “online sites and internet stores have made poetry more accessible, particularly to readers who live in places where bookshops don’t stock poetry beyond Keats and A New Anthology of English Verse.”

Poetry is sometimes criticised as elitist. Can online sites break through this barrier by making it more accessible? Todd Swift hopes “that poetry retains some of its elitist image, because any art form that is ‘for everyone’ is likely to be watered down.” Charles Christian suggests that poetry is not elitist but that it is a fringe activity that will never appeal to as wide an audience as other art forms and entertainment. “What I think is the value of online sites is that they are accessible … they allow us to publish digital/experimental forms of poetry that could never be reproduced in a conventional publication.”

So, it’s time to judge for yourself: follow the links to the sites mentioned. Once you’ve done that, I suggest you visit The Poetry Library online and trawl through their list. You might be surprised how many online poetry sites are out there.

First published in The New Writer, Spring 2011

Since writing this article Helen Ivory is now sole editor of Ink, Sweat and Tears.