Primers: from The Poetry School and Nine Arches – closing date 1 September


The Poetry School and Nine Arches Press have announced the arrival of Primers, a new annual scheme creating a unique opportunity for talented poets to find publication and receive a programme of supportive feedback, mentoring and promotion. The scheme will select three poets whose work will feature together in the first volume of Primers, a book showcasing short debut collections of work.

The Primers scheme aims to provide an important platform for emerging poets who are seeking to develop their writing and build towards a full collection of poems. With the involvement of Jane Commane (Nine Arches’ poetry editor), Kathryn Maris (poet and guest editor) and the Poetry School, Primers’ intention is to nurture and support new talent that may otherwise not find an outlet. It also aims to provide an important opportunity for poets to develop their skills, work on their poetry practice, and find audiences for their work. Following editing and mentoring with Kathryn and Jane, the Primers collection will be published by Nine Arches Press, and a further series of live events will showcase the three chosen poets at festivals and shows around the country.

‘Primers presents a really exciting opportunity; for poets it will offer an excellent first step, with the full support of Kathryn Maris, the Poetry School and myself. I am already looking forward to seeing the new writing that will be submitted. It also enables Nine Arches to do more of what we like doing best; nurturing talent, working closely with poets to support their creativity, and keeping our finger on the pulse of contemporary poetry’

– Jane Commane, Nine Arches Press

‘The Poetry School has a long history of working with poets to develop their creative talents. Primers is the next stage in this work, taking poets out of the classroom and onto the bookshelf and the festival stage. We’re very excited about the new poets and poems that are going to emerge from this scheme.’

– Ollie Dawson, The Poetry School

‘Primers is, potentially, a more meritocratic take on anthologies and other introductory platforms for which the usual procedure is the hand-picking of writers already known to an editor. By contrast, the poets to be included in Primers will be chosen from anonymous submissions, so poets need not have a proven track record of publication nor ‘visibility’ within the poetry world. There is so much strong work being written by poets of all ages who have not yet had their first break, so I expect the decision-making will be difficult. But I look forward to the process, and I’m delighted to be involved with Nine Arches, a press that consistently delivers attractive books by first-rate poets.’

– Kathryn Maris, poet and guest editor

Further details can be found on The Poetry School campus and on Nine Arches’ website.


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).

Alyson Hallet

Featured Poet: Alyson Hallett

Clark’s Shoe Factory, Street
What I wanted was the factory
before it turned into a shopping village.
Wanted the Henry Moore sculpture
back on the grass by the factory tower,
wanted the hum of sewing machines
and that dusty smell of leather. Wanted
to cycle past the stinking tannery,
to walk in wear-test shoes, to eat the cakes
at Clark’s christmas party. Not nostalgia,
but a wanting for things that made us.
The workers’ dirty hands, the day
after day, the doughnuts in the canteen.
My father going up and down Street
High Street for more than forty years.
The fact that things were being made,
the attraction of that. The grit and the skill
and the boredom. I wanted to see it all again.
To know the cut of cow hide, the stitch,
the moulded sole of a shoe. Not the museum
but the living practice. The meaning
of that brick high up in the factory wall
with the words more light carved into it.
Alyson’s latest book of poems, Suddenly Everything, has just been published by Poetry Salzburg. Previous publications include The Stone Library (Peterloo Poets), Towards Intimacy (Queriendo Press) a book of short stories, collaborative artist’s books and drama for Radio 4 and Sky Television. As well as writing poems for the page, Alyson also enjoys working with poetry in three-dimensional spaces. She has a poem carved into Milsom Street pavement in Bath and she has been running The Migration Habits of Stones, an international poetry as public art project, for the past twelve years.
Alyson was the country’s first poet-in-residence in a Geography Department at Exeter University, a post funded by the Leverhulme Trust. She is currently a Fellow with the Royal Literary Fund in Plymouth and has just returned from a Fellowship at Hawthornden Castle. As well as adjusting to life beyond the castle walls, Alyson is offering poetry surgeries in Truro through the Poetry Society and working with artists and dancers on an exhibition relating to the Merry Maidens stone circle in Cornwall.

Drafting a Poem

Drafting a  Poem

wastelandEarlier in the year I wrote a piece for The New Writer about drafting poems. As the new year approaches I thought it might be time to dig out some of those poems in the 2012 drawer and give them an overhaul.

When is a poem ready to send out? Sometimes we’re too eager to submit our work when a little reflection and polishing might pay dividends in the long term and avoid those rejection slips. It’s becoming a costly business to submit to magazines and competitions (it costs £1 in stamps to send our work out with an SAE) so it’s important that what we are putting out there is our very best and to do that we must draft and redraft our work.

I know some poets who put their poems away in a drawers and come back to them later with a little more objectivity. Eliot started to write Little Gidding in July 1941 and put it aside for about 12months before picking it up again. After five drafts he sent it out and it was  published in New English Weekly.

I’m not suggesting you leave a poem for months at a time, but often a little distance can be useful and avoids rushing something out to that’s not quite ready. It’s really helpful, almost essential, to workshop your poem or show it to people whose opinion you really value. I value Kim Moore’s opinions and have asked her to talk me through the process of drafting her poem The Thing which appears in If We Could Speak to Wolves (Smith/Doorstop).

We’re in good hands as this collection was a winner in the Poetry Business Competition judged by Carol Ann Duffy and Kim is a recipient of an Eric Gregory Award and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize. So over to Kim.

When I’m writing first of all,

I like to write in a notebook.

When trying to decide which poem to focus on for this first draft to last draft exercise, I noticed something quite striking. A lot of my first lines in my first draft versions of poems remain the same in my final, published versions – it’s almost like the poem has to have that first line or ‘tune’ to get me started. I then had a look at all the false starts I have of things that are still just pieces of writing in a folder that I’ve given up on, and sure enough the various versions of these had different first lines for every version.

PS logo

This poem came from a free writing exercise in a Poetry School workshop. I think this was one of the first times I’d ever done free writing. The tutor gave us the line ‘It was a morning like this’ and then told us to write without lifting the pen from the page for two minutes.  I remember being surprised by what came out of that rather innocuous line

I was reading Don Paterson’s Rain at the time, and my favourite poem from that book was ‘The Lie’ and I think this poem is heavily influenced by that poem. At first I worried that it was too close to the poem to stand on its own and be original, and I did check this out with various writer friends.

When I’m writing first of all, I like to write in a notebook. Then I leave the notebook for a couple of days, and come back to it, and type up anything I think has something interesting. This first draft would have been written out as prose in my notebook – I don’t put any line breaks in until I put it on the computer.

The reading aloud section completely vanishes

after that first draft


There are 10 drafts altogether of this poem but by draft 2 I’d organised it into four line stanzas. By draft 2 I’d realised ‘so you didn’t wake it’ wasn’t quite right and changed it to ‘so you didn’t disturb it’. It took me till draft four to realise that left me with ‘disturb’ and ‘disturbing’ very close to each other, and it was then I changed it to alarmed.

The reading aloud section completely vanishes after that first draft, and never comes back again – looking back now, although poetry doesn’t have to be true, it does have to have truth in it, and that doesn’t seem believable to me, that the speaker wouldn’t ask any questions, so I decided to not elaborate on what the protagonists in the poem think about The Thing – but rather just to show what happened to them instead.

I remember liking the bit where The Thing is compared to various animals – it took me till draft 6 to take the two ‘crys’ and change one to ‘voice’ which makes The Thing appear more human than animal.

The pavement image came in draft 2 – relatively early on, although it’s not in the original first draft, and I knew that the ending to the first draft wasn’t right – it seemed to fizzle out and lose its energy but it took until Draft 8 until I was brave enough to put the two questions in to the poem – I’d been told by one tutor or another not to put questions in a poem unless it was for a very good reason, and it took me a while to get my confidence up to do this.

I don’t put any line breaks in

until I put it on the computer

My first drafts tend to be quite long – I imagine them as a huge lump of rock that I have to chip away at to get at the poem inside and to find the shape that it should be. I think this is why I think free writing is so important – because it gives you a chance to get all your ideas out without that critical voice in your head telling you they are a load of rubbish. I also print out each draft and keep them all in a folder, in order, one behind the other. I know this is   scarily obsessive – but I have a mortal fear of deleting something that I might want later on.


The Thing (1st draft)

It was a morning like this when you carried in
the thing.  There was no-one to see but me,
how it curled in your arms like something
with feelings, how you moved like a ghost
so you didn’t wake it.  That night as I read
aloud to you, I thought there was little point
asking you where it had come from, or what
it meant.  At night its cry was disturbing.
It was like a cat that asks for food at first
and then like a dog that’s been stepped on
and finally, when it realised itself abandoned
its cry was suddenly human and lost.
It drank all the colours in our house, sucked
the red right out of everything – the walls,
the tablecloth, my jumpers.  We blamed
each other for leaving the curtains open
so it could steal the blue from the sky
and when it turned to us, left us grey
as faded newspapers, we didn’t look
at each other anymore.


The Thing (Published Version)

It was a morning like this when you carried it in.
There was no-one to see but me, how it curled
in your arms like something with feelings,
how you moved like a ghost so it wasn’t alarmed.

That night, its cry was disturbing, at first like a cat
wanting food, then like a dog that’s been stepped on,
and then, realising itself abandoned, its voice
became suddenly human and lost.

It drank the colour from our house, sucked the red
right out of everything – the walls, the tablecloth,
my jumper.  When it turned to us, left us the colour
of pavement, we forgot how to see each other.

I blamed you for opening the curtains so it could
steal the blue from the sky.  You went to get help,
the thing at your heels, bright as a bouquet of flowers.
How could you know that after you left the colours

came back, creeping, careful, wary? Each day
I wait for your return, the sky grey, like something
washed too many times.  Will we leave it unspoken,
that the thing, like all things, needs a name?


from ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ pub. Smith/Doorstop


Kim Moore lives in Barrow-in-Furnesskim-moore

and has an MA in Creative Writing from

MMU. Her poems have appeared widely

in magazines and her writing placements

include Young Poet-in-Residence

at the Ledbury Poetry Festival.