Students on the course Poetry: Other Voices, Other Forms were treated to a seminar with poet and workshop leader Carole Coates.
Carole asked the students about their own creative work and interests, read from her books of narrative poetry, Jacob and Swallowing Stones, discussed the techniques used in the poems, took a number of questions, led the students through a series of writing exercises, and gave out some top tips for writing narrative poetry. These tips included:
2. Convey emotions, for example loss, through showing the emotion in concrete detail rather than stating it.
3. Use short lines to emphasise details.
4. Use space on the page to create shapes in the text to reflect and evoke emotion and atmosphere, if this will enhance the reader experience.
5. For poetry which tells a story from another time, be prepared to do the research to find out in concrete detail what life was like at that time.
6. Consider the best narrative point of view for your character, for example the ‘restricted omniscient’ point of view in Jacob.
7. Making lists can be useful for creating material to draw upon for your poem.
8. Use the narrative poem to explore other voices than your own. This can be quite liberating.
9. Use your poem to show a story through flashes of light. You do not need to bother with all the descriptions of a novel, but the detail you do use should have a high degree of concentration and emotional charge.
Carole Coates is the author of four collections, all published by Shoestring. The last two – Swallowing Stones, 2012, and Jacob, 2016 are narrative poems. Jacob has been described by Carol Ann Duffy as ‘an extraordinarily riveting narrative poem on the pain of childhood and its long reach, written with forensic care and heart-stopping empathy’. She also has a pamphlet Crazy Days ( Wayleave 2014 ) and has been published regularly in the literary press. Her poem ‘Daughters’ is in The Forward Book of Poetry 2006 and she has been placed in major competitions such as The Peterloo and the Arvon. She has just won second prize in The Mslexia Poetry Competition. You can find out more at http://www.carolecoates.org.uk/ .
Photography: Jan Gibson