The value of residential poetry courses

Daljit Nagra - 17 March 2011

I put off going on one-week residential courses for ages and then when I did finally go I was annoyed with myself for not having gone sooner. I found the intensive stimulus of daily workshops, afternoon one-to-one sessions and evening readings helped to improve my writing skills massively.

Have you been on a residential course? Did you find it useful?

The other thing I really enjoyed about the course was having immediate access to leading poets and to a cohort of new writers who were at a fairly similar stage of development as me.

I kept in touch with several of the poets I met on these courses and we workshopped poems and supported each other with advise about poets/poems/magazines/readings etc.

The residential courses were the beginnings of a beautifully interactive poetry affair with a lovely set of poets.

Two sets of courses I would recommend are run by Arvon foundation (England and Scotland) and Ty Newydd (North wales).

I'd like to hear from you about the courses you've been on. What were your highs and lows and would you recommend these courses to other poets? If you have not been on one of these courses, what stops you from going?


I haven't been on one but would love to try an Arvon course. They look great fun and are taught in some wonderful locations (esp Totleigh Barton)

Definitely worth it Christian. Arvon have a website and a catalogue with the courses taking place throughout the year. Arvon run a wide range of courses including radio/tv writing, prose courses, cooking courses and many others. The setting are remote and stunning and there is endless food available!

I can certainly vouch for that, having been to an Arvon about 18 months ago - and now booked for another this summer. I'm a bit of a novice poet, having only started to write about 4 or 5 years ago, and life doesn't leave me very much time to concentrate on it. But I can't emphasis too much what an enormous boost is given to one's enthusiasm and determination to send a week with a group of like-minded people, especially with the encouragement of two poets with long and established reputations. I was a bit scared at the thought of their seeing my work - but I didn't need to be. They were both inspiring and confidence-building. And so I'm going back for more...

I went on an Arvon Foundation five-day course at Lumb Bank many years ago. The resident poets were Andrew Motion and Vernon Scannell, with guest Craig Raine. What I'll say about Craig Raine is that I didn't share his own opinion about himself. I liked Andrew Motion personally and still do, though I'm not a fan of his poetry. Vernon Scannell was one of the best and most under-rated post-1945 poets, and his presence was inspirational. I later became friendly with him, and I was at his funeral in late 2007. I found the five days entertaining and memorable, and I think Vernon especially was a positive influence, particularly in sorting out the problem I have with most contemporary poetry. Vernon wrote a novel based on a Lumb Bank residential course, published I think in 1998 - 'Feminine Endings'. I tend to agree with his views on poetry, as expressed in that novel.

Thanks for the mention of the book, David, which I didn't know about. Sent off for it, and rather enjoyed it.

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Glossary term


A five-line poem, almost always humorous, and frequently rude. Its rhyme scheme is aabba, with the first, second and last lines having three stresses and the third and fourth lines having two.

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