A few years ago, I took Tamar Yoseloff‘s Routes into Poetry course at The Poetry School in London. On Tuesday evenings I would leave work in Victoria, walk past Westminster Abbey, along the backstreets to Lambeth Bridge, and cross over the Thames to join the poets. One of Ellen Gilchrist’s fantastic Rhoda stories is called ‘Going to Join the Poets’ (in The Age of Miracles), and I felt exactly like Gilchrist’s exuberant heroine, both desperate and alive when I was in that class.
Tammy was a warm and engaging teacher, and my fellow poets – a journalist, a scientist, a sculptor, a civil servant and many, many teachers by day – were wonderfully generous with someone who hadn’t written a poem since school. But for two hours every week – longer if you counted the pub afterwards – I could be in a room where poetry & words, the breath & the line were all that mattered.
I wrote some poems, mostly to do with either the Biscuit or the mice who had invaded our flat (so tame that they would sit on the boiler in the kitchen squeaking at me while I fed the Biscuit her tea). Tammy was incredibly skilled at facilitating the discussion of the work we’d produced, and in her own response sensing what we were trying to achieve and suggesting ways to bring our poems closer to completion than abandonment. By the end of the year, I was in love with the deep pleasure of being totally absorbed in writing. By the end of the year I was also pregnant again, and lost to myself in that strange all-consuming fog of contentment and amnesia. I stopped writing poems.
But from next week, I’m going to join the poets again. This time as a reader rather than a writer. The Poetry School has expanded to include many wonderful sounding online courses. Most meet for live chat sessions, but I can’t guarantee getting the little ones to bed for the earlier ones, or being awake for the later ones. So I’m joining the online reading group tackling The Waste Land which starts next Thursday 6 February. No live chats, just tasks set online to tackle when I can, and the shiny CAMPUS online environment to talk to my fellow readers from around the world. The course is led by the poet, playwright and performer Siddhartha Bose, and, if anyone else feels inspired to join the poets, registration is still open.
Ellen Gilchrist’s story ends with Rhoda deciding to stay with the poets a little longer,
…she made a pot of coffee and went to her typewriter and decided to write all night. It was her one and only life. Her one and only chance. The best year of her life. The year her dreams might all come true.
PS This free online course from the University of Iowa, Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, starting on February 17th also looks fantastic.