‘I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination’ – John Keats.

Poems are often praised for their authenticity or their imagination, but what do these two terms mean, how do they interact, and what are the best ways of getting to truth? On this writing week, we’ll look at a wide range of strategies for harnessing both real lived experience and the gifts of the imagination, to create poems which reach genuine emotional impact and ‘the holiness of the heart’s affections.’

We will look at poets who write realistically on a range of subjects, from the family to the animal kingdom, from important places to crucial friendships. We’ll consider the way that writers like Chen Chen layer the presentation of real experience with humour and inventive metaphors and scenarios, as well as the way Mark Doty and Sharon Olds manage time schemes to bring together different experiences in a powerful whole. We’ll set traditional formal approaches alongside the way that writers like Paul Stephenson bring experimental techniques to the most important subjects.

We’ll also consider the work of writers like Caroline Bird, Jo Shapcott and James Tate, thinking about the way that imaginative visions, monologues and strange narratives offer an exciting way to illuminate emotional realities. Dreams, the appearance of strange messengers, weird interactions with the natural world, the strange liveliness of objects – all become ways of poems presenting us with the full and rich strangeness of what it is to be in this world.

Whether you want to begin with gritty and realistic observation, and see where the imagination can take it, or if you have a headful of visions and imaginative ways of looking at the world, and need practical ways of getting them down on paper and giving them emotional weight, this course will allow you a rich range of strategies. In everything we try we’ll be seeking that magic poems can do, that holiness of taking the reader from the top to the bottom of the page and somehow, along the way, moving them, enriching the way they see the world in a way they can’t forget.