elements of poetry


This online course has been running for many years now. I’m delighted to say that I have consistently excellent feedback, and many of my former students are now published, but you do need to know that the course is intense and will be at times challenging.

You can see testimonials at the bottom of the page.

The full fee from 2018 is £695 (payable in two instalments) for six months’ intensive study with me: this includes comprehensive course materials, exercises, detailed personal feedback, an overview with personal recommendations at the end of the course, and on request an electronic complimentary copy of my pamphlet ‘What I Want from a Poem’. (Please note that for reasons of time the fee does not include my commenting on extra poems outside of the work for the assignments.)

NB The course will be suited to people with some experience of poetry; it is NOT suitable for beginners. It’s intensive, and each module will also include mandatory and recommended reading and constructive exploration of others’ poems.

As always, students can work by post or email (Word doc). (Please let me know when signing up whether you prefer working by email or Royal Mail.)

This correspondence course is an approach to writing poetry rooted in the fertile soil of the language of heart, soul and mind combined. It also assumes that poetry is a crucial human art.

Poetry feeds a hunger; the need, as Clayton Eshleman  said, ‘for a more profound and ensouled world’. It’s a way of offsetting what Robert Bly describes as the ‘language of the advertising agency’.

While it’s an approach that favours the holistic, I’d like to think however that authenticity of voice, knowledge of the requirements of poetry and of the poetry world, and mastery of technique are given equal attention. I’m keen that literary quality is not sacrificed to the demand that poetry be also a means of connection, and a vibrant and essential aspect of inner work.

See below for course content and practical details.


Most of my books can be viewed here. New in 2018: A Trick of the Light: poems from Iona.

A poem in its way is a small self-contained unit of mystery that, as we approach, might just give us a high-voltage jolt to the heart. A poem can enlarge our experience; if it reveals something to us we are nourished by it, even if we don’t entirely understand it, even if the subject matter of the poem is strange, or sad, or difficult.

‘…this deeply instinctual yet self-conscious expressive language, this regenerative process, could help you save your life… Art is our human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another’s experience and imaginative life.’ 
Adrienne Rich

‘It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack 
of what is found there.’
William Carlos Williams

‘Poetry is that
which arrives at the intellect
by way of the heart.’
R S Thomas

Course content
Components of each module: reading, exploration/assessment of poems read, written assignments, including to create one or more poem/s, reflective component.


Module 1

What is poetry?
Making a poem
Poems to read
Assignments, reading & reflection

Module 2
The tools 1
Visual language – fundamental techniques
Poems to read
Assignments, reading & reflection

Module  3
The tools 2
Verbal music – rhythm, rhyme, pattern
Poems to read
Assignments, reading & reflection

Module 4
The traditional & the contemporary
Formal vs free verse
Poems to read
Assignments, reading & reflection

Module 5

Drafting, editing, redrafting
Poems to read
Assignments, reading & reflection

Module 6
Last words: (suggestions for this month’s work & for the future; publishing advice if appropriate; assessment of new/redrafted work; overview)
Body of poems/project to send in
Assignments, reading & reflection x2
Essay or review

NB: I reserve the right to change or modify course content as necessary

Practical details

With your acceptance letter I also send the Introduction and two modules. You will need to send me the assignments from module 1 by the end of the following month, and I will respond by the end of the next month; and so on. I also send you an overview of your work with recommendations for continuing.

I am considering an optional 7th module that looks at haiku, as I believe that this approach to poetry can benefit our Western addiction to over-writing (not included in the 6-module fee).

Enrolments are accepted at any time, with the first modules being sent out at the end of that same month. You will be returning the first assignment to me by the end of the following month.

I work with a few individuals only at any one time.

I invite submissions from people who would like to work with me in this way, and are willing to commit themselves to completing a module a month with its associated coursework, required reading, and writing. I sometimes offer a residential weekend as an optional extra (this is not included in the course fee).

What you can expect:

•    An immersion in the experience of poetry, through training the eye and ear, through reading, and through writing
•    The encouragement and refining of personal creative expression
•    The development or progression of individual voice
•    An increasing confidence and assuredness in your writing
•    An enhanced recognition of what makes a ‘good’ poem
•    An ability to more usefully assess and refine your own work
•    A greater understanding of what poetry is, what its requirements are, and what it has to offer
•    A wider and deeper understanding of the poetic canon, of its range, and of the continuing importance of poetry

Before you sign up:
This course will suit both intermediate writers who are already committed to and involved in the poetry ‘scene’ and poetry writing and reading, as well as experienced writers who need a ‘top-up’ of inspiration, some brushing-up of their skills, or the discipline of a monthly deadline, and feedback from a well-published professional who has been tutoring poetry since 1991.

If you don’t read contemporary poetry, this course will not be the one for you. If you are a novice, please don’t be offended if I reject your application and ask you to read (more) contemporary poetry before reapplying. This is a very intensive course and it’s recommended that you complete a course in poetry basics first with another institution.

You need to be clear that you need to be passionate about poetry and willing to immerse yourself in it. You will be asked to borrow or buy Bloodaxe’s Staying Alive anthology on acceptance onto the course, as you will need to refer to poems in it throughout the course. I recommend too The Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart (supposedly poems for men, but as a woman I love them too). You will also find it invaluable to read Ruth Padel: 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem; and Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry, if you haven’t already.

This course asks of you commitment to ‘staying the course’ and to make regular time to complete the assignments and send them in on the agreed dates. Not for the faint-hearted!  If you are in the middle of moving, divorcing, changing jobs, or have a fulltime job and family, experience suggests leaving this till another time!

Within each assignment I shall also ask you for a reflective ‘report’ on the process of working through each module, with a view to your illuminating for yourself your relationship to your own creative processes. At the end of the course, I will ask for an overall reflection, plus a review/essay.

To apply, please send:

•    a covering letter explaining why you want to take this course and what you would like to achieve by working through it
•    three sample poems (applicants are selected on the basis of the above two pieces of writing)
•    the first instalment of the fee (£300, with the balance of £395 payable on return of your 3rd assignment): please email me (roselle[at]fire-in-the-head.co.uk) for address for cheque or Paypal/bank details.

If for any reason I need to return your application your deposit will be refunded.

THE SMALL PRINT: Please note that no refunds are made once I have responded to your first assignment. If for any reason you decide, on receipt of the Introduction and the first two modules, that the course is not for you, I will refund half of your deposit provided you notify me immediately and return all the course materials within a fortnight of their receipt. 


I have had extraordinarily positive feedback consistently on this course. Here are a few of the nice things people have said about the course:

‘I can’t begin to tell you how affirming this course is for me. One reason I realise why I am glad not to hurry – this is a kind of therapy, recovery period for me. I don’t want it to end too quickly. I get your response and guard it, afraid to open it like an exam result or thinking it might be a toad or an eyeball. Instead it’s a piece of sky, a thrush’s egg!’

‘Although I’ve had the privilege of learning under some truly great teachers, some of them academics, some spiritual guides, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more rewarding learning experience…’

‘How was it for me? Wonderful! I had wanted to do this course for so long and it has been all that I was hoping for – and more. Roselle, I know from your books how clearly and inspiringly you illuminate your subject matter but the lovely thing about this course has been the stimulating way that you involve the participant so that there is always that feeling of something more to discover.’

‘…this course has been one of the best things that I’ve done. Thank you!  – One thing which I am most grateful to you for it is the habit of mindfulness which you prompted at the start of the course and which actually extends far beyond the realm of poetry and, I hope, will always stay with me.’

‘How I’m going to miss this monthly rhythm of call and response – I’ve enjoyed it very, very much and I think you’ll see that my writing has benefited hugely. I certainly think it has…’

‘I am learning to trust myself again, to trust my poet. Thanks so much for everything. I love the course!’

‘I’ve felt encouraged; very much so… this has been a lovely course, I’ve learned how to climb into – and out of – mine and others’ poems, to swim in them; also to edit, review, challenge myself and critique others. [Your] patience and encouragement… was so helpful in facing my resistance. [Your] warmth and support as a person came through strongly.’

‘Thank you for everything, for your skill, your honesty, your integrity, for sharing your gift and for your patience. What an incredible period it has been!’

‘This course somehow becomes an addition to daily life and adds a greater awareness of how vital words and poetry are to us all. I had expected a course which I would work on, put away and come back to later – instead it is woven into everything I do. [It is] the journey from writing poetry to being a poet.’

‘I know I have more confidence in my work and that you have helped me define where my strengths are and have sent me in a couple of new directions. All in all it has been a great success, an enjoyment to do all the work, even the tough stuff was pleasantly challenging, and I hope I don’t feel too bereft when I’m back out on my own.

‘Probably the most important thing to have stayed with me in the whole of this course is that I have found a real wealth in the everyday. Thank you, I mean it, such a simple thing I know but sometimes these can be the things we overlook.

‘Thank you Roselle for being able to coax the best from this fledgling poet, even as you urged me to leave the safety of the nest you were still there to catch me, you gave my poetry wings. These past months have been a journey to another world, a world where I didn’t realise I belonged. I will always be grateful for this.’

‘I have enjoyed the course enormously. Here are some of things that I have enjoyed the most:

    • Thinking about poetry – what is poetry and why it is important to me.
    • Reading. I have very much enjoyed the poems you have encouraged me to read during the course.
    • Writing. I have been excited by the possibilities of finding ways down into the sludge of my unconscious in search of inspiration. I found that keeping a 15 minutes a day unmediated writing diary worked for me as did writing between the lines and I will try again with the adjective/concrete noun/abstract noun exercise.
    • I was thrilled with (some of) the poems that came from my journeys to my underworld. I also enjoyed grappling with form, rhyme and rhythm which I have found difficult.
    • Editing. I feel more confident now about what I am looking for when I set about the task of distilling draft after draft in my editor’s limbeck.
    • Feedback. I have found your feedback fantastic. I have found your practical suggestions for tweaking my poems really helpful, I have found our dialogue on poetry, poems and poets exciting and inspiring as much when we disagreed as when we agreed but above all I found your generous reading of my poems hugely encouraging……..for all that let me offer you an enormous thanks!’

‘Thank you for all that I’ve got from the course as a whole; it seems to have been exactly right for me at this time…I’ve appreciated your generosity as a tutor, your breadth of knowledge and your willingness to engage at many levels, and all your perceptive and helpful comments. I’ve also appreciated the way that you’ve responded to me as an individual. This course has given me just what I was looking for: ways of engaging more deeply with poetry, a chance to try out different forms, an introduction to the work of poets I didn’t know, encouragement and constructive criticism that have helped me to take my poetry forward. I would recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about the art of poetry.’

‘An enriching, stimulating and hugely enjoyable course that has helped me to become more aware of the poetry in life as well as the life in poetry. Roselle’s notes are informative and insightful and although the assignments can be stretching they are always inspiring and rewarding. Her feedback is invaluable – sensitive, practical and encouraging; she is a very motivating teacher! I’ve loved it!’

‘The Course has been a journey of discovery. I started out thinking it was ‘just’ about writing poems and it was, but so much more. I was challenged on a very deep level. Writing in response to the exercises was a revelation as I had not written like this before. The same applies to revisiting the poems I had written, not just in the sense of editing, which can go on forever, but in finding so much I didn’t know was there.’

‘I have found your feedback and encouragement throughout the course invaluable. I’ve appreciated the way you’ve addressed technique and suggested ways of making improvements while also nurturing and responding to the more personal dimensions of the process. I have felt I could write and reflect without censorship or self-disguise and that you would always find a way to meet me somewhere. I’m sure it is not easy to do this in the context of a written correspondence when no other information is available to confirm impressions or expand on them. I appreciate the time and obvious care that you have always put into this.

‘I would like to say thank you for leading me this far. I feel I’ve come a long way and I’m glad I made the journey.’

‘…your responses to me have been thorough and supportive and always gave me the feeling that you are interested in the person writing and not just the poetry being written. You do not short-cut or short-change your student and that is in itself very encouraging because it makes one feel focused on, understood, appreciated. It makes your responses and suggestions sound sincere and honest and that is a rare gift these days. Post-Truth and all that!

‘I think it is also worth saying that on reading the sixth response I realised that you worked at least as hard as I did and that makes your course truly worth the investment. You give your students their money’s worth frankly!

‘You know when you eat at a new restaurant and it is not quite to your taste and then to add insult to injury the bill is horrendous leaving you in every sense with a bad taste in your mouth? Your course is the total opposite!’

‘My first reaction to the course is that it surprised me. It has shown me how much depth there is in writing, thinking about and appreciating poetry. Now I can also appreciate the nuances of the particular poet’s voice – what it is exactly about their work that attracts me. I can be critical and appreciative at the same time. I can take something extra from a poem I admire, some inspiration to carry into my own efforts.

‘The imaginative exercises throughout the course were creatively inspiring and showed me ways of finding and exploring poetic pathways that I had never considered before, ways of allowing imagination to flow without restriction, often ending in surprising discoveries. They also encouraged me to be very flexible about what exactly a poem “is”.

‘The course also encouraged me to be disciplined, to “think outside the box”, to take risks. It helped me extend my poetic voice… I would recommend it to any poet who is looking for inspiration, helpful and unprejudiced criticism … and enjoyment. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.’

‘I feel that in the long term working on ‘Elements of Poetry’ with Roselle was transformational. The course is so rich in content that it needs to be used as a permanent resource for budding poets. Feedback was detailed and generous.

‘I hope one day to do a face to face course with Roselle and have joined her year long course “Tongues in Trees”.’

‘2020: Still thankful for your 6 month online mentoring [in Elements of Poetry 2017] which made all the difference.’