Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Discussion With Marie Howe: Writing Poetry

Billy Collins

Lesson time 11:10 min

According to Marie, “so much of writing is getting beyond the will.” Billy and Marie share practical exercises they use to get out of their heads and into their writing.

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Topics include: Discussion With Marie Howe: Writing Poetry


[MUSIC PLAYING] - One of the things we share, besides writing poetry, is we both teach poetry. I think you've been teaching longer than I have, because I didn't start doing workshops till late in life. But I always have a feeling that there are aspects of poetry or types of maneuvers in poetry that I can convey clearly and are transferable. And I think, also, there are parts of poetry that can't be taught. And I wonder if you have any feelings about-- there's something that you and I have, you might say, that we can't quite transfer by touching someone's forehead or even talking to them for 100 hours. - I feel, well, as if I-- I don't know that I have it. That's an important thing to say. Writing is a mystery to me. So the first thing I start off by suggesting is that people free write-- just write, write, write, write, write. Because for me, so much of writing is getting beyond the will. I want to present myself in a certain way. - Right. - I want to seem like a certain kind of person. I want to write a poem that reflects well on me, and I have to give that up. - Right. - And that, depending on the amount of investment one has in that, takes a short or a very long time. For me, often I have to write a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot-- write into a poem, if you will-- until all things that I thought I wanted to say finally get said and become exhausted, and then something begins to occur that has never happened before. - So I know, at one point, you said that you wanted to-- your ambition was to get beyond writing "poetry"-- - Yeah. - --in the, kind of, I guess, the older sense of the word. But what does that mean, you don't want to write "poetry"? - I think of the poets I love, and their voice is what's so compelling. right? John Donne-- you know, when he says to a woman he's trying to seduce, "Oh, my America, my new-found-land." I mean, it's funny, it's seductive. Nobody sounds like John Donne but John Donne. There's a voice where you feel as if-- I feel spoken to. A living voice that feels contemporary no matter how old, how long ago it was written. There's a real encounter with another voice and person there, a presence. I've written a lot of poems that I had to throw out because everything I wrote, I already knew. - No discovery. - This was a thing I tried to say to my students again and again. The writing of the poem is an experience. It's not the record of an experience. - Right. - You know? Even if you're writing about something that happened before, it has to be a new experience in writing about it. There has to be a discovery in recalling it. Why do we-- do you want to recall it? What occurs at this minute, recalling it? And then, of course, what happens in language. It's not just the experience, but the experience and the telling of it have to so combine, that it's been said in a way that it couldn't be said any other way. - I think what you're talking about relates to...

About the Instructor

Known for his wit and wisdom, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets. In his MasterClass, Billy teaches you to appreciate the emotional pull of poetry. Learn his approach to exploring subjects, incorporating humor, and finding your voice. Discover the profound in the everyday, and let poetry lead you to the unexpected.

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Billy Collins

In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.

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