My Time on Advanced Poetry
4 minutes read
Monday evenings were very dull for a long time after I finished Faber Academy’s Advanced Poetry course.
I’d spent 7pm to 9pm every Monday from November 2021 to May 2022 studying the online programme – a fun and fascinating tonic for the start of the working week.
All the course members were a little nervous to begin with (the first session was reminiscent of starting a new school!), but we were soon put at ease by our wise and generous tutors Rachael Allen and Daljit Nagra.
The 24-week Academy included one-on-one feedback sessions with Rachael and Daljit plus guest sessions, including one I found particularly instructive by the poet and Carcanet editor Professor John McAuliffe.
Soon, Monday nights had begun to bookmark the week and the 12 course members had developed a real sense of camaraderie and respect for each other as we enjoyed – and gave feedback on – each other’s work.
Writing poetry can be a lonely business and there’s no substitute for being part of a supportive group such as this.
My time with the Academy pushed me out of comfort zone, encouraged me to read authors I might otherwise not have engaged with, and I still often return to the notes I made. Daljit gave me confidence to cultivate a sense of fun in my poetry – ‘to play’, as he once termed it. Rachael made me think harder about the prose poem and line breaks in a way I previously hadn’t, introducing me to American writers including Lydia Davis and Michael Earl Craig.
Both tutors were brilliant at providing positive, encouraging feedback, but they also gave me the constructive criticism I craved. That’s why I signed up, after all. I wanted to be challenged, so I could hopefully get better. And that’s one of the things I love most about poetry – one never stops learning. Every day is a school day.
Those sessions helped me develop my own voice and understand more about form and structure (I’d always felt like an imposter, as I was largely self-taught). I also acquired a better insight into how to edit my own work (also crucial knowing that, as a novelist-turned-poet, I could be guilty of verbosity!). They built my confidence talking about poetry and, crucially, helped me identify next steps in terms of getting a pamphlet or collection published.
I’ve since been lucky enough to see poems I either started writing – or developed – while I was part of the Academy published in a range of wonderful magazines and websites, including Stand, Under the Radar, The Spectator and Ink, Sweat & Tears.
Many of the alumni are still regularly in touch, whether that’s via our WhatsApp group, to do feedback exchanges on email or even occasionally bumping into each other at events. We all celebrate each other’s successes and use them to motivate ourselves. My Faber gang (‘Faberinos’ or ‘Faberers’, as we now refer to ourselves) has gone on to win prizes, have pamphlets published and see their work appear in such top titles as The North and The Poetry Review.
I’d always wanted to follow a structured programme of study such as this, but life had kind of got in the way. Maybe signing up was a ‘carpe diem’ moment during the Covid lockdown. Whatever the reason, it reignited my love of learning and I’ve since pursued other courses. I was also lucky enough to be awarded a place on Writing East Midlands’ mentoring scheme under the tutelage of the fabulous Helen Mort, and I doubt I would have had the confidence to apply for that had I not done the Academy.
One lovely keepsake of our time with Faber was an anthology which included six poems from each of us. We were also invited to the publisher’s head office one Friday evening to read our work. This was a joy-filled occasion – a chance to update each other on the news and gossip, to meet the Faber team and to hear each other read. For many of us, it was also an opportunity to meet in-person after our exclusively online interactions. As for the only possible way the event could have been improved? Well, it could have been on a dull Monday evening, of course!
Tim Relf’s poetry has appeared in The Spectator, Acumen, Bad Lilies, The Rialto, Stand, The Frogmore Papers, Poetry Salzburg, Ink Sweat & Tears, Wild Court, One Hand Clapping, The Alchemy Spoon and The Friday Poem. His most recent novel, which was published by Penguin, has been translated into more than 20 languages. He is 2023 poet-in-residence at Leicester Botanic Garden, and also writes for Poetry News, Poetry Wales, The Guardian and BookBrunch.
Faber Academy’s next iteration of Advanced Poetry starts in February 2024. Find out more here.