welcome, readers, writers and revellers

This is the blog of Oxford University Poetry Society, where you can get up-to-date news about our upcoming events and poetry readings, dates of poetry workshops, read contributors' poetry, and try a hand at writing your own...

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Next term!

Our brand new term card has arrived...and there are LOTS of treats in store...


Wk 1 (22/01) - Burns' Night Winter Warmer reading by RODDY LUMSDEN

Wk 2 (29/01) - TRANSLATION FESTIVAL featuring David Constantine, editor of 'Modern Poetry in Translation' magazine, as well as Simon Smith, poet-translator of Catallus.

Wk 3 (05/02) - Tall Lighthouse's PILOT POETS Emily Berry, Camellia Stafford, Vidyan Ravinthiran

Wk 4 (12/02) - poet laureate ANDREW MOTION

Wk 5 (19/02) - JAMIE MC KENDRICK

Wk 6 (26/02) - RUTH PADEL


Wk 8 (12/03) - JOHN SIDDIQUE



Our regular workshops meet, as last year, on Wednesdays in The Mitre, starting promptly at 8pm, so please come along and meet some of Oxford's young and decidedly alcoholic poets!

And aside from our wednesday workshops, we've ALSO got these masterclasses:

Wk 3 (06/02) - a special pre-Valentine's Day Sonnet Workshop at Christ Church in Lecture rm 1.
Wk 5 (20/02) - Translation Workshop to hone your skills and follow up the festival in second week.



OUPS will administrate the Martin Starkie Poetry Competition, as well as the Declamation Competition during Hilary 2009.


--MEMBERSHIP: £10 termly or £25 yearly including entry to all events, so very good value! Readings are £3 each to non-members. Wine is included.

Don't forget to join our mailing list if you'd like to receive updates on the readings and events that we are running as well as other ways to get involved. Email eloise.stonborough@seh.ox.
ac.uk to sign up.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Open Mic!

Thanks so much to everyone who read at our open mic night on Thursday. We had cake, wine, crisps and readings from this splendid bunch:

Ben Doeh
Charlotte Geater
Christopher Jones
Dorian Van Braâm
Elizabeth Wenger
Eloise Stonborough
Geoffrey Lim
Geraldine Clarkson
James Lowe
Madeline Wright
Mark Mayes
Minoo Dinshaw
Nannette O’Brien
Paul Kelly
Peter Lomax
Richard O’Brien
Robert Rapoport
Ross Smith
Sammy Jay
Sean Hughes
Sophie McGrath
Stephen Bochonek
Will Davies
William Harris &
Yuan Yang

Only two weeks of term left now - don't forget MATTHEW HOLLIS on Thursday of 7th* and then DALJIT NAGRA** (!) the next week on Dec 4th, including the OUPS CHRISTMAS RAFFLE. Expect great things.

Also remember we're trying to collect a poem each from the people who read on Thursday so we can put them up here. Email me with your poems! - laura.marsh@chch.ox.ac.uk

*Nov 27th, the Pontigny Room at Teddy Hall, 8pm
**Dec 4th, Lecture Rm 1, Christ Church, 8pm

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A Thought on Donald Rumsfeld

You remember that thing about known unknowns and unknown unknowns? No?

The Unknown (Donald Rumsfeld)

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

It sparked a whole genre of political found poetry.

"On Good and Evil" (Sarah Palin)

It is obvious to me
Who the good guys are in this one
And who the bad guys are.
The bad guys are the ones
Who say Israel is a stinking corpse,
And should be wiped off
The face of the earth.

That's not a good guy.

Okay, so here's my question: what about unknown knowns? Things we don't know we know, but nonetheless we know them. It's kind of like Proust says, "We possess all our memories, but not the faculty of recalling them... What, then, is a memory which we do not recall?"

Wednesday Workshops

Executive Summary of this Post:

1. Free Workshop every Wednesday 8pm in the Mitre on High Street.

2. Look for the person in the photo (Tom), or a table with a poetry book on it.

3. Bring five to ten copies of your poem to read, so we can all have one.

4. Come, get feedback on your own work, and steal ideas from others!

As well as weekly readings on Thursdays, Poetry Society holds a free workshop every Wednesday which is open to everyone, whether or not you're a member. They are held at the Mitre, which is on the north side of the High Street on the corner with Turl Street. They start at 8pm. At these workshops, everyone brings a poem they have written or are working on, and reads it, and we talk about it a little bit. You don't even have to bring a poem if you don't want, you can just come and listen t what your peers are writing, and then criticise (or praise) them!

We hold it in the pub, despite some downsides, because (1) it's easy to find and no organisation is required to book it, (2) we want the evening to be totally informal, relaxed and unintimidating, and (3) we like to drink beer and even have the occasional ice-cream sundae. This does cause a slight problem: when you come to the Mitre at 8pm on a Wednesday, you need to know where Poetry Society is! Sometimes lots of people come, sometimes hardly any, so it's no use looking for a big group louldy declaiming verse, especially if you arrive on time (which you should do!) when we're unlikely to have actually started reading yet.

In order to solve this problem, we are instituting some SIGNS and GUIDES. Firstly, look at the photograph at the top of this post. That is me, Tom Cutterham (Society Treasurer). Either I or Ben Doehy (photo to appear shortly - he has curly hair!) will pretty much be there every week, so look out for us! Secondly, in case my face isn't handsomely memorable enough, I will be bringing some kind of poetry-related book along every week from now on, so look out for a table with a book on it! Most of the Mitre's clientele are pub-golfers and tourists, so except for guidebooks there's unlikely to be much other reading material around to confuse you.

I really hope this will make it easier for people to come. And you should, because it's a fun way to get feedback on poems you're working on, and to hear what other people in Oxford are doing. I promise everyone will be very friendly and you absolutely mustn't be embarrassed to come and read! There's one other thing you should know: please try to bring multiple copies (between five and ten, say) of the poem you want to read, so that everyone can look at it; that really helps.


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A Reading from Geoffrey Hill

IX from The Triumph of Love

On chance occasions –
and others have observed this – you can see the wind,
as it moves, barely a separate thing,
the inner wall, the cell, of an hourglass, humming
vortices, bright particles in dissolution,
a roiling plug of sand picked up
as a small dancing funnel. It is how
the purest apprehension might appear
to take corporeal shape.

I love Hill’s sensitivity to the weight of words, how the mental (and real) tongue and ear lift and drop sounds, how the eyes imagine clusters and densities of letters, and attribute physicality to shifting speech particles. The aural-syntactical quality of this poem appeals to my ear, so I decided to record a vocal interpretation of it:
Click the title of this blog to hear it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Hello poetic Oxonians!

This term we have a very exciting programme of readings planned:

WEEK 3 (30/10): Paul Farley (winner of Whitbread Award and twice a Forward Prize winner)
WEEK 4 (06/11): Todd Swift
WEEK 5 (13/11): Colette Bryce (winner of the National Poetry Competition in 2003)
WEEK 6 (20/11): Open Mic
WEEK 7 (27/11): Matthew Hollis (poetry editor at Faber and Faber)
WEEK 8 (04/12): Daljit Nagra (author of the acclaimed 'Look We Have Coming to Dover!')

The first of these will take place at Christ Church in Lecture Room 1 (actually a very cosy room despite the name) on Thursday 30th at 8.30pm. Free for members/ £3 to join on the night. Arrive between 8 and 8.30pm to get good seats/soak up the poetic atmosphere (there will be lots of this).


If you want to do some extra clicking, you can watch a video of Paul doing a tour of Tate Liverpool, talking about the Liverpool he grew up in and 1964 as "a pop cultural year zero" here:

or listen to him reading some of his poems at the wonderful Poetry Archive:



Hope you can make it!



Find the event on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=14484989969

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Roses are red, / violets are blue, / some poems rhyme...

My resolution for this term is to write more rhyming poetry. I thought, most of the poems I like most rhyme; so why doesn't the poetry I write? Well the first reason must be that it is so hard. But practice makes better! So that is my task - one poem every week that rhymes.

Trying to write something that rhymed made me realise that this means I have to take a little more account of form. This is something I don't know much about (I'm not an English student so hopefully that partially excuses me). I was therefore wondering if anyone had any suggestions about cool forms that I might try? Preferably fairly short, like less than fifty lines. Please tell me in the comments!

On the subject of forms, I love this self-referential poem (by Anthony Hecht? Or maybe not?), which once caused me a whole summer of attempting to write double dactyl poems:

Dactyls in dimeter,
Verse form with choriambs
(Masculine rhyme):
One sentence (two stanzas)
Challenges poets who
Don't have the time.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

On a Lighter Note...


Monday, 13 October 2008

Peacefulness with death

my friend went to a funeral this weekend of a former friend who committed suicide.

i find words are often inadequate at the best of times, but in this kind of situation, to speak of death or offer consolation in any way - pretty pants really..
but it was in this kind of situation that words first really spoke to me. 12 years ago, my first personal encounter with death, when daisy the dog died and made me feel empty and kind of quiet inside. but our chaplain read out this (poem one) by bishop brent and it was the first time poetry seemed to work.

since then, years later - i have been quite into rumi, and came across a poem under the heading 'grief song, praise song: peacefulness with death' which brought me right back to that brent one. i apologise for adding a more melancholy tone, but maybe this kind of peacefulness at evening time is sometimes nice to speak of.

What is dying?
I am standing on the sea shore.
A ship sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon,
and someone at my side says, 'She is gone'.
Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all;
she is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her;
and just at the moment when someone at my side says,
'She is gone',
there are others who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up a glad shout, 'There she comes'
- and that is dying.


On the day I die, when I'm being carried
toward the grave, don't weep. Don't say

He's gone! He's gone. Death has nothing
to do with going away. The sun sets and

the moon sets, but they're not gone.
Death is a coming together. The tomb

looks like a prison, but it's really
release into union. The human seed goes

down in the ground like a bucket into
the well where Joseph is. It grows and

comes up full of some unimagined beauty.
Your mouth closes here and immediately

opens with a shout of joy there.



A poem by Saul Williams

i presented
my feminine side
with flowers

she cut the stems
and placed them gently
down my throat

and these tu lips
might soon eclipse
your brightest hopes

Friday, 10 October 2008


Poetry is a personal thing; I've always seen it that way at least. I've never been able to write it without rawness, without some emotion bubbling away, pouring out into the words; pouring out like lifeblood into words, harsh words, beautiful words, words of hope and despair.
In a way, of the poems I've written, my favourite are the ones I would never show anyone, and the ones that no-one would ever really want to read. The ones that wouldn't be any good if judged. Yet I love the poems which are one place, one time, one specific time something ugly and beautifully real flowed out.

I've never understood the impulse to write in that way; why one would want to do it. Poetry is aesthetic, it can't be denied. Argue whatever you like, even the most confessional poet expresses themselves in precise and measured tones, or else there is no joy or pleasure in reading it. Yet I sometimes I write poems which agree with this basic rule in no way.
I think it provides a frame; it lets you control and manipulate primal gale-force winds. It's like turning a scream into clay on a potter's wheel.

I find that cathartic.

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Orange

Dear Reader, welcome to the 'blog of the Oxford University Poetry Society. I thought it would be nice to start by getting all the contributors to post a favourite poem, and some words about it. Let's not worry about copyright problems until we actually start getting sued, eh?

I first read this poem when I was first in love with the first girl I was in love with. I read it before I had ever written any poetry, and after I had read it I wanted to write poetry myself, as well as read everything Wendy Cope had written. No romantic poem has ever felt to me more true to the feeling of being in love than this. This poem says, it is possible to be happy.

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange -
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave -
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

by Wendy Cope, from Serious Concerns (1992)