Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Writing Poetry: Modes in Contemporary Poetry
Academic Year
Semester 2

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials Seminar. 2 hours per week


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment A portfolio of twelve pages of poetry, plus a critical commentary of 1500 words.  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected. 

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:

1. demonstrate an ability to identify a range of 'modes' or features of contemporary poetry, pointing out some of its salient features;

2. write effectively and convincingly in some of these modes, and explain some of the strengths and weaknesses of those chosen.

Brief description

This module is based upon the study and practice of what are identified as six fundamental Modes of Modern Poetry Writing. One of these is focused upon in each of the five sessions. An example is discussed, and students produce or will have produced, a section of work in that mode, in response to a stimulus or exercise provided. Each mode is linked to its relevant critical or theoretical movement, so that a related conceptual vocabulary is built up. The aim is to build a basic repertoire of options, procedures and concerns on which the student can draw in an eclectic way for models of practice which go beyond the instinctive "own voice" method which most aspiring poets use.


_1. Poetry in Documentary Mode

Narrative/Denotative Writing aiming for an overall sense of "reduced affect", with feelings and reactions underplayed or implicit; and starkness of verbal texture. Such work has an underlying modernist aesthetic of shunning decorative effects and striving for impersonality and tends to use metonymic techniques. The earlier work of Roy Fisher will be used as an example of this mode.

_2. Poetry in Confessional Mode

Writing aiming for overall sense of "heightened affect" with feelings and reactions foregrounded and made explicit. A high degree of artifice and verbalisation is frequently a feature of this mode. The mode often requires the "double-crossing" of the personal material with another element to give it a "second dimension". Strong examples of this mode are the work of Eavan Boland and Tony Harrison.

_3. Poetry in Minimalist/Fragmentary Mode

Minimalism has been a dominant form in the arts influenced by modernism. Writing in this mode eschews narrative linearity and imagery which is primarily pictorial in effect. Instead, images may seem almost randomised. The form is also voiceless, with emphasis on visual/spatial effects rather than rhythmic and auditory ones. The influences are often Eastern rather than Western, as with J H Prynne, for example.

_4. Poetry in Linguistic Mode

In this mode poetry foregrounds language itself as a shaping medium. One contemporary form of this is the use of "interlanguages" which blend and mix dialect and standard, such as Hiberno English and standard (Ian Duhig), or Caribbean English and standard (Grace Nichols, John Agard), and so on. Other poets write exclusively in dialect (Tom Leonard) or write sound poems (Bob Cobbing), or use words as a plastic medium rather than an expressive one (the American "Language Poets").

_5. Poetry in Metaphysical/Metaphorical Mode

Poetry always has an element of enigma: it holds its reader by perplexity. Some poets foreground this element to a marked degree (Maibhe McGuckian, and Susand Stanier are contemporary examples); William Empson is a modernist predecessor in this mode. The poetry of the "Martians" or "Metaphor Men" (Craig Raine, Christopher Reid and David Sweetman), is related to this, and was prominent in the first half of the 1980s. It uses a technique of defamiliarisation based on metaphorical transformation of objects and situations.


This module is at CQFW Level 7