When poetry meets technology - coaching poets by Skype

Posted on 24 March 2017

Skype recently approached The Poetry Society to ask if they could interview poetry surgeons working on Skype to talk about their experiences.

It was interesting to consider their questions - the strengths and weaknesses of working with writers over the internet rather than face-to-face.

'Heidi Williamson noticed there were lots of great tutors and ways to get in-person time with other poets in Norfolk where she lives, but resources were few in rural areas... She began providing poetry advice on Skype, and was soon mentoring people world-wide.

“Every writer has strengths it’s good to know about, and areas they’d love to develop,” says Heidi. “It’s a bit like learning a new language; one you’ve been aware of since birth but not necessarily pursued. You can be very good at ‘hearing’ great poetry, but less sure how to make those sounds yourself. The Surgery helps with that, looking at the language, techniques, craft and processes that can get a writer closer to how they want to write.”

“Talking about your writing is very personal and can be scary, especially for someone new to it,” says Heidi. “It can be tricky with email feedback to get the tone right so the person understands exactly where you’re coming from, and on the phone it can be hard to interpret the silencesare they thinking, waiting for you to speak, gone to get a pen? Face-to-face discussion on Skype is more reassuring. You can see that the other person is listening attentively, perhaps smiling, encouraging. It’s easier to be warm and helps with rapport.”

A writer sends up to six poems (or 150 lines of poetry) a week in advance of their Skype call. She then makes notes, suggestions, and recommendations for things to read or new techniques to think about.

“In the Poetry Surgery itself, we go through each of the poems in detail. They might have a bit they’re unsure of, want to know if the story is clear, question if certain techniques are working for the reader.

“It’s very much a two-way conversation, getting into the nitty-gritty of word-by-word and line-by-line commenting, editorial suggestions and changes to try.”

Heidi recalls one memorable moment on Skype included a client who had a sudden power-cut right at the height of a major point in their discussion.

“These things make you smile,” says Heidi, “And you’re keen to find each other and be wholly present again. A small reunion in the midst of the hour…”

Read the article in full here