On Poetry: Reading, Writing and Working with Poems


We begin with a drive to write something that’s never been said before, to protest, to offload, to challenge or catch the zeitgeist. We imagine we write like the poets we admire. Slowly we learn the craft, understanding eventually that a writer’s indentured for life.

Drawing on decades of experience as a poet and tutor, this compelling book is part hands-on guide and part reflection on ways that poetry can make a difference to how we live. It is also a survey of many varied and inspirational writers, especially women poets, especially from the end of the 20th Century. Jackie Wills is herself one of our most genuine and brilliantly insightful poets; and, as the sections on writing workshops show, she is also an outstanding teacher. The final section of this unique book offers starting points and resources that will prove essential for new and experienced poets alike.

Read a sample.

Published April 2022.

What Writers and Critics Think

  • Jackie Wills combines taste, experience and practicality in this indispensable handbook for poets. She begins with an autobiography in reading poetry, and her broad and discriminating personal canon is a revelation born of years of observation and hard work. Her tips for workshop leaders are judicious, tough and full of common sense. Throughout this wonderful guide Jackie Wills demonstrates the ‘Ordinary Supernatural’ powers of poetry with verve, bite and the encouragement to each of us to roll up our sleeves and get reading and writing.

    Sasha Dugdale
  • 'On Poetry' is a fruitful, necessary book. Jackie Wills speaks directly, in a committed and politically engaged voice, about the importance of developing a personal canon - in her case a primarily female tradition - with sensitive readings of an impressive variety of significant poems. Wills's feminist and anti-imperialist framework gives her writing a beautiful urgency, packed with insight and clarity. It's a nuanced enquiry into why we write poetry, how we're drawn to poets who speak to our lives. Wills's fourteen chapters cover a breadth of subjects important to any consideration of being a contemporary poet open to questioning and addressing experience, including environment, politics and social engagement, translation, identity, the options available for workshops. 'On Poetry' is divided into two sections, the second half a useful and informative guide to running and attending workshops - including issues to consider - where Wills's years of wide experience provide a range of practical examples. There are valuable pages of sparks towards poems, a variety of ideas for writing. It ends with a brilliant Afterword, that is itself Wills's manifesto, where she critiques 'capitalism's great invention, the winner...the success/failure deception', and celebrates creativity as 'a series of small acts of resistance.' This book is full of riches and inspiration. Its wisdom is liberating. 'On Poetry' is essential reading.

    Robert Hamberger
  • Careful, considered, thoughtful, and full of insight and wisdom.

    Hilary Menos


Jackie Wills has worked for newspapers, magazines and several universities. A former journalist, she’s also worked in business, schools, arts and community organisations, including Unilever, London Underground, Shoreham Airport, the Surrey Hills, the London Symphony Orchestra and Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. She has been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow and run reading groups.

Over three decades, Wills has organised live poetry events and mentored many emerging writers, consolidating her experience in The Workshop Handbook for Writers (Arc, 2016). Her poems feature in several anthologies including Writing Motherhood (Seren, 2017) and Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry (Forward Arts Foundation, 2015). Wills has collaborated over many years with visual artist Jane Fordham.

Additional information

Dimensions 21.6 × 13.8 × 1.5 cm

Book, eBook (ePub)


978-1-914914-12-6, 978-1-914914-13-3



Publication Year

April 2022