"The variety of Internet poetry workshops is surprising, and the options and possibilities boggle the mind."

Pam Casto


Writer's Block
Web Del Sol's online bbs workshop


Pam puts her insomnia to good use and provides a useful list of Writer's Resources.

The Fine Art of Finding an Online Poetry Workshop

   by Pamelyn Casto


As a veteran poetry workshopper, I've belonged to off-line, in-person poetry workshops and poetry organizations and have found them all to be quite beneficial. Many provide valuable critiquing/editing services and often provide information on publishing opportunities, contests, conferences, retreats, and other workshops. They're also a great social setting where people with similar interests associate, do readings for each other, and share ideas. Every poet would do well to get involved in an in-person poetry workshop where you can share your love for poetry with like-minded people who can also help you grow as a poet.

But as great as in-person workshops can be, I did cut down on my in-person activities once I discovered the Internet poetry workshop facilities. That's because the Internet can provide all that an in-person workshop can (except for the comfortable feeling of being with in-the-flesh people) and can provide even more. The volume of information available for poets is tremendous, and what can be done with poetry is limited only by our current imaginations. One surfing trip can yield many treasures and the potential for the future of poetry is truly astounding.

Until I resigned earlier this year to pursue other projects, I was the administrator for two years for Poetry-W, a large and active workshop. During that time I was also creator and administrator of a workshop that took, among other short pieces, prose poetry. Currently I am the co-administrator, along with Paul Kloppenborg, of Muse-W, a workshop for intermediate to advanced poets. Muse-W has a waiting list and in that workshop we do intense critique sessions, poet studies, teaching sessions, discuss writing theory, practice with forms and exercises, and share markets and ideas on poetry. I've also just created a brand new workshop called FlashFiction-W which takes short pieces: flash fiction (sometimes known as sudden fiction, short short stories, or furious, minute or postcard fiction) all around 500 words, including haibun and prose poetry. So I have plenty of experience, have scars and medals to prove it, with Internet poetry workshops both as a participant and as an administrator. I've also explored the net for other poetry workshops and have created a list of them at the end of this article.


The variety of Internet poetry workshops is surprising, and the options and possibilities boggle the mind. There's surely something for everyone, and if not, there soon will be since new opportunities and the implementation of new ideas arises almost daily. Some Internet poetry workshops are open to the public, some have waiting lists, some are highly specialized, and some require samples of work before being admitted. Many (probably most) are free, some charge a small fee and some charge a larger fee, and it's even possible to take college poetry writing courses on the Internet.

On a practical level, you can attend the online poetry workshops in your bathrobe, in your grungy schlep clothing, or even when you're having a bad hair day. You can check in at all hours of the night or day to provide a critique or to get comments on your own work. You can also belong to one or several at the same time. Internet poetry workshops are great too for breaking the isolation that comes with writing poetry. You can work a while, and then check in with the workshop for a nice break. But there are even more bonuses.

Internet poetry workshops are great for providing fast feedback on your latest poem. They're also a great source for networking, for improving in the art of poetry, and for learning unfamiliar forms. Many Internet workshops provide for submitting and critiquing and many also provide market information, publishing opportunities, details on contests, and some even provide exercises for the days you're afflicted with writer's block. For both fun and discussion there are even special chat rooms for poets. Plus, you can sometimes fraternize with poets you've long admired since many highly published and well-respected poets are online too. Further, you can meet and share work with poets from all over the world and through them learn new ideas, perspectives, and even new-to-you poetic forms to try.

The biggest boon of all to poets of all skill levels is the way in which, through poetry workshops and various net sites, you can give yourself a good solid education in the art of poetry. There are net sites dedicated to educating visitors on certain types of poetry, sites that provide reading forums for some of the greats, and discussion groups where poetry critics and poets meet to discuss both classic and contemporary poetry. Some net sites provide sound and even video so that you can attend poetry readings without leaving the comfort of your home. Such events are better in person, of course, but on-screen is the next best thing. Attending these poetry readings gives you exposure to the interesting and innovative things people from all over the world are doing with their presentations. Further, involvement in online workshops also keeps you writing.


Different poets will have different tastes and will seek the workshops that they find appealing. But there are several things to consider in choosing an online poetry workshop. The priority for me is that the list be closed to the public and the work submitted is accessible only by members of the workshop. The fewer people who have access to your works-in-progress the better. Many hard copy journals want fresh material and first serial rights, and many of them consider anything shown on the Internet as published material. So if you're not careful you can cut your chances of being published in hard copy journals and disqualify your poems for various competitions. It's also important to be sure the workshop you join keeps no archives of posted work that can be accessed by non-members (or even new members).

I would also look for a workshop where no flaming is allowed or tolerated. Workshops are for those seeking help in improving their pieces. Good honest critical comments are always needed and usually appreciated. However, insulting or derogatory comments are not only very little help, but those who give them often betray the fact that they're limited in expressive skills. Further, such comments can discourage a fledgling poet. The workshops that don't tolerate such comments are often your better, more professionally run shops where the administrator is ever-attentive to what goes on in the workshop.

I would also seek a poetry workshop that has high critiquing standards it tries to uphold. Critiquing, like writing poetry, is a skill that must be learned and the better workshops will help people who are new to the critiquing process. In the Internet poetry workshops I've run, I've always provided members with a basic critique checklist for evaluating their own work and the work of others, and members are encouraged to go well beyond the one-liner critiques such as "I like it!" With high critiquing standards, all benefit. When you seriously analyze what makes a piece effective and what might work to make it even stronger, and offer concrete examples and well-thought-out suggestions, you're doing a service to a fellow poet and to yourself for all you learn in the process. The help you give another will soon reflect in your own work.

Finally, I'd also seek an online poetry workshop that has mandatory participation requirements. Such workshops have active members and such requirements discourage lurking, browsing, or grazing. Your work is more protected in such a workshop.


As great, instructive, educational, and helpful as online poetry workshop can be, there are also several pitfalls you need to be aware of. The first one, and one I fell into myself, is spending so much time critiquing the work of others that your own time for writing dwindles. I was certainly learning a lot through the critiques I did but found myself with less and less time to write--until I realized that I had to pace myself better. Helping others is a good and noble thing but helping yourself get your poems written is also important.

Another pitfall is the seduction of getting several comments on the pieces you submit. The workshops for which I've been administrator would allow no more than one piece per poet submitted per week, and each week I looked forward to posting my latest piece. The critiques would start rolling in and it was so gratifying to read the comments that I neglected sending my work out as I should have. It's attractive getting comments too since when you get something published in a journal there's usually silence. The piece is there, but nothing's usually said. So the seduction can be quite strong to post your piece, get your critiques and comments, and then let the piece lie in a drawer too long. Now I make sure that once all critiques are in I get busy revising and sending my poems to a market.

You also need to keep up your reading. Good writers, they tell us, are avid readers so don't get so involved in workshops that you forfeit your valuable reading time. The more time you spend online, in the exciting community of poets, the less reading time you'll have. Unless you also use the Internet for this purpose as well. There are some great sites that provide reading forums on the great poets, both past and contemporary. So visit those sites often.

And finally, on the more negative side, you have to always remember that your work is exposed to strangers in a workshop setting. My experience says that most people are honest, but just as in non-virtual life, some are not. You place your work at risk by posting one of your more finished poems since it's always possible that someone might decide to "borrow" it. If a poem gets fifteen or twenty rave reviews, it's a pretty good tip off that it's publishable. But you want to be the one to publish it. Good workshops do all they can to help protect copyrights, but there are also some things you can do as well. Post only pieces that you need help on, not those that are ready to send out. Always run a review of members to see who all had access to your piece. Other members, those who saw the piece themselves, can help provide proof that the piece was indeed yours should such proof ever be needed. Perhaps you recall the bizarre case of plagiarism that poet Neal Bowers had to face when someone was submitting his published work under a false name--not even under their own name. Dishonesty is sometimes a fact of life when dealing with strangers. So it's important to understand the possible risks involved in an Internet workshop.

As with anything in life there are positives and negatives. For me, online poetry workshops have far more positive things going for them than negative--enough to outweigh any negative that does crop up. The benefits and help available have been a large and important factor in my growth as a poet, and for this I'm very grateful. I'll remain a member of online poetry workshops for as long as I write poetry.


Below is a brief sampling of what's available to poets on the Internet. There are many more places to explore. My listing these is not necessarily an endorsement but a sampling of what's out there. You will investigate them yourself, of course, and weigh the pros and cons to find the right one for you. There are many others available but these will give you a good start on the road to finding just the right workshop and some valuable resources that can be both interesting and fun.




Albany Poetry Workshop
(critiques, reviews, assignments)

The Alsop Review
now hosts on-line Poetry Classes. Classes begin the first day of each month and are taught by established poets Kim Addonizio, Jack Foley and Neile Graham. There is a fee for these on-line workshops.

AlienFlower Poetry Workshop

Asian American Writers' Workshop

The AWS Survivors Writer's Forum

Chalk Board/Reverie
(moderated forum run by Ernest Slyman)

CyberScribers International Writer's Forum
subscribe cyberscribers Your Name

Distance Learning sites sometimes have poetry classes available (see English courses)

Electric Muse

(500 word, [more or less] prose poetry, haibun, short short stories--flash, sudden, minute, furious, postcard fiction and more)
subscribe flashfiction-w YourFirstName YourLastName

(smaller group that critiques poetry and short stories)
subscribe Gatsby-L

The Gazebo
(moderated forum run by editors from the Alsop Review)

Gotham Writers' Workshop

(Has exercises and lab for critiquing and feedback)

Kingdom Writers (Christian)

Local Writer's Workshop

The Melic Review
(moderated forum)

(Has a waiting list. For intermediate to advanced poets.)
subscribe muse-w YourFirstName YourLastName

Penpot Online

Poetry Society of America Workshop

Poetry-W (large and active workshop)
subscribe poetry-w YourFirstName YourLastName

Poetry Workshop

workshop for homeless and low-income writers

trAce International Online Writing Community
(just now organizing)

UCLA Extension Poetry Writing Workshop
(taught by Catherine Daly
Information upcoming at Catherine's site)

WebPoets Mailing List

Write Links

Writer In-Residence

Writers (huge workshop and very lively)

Writer's BBS
(poetry critiques)

Writer's Village University

(you must provide samples of your work to be accepted here)


Anthologie Haiku
(haiku from various countries and in several languages)

A general discussion list run by Gerald England for writers and others interested in haiku (and related forms such as tanka, senryu, renga, sijo, and haibun). The forum is not primarily for posting new writing, but a place to discuss the nature of haiku, to find out about hakuists, and to learn about publishers and competitions.

To subscribe send a message to: majordomo@lists.spunge.org with message subscribe haikutalk-l@lists.spunge.org or subscribe haikutalk-d@lists.spunge.org (if you want the digest version).

New Linked Poetry Forms

Shiki Internet Haiku Salon
Shiki Haiku
"subscribe" as body of message (without quote marks)

Shiki Tanka
"subscribe" in body of message (without quote marks)
Shiki Mailing List

AHA! Poetry
(learn cinquain, ghazal, haiku, renga, sijo, and tanka)


Mike Barker, administrator of Writers on MIT,
has an extensive poetry/writing exercise site


(emphasis on postmodern and innovative poetries in Britain and Ireland)

CAP-L (moderated discussion of contemoporary American poetry)
subscribe cap-l

Wom-Po (discussion forum for contemporary women's poetry)
sub wom-po Your Name

Wr-eye-tings (concrete, visual, sound, and performance poetry discussions):
subscribe wr-eye-tings


Pamelyn Casto is a graduate student whose fields of intense interest include all aspects of ancient Greek culture, the witchcraze of early modern European history, and Nazi Germany. She is also a public speaker who delivers mostly motivational speeches, and she is an editor and a writer. She is currently at work on a novel, a collection of short stories, and she also writes articles. However, her primary love is poetry. She has had her work published in journals and magazines and has won competitions for her poetry on a local, state, and national level. She is also the administrator of two online workshops: Muse-W and FlashFiction-W. Since discovering the many resources for writers on the Internet, she has given up sleeping completely.