Workshops & Classes

80th Writers Conference at Ocean Park,  August 12, 2021

“Forms of Repetition” 

One of the oldest and most fundamental ways art creates that necessary tension is through the use of repetition: repeated patterns that seem to promise the reader/viewer a measure of stability and order that is pleasing to both the senses and the intellect, but that the artist is then careful to vary, withhold, fracture, return in altered form, and otherwise deny, at least temporarily, until the close. The pleasure in such uses of repetition resides in the beauty of the repeated patterns themselves, but even more so in the almost-erotic give-and-take between expectation, partial fulfillment and eventual satisfaction, and in the discoveries to be made in the process.

The so-called French Forms—many of them not French at all but rather from the prosodic traditions of many cultures—have been popular for centuries as intricate games with language that often use their sophisticated play to convey, with apparent lightness, some of the least “light” aspects of life. Some have been called obsessional forms, others perfect mechanisms for encapsulating memory, still others brave little dances in which the human spirit faces down the inevitable.

In this workshop, poets are invited to draw on something in their personal experience —whether pleasant or painful—that bears repeating, to see what can be made of it. We’ll take as our models the “obsessive,” repeating forms of other poets living and dead.


The Frost Farm Poetry Conference, August 20-22, 2021

“Common Measure & the Ballad”

What does Emily Dickinson’s verse have in common with cowboy poetry? How is “Casey at the Bat” connected to “Amazing Grace” and so many other great Christian hymns? This class will be an introduction to the family of poetic meters that includes common measure, “fourteeners,” and ballad meter, which have been employed by poets as various as Keats, Yeats, the author of the Mother Goose rhymes, and the lyricist who wrote the theme for Gilligan’s Island. Having trained our ears to notice the family resemblances and individual differences in this metric group, we’ll try our hands at writing a story-poem, or ballad, arguably the most popular poetic form in the history of English-language verse.


Writing Workshops at The Emma Andrews Library

Writing is both expression and communication. The first you can do on your own—it’s like singing in the shower. But you never quite know if you’re doing the second until you show your work to a reader. A workshop provides a group of first readers who can be both honest and sympathetic to what you’re trying to do, as they’re trying to do something like it themselves. We’ve got an extraordinary group of writers enrolled; it has been an inspiring and enjoyable experience.

There are currently two active workshops, both for poets only one of which meets every other week; and anotherwhich meets once a month. We meet at the Emma Andrews Library, 77 Purchase Street, Newburyport, in the evening (when the library is closed, so we have the place to ourselves.)

The fee is $11/session, payable at the start of each session. The workshop runs about two hours. Participants should bring 9 copies of either a poem or short prose piece (1150 words max.), which may be an excerpt from a longer work.

Please contact me directly if you are interested in a workshop, 

Recent publications and news from workshop members


About Your Instructor

Alfred Nicol was awarded the 1976 Academy of American Poets Prize at Dartmouth, where he studied with Sydney Lea and Richard Eberhart, and participated in the fabled “Thursday Poets” Workshop. A member of the Powow River Poets since 1999, Nicol edited The Powow River Anthology, published in 2006.

He has been part of the faculty at The Frost Farm Poetry Conference since its inception in 2015, and has been a featured presenter at The West Chester Poetry Conference, The Seacoast Writers Conference, and the Writers Conference at Ocean Park.

His teaching experience also includes seven years at The Sparhawk School in Amesbury, MA, teaching creative writing to students in grades K through freshman; and two years working with Project Partner, a federally funded project designed to integrate the arts into the curricula of schools in Massachusetts.

Nicol has been invited to teach as “Visiting Poet” at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Jacksonville, Florida; at Pelham High School in NH; and has an annual guest of Poetry Soup, the creative writing program at Newburyport High School in MA, since 2004.