i. Know Your Art Well, And Know How It Suits You And Your Career
Poetry is a many-facetted activity. To some it is an
art, to others a hobby or therapy, and to others a business
and a career. To most poets it is a combination of parts of
these and/or other concerns.
If you wish to make a career of poetry, you must
overcome some predictable obstacles and face some
necessary realities: there are a lot of successful poets in the
world, but their names are seldom as widely known as the
names of entertainers or athletes. On the other hand I know
more poets than athletes or entertainers. Aspiring poets may
hope to be able to find someone else to promote their art so
they don't have to mess with the business aspect. There are
considerably few poets who are ever able to pull this off. It
happens more frequently in music than in poetry. The
chances are not good for a poet to find an agent to take him
in and make him rich. The odds are not even as good as the
odds of a sports loving kid becoming a pro basketball star.
Most of us can name more really famous living basketball
players than poets. Poetry demands a higher degree of
literacy and has a smaller number of applicants. It is also a
less popular activity than basketball, so there are fewer
consumers. That means fewer applicants, fewer consumers
and worse odds. But poets deal daily with the impossible,
and are good at turning obstacles into bulwarks.
ii. This Is Not Just One Track To Success
There are several tracks to success in poetry, and
each has different marks of success. Some of these are
teaching, writing for personal therapy, writing verse for
greeting cards, use of poetry for communication on the
Internet, leading publicworkshops, reading at coffee houses
and publishing best selling poetry books. The two which top
the list are often connected: teaching and publishing
bestsellers. I will not cover the lesser ones here.
The ways to fame and first class publishing are these:
1. Education, education and education.
2. Pay lots of dues through writing classes, publishing
in many literary magazines and smaller to bigger readings.
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
3. Pay for it yourself. Recommended for those who
can afford it. Start with a small publication or a large one.
Cost: $300 to $30,000 and up depending on quality of books
and number of copies.
4. Miracle. Prayer is recommended.
5. Become famous first for some other reason so that
anything you publish will be in demand.
6. Become famous after you are dead. Not
reccomended as the pay is not good.
iii. Most Successful Poets Teach Their Art
First and foremost is teaching. This is the most
common achievement for poets. You may go through
college and learn the skills, accumulate the credentials and
contacts and create a name recognition and demand for
your services in schools andcolleges. After you have taught
awhile and possibly written a textbook, you may go on a
lecture and book promotion circuit, or you may create a
circuit by your own effort and list your services with a state
or national arts council. You may do one-day workshops or
one-semester residencies at educational institutions, city
arts centers, and conferences.
iv. Promotional Needs May Come As A Surprise To Some Poets
The profession of poetry usually includes promotion
of poetry through workshops and speaking engagements
including readings. Booking workshops and speaking
engagements requires good organizational skills. You must
produce and distribute advertisments, acquire an address
list of prospects for your services and be available by phone
to respond quickly and repeatedly to booking agents and
organizers. You will have to keep in touch as the date
approaches, to be aware of cancellations, weather, and
changes in flight connections, booking agents, phone
numbers, addresses etc. Appearances, travel, car rental and
lodging need to be scheduled. Pay, terms and many details
need to be negotiated.
v. Thinking Through The Process
Learn to prepare different presentations for a variety
of venues or workshops, age groups and professional
organizations. Practice the word "no" for those opportunities
you can't meet. Set limits, and don't overbook yourself.
Protect your reputation from people who will advertise your
appearance and sell ticketswithout a confirmation or
contract with you. Be certain you can meet all the
obligations you make.
vi. You May Prefer Moderate Goals And Less P. R.
Your interactions with booking agents, travel agents
and a personal manager may help you realize that you
would rather do things on a smaller scale, keep your life
more private and not burden your poetry with the trappings
of business. On the other hand, you may really enjoy the
business side of poetry.
vii. Are You Really A Giant?
New poets often think they would just like to publish
books of poems. I think you have to be really famous for a
publisher to allow you such freedom from promotional
activities. That degree of recognition usually requires fame
in another area. An ex-president is in a good position to
make such demands. An ex-athlete is likely to do ok, but
with somewhat less success on the basis of past reputation.
Artists can often cross over from one art form to another with
more predictable success; but poetry is as different from
painting as Baseball is from Basketball. Michael Jordan
discovered that skill in one sport does not always carry to
another. Dwight Eisenhower had only minor success with his
painting. Dan Quisenberry and Rosie Greer have enjoyed
their forays into the arts with little fanfare. Their former fame
was hardly enhanced by their art.
viii. How To Know If You Are A Giant
If you hope to publish a bestseller you must have
poems that are very popular at readings. If you are ready to
publish a best seller you will know by these signs:
1. You will find that literary magazines always
welcome your submissions and publish all or nearly all you
2. You will find that people are not reluctant when you
try to read your poems to them.
3. Your fame will spread like wildfire.
4. Audiences will love you and other poets will be
jealous of you and hate to see you show up at readings, as
you steal the audience.
5. After you read, the audience will cluster around
you to talk and to ask for copies of your poems.
6. Publishers will encourage you to publish and offer
you cash advances to sign contracts as soon as they see
7. Your friends won't be your only support.
On the other hand, some publishers could not spot a
best seller if it hit them in the face. They will quickly go out
of business. If you offer your work to enough publishers, and
it has great appeal, some of them will know it. If publishers
are notenthusiastic, continue to polish your art. Take
classes, and read lots of poetry. As you read, study what
you prefer, and quickly pass by what doesn't interest you. If
you are sure your talent is being overlooked by the experts,
but believe you have appeal to readers, go to a print shop
and get a price for publishing your own book. Pay for it
yourself and distribute it yourself. Read the chapter on
making a chapbook.
ix. What To Do While Waiting For Success
Publish where you can; and approach publishers to
print a book whenever you are ready. Magazine editors will
help you know when. Literary magazines are usually edited
by poets, some of whom may be very jealous of you if you
are truly great. There are others at the literary magazines
who will notice any skill or deficiencies and point them out in
a convincing way. Remember though that other poets are
not the best encouragement, the readers are. You must
communicate with the readers of poetry not just other poets.
If you are really a great poet, you may be the last to know.
Don't let that stop you, though. Write for your own reasons;
and don't worry about fame and success. Just be prepared
in case it arrives. Some people are born for success, some
achieve it through hard work and some have it fall on them
like a ton of brcks. Others have to redefine success as what
x. Getting Started Writing
Some people are terrified to write. They do not have
the courage to put their thoughts and poetic struggle on
paper. Other people write them down, never intending to
show them to anyone. The person who does this and
arranges the words in what they think of as poetic form, is a
poet. Many poets never publish their work. But some poets,
seeing their writing on paper, become less shocked at what
they have wrought, and gain the courage to show them to
others, a few at first; and maybe later to put them in print for
the reading of strangers.
xi. Going Solo
The poet who gains this courage is sometimes like a
different person who arises inside, gains courage and
decides to take a chance on the world, like the young driver
or flier who first goes solo out onto the road or into the sky.
Going solo, or publishing, could be terrifying or
exhilarating, but is most often the latter. People who read
poetry are among the nicest people in the world, and are
pleased that a new poet has presented his or her work for
xii. When Writing Makes Contact
When the poet publishes and receives
encouragement, he has gained a public and a readership to
write for. Nothing encourages a talker more than an active
listener. Nothing encourages a poet more than a responsive
xiii. Know Your Readers
One reader is an inspiration, and many readers are a
delight, like a herd of cattle to a rancher.
Just as the rancher goes out in all weather to care for
his cows, the poet comes to know his readers and their
responses, and gains further inspiration from them.
xiv. Other Writers Become Peers
Each step in writing and publishing is part of a growth
process. There comes a point when the poet sees other
writers as peers rather than icons, Writing for other writers
and for well-informed and well-educated editors are more
rungs on the ladder of poetic growth.
xv. Find The Best Critisism Near Home
When the poet gets to the top of that ladder, he may
realize that his best and most valuable criticism and support
comes from the people who have known him all along.
When friends begin to offer their ideas of what he
should write, he feels he is being taken seriously by the
people who really count most. Many of the ideas they offer
are things they, themselves, should be encouraged to write;
and the process completes a circle.
xvi. Writing, Like Talking, Really Is For Everyone
Writing is not for the elite, but for everyone who has
thoughts they value. It would be a real shame if people
generally thought they were not worthy to talk or write.
Writing is just ordinary communication that can be elevated
to an art form by those who care to try.
xvii. Poetry Is The Opportune Moment
There are things in everyone's mind that have been
tucked away, waiting for an opportune moment to say.
Situations in life seldom reveal such opportune moments. A
person who has never appeared glib, is likely to have a
complex person hidden away inside waiting for poetry to
open all opportune moments. Every person has a full range
of communicative impulses, but some people have
inhibitions which drive them to consider longer before
speaking. When their words are released, they may just be
improved by the waiting.
The less assertive person often thinks things through
carefully and has very valuable thoughts that are never
expressed. He or she may be surrounded by people who
dominate conversations. Writing poetry in private is an ideal
outlet for these often valuable words.
xviii. Poetry Is The Opportune Situation, Too
The opportune moment is the right time and
situation.In poetry you can create the characters and the
situation to present your view of the right thing to say.
Change the characters so your comment can be framed in
the most advantageous way. Write for the page what you
would say to a receptive listener. You may preserve
thoughts until the right person has an opportunity to read
them. Think of the waiting page as your ideal listener.