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Chapter #15 - Is Your Poetry a Business, Art, or Pastime?

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 send them.
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 your work.
7. Your friends won't be your only support.

book 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 they have.

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 their pleasure.

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 reader.

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.

Article written by Don J. Carlson. All Rights Reserved

For more information, please contact: Don J. Carlson

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