With AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) and National Poetry Month just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a working poet. I’ve got a couple of projects in the works for the month of April (updates to come soon) but I keep coming back to a piece of advice I’m always giving my students, which is that poetry doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Poetry is about the poet but it’s also about the community where the poet lives and works.
Admittedly, the idea of community is constantly evolving. Your community can be your workplace, the local bookstore or coffee shop you frequent or your local library. However, community can also mean something much bigger, especially in the wake Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve blogged about my love affair with social media and the poetry world. This love centers around the fact that Facebook and Twitter allow me to connect with poets that I’ve never met. I can start conversations and tell them I admire their work and support their projects. By giving my support, I am helping to build a stronger community and I think community and support are two things all poets need.
So, how do you become a good literary citizen? Well, here are some things I’ve put into practice this past year.
1. Join a writing group. This can be a group that meets online or the library or the local coffee shop. This past year myself and several of my colleagues started a group and we meet once a month. There are two poets, two fiction writers and one nonfiction writer. We get together on Thursday night with snacks and drinks and drafts and talk writing for several hours. Three (and soon to be four) out of the five have small children. All five of us teach full course loads at our local community college. We’re all overextended but we make time once a month to convene, critique and support each other. Why? Because we love the work.
2. Participate in projects. If a poet sends out a call for volunteers for a poetry centered event in your area, consider signing up. If an future MFA graduate is looking for “feedback from working poets” in the form of a five minute survey, take the survey. If someone needs to find poems about food, motherhood, maple trees or stamp collecting and you know of some poems in those areas, share your knowledge. I’m going to participate in two projects during the month of April that I found out about through other poets. It’s fun. It’s inspiring. It’s the cool thing to do.
3. Buy books/chapbooks. Yes, money is tight. Yes, none of us have enough of it. I know. However, there are so many wonderful poetry collections in the world right now and they deserve your dollars. Also, chapbooks are seriously overlooked when it comes to supporting poets and the presses that publish them. For example, one of my favorite presses, Dancing Girl, sells their chapbooks for $7. $7! This is amazing! I just bought four the other morning. I also recently purchased from Sundress. Buy books. Buy chapbooks. Share poems with your friends, your students and your family. Get poetry out into the world.
4. Share the love. This is where social media is especially awesome. If you read a poem and it knocks you out, let that poet know. Send a message on Twitter or Facebook or through email. Share links to poems or reviews of poetry collections on your social media pages. Be friendly. Be kind. Be generous.
5. Submit, share, submit. Get your poems out into the literary sphere and then when the rejections start rolling in (because they will), share those experiences. By all means, share your successes as well. Hell, go up to the roof and scream about those acceptances, but also share the failures. Why? Because the “mysterious” world of publishing poetry in journals isn’t as mysterious when poets start talking about their process. Share open submission calls, talk about journals you love/admire and share results.
Time is scarce. Money is hard to come by. Exhaustion is inevitable. However, if we, the poets, don’t take the time and energy to invest in other poets, we’re not doing our part. It isn’t enough just to write poems. We have to actively engage in the space where they live. So go forth poets, and be good literary citizens. I know you can do it.