Earning a Living at Poetry?

What a thought! Recently, two poets I know brought this up as once having been a goal for them. However, they soon found that unless one combines the writing of poetry with a full-time teaching job in English/poetry, the odds are pretty slim at earning a living from it. Even with grants, your earnings wouldn’t pay the rent or even food. But, maybe  in fifty years or a bit sooner, if poetry gets the visibility it needs among the public, it could happen.

And, wouldn’t it be great if we started seeing poetry as a category on book bestseller lists in major newspapers, alongside fiction and non-fiction? Poets are now a part of the Presidential inaugurations, so maybe regular significant public exposure isn’t far behind.

The key to greater visibility happens with each step we take. For example, if you work to get poetry displayed in your community, that will obviously raise awareness among the public. I am fortunate to belong to organizations where leaders have made it a point to speak to business people to get them to display poetry at their businesses. Members often get a chance to enter competitions and see their poems in supermarket windows,  apparel shops, restaurants, banks, wine shops, cafes, and tea houses. And, members also get their poems displayed at libraries, on public transit, and at botanic gardens. Highland Park Poetry in Illinois has held many of these activities.

Further,  Julie Warther, my successor as Midwest Regional Coordinator of the Haiku Society of America, recently asked the Inn at Honey Run in Millersburg, Ohio, to include a haiku path on its grounds as part of the Open Air Art Museum. Many of us haikuists were fortunate to have our poems displayed on plaques on stones along the path.

Organizing such exposure with business leaders and community leaders often involves a lot of work, but the rewards are substantial and are well worth it. And, it leads to write-ups in newspapers.

Also, as far as getting the public tuned into poetry, it often helps to organize activities for students, as this often garners good media coverage. For example, the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association in New Jersey sponsors an annual student contest for grades 7 through 12 with the support of the Haiku Society of America which judges the contest. Thousands of entries are received. Again, this involves work, but the visibility and recognition is substantial.

You can do your part, wherever you live, to make poetry visible in your community and beyond. When I run The Daily Haiku on this blog, haiku not only receives attention, but I try to include mention of the books authored by poets who are featured, so readers can round up their works and keep their poetry in mind.

As many of you do, tweeting your short poems is a great way to feature poetry and get the public’s attention. (By the way, tweet your very best published ones. No use calling attention to the ones that need work. You can get help with those by emailing your fellow poets for their input. I write eleven forms of poetry, and every once in a while, I email my poetry contacts to please read what I’ve written to get their reaction.)

Poetry awareness  is key, and we must be poetry advocates, if in the future poets are to earn a living at it. It takes years to build up public support for the arts. We must work now to make it happen decades from now. We must work to make the average person perceive poetry as a professional, artistic pursuit.

Some of my very educated friends often complain that “anything is passed off as poetry, ramblings with no literary value.” Let’s perfect our art, so that we can not only feel proud of it, but so we  can elevate the public’s perception of it as something that is valuable and worthy of everybody’s appreciation.

I know that many people write poetry just for their own enjoyment. That is fine, but it sure would be nice to see our efforts thought of as being professional ones in the public’s view. We are all human, and at one time or another, we feel we’d like to be taken seriously as contributing professionally to those around us with our art, not just our fellow poets and artists, family, and educators.

Consider being a voice for poetry! Who knows, maybe your children or grandchildren who have the poetry gene may end up earning a living at it! It could happen. So, next time you are walking on downtown streets, it may be worth your while to ask merchants if they’d consider displaying posters of poetry. It would run into some time and money to produce them, but if you’re connected with a writer’s organization, you could propose the project to it for funding. Make it happen!

Copyright 2015 by Charlotte Digregorio.


About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I am also the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I have signed books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have won thirty-three poetry awards. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I am an internationally-published haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, haibun, free verse, acrostic, cinquain, etheree, and sestina poet. My poetry has been translated into six languages, and I have done poetry readings at a variety of bookstores, libraries, art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. My poetry has been displayed at supermarkets, art galleries, libraries, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I've been interviewed on cable television about my poetry. I also hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I was also self-employed as a communications/public relations/marketing consultant with 111 clients in 16 states. In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give special lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and to those at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and to libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America. Currently, I am Second Vice President of the Haiku Society.
This entry was posted in Artists, Earning a Living, exhibits, Haiku, Haiku Contests, Haiku Path, Haiku Society of America, Highland Park Poetry, Inn at Honey Run, Jobs, Nick Virgilio Haiku Association, Open Air Art Museum, Poems, Poetry, Poetry Advocacy, Poetry Awareness, professions, students, The Daily Haiku and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Earning a Living at Poetry?

  1. I like that poster idea, Charlotte!

    I have been trying to encourage members of my creative writing group to contribute work to a poetry corner in our local newspaper, but they suddenly turned incredibly shy and said they didn’t want people reading their work! Only two members have supplied some poems and I’ve sent a couple from school children I’ve worked with in the past. It’s a real shame there isn’t much interest in contributing, as the newspaper editor approached me in the first instance to request our work. And it’s not as if his readers don’t want to read the column, as two people have stopped me in the street and commented on how much they enjoyed reading the poetry corner.

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