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.