I started writing poetry in the 5th grade, but it was only about three and a half years ago that I decided to start writing poetry seriously. I’ll tell y’all how I came to that point in a different post.
Fluctuating between lower and working economic classes during those years called on me to really find ways to make this poetry thing work. With any creative endeavor, costs can add up quick. I don’t have any undergraduate schooling in poetry. Mostly everything I know about poetry came to me after I graduated.
Below I list six ways to become a better poet even if you don’t have much or any money.
- Read widely. If you’re serious about writing poems—about being a poet—then you need to be reading poems. I’m talking reading all kinds of poetry and not just sticking with what you like or are comfortable reading. When you’re a poet, reading serves your work well and if you’re going to be a part of the greater discourse of poems throughout the world, you need to be a good community member and know what’s out there. Can’t afford to buy a bunch of books? Make the library your best friend. Sign up to get poems delivered to you daily through Poets.org’s mailing list or Poetry Daily’s iPhone app. Read online journals and print journals. Poets & Writers, Inc. still has a pretty comprehensive database of journals among other things on their site. If you live in New York City, browsing through the 60,000-poetry volume library at Poets House is a must! Their library also includes print journals so if it’s too pricey to buy them, you can always read them there.
- Write. Some people write every day and others write less frequently. There’s a range and that’s perfectly okay. Above all, you need to be committed to your writing. Find what frequency and process works for you. Find your perfect time of day, background music, drink, outfit, or dance. Just get it done. I’ve gone through periods of writing regularly and periods of writing much less frequently. I’m currently in a less frequent writing phase right now. After you write new work, edit and revise your heart out. Get feedback from others in your workshops and poet circles. Give that poem what it deserves!
- Take free and low-cost workshops and classes. Find the free ones. Find the low-cost ones. When I made the decision to start writing seriously, I researched on Google and took a number of free one-time sessions through places like the New York Public Library, Gotham Writers Workshop and the Women of Color Writers Community. I went on to take 5-week workshops offered by the Women of Color Writers Community, some of which I was able to take via bartering—a method I talk about later in this post—because they needed the organizational support at the time. Later, I applied for and was accepted into free workshops offered by Cave Canem as well as a couple of free workshops funded by Poets & Writers, Inc. Online workshops are hard for me since I do better with in-person workshops, but online workshops may work better or just as well as in-person for others. There are universities and organizations that offer free online poetry classes such as the University of Iowa’s How Writers Write Poetry series, Yale University’s open courses and several others listed here. Another good way to study besdies taking workshops and classes, is going a self-guided route. One of favorite books is A Poets Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry by Annie Finch. There are more great craft books out there and I’d say that one is worth the monetary investment if you can make it work even if you have to save up.
- Apply for scholarships and raise some money. Sometimes organizations will offer need-based scholarships to cover all or part of the workshop or class fees. Often times you’ll find this information listed on their site. If you don’t see it listed, it doesn’t hurt to shoot them an email and ask. I applied for and thankfully received a scholarship to take a poetry workshop at 92nd Street Y. They asked for a good amount of personal financial information during that process, but other places may ask for less information. You’ll also see scholarships offered for national writers conferences, 1-2 week workshops, retreats and other such events. Jump on those, too. I’ve also successfully crowd-funded amongst my family and friends to raise money to cover fees and support my poetic journey. One time, when I wanted to take a Poets House workshop but I couldn’t afford the fee, I raised the money in less than 24 hours using paypal! I ended up getting a poem published that I worked on in that workshop. Websites like Indiegogo Life or Paypal are easy to use for raising funds online. Be sure to keep your donor community of friends and family updated as you grow and experience successes in your poetic work. Share the link or copy of that literary journal you got published in, invite them to readings, if any of them are interested in writing or anything you have expertise in help them out (I believe in doing this in general though)—in whatever way you can gift them with your appreciation. They support and invest in you for a reason.
- Barter your time and services. Another way handle not being able to afford all or most of a fee is to offer your time and skills in exchange for being able to take a workshop, attend a retreat, take a class and more. Sweat equity is just as valuable as money. Though they only offer a limited number of work-study internships, I’ve taken workshops at reduced costs in exchange for my time helping with events as an intern at Brooklyn Poets. I’ve also gotten the chance to take a workshop at another organization or two, in exchange for offering my skills. What skills do you can you offer to a poetry or writing organization? Event support? Photography? Videography? Organizational support? Anything? Think about it and you’ll probably realize you have skills and time you can use to work in your favor.
- Join a poetry community or create your own. If I didn’t have community, I wouldn’t be the poet or person I am today. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve still grown so much. One such community can be found in the Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon curated and nurtured by J.P. Howard. I’ve been attending and been a faithful Salon member since November 2012! I’ve also participated in a few writing groups that sprung up with some of my poetry classmates from a couple Cave Canem workshops I took; they were created in an effort to for us keep writing and support each other on our journeys. Brunch and Word, the literary, culinary and community lovefest curated by Idrissa Simmonds also makes my life complete. And I’ve always had a wonderful time at the Brooklyn Ladies Text-based Salon—BLT Salon for short—offered monthly in Brooklyn. I’ve also had the honor of being of their featured readers. If you don’t have salons or writing groups where you live it may be a great time to figure out how you can create one and do it. 🙂
Have any of these strategies worked for you in the past? Is there anything you would add to the list?