Tag Archives: spoken word

Writing: Selling Poetry

I was asked if you can actually sell poetry. Yes, there are many places that will pay. And believe me, I’ve bounced my stories and poems around a million places. I could show you reams of rejections. This is the real world: those of us who write speculative fiction (fantasy, SF, horror stories or poems) are always trying to get the great rates of 5 cents a word. That’s a pro rate for all sorts of notoriety and pro status.

In “literature” (said with one’s nose in the air), there are small press magazines, often but not always supported by universities. Some pay pittances but often you’re paid between $25-40 a printed page for stories and anywhere from $25-100 for a poem. Truly, when I started submitting I didn’t think I’d ever get $100 for a poem and it’s now the highest I’ve been paid. Interestingly the other two high points were $50 for poems in the Canadian Stars as Seen anthology, mainly because editor Sandra Kasturi is a consummate poet herself and probably haggled for that amount.

The second amount was, ironically, also speculative, my first real pro sale in Amazing Stories (when it still existed) at $36 US. It’s the sale that got me into SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) as a semi pro. You need three sales to be full pro and even though I’ve sold stories since, it’s mostly to the Canadian markets and hence not “recognized” as pro for lower rates that don’t convert to 5 cents or the once 3 cents a word. Not to mention, SFWA decided that poetry doesn’t count anymore, falling into the mainstream troglodyte thinking that poetry isn’t real writing and doesn’t take as much work. Yet to write a poem can take many days. You can become a full member in HWA (Horror Writers of America) on poetry alone.

 The more common rate for poetry is between $5-$20 a poem. You won’t get rich selling it. You might not get people to your reading. There is still an odd idea that poetry is unfathomable and read in a monotone. Also called “Spoken Word” poetry is like a really short play or soliloquy. It’s dramatic, fairly succinct and plays on words and images.

There are many markets for poetry and the best place to find a comprehensive list is to go to http://www.duotrope.com and search. You can specify romantic, cowboy or fantasy poetry to name a few and if you’re willing to go with a market that pays a token or a pro fee. It is most important to read the guidelines. If the magazine says we don’t take rhyming poems, then don’t send them rhyming poems. If they detest chicken poems don’t send them any. All you’ll do is annoy the editors. They see a lot of submissions. Know your markets and know your field. Practicing writing and reading published poetry will give you and idea of what styles are liked by different publications, and help hone your skills. If you like a poem, why do you like it? Analyse it to figure out what works. Is it a turn of phrase, an image, a word? Trying writing some verse to the poem to get a sense of the author’s style.

Never believe that you can improve. And submit. Receive your rejection with good grace and then submit elsewhere. Every time I send out a poem I look it over, tweak it and then send it out. Sometimes I’ve sold a poem (and it’s been shortlisted or nominated for an award) that I wrote up to ten years ago. Poems don’t go stale and you can improve them. Selecting poetry is very subjective so what one editor loves another will hate. Keep trying and you’ll start to sell some. It’s all about perseverance in your craft and in submitting your works.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, poetry, Publishing, Writing

Writing: Poetry Slams

Poetry slams began some twenty years ago or so and so this site says: http://www.slampapi.com/new_site/background/what_is_poetry_slam.htm they were intended to increase the public’s awareness of poetry and involve the audience.

In Vancouver, I was doing poetry slams in the late 80s I guess. However, now reading what the slams were supposed to be like I can say I probably only did one. The one slam was called something like Poetry Faceoff, and was, I think put on by one of the writers organizations. It was in a bar with a dance floor area that they had roped off like a boxing ring with balloons in the corner. This was some publicity thing and two poets would be given a subject and five minutes to write a poem, then perform it.

The judges were some well-known jock and a writer. They scored a winner from each round and then those two would face off. In the end I won the poetry slam and still have the wall plaque. The judging aspect is supposed to be what a poetry slam should be like.

However those early days here had a bit more of a biased and ruthless variety. Most of my friends ran screaming from the word poetry, believing it to be moribund and incomprehensible. When a few of my friends did come with me to a few readings they found my poetry as well as the other poet’s much more accessible and lively. Of course we were doing performance poetry or spoken word.

The slams, though, were another thing. They’d be held in different bars and I would go with my written poems, like everyone else. Then each poet, or maybe two against each other, would read a poem and the audience would boo or cheer for the one they liked the best. This is different than what traditional slams are, where a few select members would be judges, scoring the pieces and making it somewhat fairer, one poet to the other.

The problem with just the audience cheering to decide the winner was that usually the poet with the most friends present won. It had nothing to do with good or bad poetry or performance. On top of that there was a predilection for certain poets to read every poem in the same impassioned way. Every line would end on an upward inflection, as if you were asking a question. Therefore someone loud using this cadence would outweigh a truly good poem read well but without the dramatics.

I saw good poets get torn down because they didn’t have a large crowd of friends and didn’t read their poems in the popular cadence. After a few of these, I decided they were too brutal. Poetry is hard enough to write and if a person has the guts to stand in front of a crowd and read or perform their work, they should be encouraged, not lambasted. So I stopped going.

The one thing to remember if doing any sort of slam or a spoken word reading, is to put life into a poem. Don’t read it as if you’ve come from the grave, unless the poem is about you coming from the grave. Then it will need to be wry. If there is delicate imagery, read it delicately; if it is harsh and bold, read it that way. The aspects of good acting apply to performing poetry: vary your cadence, don’t speak at the same volume all the way through and emphasize some elements to draw attention. I took a voice and speech class at one point, more for acting but it works equally as well when used with any spoken performance.

Maybe the slams have evolved, if there are any these days. I haven’t heard of many but then it seems I also fell out of doing readings a few years back. It might be time to pick up that thread and do some readings or spoken word again. Other cities have a much more active slam circuit: Toronto, Chicago, New York. Maybe we’re just too West Coast here. I just know that going to a slam the way they used to be here, is not for me. Maybe just maybe I can drag a friend or two with me the next time I read.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry_slam

1 Comment

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, erotica, fantasy, history, horror, life, people, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing