Before I was a journalist, I was a poet. After I am a journalist, I will likely still be a poet.
Poetry is not usually a money-making practice. It’s not the kind of practice most people pay their bills with, more the kind of practice people feed their souls with.
There’s a handful of poets making full-time careers as professional poets/poetry educators—mostly with full-time jobs at colleges and universities. Then there’s an even smaller handful of poets making full-time careers selling poetry books—most of them after building online followings of devoted readers who will buy their books. The other poetry books that sell especially well are written by people already famous for something else, a fame that can then be leveraged to sell several genres of book—poetry, memoir, mystery.
The third type of poetry books that sell especially well are written by dead people who were long ago accepted into the canon of great poets who everyone should read. Names like Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes.
But most of the poets you see at poetry readings, self-publishing their work, or reading at an open mic are people with day jobs, or who once had day jobs, but just cannot stop writing and sharing their poems.
While poetry sales are not lucrative for the average poet, poetry as an art form is thriving. There are lots of people reading, writing and performing poems.
April is National Poetry Month and a great excuse to celebrate the art form. I gave myself two poetry projects this month.
The first project was to help my dad self-publish his poetry collection. He also writes poems, and also had a day job, although it wasn’t writing, but something with a more engineer-esque title. He’s been hard at work since December getting together his collection, and I’ve been trying to help him with it. Hopefully, it will be ready to print before the month’s out.
Self-publishing is a long tradition in poetry. Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass in 1855. An excellent hype-man for his own work, Whitman published anonymous reviews of his own book. There’s also a long tradition of hand-made books in poetry, celebrated in Albuquerque every year at the annual ABQ Zine Fest. The somewhat predatory industry of vanity presses has a history of (and continues to) offering to publish your book for a hefty sum. But with print-on-demand, self-publishing no longer has to mean buying 200 copies of a book you likely won’t sell 200 copies of. It’s a much less expensive endeavor than it used to be.
The second project was a somewhat spontaneous decision to publish poems by local writers on our opinion page every week.
It’s been really joyful for me to see the work of local poets coming in every week this April and to pick some poems to run in our paper. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. In May we’ll go back to our regularly scheduled program of columnists and letters to the editor. Next week will be our last week of poems, so if you’d like to get your poetic work in the newspaper, email it to [email protected] by Monday, April 24.