Friday, 28 March 2008

What's poetry worth?

A correspondent to these pages has recently written a poem and wants to know how much it will fetch in the bardic marketplace. The answer is, in all probability, not as much as a pound of carrots. It's probably fair to say that 99% of all poems written will earn a big fat zero. Not even a free cabbage leaf for the rabbit. Having said that, the situation is not totally without hope.
A few poems in the local evening newspaper is probably a logical start. Normally there's no payment involved, unless a contest happens to be running, but it establishes the poet's name in the locality. The satisfaction of seeing one's poem in print is 'the payment'. It's a base to build from.
The next level of 'payment' is the poetry journal received in return for a poetic contribution. The journal, magazine, pamphlet or whatever will be worth a few pence or up to seven or eight pounds. Some poetry magazines, often in the USA, do pay contributors but its basically a pittance, perhaps $5.00 or $10.00.
A poem in an anthology will also fetch little or nothing since the net income from the book will probably not amount to very much and will have to divided between all contributors. Poet-in-Residence is not yet on anybody's best-seller list and is still awaiting the first cheque from this source!
Useful and reliable sources of advice and information for the poet are Poetry Kit (see link) and (see link). The entry fee for jbwb's quarterly poetry contests is about three pounds. It's a good idea to read through the previous winners list to 'get a feel' of what the competition judges are looking for. There are several Gwilym Williams poems on the list. They might serve as pointers to winning style, subject and form.
The next step is to consider publishing a small collection. Many would-be poets opt for this route. This is P-i-R's intended route. The forthcoming book 'Genteel Messages' (Poetry Monthly Press, Nottingham, England) is now at second proof-reading stage. An initial short print run of 50 copies is always possible with a publisher like Poetry Monthly Press. This means it may even be possible for the budding poet to break even!
Assume much work has been done, and that many poems have seen the light of day, what next? This is only the beginning. Having come this far you now need to push on. You must persuade your publisher to enter your best collection for a prestigious award such as the T S Eliot Prize.
And then having established your international poetic credentials it's a simple matter of burning the proverbial midnight oil, making those proverbial contacts, sending your poems to the so-called top journals, newspapers and magazines, keeping your name forever in the public eye, doing those British Council tours (if you live in Britain), doing poetry readings on the BBC, winning the Bardic chair (if you are Welsh), getting your collection on university and school text book lists, winning a Nobel Prize for Literature, doing some American tours, doing some more American tours, becoming a Poet Laureate, and (to make BIG BUCKS) you have to do all or most of this before you die.
Poet-in-Residence suggests a close reading of the lives of poets like Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas. Poets, unless they have steady jobs (Armitage / probation officer), or even unsteady jobs (Bukowski / dishwasher, gas station attendant) will be a long time skint! And that's the simple fact of bardic life.

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