Chapter and verse – how to start a career in writing poetry; Direct Line – Brief Article – Column
I am a 35-year-old woman who has enjoyed writing poetry since I was a teenager. I have been selected as a semifinalist in a poetry contest, and I have been offered publication in an anthology. I would like to make writing poetry a career. Can you provide me with any information that would help me do so?
AB., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Many a successful company has been born when someone decided to turn what they loved doing into the subject of a Schedule C tax return. But not every avocation lends itself to such a transformation. These are not flush times in the poetry business.
“It’s very difficult to make your living as a poet,” says Elise Paschen, executive director of the Poetry Society of America, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. “If you were to spend every single day writing poems and even getting your books published, and maybe even winning major poetry prizes, it would still be very difficult to support yourself.”
Elliot Figman, executive director of Poets & Writers, Inc., a New York-based information clearinghouse for writers, says there are “maybe a handful of poets who can actually support themselves from their poetry alone. Most have other employment.
“Most magazines, when they publish a poem or group of poems, pay little or nothing.”
Teaching is the answer for many poets, says Brenda Shaughnessy, a staff member of the Academy of American Poets, another nonprofit organization in New York; other poets support themselves by patching together a series of grants. “It really does depend on how much you’re publishing,” according to Shaughnessy. “Someone who has won the Pulitzer Prize and [National Endowment for the Arts] grants is going to find it very easy to frad a teaching position. Someone who is just starting out is going to have a much tougher time.”
The academy grants annual fellowships of $100,000 and $20,000, but those awards are open by nomination only.
Other awards are open to the public–the Walt Whitman Award, for example, for poets who have not published a book of poetry before. The prize is $5,000 and publication of the winner’s manuscript.
To obtain guidelines for the Whitman Award, write or call the Academy of American Poets at 584 Broadway, Suite 1208, New York, N.Y. 10012-3250; (212) 274-0343.
General advice is available from the Information Center, Poets & Writers, Inc., 72 Spring St., New York, N.Y. 10012. And aspiring writers in any field should check reference works such as Literary Marketplace, available at most public libraries.
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