This has been on my mind for a while. It’s advice I’ve privately dished out over the last three years. The time for poets to struggle is over.
As poets, we invest hours of our time into writing, editing, performing, rehearsing, travelling to gigs and learning more about our craft. So why is it that the idea of a poet getting paid seem so alien? We send poems to be published, yet most publishers don’t pay for poetry at all (plug: Thanet Writers offers to pay £10 for everything published, including a single poem). We run gigs with no ticket price, because we’re afraid no one will come. We hold free workshops. Why do poets hate getting paid?
Sure, a poet can get started for almost nothing—all you need is a laptop, or a phone, or a pen and paper. That’s it, that’s all the investment a poet needs initially—a minimum of about £2. A painter, on the other hand, has to fork out for paints, canvas, brushes. It’s a much pricier investment, even before you look at the quality of materials.
Poets, and writers as a whole, have become conditioned to think of ourselves in a certain way. While artists are out there, working with the community, getting paid to make work, we’re scribbling away at home, toiling in obscurity. We romanticise the graft and the status of ‘unappreciated genius’—all our heroes died broke and undiscovered, after all.
There is plenty of money out there. Arts and culture grants, community funds, corporate social responsibility funds—all available for you to use to produce work or develop as an artist. All you have to do is apply and keep trying. Your time, experience, and knowledge have value!
I think the issue comes down to two problems:
- Poets know anyone could get into this artform. We don’t need degrees—if you can write, or speak, you can get involved. This creates insecurity in those who practice this discipline. Why would anyone pay for something anyone could learn to do?
- The doors to these opportunities are often hidden just out of sight—in email newsletters you haven’t heard of, or in open calls through sites you don’t visit.
Then what are the solutions?
Firstly, if you think your work is good enough to share with other people, you must believe it’s not terrible, which means you’ve worked at it, which means you probably deserve something for your effort. Being paid doesn’t cheapen your art—it allows you to make more of it, or to reach more people with it. Good poets make poems; great poets make other poets. If your work helps you, it could help someone else.
Secondly, it’s easy to find these opportunities—organisations like Apples and Snakes regularly put out residency opportunities and competitions that pay poets. Artist newsletters like Artsadmin do the same, if you think of your work in broad, creative terms. Or you could just ask a poet who has been paid where they found the opportunity. Form friendships within the community, apply for funding for mentorship from another artist, or shadow someone on a project. There’s plenty of chances to open that door.
Of course, you don’t have to get paid. It’s not the only metric of success. You might just want to do this for the love, and that’s fine too. But never think you can’t get paid, and never complain about the lack of money in poetry. It’s there. Go get some.
© 2020 Connor Sansby
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.