What Not To Put On Your Poetry CV

Knowing what to say on your creative CV can be a confusing scenario, but what you leave off is important.

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When putting together your writer’s CV, it can be tricky to know what counts as an accomplishment. We all use different metrics for success. It could be the number of shows you’ve done, the amount of shows you’ve headlined, or where you’ve been published.

It can be especially hard as an emerging artist, trying to stamp a mark on the industry, to show the credibility organisations want. It’s not always about skill, sometimes it’s the opportunities you’ve had.

One thing that is never acceptable is lying. Not all lies are intentional, however; inexperience or enthusiasm can sometimes lead to mistakes that could cast you in a bad light. Organisations won’t see this as harmless and being caught out for a lie (regardless of intention or cause) can cast you in a bad light in the eyes of your peers for years to come. Poets work hard for their accolades and, as such, we can be very protective of them.

It’s very easy to make things sound better than they are, but when your work is in the public eye, fact-checking is easy. A prime example of this is inflating your status in terms of performances. Just because you’ve shared a stage with a major poet or writer, does not mean you’ve supported them.

This is a common mistake. Without guidance, it can be easy to assume that supported means performed at the same event. The supporting acts are always booked: they could be an opener who starts the night, a sub-headliner who performs just before the headliner, or whoever headlines the first half of an event.

If you have performed as part of an open mic or a poetry slam, you are not a support act. Those kinds of opportunities are a great way to perform for people with connections, or to meet them, but they are not a support slot. If the headliners enjoy your performance, they might give you positive feedback, or an endorsement, or even (rarely) ask you to open for them down the line. Claiming to have supported them, however, is cashing in on their reputation and, unless they accepted that as part of the terms of their performance, it’s unfair to claim a piece of them. The endorsement should be the other way around, with the headliner advocating on your behalf. In the world of hip-hop, this practice is called ‘co-signing,’ where an artist shouts out their support of an up-and-comer as a way of steering their fans to new blood.

I am very specific about who I claim to have supported. I have shared stages with Anthony Anaxagorou, Joelle Taylor, and Harry Baker. However, I have not supported them. My performances with them were always as part of open sign-ups.

A caveat to this: some events use a showcase format where each performer is billed, essentially making them all feature acts. Tongue Punch at Tom Thumb Theatre is such a night. Artists submit their bios, they’re part of the marketing and, as such, each poet has supported the others.

Similarly, you haven’t performed at a festival if you played an open stage. It’s tempting to rack up those festival appearances. They look really good. However, much like my previous point about borrowing the credibility of a performer, claiming an event has booked you tells other people that event has faith in you, and borrows their reputation to open doors.

Open stages are a great way to see what the festival experience is like; however, playing an open stage isn’t a sign of your quality as a performer.

This is something I was graciously advised of early on, when I played the open stage of a local poetry festival. In my inexperience at the time, I mentioned to one of the festival producers that I was looking forward to adding their name to my CV, and they explained that as I wasn’t a booked artist, it wouldn’t be something I could use as an accomplishment. Accepting this, and waiting for proper festival opportunities to add to my CV, has led me to have a strong relationship with that festival, and I have been given opportunities as a result of how I handled myself as a professional at the time.

There are limited numbers of producers, and it’s very easy to get in touch with a festival producer to ask about an individual. If you’ve only played the open stage, you won’t be remembered, and it’s as good as lying.

As you get further in your career, you will get more and better opportunities. Just because you needed certain accomplishments on your CV when you started out, doesn’t mean they remain relevant down the line.

As a multi-disciplinary writer, I do maintain a complete CV. This is so I can build the profile needed for different jobs. I never send out this long document, though; that would just make me look insecure and signal to the reader that I didn’t curate my application.

It’s okay to be selective; it’s better, in fact. People don’t spend long reading CVs. Stick to the biggest, coolest stuff and wow the reader. What looks better? A poet who has six massive accomplishments, or someone who has to cling on to everything?

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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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