Friday, April 26, 2013

Learning the Art and Craft of Poetry (Part Two)

This is the second part of a series on learning the art and craft of poetry when you can't always get to workshops or conferences.

Don't forget that all this month I have giveaways for books and other goodies taking place to celebrate the upcoming publication of my second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, on May 7. And if you're near the Kansas City area, join me and an interesting crowd of friends for the official launch at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 10, at Mysteryscape, 7309 W 80th St., Overland Park, KS.

Learning the Art and Craft of Poetry (Part Two)

You have been doing your due diligence with careful reading as a writer of the work of others. You have gained a number of techniques and craft elements that work with your individual voice and vision. You have learned a number of mistakes to watch for as you reread and revise your work. And you’re going to keep doing this. Now it’s time to add another step.

This is the moment when conferences and workshops can be useful, now that you’ve laid a solid foundation. A good workshop can offer you the feedback and support of a group of aspiring writers. You may even make friends for life with one or more of them. In fact, that’s one of the things workshops and conferences are most useful for—the contacts and connections to the larger literary world you can make at them.

Big Secret: it’s possible to make similar contacts and connections without leaving home—unless you live in a rural area or very small town. (In that case, you definitely want to start saving money to go to one of the many writing conferences around the country.)

Most cities and many medium-sized towns have poetry readings and book signings, if only at local bookstores or libraries or colleges. Often it’s simply a matter of finding out what, where, and when. These are usually not well-publicized to the general public. If you do some detective work, though, you can learn about where they take place and when and who is coming. Usually you will find a mix of locals and poets from elsewhere in the country, some with national reputations. These readings may be free or ask just a nominal admission fee.

Attend these readings and book signings. Buy the book (remember Part One?). Have it signed. Talk to the poet before and after the reading, at the signing. If very few attend—a common phenomenon—stay with the poet chatting. (You will be remembered and loved for this act of charity!) Ask questions of the poet if you’re not holding up a long line, and if there is a long line, talk to the other local poetry lovers and writers in it. For the price of a book of poetry, you will get information and make contacts that will be useful in your life as a poet.

Oh. You couldn’t do that. You’re shy. Well, how will you do it at your expensive conference or workshop then? Look at this as important practice. A life in poetry is not that of an ascetic writing in an attic isolated from the world. No one will seek you out and beg to publish your work, not even if you sew them into little packets—that only worked once for an extraordinary person with a sister dedicated to her posthumous success. You want to have readings of your own, don’t you? And if you do, you want people to come to them, don’t you? Pay your dues now to support a literary community so there will be one when your time comes.

Start with online groups and listservs, if you’re shy. You can even find internet classes and workshops. You can make good friends with similar interests in online communities. You will hear about calls for submissions on many of them. These are chances to publish in special issues of journals or in anthologies that you may well otherwise never know about. Then branch out into the live world. Go to a reading. Force yourself to introduce yourself to one person there. Meet the poet. Buy the book and get it signed. Go home. See! You survived, and now you know two more people in the world of poetry.

And there you have it. Buy poetry, both books and literary journals. Read like a writer with pencil in hand, learning from the poet’s techniques and mistakes. Practice. Practice. Practice. Take part in all kinds of online, local, and national literary communities. Support other writers as you hope one day to be supported. And then start the wheel all over—read, practice, reach out and support; read, practice, reach out and support. It’s a way of life, sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating, but a continuous cycle.

It’s not your business to worry about where you fall on the Majah, Minah, Mediocah hierarchy. Not that any of us can really help caring about things like reputations, of course. We can’t allow it to become important to us, though. Worrying what influential others will think of your work will cramp your writing and your own individual voice, which is really all any of us have to offer the world in the end. Your business is to read, write, find others who can teach or help you and whom you can teach or help—and keep on doing it to the best of your ability. Focus on the work. In the end, it’s always the best of us.

Just leave a comment with your email to be entered for the giveaway. This week, I'm giving away a signed hardcover Every Last Secret (finalist for the International Latino Book Award) and a signed ARC of Every Broken Trust, which publishes May 7. I'll announce the winners Monday.

Have a superb weekend!


  1. Such positive encouragement is a wonderful gift, for writing and for living. Thanks so much for sharing the wisdom!

  2. Thanks so much for re-posting this two-part series, Linda, and for making it accessible on social media sites. This kind of generosity goes a long way in inspiring artists, furthering artistic practice, and uplifting humanity by energizing the individual and community cycle of creativity.

  3. Storyteller Mary, I'm glad you found it useful!

  4. Z, that's what makes everything possible, isn't it? :-)