Taking Risks in Poetry

Over this past weekend, Tammy and I read at the Decatur Book Festival. You can read about it on my personal blog (click to continue). I was invited at the last minute by JC Reilly, and it was a great experience.


Anyway, I’m not a person who usually does poetry readings, because it’s
much easier for me to face a blank page than a blank face. But I’ve
done a few this year, and I’m really starting to enjoy them. For one
thing, it helps me understand how my writing sounds. Plus, it’s a great
way to receive instant encouragement from other living and breathing
poets. I admit I expect to receive The Hook each time I get up to read,
but it hasn’t happened yet.

Reading your poetry in front of an audience is just one way to take a
risk as a poet. Here are a few other risky options available to a poet
(and note that none of these should be life threatening activities):

  • Write poems using poetic forms. I know so many poets who
    do not touch forms, because they limit creativity. I think this is
    insane, because forms force creativity, especially if you’re trying to
    follow the rules and write an interesting poem. (Click here to check out a short list of poetic forms.)
  • Write poems without poetic forms. Just as there are many
    poets who don’t touch forms, there are many poets who hide out in them.
    If you’re such a poet, try writing in free verse. Play with line
    breaks, slant rhymes and the freedom to use a long line sandwiched
    between short lines. Have fun with it.
  • Write prose poems. I admit that this form of poetry is one
    I enjoy reading when done well, but I’m often afraid to wander into
    that poetic forest. Lately, I’ve been forcing myself to try it out, and
    I haven’t been completely disappointed with the results. Read some good
    prose poets like Nin Andrews and Robert Bly if you’re not familiar with
    prose poems; then try it for yourself.
  • Share poems with an audience. There are many Poetic Asides
    readers who do this every week and in the months of April and November.
    However, I’ve met and communicated with many other poets who have
    admitted they’re afraid to share their work. Don’t be afraid. I can
    totally empathize, because I’ve been afraid myself. If you just can’t
    read your poems at an open mic, share them online. Think about it;
    you’re separated from your audience by the virtual curtain of the
    Internet. You can even use a pen name until you feel comfortable
    revealing your true identity.
  • Tackle difficult subjects. Maybe you have a troubled past.
    Maybe you have a minority view on a certain topic. Maybe you want to
    shed light on that elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss.
    Don’t shy away from getting your voice out there, because there are
    probably others who can relate and have been waiting for someone brave
    enough to say it.
  • Imitate other poets. Over the past few years, I’ve
    discovered a love of cooking. When I started cooking, I was stealing
    other recipes. While I’m still nowhere near a master cook, I’ve already
    started modifying those recipes to make them mine. All artists do this.
    They start off by imitating techniques before making them their own. If
    you notice something you like in the work of another poet, try pulling
    off the same trick in your own work (without plagiarizing, of course).
    Even Shakespeare imitated the works of others.

Another way to take a risk is to submit your work to online and print publications. (Click here to learn more about the 2011 Poet’s Market, edited by yours truly.)
Many college-run journals open up for submissions in the months of
August and September–as students and faculty return to
universities–so right now is an opportune time to begin submitting
your work. If you want to be published, this is a risk that you’ll need
to take (and I hope you do).


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


The 2011 Poet’s Market lists hundreds of publishing
opportunities and includes articles on the craft and business of
poetry, including pieces on building an audience and giving the perfect

Click here to learn more.

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18 thoughts on “Taking Risks in Poetry

  1. Robert Lee Brewer

    Colette, you can link to other blogs without permission. In fact, most bloggers would consider it an honor to be a part of another blogger’s blogroll (since that’s a recommendation). Congratulations on taking a new step! I’m still making mine–one at a time. 🙂

    Sheila, I don’t worry much about hiding my accent. Everyone has one, and I feel it just gives my poems personality.

  2. Colette D

    Well, I told you this article motivated me. . . and now I’m finally taking a personal risk and doing something that seems so easy for everyone else — sharing my blog.

    Perhaps I am a primitive, but you gotta start somewhere, and I feel so fortunate to have found Poetic Asides on my first endeavor out of my poetic cave, back in April. My writing life has evolved eons in the past five months. Thank you, Robert, for this blog and the many opportunites and motivations you present to all of us!

    BTW, what is protocol for linking people to your blogroll? Do you ask permission, or just do it? (Based on the public nature of PA, I added it months ago; based on comments above, I see that is OK, in this case.)

  3. sheila harris

    Congrats to you and your wife for your double achievement..
    thank you for the continued lessons,advice..

    loved the blank pages over blank faces line and the anticipating the ‘hook’..
    boy ,does poetry ever ‘sound’ so different in one’s head than reading aloud..

    i don’t think i could ever read aloud with this "Pittsburgh" accent..’cept maybe in Pittsburgh!
    oh! to sound like Katherine Hepburn~ with lovely ,lilting precise diction rather than swallowing syllables..

    so do you practice reading your poems as accent free or void of colloquial tendency?or just present the poem in your best diction not worry about an accent..
    i never thought I had an ‘accent ‘ until I moved and work in New York..always getting called on it..

  4. Dennis Wright

    I’ve had some experience "performing" in public. I attend jam sessions and we play Old Time music. These jams are open to the public and are sometimes jams played in public. I’m more relaxed these days about playing in front of an audience, but brother it was something when I started.

    Congratulations Robert!

  5. Denise Swoveland

    I appreciate the advice on taking poetry risks. I admitted I would be afraid to read my poetry aloud in the front of an audience. I will have learn and refresh my memory on poetic forms and make my poetry more creative. I glad you was able to read your poetry at Poetry readings events
    Denise Swoveland

  6. Amy Barlow Liberatore

    Robert, congrats to you and Tammy on getting out there and reading your work.

    SInce I’m also a singer/songwriter, I thought it would be easy for me to read aloud, but guess what? Flop sweat abounds in any art form!! The difference, I found, was that music is all beat and rhythm, but also keyboard, etc. to fill up space and give you time to phrase. Poetry is a capella, and much harder to face your audience.

    My husband Lex says his sermons are not sermons until they are delivered to a congregation, because the spirit, the muse, whatever you call it, isn’t present until there’s that exchange of energy. Same with poetry. People used to recite poems around their homes… for fun! Why not encourage less Dancing With The Stars and more Reading Aloud From The Bard?

    Great article, and thanks to Bruce for submission info. Nancy, even when there was only one drunk at my piano bar, I still sang… just for him (or her). Even one person can hear you clearly and take something from it, even if it feels defeatist… you will be honored in the pantheon of the muses!

  7. Robert Lee Brewer

    Joshua, it does! Scary poems are a risk worth poeming.

    Nancy, I wish I could say that poetry events always draw large crowds, but that’s unfortunately not the case. And yes, poets (and friends and family of poets) usually make up a good chunk of the audience.

    Still, it’s good to get out and meet other poets.

  8. Joshua Gray

    Robert —

    I have a book of poetry prompts, very good — I go to it when I feel I need an idea, and one of my favorite prompts, which I have only done once, is to "write a poem that scares you." I think that belongs on your list of risky poems, don’t you think?


  9. Nancy J

    Congratulations to you and Tammy on your reading. I have to tell you about a local arts, crafts and music event that was held in my area a couple of weeks ago.

    There were two stages, one for music and one for other events. "Poetry Readings" was listed as the 2:30 event. I went specifically to see and hear the poets. Apparently the planners had high hopes as they had set up about 50 chairs in front of the stage. I got there early to make sure I got a seat.

    A total of eight people attended. Four were poets who were there to read. Two were family members or friends who sat with them. One was the man in charge of that stage. And there was me. I felt very bad for the poets. The family/friends and I clapped loudly when each poet was finished reading.

    Some people browsing the booths stopped and listened now and then, but for the most part, it was a lonely event. So my question is this. Are all poetry readings so poorly attended? (This was my first – and, no I didn’t read.)

  10. Iain D. Kemp

    As you know I started doing weekly podcasts about 6 months ago – the next step is live readings & i have two pubs that have agreed to let me start doing them in October. I have to say it’s a bit nerve wracking especially knowing how many takes some of my recordings need but I’m looking forward to the challenge

    Bruce – thanks for the heads up




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