Taking Risks in Poetry - Writer's Digest

Taking Risks in Poetry

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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.