Can you believe today is the last day of National Poetry Month? Thank you to Rachel M. Simon for offering suggestions about how to best take advantage of poetry opportunities - during Poetry Month and throughout the year. You might remember her post last year about Poems in NBA Playoff Season.
Rachel M. Simon teaches writing, gender studies and film courses at SUNY Purchase College, Pace University, and Marymount Manhattan College's program at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Her first book, Theory of Orange won the Transcontinental Prize from Pavement Saw Press. Her chapbook, Marginal Road, was published by Hollyridge Press.
It is almost the end of Poetry Month and I’m exhausted.
I am like many poets, especially teaching, grading, employed, writers who yearn to find time to build community with writers as well as time to work own my poems (and still need to do the dishes). This month I’ve taught four classes, secured four teaching gigs for the summer, participated in the Split this Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, D.C., and the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, MA, and helped care for a batch of chicks and ducklings that will hopefully grow up to lay many delicious eggs, and planted a vegetable garden from seed.
What I’m thinking I might have to offer at the end of Poetry Month is some advice on how to navigate your busy schedule for the best during the one month when the most invitations for readings and festivals arrive as some of us are also writing and grading final exams. Here are some tips:
1. Be active in your poetry community. Try to say yes when folks ask you to give a reading or go to a poetry festival. Poetry gets such little attention during the year; you should take advantage of the few weeks when it gets some national attention. Reward yourself by participating in the festivals and reading series that poets spend so much time organizing.
2. Don’t try and do it all at the poetry festival. If you exhaust yourself trying to go to every reading, panel, early morning celebration, and late night bottle of poetry whiskey you’ll miss out on the connections and friendships and opportunities that the festivals have to offer. Choose the few events that are most important to you and make sure you have time to relax between the readings. If you are a morning person be sure to go to the first readings of the day. If you shine at any bar, be sure to hang around to see where the poets are drinking.
3. Find out about events that are especially great every year. When I first went to the Dodge Poetry Festival about a dozen years ago I happened to overhear people talk about Lucille Clifton’s early morning reading in the small church on the grounds of Waterloo Village. It was a religious experience, well worth the early morning drive.
4. Consider what fun you can have in the non-reading portions of a poetry festival. This past weekend in Salem, MA, at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, I was planning to skip out on the thank you reception for the volunteers and participants. I expected it to be much less interesting than the readings. My friend Hannah convinced me that the volunteer reception was a festival highlight. It is nice to have a relaxed environment to chat with writers and usually the portions of the festival where you’re not sitting in marathon readings don’t have uncomfortable chairs.
5. Don’t forget to write! Take advantage of any spare moments to write that you can. I write during readings, on trains, and while my students take exams. It is important to keep writing and allow yourself to find inspiration during poetry month.
6. Keep in Touch. I know that schmoozing isn’t fun for everyone, but talking to editors and publishers should be interesting to all poets (who want their poems published). These are the people who do all the hard work to bring poems into the world. The best part of my time at a VT writers’ residency was meeting and befriending the editors of magazines and journals that eventually published some of my poems that led to the publication of my book. Facebook makes this easy, but Facebook will also suck away your time and keep you from writing, so be careful.
I hope you’ve had an exhausting poetry month, I know I have. Hopefully it has been a productive month for your writing and your relationships with the writers in your life, maybe I’ll see you at a poetry event in the next year.