Your Guide To Performing At The BIS Poetry Slam!

 

The second edition of the BIS Poetry Slam is taking place in less than one month.

If you’re a participant, this means only one thing: it’s time to start panicking!

Because trust me when I say this – if you’re a young poet who wants to make a mark through your poetry, an event like this can literally be life-changing!

So, if you’re competing (or planning to compete) at the BIS Poetry Slam, this blog post is for you. We want to help you prepare for the slam in the best possible manner, so that you have the best shot at winning!

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
– Benjamin Franklin

Right. Let’s get straight into it!

Anis Mojgani BIS Poetry Slam
Anis Mojgani, two-time winner of the US National Poetry Slam, will be performing at the BIS Poetry Slam! How can you not be excited?

The Rules Of The Slam

Let’s start with the basics – the rules of the slam.

i. Schools have to nominate a team of 3 poets from grade 11 and 12 for the Slam.
ii. Participating students must have an original poem to perform and also work on a group poem for the final round.
iii. Individual poems should not exceed 3 minutes and group poems must not exceed 5 minutes.

Keep these rules firmly in mind while writing and practising your poems. After all, the last thing you want to do is get disqualified at the slam!

Preparing For The BIS Poetry Slam

Below, I’m listing 4 steps that you can follow to deliver a powerful performance at the slam! If you follow them, I promise you you’ll do a good job at the BIS Poetry Slam!!

Step 1: Writing Your Poems
Step 2: Mastering Your Performance
Step 3: Creating A Great Group Piece
Step 4: Keeping Your Cool On The Day Of The Event

Step 1: Writing Your Poems

Needless to say, this is the most important step of your preparation process. It can also be the scariest, especially for those who put too much pressure on themselves!

If you’re struggling with writing your poem, here are 4 steps you can follow. Follow these steps, and I promise you’ll end up with a good poem!

a. Get Inspired!

Let’s start by having a bit of fun, shall we? Instead of getting straight into the process of writing, why not begin by watching a few videos? Here are a few world-class spoken word poems, for your viewing:

i. Sarah Kay – “B”

ii. Phil Kaye – Repetition

iii. Anis Mojgani – Shake The Dust

 

Some of you might already have watched these poems. If so, I’d urge you to watch them again, this time paying greater attention to the nuances that have gone into making these poems great!

b. If you could only write one more poem, what would you write about?

So you’ve watched the videos, and you’re feeling motivated. Time to pick up that pen and start writing, right? Wrong!

I’ll be honest: this is a mistake that most poets make. They begin to write their poems without actually being sure of what they want to talk about. Once in a while, this results in good poetry. But more often than not, it leads to frustration and a loss of time.

So instead of going straight into your poem, take some time to think about what you actually want to write about. For any poet, deciding this can be extremely tricky. There are just so many things you could write about! You could write about homework or heartbreak, about cricket or social injustices, or about that pimple that’s been occupying your forehead all week. Freezing on one thing to write about can be incredibly difficult.

If you’re in this phase, I empathise with you massively, because I’ve been stuck in this state on multiple occasions.

Luckily, I recently found a solution to it. All I do is ask myself a simple question – if I could write only one more poem, what would I write about?

This question always works for me. Simply because, instead of offering possibilities, it reduces them drastically. Within this constraint, it’s incredibly easy to pick something to write about.

By going into this mindset, the question changes from “what could I write about?” to “what must I write about?” What is so important to me that I couldn’t do without writing about it?

Trust me. Ask yourself this question, think deeply about it, answer it, and you will find out what you really and truly want to write about!

c. Decide Your Approach To The Poem

“Is it time to start writing yet?” I hear you ask. Unfortunately, no. Not yet. You now know what you’re going to write about, but you still don’t know how you’re going to write about it.

Let me explain: assume that you want to write about that pimple that’s been bothering you for weeks. That’s great. But how are you going to write about it? Are you going to simply complain about how much it’s bothering you? No! That would be too boring. Instead, what if you gave it a name, and a character? Ah, much more interesting. But let’s make it more specific – what if you named it Ramesh, and gave it the character of a well-meaning little helper, who’s just trying to decorate your face a little bit?

And so on. Remember, it’s not like you have to give your subject a name or character. This is just one way to approach your poem. The key thing is to think creatively about how you’re approaching your poem so that right from the get-go, you’re giving it an interesting flavour.

Exercise: Watch the above 3 poems again, and try to decode the approaches that the poets have taken to their poems. You’ll find that each of them has taken a definite approach to their poem.

For instance, if you take a closer look at Sarah Kay’s poem, “B”, you’ll find that it’s about the lessons (both good and bad) that we learn while growing up. But instead of simply listing out these lessons, Sarah Kay has structured the poem as a conversation between her and her daughter. Doing this one simple thing makes the poem more concrete and more real to us. Think about it – a person listing out things they’ve learnt for 3 minutes? Sounds boring. But a person having an honest and uplifting conversation with their young daughter? Far more interesting!

Similarly, Phil Kaye weaves an intricate first-person story in his poem “Repetition”, and in “Shake The Dust”, Anis Mojgani lists out groups of marginalised people (“For the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children”) before urging them to rise about their circumstances and overcome their fears. In both cases, the poet’s approach adds a layer of depth to the piece, and makes it more engaging for the viewer!

So what I do want you to do is – think about what you want to say, and find a creative way of saying it! Unleash your imagination; make it interesting. I promise you – doing this will make your poem a lot more fun to write, and a lot more fun to listen to!

d. Start Writing!

Finally, we’re here. You’re motivated, you know what you want to write about, and you know how you’re going to write about it. So, only one thing left. Pick up the pen (or phone, or laptop) and start writing!

Tip #1: Don’t edit while you write, edit after you write

I’ve often been guilty of editing while I write. I write one line, then edit that one line, then re-edit that one line, then scrap it and write a different line, then edit that line, and so on and so forth. Before I know it, two hours have passed, and I’ve only written one line of my poem!

While writing, do not fixate on any single line in your poem. Instead, power through it, and finish writing the poem. Once you’re done, then you can sit down and seriously work on your editing. Trust me, doing this will save you a lot of time!

Separate your writing and editing processes!

Tip #2: Be honest, be authentic

Don’t write about something you don’t care about. Don’t write about something just because it’s a “trending” topic, or because you think it’ll be “cool” to write about. By doing this, you’re only doing an injustice to yourself. Instead, write about something that you care deeply about, no matter how trivial it seems to the people around you. Being true to yourself while writing is the best thing you can do, and trust me, it’s the best shot you’ll give yourself of winning the slam!

A Short List Of Writing Prompts


If you’re struggling to come up with an idea for your poem, here’s a list of prompts that will help you start writing!!

i. Write a love letter to something you hate.
ii. Pick any object in your room and write a poem from the point of view of that object!
iii. As a poem, list out 5 steps to build an ordinary human being
iv. Write a poem from the point of view of your favourite fictional villain

Step 2: Mastering Your Performance

Spoken word poetry, or performance poetry, is poetry that’s written to be performed. Essentially, it’s an amalgamation of two art forms – the literary art (poetry) and the performance art. One can’t do without the other. Which is why you might’ve written a brilliant poem, but you’re not allowed to relax just yet!

The quality of your performance is as important as the quality of your poem!

So how do you deliver a fantastic performance? Here are the steps to take:

a. Practise Practise Practise!

Unfortunately, there’s no secret ingredient for delivering a great performance. It’s just this one word, that you’ve heard infinite times in your life, that I’m going to tell you again: practise.

You need to know your poem so well, that if someone woke you up in the middle of the night, you could start saying them instantly. You need to know what you’re doing with all your hands at all times. You need to know what expressions you’re going to be making while you hit your punchlines.

Achieving this is not easy. So make sure you practise. By the time the event rolls around, you should have practised your piece 50 times. Do this, and you’ll be 90% of the way there!

b. How You Practise Is How You Will Perform

Practising is essential. However, you can’t just practise any old way. For instance, if you’re lying on your bed and reading the words of your poem to yourself, you’re not practising!!

The reason for this is simple – how you practise is how you will perform. So every time you practise, make sure you make it count. Stand in front of the mirror, and perform as if you’re actually at the real event. Stand with the correct posture. Picture a mic stand and audience in front of you. Try to feel the nerves, and the tension. And focus on beating it.

If you practise this way, with full dedication, by the time the event takes place, you’ll be unstoppable!

c. Being Yourself On Stage

Let them see your personality.

I feel like this is the best advice I can give you. When you get up onto that stage, don’t try to be somebody else. Find what’s unique about you, and let that come through in your performance. Don’t be afraid to let the audience see who you really are. Trust me, they’ll appreciate you for it.

So don’t hold back. Don’t pretend. Perform in a way that feels natural to you, be true to yourself, and your performance will be valuable!

Step 3: The Key To Putting Up A Great Group Piece

So you’re done with writing and practising your individual piece. Good job! However, the work’s not done yet. The best teams from Round 1 of the BIS Poetry Slam will progress to Round 2 of the slam!

So you must prepare a group piece, where all 3 poets in the team perform a poem together!

Let’s get started on writing a wonderful group poem –

a. Get Inspired!

As with the previous time, let’s start our process by searching for a bit of inspiration!

And what better place find it, than the poem that won first place at the first edition of the BIS Poetry Slam?

I’d also recommend you watch this fabulous duet poem, “Beach Bodies”, where two students really turned on the style! (They were later invited to perform the same poem at a TEDx Event!)

b. Write About Something You All Care About

I’m hoping that you’re feeling inspired now. Because the next step is to get writing. Essentially, you have to follow the same steps as listed above, but with one major change – you need to write about something that all 3 of you care about. Something that all 3 of your relate to. Something that all 3 of you want to talk about.

Why? Because that’s the only way you’ll perform with full conviction on stage!

Remember, it doesn’t matter who does the actual writing of the poem (you can all edit the poem together, anyway). But you must take the time to sit down together and talk about what matters to each of you. This way, you’ll be sure that you’re all performing a poem that means something to you, and I promise you that on the day of your performance, it’ll make a difference!

c. Choreography Is Essential!

Coordinating your body movements on stage is crucial to delivering a good team performance. Remember, performance is an audio-visual experience, so make sure that the 3 of you look like one entity on stage!

The way to achieve this is to have a strong cue to begin the poem, and you could coordinate certain movements and hand gestures as well, just to show that you’re functioning as a unit, and not as 3 individuals.

d. Practise Practise Practise!

For a team performance, there is simply no escaping this. If you have to practise your solo piece 50 times, you need to practise your group piece 75 times! That’s just how it is. The more you practise, the more comfortable you’ll feel with each others cadence, tempo and movements. Remember, the little things matter on the big stage, so practise together, get to know each other, and then only can you think of delivering a memorable performance!!

Step 4: Keeping Calm On The Day Of The Slam!

There’s just one more thing you need to do, to be able to deliver a powerful performance at the BIS Poetry Slam. You need to stay calm on the day of the event.

I know this is easier said than done, but hear me out. The thing that separates the pros from the amateurs is control. So if you want to be closer to a pro than an amateur, you need to be in control of yourself and your body on the day of the slam. It’s hard to do this nervous.

Here are a few tips to beat nerves and stay calm on the day of the event:

i. Practise your performances (solo and team) for an audience before the actual slam. If possible, ask your principal for permission to perform at your school assembly, before the BIS Slam. If this is not possible, get a bunch of friends together, and perform for them! But I promise you – the more you perform in front of real audiences before the slam, the less nervous you’ll feel on the day of the event.

ii. When you step onto the stage on the day of the BIS Poetry Slam, take deep breaths to calm down your nerves.

iii. Make sure you’re well-rested and well hydrated on the day of the event. If you’re not treating your body well, don’t expect it to do the job for you when it counts!

Don’t Perform To Win, Perform To Make History!

Look, you need to put real effort into your poems, and your performances. But that doesn’t mean you have to win. Poetry events die when they become hyper-competitive. So don’t let yourself fall into the trap of believing you have to win.

Let me make this clear to you – you don’t have to win.

You know what you have to do? You have to deliver a mind-blowing performance that makes an actual impact on the people who’re watching. If you do this, it doesn’t matter what the results are. Because you’d have already won.

“The points are not the point; the point is poetry.”
– Allan Wolf

So start gearing up for the slam! We can’t wait to witness the poetry that you create. And remember – you’re the only one who’s in control of your destiny, so make sure you make the most of it!!

If you have any doubts, write to me at shantanuanand237@gmail.com

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50 Poems You Need To Read Right Now

In this article, we gave you the blueprint to succeed as a poet. We showed you how you can become a great poet and performer, and build an audience of your own.

But before you think about becoming a great poet, I’d recommend you become a good reader. Now my argument is only going to be framed through this article, where I leave you with 50 poems you need to read right now, and I will consider myself to have lost, if it doesn’t make you whip your pen out, or open your computers and start writing with better ideas and stronger inspiration.

The thing is this massive place called the web wide world has too much for you to ever feel short of material to pick up, read, research and understand. Think about the time when physical distance stopped a reader from picking up a book. You don’t have that excuse anymore!

So the trick then is to read poetry from all across the world available online or in libraries, and not restrict your reading to one particular kind of poetry written in a particular decade in a country. Where do I begin, I hear you ask? We’ve curated a list of 50 poems from around the world and around different periods that you can begin reading right away!

Modern Indian Poets – 

 As an Indian poet, it’s essential to situate ourselves in the context of what we are really contributing to the long history of Indian poetry, and to be able to do that consciously, reading some of the best contributions made in the recent past is the place to start.

1. From Songs of Kabir by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra –

‘Me shogun.’
‘Me bigwig.’
‘Me the chief’s son.
I make the rules here.’

It’s a load of crap.
Laughing, skipping,
Tumbling, they’re all
Headed for Deathville.

In the blink
Of an eye, says Kabir,
The king will be
Separated from his kingdom.”

To be absolutely honest, this is not how one would imagine a poem to begin : “Me shogun,” “Me bigwig” but this poem is a classic example of a translation which brings to life the essence of an original Kabir poem, in a language more commonly understood and spoken in everyday life – a common characteristic of the post 60s Indian poets who brought in a modern sensibility to their writing.

2. ‘The Bus’ from Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar

Jejuri is a poem written as a series of shorter poems which begins with the bus ride to the temple town of Jejuri, in the poem ‘The Bus,’ and ends with the poet returning from Jejuri, in the poem ‘The Railway Station.’ Read this book length poem, almost as you would listen to a concept album to completely understand the physical journey of the poet as well as that of his mind.

3. Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali

This is a very popularly read Agha Shahid Ali poem, written in the form of a ghazal – a poem consisting of couplets complete in themselves. Each couplet ends on the same word, and the last couplet often carries a proper name (usually of the poet’s). What better example than this one. If you really liked it, and are interested in more of Agha Shahid Ali’s poems, I’d recommend you begin with this one.


4. Self Portraits by A.K. Ramanujan

In this poem, A K Ramanujan really questions his identity, and compares himself with everyone else, seeing a loss of his own identity. It’s about the identity of a son to his father. It’s a simple poem with a greater meaning, one that is found in the reader’s own introspection of their identity.

5. Nine Poems on Arrival by Adil Jussawalla

 

Adil Jussawalla’s contribution through his book of poems, Missing Person has been unparalleled, yet one finds no copy of the same running in print anymore. It is divided into two parts and, “presents a problem, the guilt of the bourgeois intellectual…and the poems don’t offer any solutions.” They are cinematic, discontinuous, opening with the audience – “House full. It’s a shocker. Keep still.

Adil Jussawalla is a poet who needs to be read, and while one cannot find Missing Person, and no one poem must be picked, severed from the series to be individually quoted, here’s one poem of Jussawalla’s that you must read.

6. An Introduction by Kamala Das

Call this an autobiographical poem or a confessional poem, Kamala Das has poured her heart out. It’s a poem that a woman was not “supposed to” write as one can see from a completely different style employed by the pre-independence poet  Sarojini Naidu in her poems, ‘Palanquin Bearers for instance. Kamala Das broke this with her extremely powerful voice that questions everything it wants to and everything it must.

I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.”

7. Eunice by Eunice De Souza


“Eunice, Embroidery Sister said
this petticoat you’ve cut
these seams
are worthy of an elephant
my dear

Silly braless bitch
Eunice is writing bad words sister
she’s sewing up her head
for the third time sister

the limbs keep flopping
the sawdust keeps popping
out of the gaps
out of the gaps
out of the gaps
sister”

Adil Jussawalla (mentioned above) said of Eunice De Souza, “She makes no attempt to make us like or pity [her] persona and yet we find ourselves respecting it deeply. Those readers who prefer a softer or more lyrical line around its edge may find it extremely unpleasant.” This poem is straight-forward, it’s Eunice de Souza speaking the truth, speaking it as it is.

8. The Heroin Sestina by Jeet Thayil


A sestina is a poem where you repeat the initial six end-words of the first stanza, through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi (which ends with three of the same end-words). Jeet Thayil’s ‘The Heroin Sestina’ is a great example of how to use this form well without breaking the flow of the poem.

“Allow
me in this one time and I’ll give you heroin,
just a taste
to replace the useless stuff you know.
Some say it comes back, the time,
to punish you with the time you killed, leave you stone

sober, unknowing, the happiness chemical blown
from your system, unable to taste the word heroin
without wanting its stone one last time.”

9. Absences by Dom Moraes

 

This poem was written as an attempt to understand what it would be like if the entire world was dead –

Smear out the last star.
No lights from the islands
Or hills. In the great square
The prolonged vowel of silence
Makes itself plainly heard”

Dom Moraes, one of the first generation modern poets of India, wrote this after a walk by the beach, where he saw across the water, an empty quiet island, with nobody about. In his opinion, he felt a tremendous pride after writing this, as it became a precursor to a lot of new poetry he wrote.

10. Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher by Nissim Ezekiel


This is one of the most beautiful and important poems for a poet. It conveys the idea of patience in writing the perfect poem, and finding silence within yourself to begin creating. The poet, Nissim Ezekiel, easily one of the earliest modern poets in India, compares this silence and patient waiting of the poet to that of a lover and a birdwatcher.

11. Kamatipura by Namdeo Dhasal, translated by Dilip Chitre


In the poem, Namdeo Dhasal depicts the dark and hideous world of Kamatipura – Mumbai’s largest red-light area. The metaphorical porcupine in the poem portrays the plight of prostitutes in this district, which was close to where the poet grew up and lived among petty criminals.

 


It’s also important to note at this point that Namdeo Dhasal was one of the most brilliant Marathi Dalit poets, along with being the founder of the Dalit Panther movement, and was hungry to fight the injustice and exploitation against the Dalits in India.

12. Habit by F.M. Shinde

This one’s another poem by a Dalit poet, which differs completely in style from the previous poem by Dhasal. While most Dalit poetry echoed the ‘agony of the oppressed or the anger of the rebel,’ this poem deals with a sort of acceptance and habituation where once you’re used to the pain and subjugation, you never afterwards/feel anything.

Poets From Pakistan, Afghanistan And The Middle East – 


13. Purdah by Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker is a Pakistan-born poet, artist and documentary filmmaker, who lives in India and Britain, and published her first book of poetry in 1989. In this poem, she portrays what the Purdah has come to stand for in her life.

Purdah is a kind of safety.
The body finds a place to hide.
The cloth fans out against the skin
much like the earth that falls
on coffins after they put dead men in.”

14. Last Night Your Lost Memory/Raat Yunh Dil Mein by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

 

Raat yunh dil mein teri khoee hui yaad aayee
Jaise veeraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaaye
Jaise sehraa mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem
Jaise beemaar ko be-vajah qaraar aa jaaye”

                          ***

Translation by Mahmood Jamal :

“Last night your lost memory
came to me,
As spring comes quietly upon a wilderness
As a cool breeze
blows gently across desert sands
As a sick man
without reason finds relief.”

This is a great example of a quatrain of love, written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. A quatrain is a four-line stanza/poem often with a rhyme scheme of ABCB, or ABAC. Faiz was often well known for his ghazals.

15. Six Poem Series (Qasida) by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

 

Shadab Zeest Hashmi revives the qasida form in these six poems beginning with ‘Qasida of the Bridge of Teacups’ and closing with the ‘Qasida of the Last Chai.’ Originally seen in pre-Islamic Arabia, a qasida is a form of poetry written often in high praise, either laudatory, elegiac or satiric.

We must be our mothers in our laugh, shaking out arrows
that pierced us on the map. But we don’t laugh
because someone handed us separate keys and your door
became an unnamable distance. Our last chai has our salt,
our silica, our duet of Malhaar against the blind new borders.”
– Qasida of the Last Chai

16. Poem by Zia Movahhed

 

“For God’s sake
Write a poem
without words like
‘my heart is filled with sorrow’
A poem praising the smile
the greetings
and the joy and delight it is
to sip a hot tea
along with a quatrain by Khayyam
A poem
close to the children on the swings in the park
alongside the worried smiles of the mothers
A poem which may
make the children naughtier
the poet had filled the pages yesterday
Today
it was blank and white again
The words had fled during the night
Write a poem which may
make the words
compassionate towards each other
A poem which may
make the words, like blue skies
clean the air,
flatten the paper folds
A poem which
when sung by the gardener
during the famine
may lead to large produce of wheat
even in salt lake
A poem
for God’s sake
A love sonnet
A poem
impossible to write in this land.”

I couldn’t find an online link to this poem, but I just had to include it in this list, because it’s so beautiful. This is a poem of hope, a poem to find the child still happy. It’s a poem that tells you to continue loving and creating : simple acts of defiance in a country which has not seen them, but longs for them.

17. Barefoot Souls by Maram Al Masri

Son of Magda
Age: 13

I do not remember her face,
I was very small when my father
carried me off to my grandmother’s house
far,
far away.

My grandmother did not like
the one who had brought me into the world,
with every prayer she would demand that God
would punish her.

She would say, hers is the blood of the devil.
she would say, she abandoned you
for the cats to eat you up.

Eighteen months old … that’s very young
for a child
to have to defend himself.”

The above poem is from a longer series linked above. Maram Al Masri, a respected Syrian poet’s series of poems called Barefoot Souls are unique, heartbreaking portraits of women with each poem written from the voice of their sons and daughters : ‘Son of Magda, ‘Daughter of Sana,’ and so on. You can read more about her in this wonderfully elaborate article on her poetry.

Modern and Contemporary American Poetry – 

18. On Being Brought From Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley

To understand ‘On Being Brought…’ one must first understand that this poem was written at a time when Africans in America were bought/traded as slaves at the will of the ‘White’ Americans, in the pre-nineteenth century. This poem is said to contain a mild rebuke towards white readers, to remember that Africans must be included in their Christian stream : “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, /May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.”

19. Because I Could Not Stop For Death by Emily Dickinson

If you’re looking at understanding the best ways to use personification with abstract concepts, this is a perfect poem to read, as Emily Dickinson uses this device so beautifully. Personification is to give human attribute to something non-human. Death has been personified in this poem, and as the poem transitions in its syllabic structure, the tone of the poem has also been carefully worked to bring transition in the nature of Death
from : “Because I could not stop for death/He stopped kindly stopped for me
to : “Or rather — He passed Us—/The Dews drew quivering and Chill—”

20. Out Of The Cradle Endlessly Rocking by Walt Whitman


This poem carries a musical and rhythmic quality –
“From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and
  fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as
  if with tears,
From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in
  the mist”

A boy matures into a poet, and looks back over his past life, seeking an answer to the meaning of suffering and death. Walt Whitman is to be remembered as one of the most influential poets ever to have contributed in the distinctive lyrical free verse form. One cannot miss mentioning here, his breathtaking book of poems, Leaves of Grass, which is a must-read.

21. The Dead by Mina Loy


This is a poem by Mina Loy, who was born in London but moved to New York, and contributed immensely as one of the most experimental poets of the modern era – in terms of both form and content. She is regarded as a futurist, a dadaist, a surrealist poet, but more than anything else, she is often regarded as a feminist poet, and this poem, ‘
The Dead,’ like a lot of her other poems, is said to be read as a “corrosive expression of personal anger and grief.”

“We spit up our passions in our grand-dams        

Fixing the extension of your reactions
Our shadow lengthens
In your fear”

22. The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams


And as you navigate through these poems, you’ll get an insight into the different styles from long free verse of Walt Whitman, to short descriptive ones of Dickinson and Loy. But I now introduce you to another poem quite different from the ones you’ve read above, one contributed by the master poet William Carlos Williams. It’s a classic example of imagism – a movement which emerged to favour “precision of imagery and sharp language.”


This poem was written after an incident in the poet’s life when he met a man who – “worked in the cold in freezing weather, standing ankle deep in cracked ice packing down the fish. He said he didn’t feel cold. He never felt cold in his life until just recently. I liked that man, and his son Milton almost as much. In his backyard I saw his red wheelbarrow surrounded by the white chickens.”

23. Marriage by Marianne Moore


The poem is a brilliant example of Marianne Moore’s style so full of allusions and quotes within her poems. How different one can say are TS Eliot’s allusions originating from literary sources, from those of Moore, which originate from everyday places – billboards, newspapers, tourist brochures etc. For example – “
Liberty and union / now and forever.” read under a statue of Daniel Webster. You can refer to this article for the various allusions.

24. Cut by Sylvia Plath


Darkly humourous poem, and mildly disturbing one’s senses, ‘Cut’ is a poem written by Sylvia Plath. This poem on one level talks about the speaker’s thumb almost being cut off while chopping onions. And then there are various other interpretations of this poem, one of which suggests that the poem is about an emotional wound of the poet where her life has ultimately been reduced to a “stump” of a cut, ugly thumb. I have linked an annotated version of the poem which explains line by line certain references used, or phrases that may not be clear on first reading. Give Sylvia a good reading!

25. America by Allen Ginsberg


Now you might have read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl – one of the most stunning contributions to the history of modern american poetry. But I urge you to read it again today line by line, as you would a short poem. I also urge you to read ‘America,’ which is a great example of a stream of consciousness style of writing used often by the Beat Writers and Poets and it carries an undertone of accusation driven towards America (in the middle of Cold War) bluntly as well as sarcastically : “America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the world.”

26. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

The poet speaks with confidence and pride about where she thinks her beauty lies, defying the stereotypes of the exterior, superfluous definition of it. Now this poem can be read without the background of Maya Angelou, or this poem could be read with the background of Maya Angelou, and her struggles. It stands out both times because of its timeless, extraordinary power to make the reader feel good about their strength and beauty too, as the poet does about hers!

27. Middle-Aged : A Study in an Emotion by Ezra Pound

 

I think it’s important to mention Pound and his contributions, while we’re discussing the various contributions by poets, as he was the one poet whom every single poet knew, and had been engaged in some sort of relationship with – from Pound being the guiding force behind T.S. Eliot’s published poems in magazines as well as full length anthologies, to being a friend of Frost’s, and somewhat being credited with having modernised Yeats and his voice. ‘Middle-Aged’ will give a wonderful insight into Ezra Pound’s poetry.

28. Sticks by Thomas Sayers Ellis

This is a poem written from memory, a poem autobiographical, a poem about the poet’s father. The poet mentions that often in the neighbourhood, everything was about survival, so being an “enormous man” meant you were fit for survival, and everything about a person was gauged in that sense, which the poet said left out “aspects of the intellect in certain cases”

“My father was an enormous man
Who believed kindness and lack of size
Were nothing more than sissified
Signs of weakness.”

29. Duende by Tracy K Smith


A startling look into the history of suppressed cultures, ‘Duende’ is a poem written by the US Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith. I would highly recommend that you read the poem while listening to the Soundcloud reading of it, in the link above.

“A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies.
And in this night that is not night,
Each word is a wish, each phrase
A shape their bodies ache to fill—

If you liked this, you can read ‘Watershed’ by Tracy K Smith, another masterpiece by the same poet.

30. Dope by Amiri Baraka


This is a poem that reflects the realities of a ghetto. It is written almost like it’s meant to be read out loud, performed. It repeatedly points the reader/listener towards the racism faced by the African Americans in the US politics and how one becomes complacent sometimes in their own oppression and forgets to fight back. Do not miss the absolutely dynamic energy of the poem, as performed by Amiri Baraka himself.  

wasn’t it nice slavery was so
cool and
all you had to do was wear derbies and vests
and train chickens and buy your
way free if you had a mind to, must be the
devil, wasnt no white folks,
lazy niggers chained theyselves and threw
they own black asses in the bottom
of the boats.”

31. Shake The Dust by Anis Mojgani


This is an anthem for the underdogs. Written by Anis Mojgani, this poem uses the simple technique of a chorus to create big impact, and calls for the ones in the margins to –

“Grab this world by its clothespin,
and shake it out again,
and again
and hop on top and take it for a spin,
and when you hop off shake it again,
for this is yours.”

Anis Mojgani is an incredible spoken word poet, and you can watch the performance of this poem here, but I’d recommend you read the text of the poem first!

32. Headfirst by Ocean Vuong


This poem is written from the point of view of the poet’s mother. Ocean Vuong was born in a family of Vietnamese immigrants in the US, where the women could not read or write but that did not stop them from telling stories to little Ocean when he was growing up. In this poem, he discovers the possibility of stepping into the shoes of his mother. If she could write, this is what it would be.


33. Ode to Kanye West In Two Parts, Ending In A Chain Of Mothers Rising From The River by Hanif Willis Abdurraqib

 

An ode is a lyric poem addressed directly to a subject which is often a person or an object. Now you might remember John Keats’ ‘Ode to Nightingale,’ ‘Ode to Autumn,’ or ‘Ode to Grecian Urn.’ But here is an ‘Ode to Kanye West,’ written by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, a poet from the US, who uses this form not in the exact traditional way to directly address the musician, but as a way to find a solution, if there exists one, to his own grief in the silences.

“there are only so many ways to dream about a corpse before you find new things to call sleep, or a new thing worth closing   your eyes for the woman pulling you to the warmth of her living mouth or Nina Simone’s voice laid tight and naked over something your boys can rap to until there is enough money to move out the hood and into somewhere not creased with songs of the lifeless.”

34. Red Beans by Victor Hernandez Cruz

When you read this poem, you might find yourself identifying various images of the colours – red and white, that the poet uses “red beans next to white rice” “hills of starch border burnt sienna of irony.” This poem can be seen as a metaphor for the native Puerto Ricans, one that comes from the poet’s identity himself, and their history of being conquered and colonised in the past, red symbolic of them, and white the colonisers.

Classic European Poetry – 

35. Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Here’s introducing you to an example of Romantic poetry, a category that everyone has come to dislike for being too much about nature and not really making a point. But let’s really take a moment to understand – what gave birth to this language and style of the poets writing poetry at the time.

Romantic poetry came about as a reaction against the industrial revolution and the age of reason – a world with its emphasis on reason and logic and science, and for most young poets, this world had really stopped making sense. For them, poetry was not about being formal, and following set standards and rules. For them, it was about using an everyday language and talking about the everyday subjects around them. They wanted nature to be appreciated as it was than be dissected and examined by scientists. So if you ask me, I’d say Romantic poets were the real deal!

Give this poem a read, it’s written by S.T. Coleridge supposedly in his dream, and if it weren’t for a guest visiting him, this poem would probably have been longer.

36. Daffodils by William Wordsworth


“I wandered lonely as a cloud,” or famously called Daffodils, is another example of a poem by a Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, written after his sister Dorothy and he walked across the Lake District where they lived, and came across a belt of daffodils. The poem was inspired by a lesser known journal entry written by Dorothy about this event. Beautiful figures of speech like hyperbole (exaggeration) and personification can be seen in the lines –


“Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
         Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

37. On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer by John Keats


This poem has become somewhat iconic in conveying the captivating power of a really stunning piece of art. Keats, earlier unimpressed with Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s
Illiad and Odyssey, read the translation by Chapman one night along with his friend, and having been completely blown away by it, ended up presenting this piece of magic to his friend.

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken”

38. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

A sonnet is a 14 line poem, with varying rhyme schemes depending on the kind of sonnet one writes. A Shakespearean/English sonnet, for instance follows : ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme, written in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets in his lifetime and this one in particular is probably one of the most read and loved love sonnet where the speaker compares his lover to a Summer’s day, except he calls him more lovely and more temperate than summer as –

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

39. With How Sad Steps by Philip Sidney


If you’re looking to study the sonnet format further, sonnets falling under the Petrarchan umbrella of love poetry like Philip Sidney’s and Edmund Spenser’s sonnets are great ones to read and study. You’ve already seen an example of Shakespearean sonnet with the rhyme scheme mentioned above.  The rhyme scheme for this sonnet, one picked up from Sidney’s
Astrophil and Stella is ABBA ABBA CDCDEE (the first eight lines being called an octet, and the last six lines being a sextet).

40. The Canonisation by John Donne


This is
a great example of metaphysical poetry, where John Donne asserted his scholasticism with lines like “What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?/Who says my tears have overflowed his ground? /When did my colds a forward spring remove? /When did the heats which my veins fill /Add one more to the plague bill? ” representative at the time of the explorations and scientific discoveries that were taking place.

But what was most representative of these poets was a device called the metaphysical conceit, which is essentially a stretched comparison between a spiritual aspect of a person and a physical thing in the world, that could sometimes gone on through the entire poem.

41. The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

Although born in America, T.S. Eliot and this poem have been classified as belonging to British modern literature, as Eliot shifted to England very early in life and wrote most of his poems under the influence of Ezra Pound, whom he met there. Later, Eliot also renounced his American citizenship and became a British citizen. This poem was published in 1922, and written in five parts. It is considered to be his crowning achievement and is full of dialogues, changing speakers in the poem and allusions – all common characteristics of the 20th century modern British poetry.

42. Inglan Is A Bitch by Linton Kwesi Johnson

This poem’s not a sweet one. It is representative of the stark experiences of the poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson, an African-Caribbean immigrant living in England. This style of poetry is known as Dub Poetry, and originated in Jamaica in the 1970s, where poets were often accompanied during performances by drum and bass players. What’s immediately striking about this poem is that it is written to mimic Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Jamaican accent, which is a striking way of reclaiming his voice.

“dem have a lickle facktri up inna Brackly
inna disya facktri all dem dhu is pack crackry
fi di laas fifteen years dem get mi laybah
now awftah fiteen years mi fall out a fayvah

Inglan is a bitch
dere’s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
dere’s no runnin’ whey fram it”

Watch a video of the poem here, and read it in the link above.

43. Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah


Written as both a comical as well as a critical poem, ‘Talking Turkeys’ is an appeal to those who consume excessive turkey meat during Christmas. It’s written as a pledge on behalf of turkeys –

I once knew a turkey His name was Turkey
He said ‘Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?’
I said, ‘I am not too sure Turkey
But it’s nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy and waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash.’

44. Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney


A young boy collects frogspawns from a flax-dam, but the trip to flax-dam goes wrong and results in the boy feeling threatened by the frogs. Hence, the title is symbolic of this death of a naturalist within the boy. Seamus Heaney is often remembered for his groundbreaking work with the award winning translation of one of the oldest epic poems in English called Beowulf which was written originally in Old English and has been translated into Modern English by various translators, Heaney’s standing out for his “freedom in using the modern language.”

45. Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy


This poem was written at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s government (which also makes for the unseen background of the poem), when underprivileged parts of society suffered educationally and economically. It’s about a violent teenager, with a neglected education, and it must be read with annotations that can be found in the link above for better understanding of the speaker, and the references in the poem.

46. Meditation/Recueillement by Baudelaire


Look the dead years/ dressed in old clothes crowd the balconies of the sky/Regret emerges smiling from the sea.”

Baudelaire writes the most beautiful lines, as he converses with his sorrow (personified here) discussing how different the state of the world is from the state he is in. He walks with sorrow, and urges it to look at the dead years bending themselves in the sky, and the dying sun putting itself to sleep, and to hear the night softly moving in.

47. Eulogy of the Spring’s Eve by Anna Akhmatova


A eulogy is a kind of poem which
praises someone or something highly, especially when written as a tribute to someone who has just died. This poem from Anna Akhmatova’s Midnight Verse is a stunning example of this form –

“The blizzard had calmed in pine groves,
But, tipsy without any wines,
– Ophelia over her waters –
White silence all night sang to us.”

48. To***Kern by Alexander Pushkin


“I keep in mind that magic moment:

When you appeared before my eyes
Like ghost, like fleeting apparition,
Like genius of the purest grace.”

And thus begins the love poem by Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin. A fun fact to remember Pushkin’s craftsmanship and literary stature is that in Moscow, a statue of Pushkin’s was unveiled to the speeches of Dostoevsky and Turgenev, who claimed that  the “statue allowed the Russian to claim themselves as a great nation ‘because this nation has given birth to such a man’” Now I’m not sure how that works, but Russia has produced some of the best writers and poets, so can’t deny them that claim.

49. What Must Be Said by Günter Grass


I’m sharing this poem in the list because it put Gunter Grass into trouble and I don’t mean a few backlashes here and there. I mean, the Nobel Laureate was declared persona non grata in Israel, and
barred from the country, and I want you to think about this poem. Read it as the Guardian article suggests, “as a warning that the Jewish state’s nuclear programme was a threat to an already fragile world peace.”


50.  vocabulary by Safia Elhillo

And lastly, I’m going to leave you with a Sudanese poet, Safia Elhillo, whose every single poem deserves to be read, but I’m sharing one that introduced me to the poet, and blew my mind away for her craftsmanship with words, and how she creates silences between them.

Thank you so much for reading – this is just the beginning! Every week, we’re going to release one blog post, which will help you in your journey as a DIY Poet. If you want to receive the latest blog post in your inbox, subscribe now!!

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Getting Started As A DIY Poet: The First Steps

Getting Started As A DIY Poet: The First Steps


Getting started is hard. We know. It’s scary to take that first step!

However, if you’re reading this, you have the tools to succeed as a poet. After all, all you need is an internet connection and a love for poetry. The fact that you’re reading this shows that you have both!

But here’s the sad truth – most of you won’t make it, because most of you won’t even start. And that seriously breaks my heart, because that means most of you are giving up before you even give it a proper shot.

Last week, we posted a complete blueprint to succeeding as a poet in 2017. This week, we’re here to help you get started.

Most people give up before they even start. Please don't be one of these people!

Step 0: Identifying Where You Are

Before we get to actually starting, you need to do some hardcore introspection. What kind of poet are you? What level have you reached? You need to answer these questions before taking the first step.

To make this process simpler, let’s break it down. As you know (if you read last week’s blog post) there are 4 primary facets to being a DIY Poet:

  1. DIY Poetry
  2. DIY Publishing
  3. DIY Marketing
  4. DIY Performances

Now, using video-game parlance, let’s define 4 levels which you could be at:

  1. Beginner
  2. Amateur
  3. Semi-Pro
  4. Pro

The best thing you could do now is take a piece of pen and paper, and write down what level you’re at for each element of being a DIY Poet.

Identifying Your Level

Self-awareness is supercritical here. Please don’t rate yourself as a pro in DIY Poetry if you’ve only been writing for one year. If you say you’re a pro, that means you’re as good as Jeet Thayil or Nissim Ezekiel or Sarah Kay. Those are the real pros.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably at the Beginner/Amateur stage in terms of your poetry. Remember – there’s no shame in admitting that. In fact, it’s good, because it allows you to see just how far you have to go, and how much more beauty you can create!

In the same way, rate yourself as a pro in DIY Marketing only if you actually have a job as a marketer. And as a pro in DIY Performances only if you have actual experience in managing ticketed shows.

My point is – judge yourself coldly and honestly, and take your first steps accordingly.

Taking The First Step As A DIY Poet

Here’s something important – you can only start by doing one thing:

a. Improving your poetry, or

b. Publishing your poetry on more (or better) platforms, or

c. Marketing your poetry on more (or better) platforms, or

d. Holding a  DIY poetry performance.

The first step, by definition, can only be a single step. Too many people get lost because they want to do everything at the beginning itself. So they start 3-4 things simultaneously and end up completing none of them.

So what you do is, pick one of the four options, and start with that! Below, I’ve detailed out how you can take the first steps in DIY Poetry, DIY Publishing, DIY Marketing and DIY Performances. Read on to find out how you can get started!

DIY Poetry – Getting Started

Here are the 3 steps you can take to get started as a DIY Poet:

Step 1: Read read read! 

We will never stop saying this – the best thing you can do to improve your poetry, is to read great poets’ works. You can start by reading the works of these legendary Indian authors. Alternatively, you could take our personal recommendations and begin by reading these 4 poems:

i. Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong by Ocean Vuong

ii. Poems From An Email Exchange by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

iii. The Wolf’s Postscript To ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ by Agha Shahid Ali

iv. Advice To Women by Eunice de Souza

Important Note:

When you read a lot of poetry, you’ll inevitably come across poems that you dislike. You might even dislike some of the poetry we’ve recommended above. But here’s the deal – that’s okay. It’s okay to dislike some poems, even if they’ve been written by literary stalwarts.

In fact, instead of blindly liking classic poems, it’s healthier to analyse them, and form your own opinions. This will make reading poetry a more engaging and fun process for you, and will also change the way you think about poetry!

Step 2: Write a poem!

Just like athletes or dancers or football-players, poets need to practise on a regular basis. There are no two ways about this: you want to become a better writer? Write.

 

We understand that a lot of you have full-time jobs or heavy course-loads at college. So you don’t have to write every day. But it is imperative that you write regularly. Make a commitment to write one poem a week. Or promise to write once a month, and then do that. The point is, ultimately, to commit to a frequency, and then stick to that as if your life depends on it!

Here’s a prompt to get you started on your first poem:

“If today were my last day on earth”

Take this prompt as a challenge, and get writing today!!

Important Note:

Not every poem you write has to be awesome. When you write regularly, some poems will inevitably suck. But guess what? That’s okay!! First get into the habit of writing, then worry about quality!

Step 3: Take Online Poetry Courses!

One surefire way to improve is by studying poetry. 20 years ago, that would’ve been difficult, because unless you studied poetry in college, or knew an English teacher, you would have no means of learning. But now the internet exists, and study-material on poetry is available to anyone with an internet connection.

Here are some YouTube channels that produce great content:

i. Poetry Defined

ii. Poetry Show 

iii. Poetry by Shmoop

And here are 2 Coursera courses that you can enroll for:

i. Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop

ii. Modern & Contemporary American Poetry

Pick the course/channel that seems most attractive to you, and get started!

 

DIY Publishing – Getting Started

If you have a decent body of work, or you’re confident about creating a large body of poetry in the coming months, then it’s time to start publishing!

The three media you can use to publish your poetry are: text, video and audio. What medium you choose determines your strategy for publishing, so the first step you need to take is to pick your medium of publishing.

You can publish your poems as: Text. Video, Audio

How Do You Pick Your Medium? 

This is a question that all of you have to toy with, and the truth is – there’s no simple answer.

My advice would be – go with your gut. Which medium excites you the most? Would you be excited about putting up one poetry video a week? Or would you prefer it if people got to read your poems? Or are you artistically-driven, and would you prefer to present your poem in an artistic, visual-driven format?

Only you can answer these questions, which is why only you can pick your medium.

Below, I’m going to analyse each medium, along with their pros and cons, but at the end of the day – listen to your heart. And do what you want to do. It may not be the right answer, but it will be the fun one. And after all, if we’re not going to have fun doing this, then why do it at all?

1. Text

Pros: Easy to produce

Cons: Not as engaging as audio and video

Why Text?

Most of us grew up consuming poetry as text – in school books, or old poetry collections that we found lying around the house.

Presenting your poetry in text format provides one big advantage to consumers – it gives them control over how they consume it. They can pore over a stanza, or linger over a line, or close their eyes and appreciate the beauty of a metaphor. This is a privilege that listeners don’t get when they listen to poetry in audio/video format.

My advice is – if your poetry looks good on paper, publish it in text form, even if you’re also publishing it in video/audio formats.

Which Platform Should You Use? 

If text is your preferred medium, here are the best platforms for you:

a) WordPress Blog

b) Medium

How Do You Get Started?

a. WordPress:

If you have the money and the time, the best thing you could do is build a WordPress website for yourself. You can learn how to make a basic website in just one hour by following these instructions!

Important Note:
You need Rs. 15,000/- to get started with a website on WordPress. This will buy you a domain name and a hosting service for your website. If you don’t have this money available at this time, don’t publish on WordPress right now. Use Medium instead.

If you do start a WordPress website, here are the first 5 steps you should take:

Step 1: About Section

Add an “About” section where you describe the goals and purpose of your blog. This is also where you put in your bio.

Important Tip:

Do not be flippant about the “About” section. Don’t use overly casual language, and comb carefully for typos. Remember – people who come to your website may not know anything about you, and their first impression of you will be formed by what they read in the “About” section of your website.

Step 2: Contact Section

Add a “Contact” section to your website, so that your readers can reach out to you. If someone likes your work, there should be a way for them to reach out and tell you personally!

Step 3: Upload Poetry!

Do you know what your 3 best poems are? Good. Upload them to your blog. If you haven’t written 3 poems that you’re truly proud of, my advice is – forget about the website (for now) and get back to working on your poetry!

On the flipside, if you’ve written 100 poems that you’re proud of, still start by publishing only three – the best three. Your readers will form their first impression of you on the basis of these poems, so make sure they’re fit to represent you!

Step 4: Define A Posting Frequency

Set a posting frequency, and stick to that. For instance, promise to post one poem per week, and then do that. Whatever happens, don’t break this commitment.

Step 5: Get Familiar With WordPress

The real magic of WordPress comes alive when you master the Plugins. You can improve your site’s search engine rankings (SEO), track metrics, and even set up an online store! Which is why, once you’ve done the basic work of setting up your blog, you need to learn how to make the most of this platform. Here’s a great resource for mastering WordPress. Follow the steps mentioned here, and you’ll be able to use WordPress effectively to get a larger audience!

b. Medium

If you start a Medium Blog, here are the first 3 steps you need to take –

Step 1: Upload Poetry!

Publish your 3 best poems! Just like with WordPress, your job is to publish the 3 poems that you are most proud of. After that, set a posting frequency (the more frequent, the better!) and stick to that.

Step 2: Engage, Engage, Engage

Engage with other poets on Medium. Set yourself a target of commenting on one poem per day. Your comments could offer praise to the poet (if you liked the poem) or constructive criticism (if you didn’t). Do this for 30 days straight – and I promise you you’ll build up a healthy following, even if you don’t publish a single post!

Step 3: Follow Poetry Publications

Follow poetry publications on Medium! Remember – in the long-term, the key to amassing a large number of followers on Medium is to get published by publications. So, keeping this in mind, follow as many poetry publications as you can, to see what kind of poetry they share!

Trust me – follow these 3 steps, over a sustained period of time, and you’ll be well on the way to success!

WordPress vs Medium – Which Should You Choose?

This isn’t an easy one, because both platforms have their pros and their cons. It’s easier to get initial readership on Medium, but search engines love WordPress. It’s easier to handle a Medium account, but a WordPress website gives you more options for how you present yourself.

So ultimately, it comes down to your personal goals.

If you’re looking to set up more than just a blog, but an entire website around your poetry, choose WordPress.

If you’re looking for quick traction for your poetry, choose Medium.

But the key thing is – pick one platform, and start!

2. Video:

Pros: High audience-engagement

Cons: Difficult/expensive to produce

Why Video?

Put simply, people watch videos online. The success of channels like Button Poetry shows us that there’s a huge audience for poetry videos. It’s a no-brainer, really – if you’re a spoken word poet, you need to be making videos.

If you're a spoken word poet, you need to make videos!

Which Platform Should You Use? 

If video is your preferred medium, here are the best platforms for you:

a) YouTube

b) Facebook

How Do You Get Started?

Step 1: Recording Tools

I’ll get straight to it. Ideally, a spoken word poetry video should have the following elements:

i. Clear and audible vocals,

ii. Good lighting,

iii. Subtitles,

iv. Light background music (which doesn’t overpower or interfere with the vocals).

Without these elements, your poetry video has a lower chance of succeeding.

So the first step you take, as a DIY Publisher, is to gather the equipment and tools that you need to publish a HQ video. Here are the tools you need –

For recording video – DSLR camera / high-end smartphone

For recording audio – Zoom Recorder / any phone audio recording app

For adding subtitles and background music – Windows Media Player / iMovie

For sourcing background music – Youtube Audio Library / Josh Woodward

Remember – you do not need to buy all this equipment. Most of you will have friends who have at least some of this equipment – borrow it from them (and then give them a treat later!) Alternatively, you could rent the equipment for a day, if needed. And of course, all the online resources listed above are free!

Step 2: Location For The Shoot

Step 2 is to find a location (or multiple locations) where you can shoot videos on a regular basis. The key factors to look at while picking a location are lighting and noise disturbance. Please don’t pick a place where you will be interrupted by truck horns every two minutes. And make sure that wherever you shoot, there’s good natural or artificial light, so that you’re actually visible in your videos!

Step 3: Setting A Frequency For Video-Creation

This is the most important step for any video-producer. Look, I know that all of you want to go viral and get instant success and get overnight fame, but for most of you, it’s not going to happen.

So what you need to do is, build to succeed in the long run. And what every successful YouTuber will tell you is this – if you want to win, put out quality content, regularly. Once a month is solid. Once a week is better.

The key to success is – put out videos, regularly, over a sustained period (6 months to 1 year). Then expect to see results.

Step 4: Publishing Your Videos!

Okay, so you’ve shot some kickass videos, you’ve added subtitles to them, you’ve set up a publishing calendar, now it’s time to actually publish your videos!

Here are the 2 best channels to publish your videos:

i. YouTube:

Setting up a YouTube Channel is easy. After you set up your channel, watch this quick tutorial on how to make your home page look professional. (Please skip the first 30 seconds, though!)

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to start publishing videos! If you’re an absolute beginner, this video has some good tips on how to strategise your content and get traction on YouTube!

ii. Facebook:

If you’re publishing videos on Facebook, please do it from your own artist page and not from your personal profile. The reason is simple – a facebook page can serve as a great platform for your videos, but your personal profile is too messy for it to act as an official publishing channel for you.

I’ll be writing more about creating an artist page in the DIY Marketing section of this blog post, so scroll down to find that information! For now, all you need to know is this – if you know how to upload a post on facebook, you know how to upload a video!

3. Audio: 

Pros: High audience-engagement

Cons: Difficult/expensive to produce

Why Audio?

I think audio content is going to play a huge role for poets in the coming few years. Imagine if people could listen to your poetry while browsing the internet, or while cleaning their rooms, or while jogging in the park. Audio poetry with good, complementary background music will enable people to do all of that.

Which is why I’d advise all poets to explore this medium for publishing.

Which Platform Should You Use? 

i. Soundcloud

ii. YouTube

How Do You Get Started?

If you’re looking to produce audio content, my advice would be to smart small. Because there’s no established market for audio poetry, you’ll have to find and build your own audience.

Step 1: Produce Audio Poetry

Record your poems using a Zoom Recorder, or a voice-recording app. You can source background music from YouTube Audio Library or JoshWoodward.com.

For editing your files, you can use GarageBand (for iOS), WavePad, or Wave Editor (for Windows).

Step 2: Publishing Your Poetry!

My advice is: start by using Soundcloud to publish your audio poetry. You can also use YouTube to publish audio files (simply add a static image to the screen – preferably a picture with the name of the poem. If you want to outsmart your competition – add lyrics to the video, so that if they want, listeners can read the words of your poem while listening to it!)

Once you gain a following on Soundcloud and YouTube, and become comfortable with producing audio poetry, you can put your content up on platforms like Bandcamp or iTunes. This will enable you to make money directly off your art!

DIY Marketing – Getting Started

Remember, publishing is different from marketing. Publishing is simply the act of putting up your content in a place where other people can find it. Marketing is the act of making sure that people actually find it!

The Basic Principle Of DIY Marketing: Providing Value To Your Readers

Here’s something you need to understand – as a DIY Marketer, you cannot afford billboards, or TV spots, or omnipresent facebook ads. What this means is, as a marketer, you can’t pay your way to success.

Which means that you really need to earn your success. And how do you do that? By consistently providing value to your readers.

Now, value comes in different shapes and sizes. What’s valuable to one person may not be valuable to another. Which is why you need to find out what’s valuable to your readers, and provide it to them.

Are you noticing that people want to hear more of your poetry? Good. Spend the time and effort to put up more poems, and then email it directly to them. Do people want to hear more about your journey as a poet? Good. Put up a blog post or Facebook status where you tell your story. Do people want to learn to be as good as you are? Good. Put out tutorial videos on how they can improve as poets.

Find out what your customers value

It’s really that simple. This is the fundamental principle of DIY Marketing: find out what your customers value, and then provide that to them, frequently, relentlessly, honestly. After that, they will be more than happy to provide value to you, by giving you their time, or their attention, or their money. And when that happens – that’s when you’re in business!

DIY Marketing – Choosing A Platform

Marketing itself is an incredibly broad term. What’s important for you to understand is that you’re primarily a poet, not a marketer (unless you’re also a professional marketer). So don’t attempt to go too deep down the rabbit-hole of marketing. It’ll only overwhelm you.

Instead, let’s start small, by setting one initial goal for your marketing: gaining a following for your work.

For the purpose of gaining more followers, there are two platforms that work better than all others: Facebook and Instagram. Let’s analyse how you can get started on each of these platforms!

Getting Started On Facebook

Step 1: Create An Artist Page

Creating a Facebook Page is incredibly easy. Just go to this link, choose the appropriate categories, and your Facebook Page is ready! Start off by editing your cover picture and profile picture. Preferably, your profile picture should be a picture of you performing. If you don’t have any such picture, then make sure it’s a (good-quality) picture of you!  

Step 2: Edit Your “About” Page

Your “About” page should serve three functions:

i. It should tell the reader a little bit about you (only vital information, please!)

ii. It should tell the reader the purpose of your page, for example, “I will be sharing all my poetry here” or “I will document my journey as a poet here”

iii. It should tell the reader why they should follow your page, for example, “I will post a new poem every 3 days. ‘Like’ my page if you want to read them!”

So when you write out the description for your “About” page, make sure it contains these 3 elements!

Important Tip:

Try to limit your description to 50 words. The cardinal rule of social media marketing is – use as few words as possible. Always.

Step 3: Your First Post

Your first post is, essentially, your statement of purpose. In your first post, write out the purpose of your page, and what you aim to accomplish through it. By doing this at the very outset, you will be giving your followers an instant reason to connect with you, and to wait for your next posts!

Step 4: Your First Followers

Now that your page is up and you’ve published your first post, it’s time to get some followers! The best people to begin with are your Facebook friends. So do the following two things:

i. Invite all your friends to like the page (there will be a button for this, in the same way as there is a button to invite people to an Event Page on Facebook.)

ii. Make a list of at least 50 people whom you really trust, like, or admire. Send them all personal messages on Facebook, inviting them to follow your page.

Using these two methods, you should get your first 100 likes within 2-3 days!

Step 5: Your First Marketing Campaign

Right. You have a good-looking page. A well-constructed first post. A hundred and fifty followers. Well done, well done.

But now it’s time for the actual work to begin.

A Facebook marketing campaign is essentially a series of posts that follow the same theme. To properly get your started, you need to run a campaign on facebook! This campaign should have at least 5 posts, posted over a maximum of 10 days, and each post should be connected to the other. This lends a sense of continuity to the page.

Example – a great marketing campaign is being executed by Bangalore-based poet Angshuman Sarma right now. He’s asked his followers to submit pictures to him, promising to write poems on the first thirteen pictures he receives! It’s simple and engaging, and the 13 people he writes poems for will be fans of his for life!

So use your creativity, think up a campaign that will bring joy to your followers, and start executing it! Seriously – what’re you waiting for?

Getting Started On Instagram

Step 1: Create An Account!

The first step on Instagram is to create an account for your poetry. Remember, people on Instagram are super-picky. So it’s important to have an account that’s solely dedicated to poetry. Otherwise, you’ll lose followers at an alarming rate. Add a good profile picture and a catchy description, and you’re good to go!

Step 2: Create A Design Template For Your Poetry

On Instagram, good design wins, bad design loses. Do not post blurry pictures or stock photos. Instead, create a design template for your poetry, and use that (or variations of that) for your posts. If you don’t have a good eye for design, beg a designer friend to help you out (and then give them a treat afterwards!) When you do post photos, make sure they’re not generic, and that they add real value (in an artistic sense) to your readers’ timelines!

Step 3: Upload Your Best Poems

Just like with WordPress and Medium, don’t overload your Instagram profile right in the beginning. Instead, handpick your best poems (or bite-size poetry quotes) and post them!

Step 4: Follow and Engage With Similar Profiles

Step 4 is a fun one, because this is the step where you get to explore Instagram. Using relevant hashtags (such as #poetry, #slampoetry #performancepoetry) search for poets who are similar to you. Here’s something important, though – follow only those poets whose work you really connect with. Why? Because these are the people who are most likely to like your poetry and engage with it. Don’t follow people just for the sake of following them – in the long run, it’ll only hurt you.

Once you’ve followed enough poets, begin engaging with them. Give them feedback or encouragement about their poetry. Tell them how they can improve, or how much they’re impacting your life. But make sure that you really mean whatever you say.

Step 5: Post Consistently!

This one’s a no-brainer. And yet, you’ll find many people who fail at it. Posting good content is difficult, but unless you’re posting at least once a day on Instagram, you won’t grow at a quick rate. Just like with Facebook, you need to come up with campaigns for Instagram. So put your head down, get to work, and get posting!

Step 6: Use The Right Hashtags

On Instagram, using the right hashtags is essential for growth. It’s the only way for new readers to find you. My advice is – write down a list of hashtags that are appropriate for your work, and add them at the end of every caption!

Step 7: Insta Stories!

I think Insta stories can be a game-changer for your marketing. Imagine if every day, at 7 pm sharp, you performed a 10-second poem for your readers and added it to your story. Or whenever you read a good line of poetry, you added it to your story. The biggest advantage of Insta stories is that they help you engage regularly with your readers, without overloading your profile and flooding people’s timelines. Genuinely – what’s not to love? Read this quick tutorial on Insta Stories, and get started!!

Facebook vs Instagram: Which Should You Choose?

Phew. The question of the century – if you had to pick one, would you market on Facebook or on Instagram?

Just like with Medium and WordPress, it depends on your personal goals. For instance, older audiences (aged 30+) are flooding facebook (and not as active on Instagram), whereas younger audiences are moving to Instagram and Snapchat.

Additionally, it depends on the kind of content you’re creating. Instagram cannot host videos longer than 1 minute in length, while Facebook videos are getting more impressions than YouTube videos.

Hence, both platforms have their pros and cons. So pick the one that is more suited to your immediate goals, and then, in the long run, get on both!

DIY Performances – Getting Started!

In our last blog post, we covered this segment very comprehensively. So we’re not going to go over it again.

Instead, we’re going to do something fun. If you’re planning to host your own show, fill up this form, and we’ll help you promote your show! Yes, that’s right, we’ll use the Airplane Poetry Movement facebook page to help you get traction for your event.

So if you weren’t anyway planning to hold an event, now might be a good time to start thinking about it!

(This offer expires on September 10th, though, so make sure you hurry!)

Keep It Simple – Do NOT Overcomplicate

If you overcomplicate things in the beginning, you’ll never make it to the end. Don’t try to start too many things simultaneously; it’ll only overwhelm you, and leave you with a higher chance of giving up.

Instead, choose just one thing to start with. Maybe it’s making a pledge to read one poem a day for the next seven days. Maybe it’s to set up an active account on Medium. Maybe it’s to set up a Facebook Page and do one Facebook live video.

Whatever it is, keep it small, keep it realistic, and most importantly, get it done.

Do that, and you’ll be on your way to succeeding.

Pick just one of these 4 goals, and get started with that!

This is just the beginning! Every week, we’re going to release one blog post, which will help you in your journey as a DIY Poet. If you want to receive the latest blog post in your inbox, subscribe now!!

Like what you read? Follow us on Facebook!

How To Become A DIY Poet: The Manifesto

DIY Poetry Workshop India


This is not just a blog post. It’s a template for succeeding as a poet in 2017.

I’ve written this post for a very specific set of people – people who love poetry and are excited by all the possibilities that it provides right now. People who don’t want to complain, but want to put in the work to take their poetry to the next level.

If that sentence describes you, then this blog post is for you. I don’t care how old you are. I don’t care how well you write. I don’t care where you live.

All I care about is – do you want to improve as a poet? Do you want to build a larger audience for your poetry, and earn money through your art?

If you do, then here’s the deal: you need to read this article.

Do You Feel Like You’re Doing Enough?

Before we go any further, here’s a question – do you feel like you’re doing enough to succeed as a poet?

It’s an honest question, and I want you to break it down by separately answering two questions:

1. Are you doing enough to improve as a poet and write to the absolute maximum of your ability?
2. Are you doing all you can to build an audience for your art?

If you feel like you are, then stop reading this and get back to doing your thing!

If you feel like you aren’t doing enough, then this blog post has found you at the right time. So read it, use it as a blueprint, and then act on it.

What Is A DIY Poet?

Put simply, a DIY Poet is someone who does everything in their power to succeed as an artist.

A DIY Poet takes responsibility for not only writing great poetry, but also for publishing, marketing and building a sustainable business around their poetry.

Am I making this sound hard? Good. Because I promise you, it will be.

But here’s a simple truth – nothing gives you a better chance of succeeding than taking matters into your own hands. And that, more than anything else, is the crux of being a DIY poet.

So in this blog post, I’m going to tell you how to take control of your art and become a DIY Poet. Now, I know it’s impossible for one blog post to cover everything, which is why we’re going to put out one new blog post every week, which will give you in-depth training in poetry, marketing and business. If you want to get weekly updates about this, subscribe here!

How To Become A DIY Poet: The Manifesto

There are four primary elements to being a DIY Poet:

1. DIY Poetry
2. DIY Publishing
3. DIY Marketing
4. DIY Performance

1. DIY Poetry

Look, here’s the deal: the primary job of any poet is to create great poetry. If you’re not doing this, none of the other things matter. It’s as simple as that.

So if you’re here, and you’re reading this, I just hope you’re excited. Because right now is the time to start improving as a poet.

Now, the truth is – this is not something you can do over a weekend, or a week, or even a month. It’s a process, and you’ve got to love it.

So if you’re here, and you’re psyched, here are four things you can do to improve as a poet:

a. Read more poetry:
Nothing improves a poet more than reading good poetry. And not just Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur and Nayyirah Waheed, but also poets such as Nissim Ezekiel, Walt Whitman, and TS Eliot, who have influenced generations of poets and infused poetry with their own voices.

I’ll be honest – reading poems isn’t always fun (because a lot of great poems don’t make for great entertainment) but I promise you that if you sit back and allow the poems to really speak to you, you’ll have a special, moving experience. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of 5 incredible poems that you can read today – find them at the bottom of this post!

b. Study poetry:
Bad news, guys. School may be out, but the studying is not over! Look, poetry is not just the act of stringing words together. Writing great poetry requires a certain level of craftsmanship, one that comes only by consistently studying and writing poetry. This does not mean that you need to become an overnight expert in form, meter, and poetic devices. What it does mean, though, is that you need to work patiently towards gaining this expertise. Once in a while, it’s okay to skip that open mic and stay home to read up on meter in poetry. In the short term, you’ll miss out on a bit of fun, but in the long run, it’ll just make you a better, more educated poet.

c. Study related art-forms:
Poets (especially spoken word poets) can learn so much from studying other art forms. From theatre artists, you can learn how to let your face do the talking; the importance of body-language: how a slump of the shoulders can speak as much as a hundred words; how to gesticulate without looking like a struggling monkey. From stand up comics, you can learn the importance of the pause, the art of defusing tension, and how to earn and retain your audience’s attention. From musicians, you could learn the intricacies of rhythm, and how to convert your poetry into a beautiful auditory experience. There’s just so much to learn from so many people, so if you want to get ahead, I’d beg you to keep your mind open to all these possibilities.

d. Write more poetry (and evaluate yourself frequently):
Lastly, and most importantly, you will never become a better poet until you actually put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and write. But again – every time you sit down to write, you don’t have to write with the intention of writing the best poem ever. You can also write to experiment, to explore, to implement the things you’ve learnt. For instance, you can read as much as you want about meter, but until you actually write a poem in iambic pentameter or trochaic tetrameter, you won’t properly know how it works. So write, even when the words don’t come easily to you. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when the new episode of Game of Thrones has just released and everybody’s talking about it. Write, write, write. In that moment, it’ll be hard, but one year later, you’ll thank yourself for doing it.

How To Improve As A Poet
Do this consistently, for one year. Then watch as everyone asks you how you became so good. You’ll tell them it just happened, but inwardly you’ll know you really had to earn it.

2. DIY Publishing

Let’s face it: 2017 is the best year ever to be a poet. You know why? Because publishing is more democratic than it has ever been. Poets nowadays have an access to readers that previous generations could have only dreamt of.

As recently as 20 years ago, getting your poetry published was hard. In the 1970s, a group of poets had to literally start their own publishing house just to get their poems to more readers. Now, in 2017 you don’t have to do that. All you need is an internet connection, and you can publish your own poetry.

Here’s a list of 6 platforms for publishing your poetry. Use them well!

a. WordPress Blog:
Using either wordpress.com or wordpress.org, you can start a blog to publish your poems. This blog that you’re reading right now is built on wordpress.org, and we’re very happy with it. The biggest advantage of starting a wordpress blog is that it increases your searchability on the internet, and helps more people find you. Go here to learn how to set up your own wordpress blog today!

b. Instagram:
Instagram is a great place for poets. There’s a reason for this – Instagram is built on the culture of aestheticism, and poetry is inherently an aesthetic art-form. So create good poetry, convert it into picture format (1200 px * 1200 px) and upload it on Instagram. I’m not promising you you’ll become the next Rupi Kaur, but if your marketing is good enough, you can get hundreds or even thousands of readers on Instagram.

c. Youtube/Vimeo:
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. If you’re a performance poet, you need to shoot videos of yourself and get them on the internet. Youtube and Vimeo are the best places to do this, because – (a) a lot of publishing platforms (think buzzfeed/scoopwhoop/storypick) look for fresh content on these websites, and (b) when someone googles you, videos that you’ve uploaded on these platforms will turn up on Page 1 of the results. Setting up a YouTube page is simple, so if you’re motivated, and you have videos ready, you can set one up right now!

How To Become A DIY Poet Blog PSA 1

d. AllPoetry:
While AllPoetry doesn’t have the sheer number of users that Instagram and Youtube have, it’s got one big benefit – the focus is on poetry. If you use the platform right, you can develop your own following and get helpful feedback on your work, so I’d advise you to publish there right away!

e. Poetry Apps:
I’ll be honest. I’m always on the lookout for new poetry-platform apps. You know why? Because for any artist, being an early-adopter of a new platform can be
hugely beneficial. Since every new platform has a small, tight-knit group of users, joining early on lets you become a part of that community and gain a following early on. Then, as more people join the app, they see you as an influencer (since your 500 followers is way higher than their 0 – in contrast, having 500 followers on Instagram is meaningless, since it’s already an established platform). This helps you grow your following exponentially.

Right now, a couple of apps that interest me are YourQuote and Mirakee. They have 100,000 and 50,000 followers respectively, so this is the best time to become an influencer on either platform. But the real trick is to stay ahead of the curve, and find the next big platform – before everyone else does.

f. Online Magazines:
Getting published in local, national or international magazines is great, because it helps you reach new audiences, which you couldn’t have reached otherwise. A lot of people look down on local or small-scale magazines, but if you’re a young and upcoming poet, you should be aggressively pursuing young magazines, and doing your best to get your work published in them. Some magazines that are accepting submissions (or will be accepting submissions in the near future) are Muse India, Cha: Asian Literary Journal, Four Quarters, The Bombay Review, Open Road Review, AntiSerious, The Trouvaille Journal and Warehouse Zine.

Important Note:
When anyone tells you that putting up your poetry online for free devalues your poetry, tell them this – Skrillex released his first EP on MySpace for free. Arctic Monkeys distributed free CDs at live shows, and encouraged fans to share the music with their friends. Kendrick Lamar released multiple mixtapes for free download. Giving your poetry away for free does not devalue it. It only helps you get more readers.
It’s simple – if you don’t publish your poetry, how will your readers find you?

I publish my poems on Facebook and get a lot of traction. Should I publish them on other platforms too?
Publishing your poems on Facebook is great in terms of gaining an immediate audience, but you need to publish your poems on a blog or on YouTube if you want them to have staying power on the internet. So go ahead and publish on Facebook and get those likes and shares, but then re-publish those same poems on a platform, where they can be found if someone searches for them on Google.

How To Become A DIY Poet Blog PSA 3

3. DIY Marketing

So you’ve published your poems. That’s great. But it’s just Step 2. Publishing poems is meaningless unless you get views on them, and for that, you need to get marketing!

Below, I’ve listed out 4 awesome platforms on which you can market your poetry, and I’ve also laid down a roadmap for you to succeed on each of them. Following the advice below, you can literally start marketing your poetry today.

And here’s some good news for you – you can use all 4 platforms for marketing, but all you have to do is succeed on one platform. It doesn’t matter if you have just 200 followers on Instagram, if you also have 20,000 followers on Facebook. So my advice is – read this, pick a platform, and get started today!!

a. Facebook:
Here’s some bad news for you: marketing on Facebook does not mean simply putting up posts on your profile and getting likes and shares on them. If you claim that you’re marketing on Facebook, but you don’t even have a Facebook page for your artist persona, then you’re doing it wrong. Similarly, if you have a Facebook page but the name of Facebook page is anything but your name or author pseudonym, you’re doing it wrong. Sorry to break it to you this way, but it’s a fact: if your name is Sameer Mathur and your Facebook page’s name is Sparkling Butterfly, you’re not using Facebook right.

So here’s what you need to do:

Step 1: Set up a poet page for yourself on facebook (here’s a reference, and another)
Step 2: Put up a good cover picture (you can use canva.com to design one) and a good profile picture (preferably a picture of you during a poetry reading/performance)
Step 3: Start posting your poems (as text, images, and video) on a frequent basis (once in four days should be good)
Step 4: Along with that, use your facebook page to share your thoughts on things that matter to you. This will help you come across as a more rounded person. (Warning: Please be authentic, though. If you don’t care about something, don’t pretend that you do just because you think it’ll get you a few more likes. Most people will be able to see through your act.)

There are, of course, more nuanced ways of marketing yourself on Facebook, but this is a great way to start. In a few weeks, we’ll share an in-depth post about Facebook marketing. Make sure you subscribe to our blog so that you don’t miss it!

b. Instagram:
As I mentioned above, Instagram is a great place to publish your poetry, and it’s also a great place to market your work (since it has a shit-ton of users).

There are 2 keys to succeeding on Instagram –

i. Posting Frequently –
As with any other social media platform, you need to post as frequently as possible without compromising on quality. Sharing a high-quality post once every four days is a good way to start. Remember – the key is to strike a healthy balance between frequency and quality.

ii. Visual Quality –
If you want to succeed on Instagram, your posts need to look good. There are no two ways about it. You can’t just post your poems in Times New Roman over a white background and expect them to get attention. I’m not saying you need to have to create complex artwork for each post, but I am saying that every post of yours needs to look good. It’s really as simple as that. For those of you who don’t know Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, I’d recommend that you check out canva.com as a tool to create quick, clean designs. (If you don’t have a background in graphic design, I’d strongly recommend that you approach a friend who knows design, and get their help in creating a design template. You can then tweak that template and use it for all your posts.)

c. Twitter:
If you want to see a great example of how a poet can use Twitter, check out Kaveh Akbar’s profile. Start off by looking at his stats. He’s tweeted 22K times, but he’s liked double that amount of tweets. Then scroll down, and look at how much he’s engaging with people. He retweets a ton of things, answers questions, and tweets about upcoming poets.

And that, dear poets, is the key to succeeding on Twitter – engagement. Search for as many amateur poets as you can, and engage with them as much as possible. Retweet their poems, give them constructive feedback, answer questions that they ask. Once you consistently provide value to them, they will follow you, and then, when you post a link to your poem or video, they will want to watch it. But just make sure that before you ask them to read/watch your poems, you’re providing them with real value. Jab, jab, right hook, guys. Jab, jab, right hook.

d. Medium:
Listen up – you need to be publishing your poetry on Medium.

Unlike AllPoetry, Medium is not a platform that’s tailor-made for poets. However, it’s not a platform that I’d discount, especially for poets who have been writing for a while and are consistently producing high-quality poetry.

The tactic I’d recommend for Medium is – target publications. There are plenty of good poetry publications on Medium, such as Poets Unlimited and Chalkboard, and if you get published through any of them, your number of followers will immediately receive a quick boost. Just go to the Publication Page, find out how you can submit your work to them, and send them your work. But remember, you have to send high-quality work, or you’re just wasting your time! 

4. DIY Poetry Performance

Right. You’ve done the hard work. You’ve written great poems. You’ve published them. You’ve marketed them. Now you want to establish a deeper connection with your fans. This is where DIY performance comes in.

Hosting your own show can be scary – simply because there seems to be so much to it!! But believe me, there are few things more exhilarating than putting up a great poetry show, and once you break it down, you’ll actually find that it’s not as difficult as you’d think. The key thing is to take a practical approach. Below, I’ve listed out the 5 steps to putting up your own poetry show:

How To Become A DIY Poet Blog PSA 2

Step 1: Create a set-list for your poetry performance
This is the most important step. Nothing else matters if your poetry sucks. So the first step is to make a set-list of good, solid poems, which are worthy of keeping an audience’s attention.

Tip: If this is your first show, don’t do it alone! Get 3 other poets of the same level as you to perform alongside you. It’ll make for a richer experience for both you and the audience.

Step 2: Logistical Decisions
Once you’ve created your set-list, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

i. How many people do you want in the audience?
ii. What do you want to set as the ticket price for the show (and how do people pay)?
iii. What sort of equipment do you need for the show?

If this is the first time you’re putting up a show, I’d recommend that you keep it simple. Aim to have 30-50 people in your audience. Set a ticket price that doesn’t seem too high (and that you’d be willing to pay yourself). And don’t try to go for too much fancy equipment. Honestly, if you’re a poet, a mic, mic stand, and amp is all you need.

Tip: If this is your first show, don’t let logistical requirements weigh you down. Keep things simple, and keep the focus on the poetry. After getting 3-4 small shows under your belt, you can go for a more elaborate set up (larger venue, better decorations, fancier equipment, etc)

Step 3: Book a Venue
The next step is to book an appropriate venue. Bookstores, cafes libraries, small auditoriums, and bars are the most obvious options at your disposal. The key thing to do, while booking a venue, is to approach as many places as possible. Pick a profile for your ideal venue (e.g. – cafe in South Kolkata with 30-people capacity) and then make a list of all the places that fit this profile. After that, contact all of them. Emails are good. Phone calls are better. Walk-in meetings are the best.

Tip: If this is your first show, don’t be too picky about the venue. If you find a good venue with an accommodating owner, lock it down as soon as possible and get on with the rest of your work.

Step 4: Get people into the room!
If you’ve executed DIY Marketing for your poetry before announcing the show, then selling tickets should be relatively easy. You can simply leverage your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Medium channels to sell tickets to your show.

Apart from that, however, it always pays to put in some extra effort into selling tickets for your poetry show. Here are a few interesting marketing ideas which you can execute –

i. Pay a designer to make a high-quality poster (here are some good event-poster references) and then put it up in as many colleges as possible;
ii. Send well-worded email invitations to all your friends;
iii. Do a Facebook/Instagram Live 1 week before the event, where you perform a few poems and invite people to the show;
iv. Distribute flyers one day before the show, in the venue where you’ll be performing. If someone shows interest, offer to perform a 1-minute poem for them right there, to give them a teaser of what’s to come!

Step 5: Event And Volunteer Management
Well, you’ve done it. Your set-list is ready and all your poems have been memorised. You’ve got a packed room, and all your equipment is ready and working. Now, there’s just one thing left – you need to make sure that your event runs smoothly.

First things first – always have volunteers to help you out with your event. Remember this – on the day of the event, you need to do as little as possible. The reason is simple: you have a kickass performance to deliver, and you need to focus on that as much as possible.

So assemble a team, and give them each a responsibility. An ideal volunteer team for a small-scale poetry show should have 3-4 members. Brief your volunteers thoroughly on the day before the event. Make sure they know exactly what they need to do. And then trust them to do it. Trust me when I say this – letting go of the organisational stuff will help you deliver a better performance.

Secondly, make sure that you maintain an event-flow, and that you stick to it. An event-flow can look something like this:

6:30 pm – Lights out
6:40 pm – Emcee introduces the show
6.45 pm – First poet takes the stage
7.00 pm – On-the-spot ticket-sales stop

… and so on, until the end of the show.

Make sure that every volunteer has a copy of the event-flow, so that everyone’s on the same page when it comes to the timeline of the event.

Having a well-planned event-flow and a well-briefed team of volunteers will ensure that you are able to run a successful event!

Understanding The Long-Term Game

Do you know what a DIY Poet’s biggest enemy is? A sense of entitlement.

Let me explain. As a DIY poet, you cannot expect success. You can work for it. You can bleed for it. But you can never think that you deserve it. Because if you begin to think that way, you will give up at the first sign of failure. Do not feel like you are entitled to anything.

You cannot become a DIY Poet overnight.

Whatever you do – don’t play to win one week from now. Play to win one year from now. Take the little failures in your stride, and don’t let them derail you. Only 10 people liked you page? Good, keep going. Only 1 person attended your show? Good, be grateful to that one person and give them the best performance they’ve ever seen. Your best friend told you that your poetry sucks? Good, go back to the basement and spend one month studying poetry. After the month is over, write a poem and show it to you friend.

Because the truth is – this is not holiday camp. This is not a weekend retreat. This is 1 hour of effort, repeated 365 days a year. Don’t believe that you’re entitled to anything. Don’t believe you deserve anything. Believe you have to earn it. And then go out there and earn it.

This is the Manifesto: Learn the skills. Enjoy the process. Put in the work. And then, after you’ve done all that, then you can think about success.

I’ve laid out a blueprint right here. Literally – it’s yours if you want it. Now go out there and become a kickass DIY Poet. And then watch how it changes your life.

How To Become A DIY Poet Blog PSA 4

 

This is just the beginning! Every week, we are going to release one blog post, which will help you in your journey as a DIY Poet. If you want to receive the blog post in your inbox, subscribe now!!

PS: Personalised Consultancy On Getting Started!
Here’s a little gift for the people who read all the way to the end of the blog. If you want to become a DIY Poet, and want a phone call with me about how to get started, fill this form!! I will call the first 10 people who fill the form and give them personalised consultancy on getting started as a DIY Poet!!!

PPS: Here are the 5 poems we promised you. Hope you enjoy reading them!!

a. Jeet Thayil’s The Haunts
b. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s To An Unborn Daughter
c. Andrea Gibson’s
Pansies
d. Rita Dove’s Vacation
e. Kaveh Akbar’s Learning To Pray

 

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