Guest Post: How Poetry Can Grow BEYOND Poets

A guest post by Geoff Anderson, Poet and founder of diVERSES Poetry

“[T]he trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry”  -Billy Collins

For many poets, the problem that looms larger than writing the poem is finding people to read the poem.

Events like the pandemic and Biden’s selection of Amanda Gorman as inaugural poet helped bring poetry more to the forefront of public consciousness briefly.

As the early 2020s fade into the distance though, more distractions have reclaimed their dominance, with even the most popular poets like Rupi Kaur unable to break into Amazon’s top-100 selling books any year this decade.

Fortunately, the avenues for reaching audiences have never been more varied for poets willing to experiment.

What Won’t Work

Traditional poetry publishing through journals will lead to credentials in the industry. This is helpful for typical reputation-building, but to the average person, means little.

Most people do not subscribe to poetry journals or check online publications. Residencies, fellowships, and teaching positions often similarly cater to an audience of poets rather than a general population. Online poetry readings sound more accessible, but again, are often attended by poets; additionally, online interactions engage the brain in weaker and potentially less effective ways for building relationships. 

To Find Your Reader, Understand To Your Reader…

The better a poet can understand the person they want to read their work, the easier it is to find ways to reach them. The average person has:

1)  not read poetry since they were in school; similarly, they have…

  • associated poetry with grades/academics/analysis forced upon them by instructors or other demands that have led to…
  • expectations of poetry that may not align with how poets themselves view poetry (e.g., viewing poetry as Shakespeare, as being dominated by rhyme schemes and meter, and even as a complicated puzzle to solve)
  • less of a desire to appreciate poetry for its artistry than its ability to entertain

With these points in mind, it becomes clear that reaching a general public may benefit from approaching poetry less from a pedagogical approach and more from one that presents poetry as popular, fun, and accessible. This speaks to the popularity of poetry events like slams and open mics, the largest of which often boast audiences of poets and non-poets alike, and shows such as Def Poetry demonstrated in the past. Def Poetry, in its heyday, was even able to win a Peabody and a Tony, demonstrating poetry’s potential to attract more mainstream audiences.

And Go To Your Reader

By combining poetry with experiences people are actively seeking, it can become possible to introduce a wider audience to a poet’s work. Though many poets will probably prefer focusing on their writing alone, growing readership will require exposing the work to the public.

Attending poetry mics where attendees are a mix of people from various walks of life can be helpful to start with. These open mics are often found on college campuses and downtown areas—places where there is heavier, more transient foot traffic beyond pure poets. Taking part in poetry competitions can also lead to exposure, particularly if pieces are able to draw a reaction from the audience.

To really start expanding beyond writers though, collaborations with individuals, companies, and organizations may have greater impact. Organizing poetry events with local libraries, cafes, and bookstores can be one avenue to start with. Grabbing a booth at art fairs starts casting a bit wider of a net as well, as not all attendees will be writers. Similarly, collaborating with artists and/or musicians on projects (e.g., opening a concert with a short poem or mini-feature, or creating broadsides with a local painter) can allow audiences to blend. Having a booth or table at music festivals, farmers markets, and other similar events may also be worth considering.

If there is an organization with a mission that fits thematically with a poet’s work, there may also be opportunities for collaboration here. For instance, a chapbook and/or poetry reading dedicated to dogs may pair wonderfully with an animal shelter’s adoption drive.

Forging a path into the lives of readers who aren’t poets will require nontraditional paths and a willingness to experiment. The reality is that most poets have not been trained to even consider alternative, nontraditional ways of reaching people. On the one hand, this creates challenges as the actions you take will appear novel, potentially scary, and risky in the sense that they may fail as people are not prepared to interact with poetry. However, this same risk also demonstrates great opportunity—few poets are actively considering these means to growing readership, which means there is less competition. The world is ripe for your poetry.

Geoff Anderson, poet, author and business owner, founded diVERSES to promote the writing of multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and under-represented poets in building writing that supports creative and financial future. His poems can be found in journals like Cimarron, Tar River, Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, and Hobart. He’s a Callaloo fellow, Cave Canem fellow, poetry retreat organizer, event curator, and dad. Learn more at diversespoetry.com.

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine is current co-president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Katherine has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Her poetry and prose book Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Katherine's children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine then took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 Katherine earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest and the regional Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence in the category of Individual Artist. She won first place in the Virginia Writers Club statewide Golden Nib contest in the poetry category for her poem "Kayak." Katherine was recognized as a PW Perspective 2021 DMV Best Business award winner in the category of author. In April 2023, Katherine’s poem “Now Entering Manassas” was the winner of Manassas, Virginia's adult “time capsule” poetry contest. Katherine read her poem at the 150th anniversary celebration, the translated version by Jorge de Villasante was read in Spanish by Bianca Menendez, her poem was published in Neighbors of Historic Manassas magazine, and it was included in the city’s time capsule. While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is published in dozens of journals and anthologies and has authored 12 books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, Get Happy, Dammit, D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith, Thirty Years of Cardinals Calling, Get Happier, Dammit and We All Might Be Witches. She uses proceeds from her books to support giving back initiatives.
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