If you are struggling to shape your poems into a body of work, I hope this helps.
#1 Draft – a
very VERY first version
Six months and an online private page where I used to copy some unbearable feelings written on paper. It was a vomit mess of raw words which today I wouldn’t call ‘poems’.
#2 Publication – my first mistake
I spent weeks reading those lines over and over again. I was stuck. How to enhance them? Does poetry need to be polished? And how can I do that? I just knew I wanted everyone to read the stuff. One day I’d had enough – and self-published the whole thing.
#3 I need help!
Then reality kicked in. Months went by, and no one would give me any feedback – just one or two sweet souls from Goodreads. The book was floating in the universe, but I was almost embarrassed to say go and download my free poetry ebook. One year later, I came to terms with my failure. I reached out to a poetry editor through a list found on J. Penn’s website. The editor recommended starting from scratch (he must have been horrified). I hired a poetry mentor who gave me tons of stuff to read and over 9 months of Skype calls, we dissected those poems line by line, word by word. This is how I waved goodbye to my ego – and to that early part of me who used to think that to be a decent writer all you needed was five minutes of your day whenever you felt like it – possibly every five or six months.
#4 Time to have fun
Once I started revising my poems with a bit of independence (after 3-4 months of classes), I discovered what the real pleasure was: editing. I live it as pure creative experimentation. It’s very different from writing a poem (see #1 above). For me, it’s accessing a dimension smelling of sage incense, where I can listen to strange voices, give life to fictitious characters, touch dreams or nightmares, talk about ordinary things, like plastic bottles and almonds, so that grief or love will have a shape that resonates with everyone. I discovered that drawing is a great tool too – a visual aid to access my Pandora’s creative box before translating the pictures I have inside my head into words. This allowed me to discover a process where there is no plan nor expectation – simply flow. Back in 2016, when I wrote the ‘poems’, I used to take my words too seriously. The revising phase occurred between 2018 and early 2019: this break detached me from my raw feelings and allowed me to be open to today’s creativity, imagination, playfulness, twists and turns but also to the pedantic or daring word-per-word research that now it seems to have become an addiction. At this stage, you might consider whether all this work is really worth it. (I hope you’ll stay in love with what you are doing – this world definitely needs more poets).
#5 Network + reading my work
Whenever I meet a writer or a reader or a butcher, who says I’d love to read your poems! I am absolutely thrilled – to say the least. It’s essential to get feedback before going on with the marketing/publishing phase, which is – at least for me – rather enjoyable. I’d love to see my book in any corner of this planet, but the joy of reading my words aloud (or of having them read) has no comparison. I believe that poetry is a performing art, where, together, the audience feel the words coming alive, almost like a script, a bonding of human beings through the reader on stage.
#6 Send it out there…
This is where I am now. Waiting for feedback, collecting rejections, evaluating all the publishing possibilities. I am curious to know how other poets are choosing between the traditional and self-publishing path. I think it’s a critical choice. Poetry books are expensive, and they don’t sell as much as fiction – it’s a real niche genre. But as an author, when you feel the time to publish is right, would you glue the rejections to your living room walls until it’d look like a contemporary piece of art, or would you go indie?
Let me know in the comments! 🙂