23doves (23doves) wrote,
23doves
23doves

Not the Sunscreen Song

No matter what I do, my Macbook constantly seems to be on the precipice of having no hard drive space left, so once every few months I have to go through a tedious tidying-up process. Sometimes, though, it means I end up finding long-forgotten mp3s, bits and pieces of writing I might not otherwise have remembered, and other random follies. So it was last week that I found a four-year old file entitled "Words of Advice" poorly hidden away in some vaguely titled folder, and wondered what the hell it was. Well, here it is below.

It's a tongue-in-cheek series of bullet points outlining how best to handle the business side of working with poetry, which in many cases could equally apply to just about any art form. I have no idea why I wrote this. It's possible it was supposed to be a blog entry (which I don't think it ever became) or it's even possible that it was written with a website in mind - but I'm pretty certain I never developed it further or placed it anywhere for public consumption. It might even have been a 'note to self', which is quite amusing if so, since the advice contained within it seems particularly relevant to me now.

Anyway, make of it what you will. I managed to see the funny side.

• If certain publishers and promoters continually reject your work, it doesn’t mean to say that they're right. It doesn't actually mean to say they're wrong either, but with so many different outlets all desperately trying to fill so many different niches in poetry, you’re bound to be rejected by a lot of people throughout your time of trying. If that publisher who mostly favours work with a modernist flavour rejects you for your straightforward observational narratives, and that promoter who favours comedy or novelty acts can't remember who you are despite having seen you do 'serious readings' ten times, it's only to be expected. As a rule of thumb – if you don't like what they produce or promote, they probably won't like your material either. Take it as a compliment if you want, but don't start a war, or waste your time trying to subvert their particular project like a big poetry radical.

• In fact, you’ll probably end up offending people in the process anyway, frequently without knowing how you've done it. Not everybody is going to like you, and a lot of "literary types" seem to enjoy being offended by work they don't personally rate. Take intelligent criticism seriously, but if people start bandying around sneery, sweeping insults such as "you're a typical male poet" (whatever that may be), "you're so middle class", or "you write pathetically feeble material and wouldn't get work if it weren't for the fact that you're cute and wear a short skirt", walk away and leave them to their particular hang-ups. You will only make yourself as miserable as they are by trying to argue it through.

• Sometimes gig promoters will promote gigs badly. Try not to blame them too much – almost all are working with rubbish budgets, and most have day jobs as well, and families, and wobbly relationships, and probably poetry "careers" of their own. Some of them are also just awful at promoting, but if that's the case, don't work with them again. There's no point in doing six gigs with them, then blowing your top about the fact they haven't managed to get anyone to turn up for the sixth time in a row, or complaining about how crap their microphone always is. Bad promoters rarely improve that much with age. If they can't get it together in the first year when their enthusiasm should be overpowering, they're never going to get it right later on.

• Whatever field you work in, there are always going to be people who get more attention just because they're "nice" or "likeable", or friends with a lot of the "right" people – sometimes more than they are actually talented. Get used to it, or your teeth will be ground to dust before you get to the age of forty, whether you carry on writing poetry or not. Or try to be pleasant yourself, in the hope you can also get work on the basis of your easy charm. This is the harder option for many.

• There will also be people who automatically get work just because they are younger (and possibly more urban or more fashionable) than you, despite not showing a great deal of originality in their work. Try not to worry. By the time they get to their thirties, they’re going to sound sodding silly if they're still doing rhyming poetry about the time they had sex with a teenager round the back of a kebab shop in Hackney (and creepy as well). Young talent needs to be encouraged, otherwise the scene would die out entirely – but it's also frequently unforgiving to people who haven't had the imagination to progress and develop their work. You were young and sexy once. I'm sure you didn't complain (or wouldn't have complained) about any seemingly unwarranted attention you might have received at the time.

• You’re almost certainly not going to make a living solely out of writing poetry in the long-term anyway, so any windfalls should just be treated as career break money. The scene is not about to go overground, and people aren't going to stop listening to music and start buying poetry anthologies instead, no matter how many times you repeat this fact to yourself and your friends. Some years it will sell more than others, but it's not going to become a new popular form. You're more likely to make money out of wicker weaving at Craft Fairs. Get over it. Or get weaving. One or the other.

• The upper tier of the poetry world is as stagnant and hard to get into (and stay a part of) as the Premiership League in Football, and always has been. Sometimes you'll sigh wearily, seeing the same names over and over and over again on the bills at festivals and regional readings, or getting reviews in the major literary journals and the broadsheet press. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with making do with being Rotherham United, just as long as you're enjoying yourself, and let's face it, giant killings are always memorable and more fun to aim for. Everyone remembers a cheeky upstart, nobody thinks it's surprising if an established artist performs well. That's their job.

• If you don't want to play the game, then don't play the game. If you want to be as experimental, jarring, awkward, and/or offensive as possible, then don't be surprised when it doesn't make you popular, very few people recognise your genius, and you end up banished to the fringes. If all you care about is being popular, however... then play the game. But if it's popularity and recognition you want in your lifetime over and above everything else, why did you choose poetry in the first place?
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