Five Things: Publishing and Performing Your Poetry

Performance poet image from bam.org
Category: Writing

Last week, we held a seminar about publishing and performing your poetry at the CCA in Glasgow. Our panel included: Neil Astley (editor and founder of Bloodaxe Books), Rachel McCrum (one half of spoken word event phenomenon Rally & Broad and spoken word publisher Stewed Rhubarb) and Maurice Riordan (anthologist  and editor of Poetry Review). Jennifer Williams, Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library and poet, chaired the event.

Here are the top five things we learned from our panel.

1. Audiences and editors help you refine your work

Poets are advised to build a track record of publications in magazines before approaching publishers with a full collection. Why is that? It is not only because it builds an audience for your work. Publishers look for a track record of magazine publications because it shows that someone has sought out feedback and refined the poems until they’re the best they can be. Often, this means that some of the poems in a full collection have been seen elsewhere, e.g. magazines and pamphlets, and that’s okay.

Poets are advised to build a track record of publications in magazines before approaching publishers with a full collection

Another way to get this essential feedback is to perform your work to different audiences. You will learn so much about your work from their reactions. You will gain confidence in reading your work, which is important for poets writing for the page, too – the increasing popularity of performance poetry means all poets need to ‘up their game’ in front of an audience.

Experiment with different ways to get feedback on your work– find a community of writers (online or offline), try reading to audiences or send poems to magazines.

2. Spoken word can be successful on the page

Though the way the poems are set out may need to be edited. It has to work for a reader who can’t hear your voice or see your performance. You can experiment with how it is written out and shaped on the page, just as you experiment with volume and rhythm to give shape to a performance. Some poets choose not to sell written versions of their poems except at their gigs, so the reader will have heard them read the work, and some work closely with editors to make the poem on the page represent their performance.

3. Your own voice matters

The spoken word and performance poetry scene has a diverse range of styles and traditions to tap into. Some performance videos that go viral can be quite similar, which might limit what you think spoken word is or can be.

Our panel were advocates of poetry performances being available online or ‘bolted on’ to printed books. This can bring further reading opportunities for poets. Programmers can see how you perform before inviting you to perform at a festival or event far away.

Read, listen and watch widely, and don’t force yourself to adopt a style that doesn’t work for you or your work because it’s popular. You learn from what you watch, listen and read so explore widely and find your own voice.  

4. Editors and programmers want to find new work from a diverse range of poets

Read, listen and watch widely

Our experienced panel love poetry and finding new, great poems.

Networking can help recommend your work but it isn't everything. There are poets who write for the page and see their work appear in magazines, anthologies and collections without having met the editor who chose them. There is an incredible purity in someone publishing your work just because they like it.

For performance poetry, it is important to get out there and perform your work in front of an audience; a publisher or programmer will want to see you perform your work.

5. Further reading

Do you want to put your work out there for readers and audiences?  There are many resources to help get you started.

Check out our resources for poets and our opportunities

Scottish Poetry Library resources for poets

Scottish Poetry Library magazine collection - includes links to magazines that accept submissions

Explore the Poetry Library’s online magazine listings and online archives of some magazines

Check out the Review Review for transatlantic news about literary magazines

For performance poetry and spoken word events, you can search listings on websites such as the Scottish Poetry Library event listings, The List, The Skinny, UNESCO City of Literature, Scottish Writers’ Centre, StAnza poetry festival.

Apples and Snakes resources for performance poets