By Ciéra Cree
Poetry and poets are something which seem to scare people. Upon learning that poetry was being taught in an English class, I remember audibly hearing the disappointment from people’s mouths whilst silently cheering to myself about getting to indulge in my passion. So, the question raised here – why do I not share in this feeling? What do I believe, or know, is different about poets to many who remain sceptical that they are little more than pretentious?
The Pretentious, the Posh & the Poor
Within the world of literature there’s, undeniably, a lot of stereotyping. As echoed by HuffPost’s article ‘6 Reasons Why People Hate Poetry’, poets and poetry in itself are often assumed to be pretentious and impossible for the average person to become. A poet is imagined as an almost mythical creature who spouts words that others can’t comprehend, deeming their lack of understanding as a sign of them holding a higher level of intellect. This thought is one of the main reasons why people can be scared off by the idea of poetry – inclusivity. ‘It’s boring, it’s elitist, it’s snobby, stuck-up or exclusive’, continues Rebecca Roach, citing a number of common reasons given by the public as to why poetry is not of personal interest.
Think back to your youth; how were you first introduced to poetry? For many people, their first steps into the world of poetry were through English Literature classes introducing them to the works of William Shakespeare and various other classic writers such as Carol Ann Duffy, Emily Dickenson and William Wordsworth. After being first acquainted with these poets, students seem to respond in one of two directions: they either love poetry or don’t care for it at all. idebate offers an interesting dual-sided debate based on the topic of whether poetry should remain as a part of the school curriculum. The debate delves into the pros and cons of poetry being kept as a taught subject, accumulating plus points as it being a method of self expression and exploration, as well as cons for its complexity not being of high importance for young children.
‘Students need to study the basics of language, not a complex form such as poetry’ – idebate
I personally believe in keeping poetry in the curriculum. However, the ways that it is introduced need updating. Firstly, teachers need to work against the pre-existing stigmas of poets. I’m an ex-Sociology student and cease to forget the numerous lectures I attended stating that poetry is a form of posh-people’s “high culture” among society. Yes, this may be true in its historical context, but consistently ingraining this idea into the minds of young people today is off-putting.
Secondly, I feel that it’s crucial to vary the content being taught within institutions about poetry. Neil Bowen, Head of English at Wells Cathedral School in the UK writing for Interesting Literature, believes that the reason for historical figures typically being taught at schools is due to the fact that teachers ‘simply have more expertise on the older Literature and are, therefore, more confident and comfortable teaching it’.
I feel that this should be challenged. Yes, learning about Shakespeare is inspirational, but there are so many inspirational people alive in the contemporary world that young people may find to be more relatable. Additionally, it’s important that people know that they don’t have to be someone of the caliber of Shakespeare in order to experience creating poetry. Poetry should be accessible to everyone, for everyone.
And thirdly, I believe that poetry should be taken more seriously as a career. There are many write ups serving to break down the stereotype of the poor “starving artist”, but the notion of it remains to exist. It stands as true that to make a career out of being a poet with no other means of income is a difficult pursuit, although it is not impossible and can still be a strong side hustle. By building a hefty portfolio, submitting to magazines and entering competitions, a person can enter the professional aspect of how to become a poet.
My Beginning: From Silent Poet to Laureate
It was around the age of 7 or 8 where I can first recall writing poetry. I remember getting my first piece published in a primary school newsletter, happily talking in verse about the lovely things around during the summer.
By 2018, aside from that childhood instance, I hadn’t shared any of my poetry publically. I was sitting in the library at sixth form in a free period before Sociology when I decided that it was time to write, with the aim of producing a competition-worthy piece. I had heard news floating around that there was a competition being hosted by Norwich’s National Centre for Writing, and that they were looking for submissions from people like me.
So, I wrote. I imagined myself as an old-fashioned writer writing something profound; something powerful. I submitted my piece, 100 Years of Silence (Women’s Vote), and it won the competition. It also granted me the title of being the first female Young Norfolk Laureate.
Being a laureate was a valuable experience. I was given the opportunity to spend a year honing my craft by working alongside established poets and exploring the broader realm of literature surrounding poetry.
I taught a group of Girl Guides about writing at their first ever Wonder of Words Festival, completed commissions and performed at various open mics. Some of the places that I performed at included the Anteros Arts Foundation, events hosted by Young Norfolk Arts and Dragon Hall.
Dragon Hall, now converted into The National Centre for Writing, is a 600 year-old building with a lot of history. It is said to have housed a number of great people during its past, including Shakespeare himself. But poetry isn’t all about walking inside of pretty buildings and using long words – it involves work beyond work!
The Hard Work and the Hustle
It was around three years ago that Molly Naylor, an old mentor of mine, introduced me to the minefield of online poetry submissions. She showed me a website called Submittable, and I was instantly hooked. Submittable is an online submissions platform for writers and artists of varying genres. On this website, creators can search for opportunities with magazines, zines and other platforms, and submit their work in the hopes of getting it accepted. Some opportunities pay their contributors while others – often the more prestigious ones – require an entry fee to submit to their publications. Submitting work and getting it accepted is a great way for poets to begin constructing their portfolio and gaining recognition. However, as Lewis Buxton (another great mentor of mine) once told me, ‘For every piece of work that [you] get accepted, you will receive at least one hundred rejections’.
I learned pretty quickly that he was right. I would wake up day after day to an inbox of rejection emails from places that I could only ever dream of being featured in. It was tough, but you have to persist.
There are also poetry competitions for aspiring poets to enter. A competition is on a higher scale than a regular submission, meaning that winning or placing well in one is great publicity for a poet. Upon winning some competitions, poets are even offered the publication of their own short book as a prize, too.
Competitions, although abundant, can seem impossible. Rejection emails remain ripe but, as ever, a poet must persist and continue to not feel disheartened. Over the years, I have entered many competitions aside from the one granting me a laureateship. I have been rejected by The Poetry Society, The Poetry Business and Mslexia, to name a few. But I have also had warmer receptions as well. I’m proud to say that I have been highly commended by The Royal Society of Literature for my poem, ‘Tranquility’, shortlisted and invited to a London-based event by Streetcake Experimental, and published in an Australian anthology of love poems with Poetry D’Amour 2019. I was even invited to the anthology launch in Australia, although I couldn’t make it.
The hard work and hustle involved in seeking publication is truly exhausting, but simultaneously amazing. After I while I learned to see each rejection email as an at-least-you-tried and as a stepping stone closer to the next piece of good news. It feels so good to have a piece accepted, but it’s important to learn to accept the downfalls along the way.
Broadening Your Horizons
Poetry isn’t just about writing, it can be performing, artistic and competitive! Below you can see photos from an Open Mic which I attended, the ticket of a poetry slam which I competed in and some blackout poetry that I created:
I hope that this article has taught you a bit more about what poets are. Poets aren’t idle dreamers; they are hard workers faced by torrents of rejection and stereotyping, and deserve to be recognised as artists in their own right.
Images: Ciéra Cree, Bee Newboult, Norwich National Centre for Writing and Laura Chouette