How do I Become a Poetry Writer?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Most people become a poetry writer for the first time in grade school, and for many, this represents the last time they’ll ever write a poem. Through early education, teachers convey that anyone can write poetry, and the early student work samples that emerge are sometimes quite beautiful. This example serves as a reminder that there’s no mysterious quality that somehow gains people entry into the world as poets, and while talent, study, and continual practice are needed to keep writing poems, anyone who can write can write a poem. Nevertheless, there are some traditionally accepted ways to become a poetry writer that are worth understanding.

A person writing poetry.
A person writing poetry.

Those who haven’t yet graduated high school can do a lot on the path to become a poetry writer. Clearly, they can be attentive when they study any poets or have creative writing units, but this is seldom adequate. It’s best to be constantly learning about poetry in all its formats. Check out anthologies from the library and expand knowledge of poetic form by reading books about poetry.

Poetry writers may be involved with local poets in poetry slams.
Poetry writers may be involved with local poets in poetry slams.

Students also benefit from reading and studying many different genres of poetry, from everyday greeting cards to music lyrics. Study words and improve vocabulary, as poetry is often the act of finding the exact word needed to convey a precise thought or feeling. Students should also practice by composing. Every poem won’t be perfect, but each day a person writes more, they are a little farther on the path to become a poetry writer.

After high school, graduates may decide to get more formal education. Probably the best training is to be had at universities with strong creative writing programs. It helps if some of the professors are published poets, as they’re able to advise on how to pursue a career in poetry. On the other hand, poetry is not generally a lucrative career, and those that want to become a poetry writer consider other majors that make for good fallback careers. Many students study creative writing, get graduate degrees and then teach college, but there’s no reason why an accountant, nurse, lawyer or doctor can’t become a poetry writer, too.

A few people choose not to pursue formal education, but may be a poetry writer in addition to holding other jobs. Some lucky few end up writing poetry of a kind for greeting card companies or they become talented lyricists. Others begin to submit their poetry to magazines or Internet sites, and they might also be involved with local poets in events like poetry slams. Very few educated or non-educated people will actually end up with contracts to publish full-length books of poems, unless they use vanity publishers, and even with publishing, few books of poetry are bestsellers. It’s fair to state that most people who become a poetry writer engage in it on a part-time basis, and must find other work for financial support.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

lluviaporos

@browncoat - Is it thriving? I know a lot of people who write poetry but not so many who read it. There are plenty of publishing writers, but who is reading their work?

That might not seem to matter as long as there is someone out there reading it, but the thing is, I don't know if the wannabe poets themselves are actually reading as widely as they should.

If you want to be a truly innovative poet you need to know what already exists out there and what has happened before you started putting your pen to the paper. No matter how original you are, you'll end up repeating the past if you don't know what happened back there.

browncoat

@umbra21 - I think that can actually be a good thing for poetry though. If you've got a lot of poets writing for the love of it rather than because they think they are going to make money out of it you end up with far more original poems and people who are willing to take risks.

I think that's why contemporary poetry is thriving in spite of the fact that we've got so many other distractions in our lives.

umbra21

You are far more likely to become a professional athlete than to become a poet who can live on writing poetry alone. Most poets I know who might consider themselves to be professional poets make their living from teaching rather than directly from selling their words.

It's actually not all that difficult to publish poetry these days. What is difficult is getting paid for it.

I mean, that's always been difficult, but I think people can get falsely encouraged these days when they manage to get their poetry into an online magazine or something like that. That's still an achievement to be proud of, but it's not necessarily a sign that you will ever be able to sell poetry.

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