Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poetry for Fun and Profit

Hey kids! Would you like to earn dozens, even hundreds, of dollars per year? How about achieving fame and prestige with your 8th grade English teacher? It can all be yours with the amazing universe of poetry.

While poetry won’t score you the Golden ATM Code of your dreams, it can provide a nice little side income, especially during those inevitable times in a writer’s life when both the cupboard and the wallet are empty. Personally, writing poetry for profit kept me in touch with the Muse until I could quit the day job and jump into freelance writing full time. Below are a few of the ‘markets’ that I relied on during my professional poet phase.

Family events. I once worked with a lady who gave each of her sons’ brides a beautiful keepsake doll as a wedding present, and wanted a unique poem for each occasion. She would tell me essentially what she wanted to say to her new daughters-in-law, and I wrote a poem to go with each doll. She was a great customer, and I occasionally had lunch money until she married off all her boys. While weddings were a great gig, you can also do this for baby showers, graduations, anniversaries and other noteworthy moments in family life. Sometimes you’re a ghostwriter, or, more correctly, ghostpoet, but other times you can sign your name and become part of a treasured family heirloom.

Holidays. Ever been broke and wrote poems for your family members as Christmas or birthday gifts? Yeah, me too. (If you said no, don’t worry. With rising gas prices and the economy, poetry may be your go-to strategy this December.) While you may not charge immediate family for custom poems, you can charge other people’s families without guilt. While word-of-mouth is often your best advertising, try a small ad in the local newspaper for various holiday seasons, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day. If you’re a quick poet, advertise just a week beforehand, so desperate shoppers (guys who forgot) will jump on the chance to have a personalized poem in time for the big day.

Festivals and public events. I first read about this idea in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, but it’s something I’ve never actually tried, because I’m not good with crowds, performance art, or thinking on my feet. But if you feel ready for the challenge, get yourself a booth at the next fair or festival, and offer on-the-spot poems. It’s a novelty, just like taking home a caricature, except with more feeling, unless, of course, you’re writing a poem about the person fishing, driving a sports car, or playing soccer. At one time, I had planned to try this, and figured that you could use ‘templates,’ or basic poems you had written previously, and fill in the essential info in the moment. If anyone is brave enough to go for it, let me know how it works out.

Granted, writing poetry to order isn't for everyone; your customers usually like their poems to rhyme, and follow a basic 'roses are red' form. If your artistic notions cringe at the thought of such pedestrian material, then this really isn't for you. Plus, there is a business aspect to think about, from setting rates to poem length and presentation. I never made more than the IRS-allowed hobby amount, but I had great fun, and met some interesting people. Poetry for profit won't get you published in magazines, but it is excellent practice, and you get a chance to make folks happy, one line at a time.


Kappa no He said...

That doll idea is so sweet. What a great idea. I once wrote song lyrics (English) for a struggling musician (Japanese). They were mostly just poems. Poor girl had to fit my angst into her music.

But I haven't written a poem in years...I think I may give it a go again. Thanks for the inspiration.

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

I keep thinking about this too. I love writing poetry and have written a number that were well recieved. I've even given poetry and customized cards to family as gifts. I love your ideas for taking this even further.

I'm also curious about the fete idea. We have fairs here from time to time and I've considered having a booth to showcase my writing business. Perhaps we could also prewrite poems for various occasions and sell them as cards, framed, etc. Families love poems that include their children's names and these could be prewritten for the most popular names too.

If you're really industrious, you could take a laptop and printer and create and print poetry on the spot for interested customers.

There is definitely a spark of interest in me about this. I'll have to explore it further.

Another idea is that these kinds of prewritten and stylishly presented poems could be sold online. Cafepress and Lulu offer to print onto products which could create an little extra cash for any enthusiastic linguist.

Also, if you're practiced at these kinds of poems you might consider getting into the greeting card industry.

Anonymous said...

Methinks I may have a new reason or two to dust off the old poetry synapses. Great post!