(This is in response to: An Open Letter to Poetry Presenters by Charles Coe)
There are very few things that I love in the world including the neighborhood in which I was raised, one or two things I’d prefer not to mention publicly, and most of all if not my first and biggest love is: POETRY. Even though it put me in a 5-figure debt to the Department of Education, I love it so much that I tend to push it on others, like God. I truly am a fanatic. I love it so much that I decided to start a poetry reading series in the city of Boston that would hopefully create a sense of community among artists (poets, spoken word artists, musicians, painters). After all, this is the land of literary treasure. If you’re a poet, there’s no need for me to name drop New England poets.
It all started as an idea after putting together a book release party. There was music. There was poetry. There was booze. And all was perfect and happy with the world. I love ekphrastic poetry, so I searched for art galleries that would host poetry readings. This is where I encountered my first problem. #Fees #Fees #Fees. Most art galleries charge a rental fee. One art gallery (won’t mention the name) agreed to host the readings, but after meeting me on sight told me that my audience is not appropriate for their location. My audience? My audience consists of: poets, teachers, professors, and artists. Instead of chalking this up as a race issue, I asked one of my previous students to assist as a program coordinator. She doesn’t have as much melanin as myself and this issue never happened again.
There are other difficulties I com across with promoting a poetry reading series as well, but I’d like to turn the attention on the issue of paying poets to read their work. Now when I set out to start this series, I didn’t realize that asking people to share their poetry in front of people for free was a problem. My series consists of: 8 poets. A singer. A house band. At an art gallery. How do I compensate so many people with a budget that comes from my groceries, travel, and sheltering? Apply for grants? Yeah, but I’ll get to that one later. Is ego an answer? How much, I ask because when money is mentioned early in the conversation, poets tend to lose sight of why poetry was created.
“Hey Poet! Would you care to read at a reading series with 7 other poets? We can’t pay you, but it’ll be an awesome time.”
Or (I kid you not), poets or their agents request $4,500.00 plus travel and housing compensation. Poets, let me be the first to say: If I could pay you all for the work that you do, I don’t think we make enough money at the door to do so. I don’t think that there is a value that can be placed on poetry. In the Directory on the Poet’s and Writer’s website, poets who list that they are available for readings should also list their reading #fees. It makes it a little easier on the poetry presenters. While we do not pay any of our poets for performing, we do offer incentives:
- We will pay for travel. Some poets come from CT, RI, and NH. (Gas or bus. Trains is the most expensive form of travel)
- We can’t pay for hotel or stay, but you’re always welcome to crash on my futon. To make it easier and to give you the respect I think your poetry deserves, you can also have my bed and I’ll take the futon. (It’s been done before).
- We go to one of the local bars every time after events to support local businesses, so everyone is always welcomed to a drink (barring the weather isn’t bad)
Encourage Book Sales is honestly the best thing you can do to support poets. I am in total agreement with Mr. Coe on this aspect; however, as artists, we are revered by a discourse communities that believe in us. My audience (the people who take delight in my poetry) just so happen to be the same people I write about. They aren’t in the position to purchase any of my work, but they come out to the readings to support poetry in a general sense. Still I will try my damn hardest to sell your books. We even tried to take it a step further: You tell us when you’re doing a reading, publishing work, and doing anything poetry related, we will PROMOTE the hell out of it. We will bug our social media followers and make sure they are aware. We lose followers sometimes because we push the promotion of YOUR work. We tried to take it a step even further and promote other readings. We don’t host our readings at bookstores. They don’t have the “space” for us. They don’t even have space for our fliers/posters (that’s neither here nor there). But we still promote those bookstores. Because they promote our readers and that’s what we’re here to do as a poetry reading series.
According to Charles: “Some people get wiggly when a poet talks about money.” I personally get wiggly because over a thousand dollars to read poetry less than an hour away from where one lives is not why I took up the craft of poetry. I get wiggly because it gets dicey when one poet expects more money than the next because they are more prestigious. But Poets, as Charles says, It is time to take a stand. In a perfect world, I would be able to do it. After I complete more grant applications, I’ll be able to do it. After people place the importance of monetary value on someone’s words, I’ll have to do it.
The only other reason I truly started the series was to get all the poets who I admire in one room so I could hear them read their work and transport an audience where their poetry takes me. If I love your work, I have asked you to read. If I haven’t asked you to read yet, please send me your work. If I love your work, I may not be able to pay you for reading, but I will try to get others to take up the same joy I get when I read your work. Sorry to the poets who we weren’t able to compensate for their talents. I pay the band for their time and the gallery for hosting the event. Other than that, it is time for poets to take a stand about the state of poetry. If people don’t want to pay you, then don’t read. We just aren’t able to. It is now the time for not performers or presenters of poetry to change, but we need more promoters to take the stand. We need more people to promote the power of poetry in our communities. We need more promoters to spread poetry. If you have any suggestions of ways for us to help our poet readers, please do let us know. I don’t think money is the answer though. There needs to be a discussion. Is there a Union for Poets? Come read and change some kids perspective on life. After all, isn’t that what poetry was created for?
I am not writing this to make anyone feel pity or as a rebuttal to Charles Coe, I just honestly cringe in sickness when someone whose poetry I love and look up to won’t read because we aren’t able to pay even after we explain why. If you’re a starving artist, let me know and I will help you find your audience that will satisfy your hunger pains because you are valued in our eyes. That is the Mr. Hip guarantee.
Thanks for reading,
Donald @Mr_Hip Vincent
- Don’t pay for performers or readers. I haven’t seen one with this section.
- Will take care of the rental fees for locations (Hmmm, this would waive the entrance fee altogether)
- But most people don’t like to put money in a bucket if they don’t have to if you choose this as a way to compensate poets.