Poets are compelled by their inner workings to express and do so by stringing words in such a way that they have maximum impact. Poets aspire to be recognised though many never find the courage to publish their work. Those who do are rarely driven by the lure of monetary gain. Instead, it is the urge that drives most artists — a desire to express to the best of one’s ability, and to be heard and appreciated.
What do they do?
The small café on the first floor of a bakery was solemn only in its silence. Else, the smiles on the faces of the people filling up the tables told of a joy that one finds only among like-minded people. The lectern was taken by a young man and as he recited his piece, young and old sat in rapt attention. When the applause came, it was evident it was from the heart. Whoever said no one has time for poetry these days mustn’t have heard of this group.
Sure, it’s still popular among certain circles but does petry pay? “Reading your poetry to live audiences, private poetry readings, sale of published poetry, and reading at large Hindustani poetry platforms where it is tradition to pay invited poets,” are some of the ways to earn, says Amit Dahiyabadshah, the founder of Delhi Poetree, under whose aegis regular poetry reading sessions are held. He is also a well-known poet, who has collections such as Last Will of the Tiger, Bhiksha, American Face, Mitti, Chidiya and Script Arabic to his credit.
He adds that earnings can range from just travel expenses plus Rs 1,000, to Rs 2.5 lakh per reading. Poets have been known to make decent money by writing for cinema and television too, Javed Akhtar and Gulzar, for example.
However, such cases are few. Before gaining any amount of recognition, leave alone money, one has to first work very hard to establish oneself. Take it from Anindita Sengupta, whose collection of poems, City of Water, was published by Sahitya Akademi in February. “One sends (one’s poems) to credible journals and gets rejected. After enough rejections, there may be acceptance notes, which send one into deliriums of joy. At some point, there may be enough poems and enough reason to make a book,” she says.
Sengupta is among the fresh crop of poets to have achieved reasonable success. Before City of Water, her work was published in several journals, including Eclectica, NthPosition, Yellow Medicine Review, Origami Condom, Kritya, and Muse India. In 2008, she received the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing, annually given to two writers under thirty in India.
Like many other poets and writers in our age, Sengupta is a freelance writer and journalist. “(Earnings from poetry are) not enough to live off. Most poets do something as a ‘day job’. Poets have been policemen, lawyers, librarians, clerks, doctors, teachers, film-makers, journalists and so on,” says Sengupta.
Apart from investing copious amounts of time in reading, one can develop one’s talent in certain focused ways. Sengupta says, “A sensibility one should try to explore (is) the love of words. The love of their sound and sense, the way they look on a page, the way they feel in the mouth, the knowledge of where they come from.”
For some though, society and its vagaries are the drivers to write poetry. “If you are not always on good terms with your society and its values, and you want to say something about it, want to change things, you should try writing poetry,” says Ramkumar Chetankranti, who has Shoknach, a collection of Hindi poems, to his credit and has been awarded the Bharatbhushan Agrawal Smriti Samman.
To get published one has to pick at least 50 of one’s best poems, prepare a manuscript to send to publishers who already carry some collections of poetry.
Then the waiting game begins. But there are other ways.
“I hear that you can get an agent like Siyahi to look at your work. Or if you know someone in a publishing house, you can show them your work directly.
Internationally, there are some prizes for book-length collections which reward you with money and publication if you win,” advises Sengupta.
Asked what drives her to write, Sengupta has a simple answer: “I don’t think I have a choice. I am very unhappy when I don’t write.”
- A sense of words and the ability to feel them, their sound, meaning and where they come from
- Discipline, otherwise no writing would ever get done
- A compulsion to write
- Ability to take criticism
- One has to strive to be relevant to the times
- The modern poet must learn to market him/herself
- Self-doubt can also help because if one is positive towards it, it helps one hone one’s skill
- At the same time one has to tap into reserves of self-confidence, else one would lose the drive to write
How do I get there?
Nothing can train you better to write poetry than your innate need to write. However, if you want to hone your skills to any respectable level, read whatever you can lay your hands on. As far as formal training goes, Sengupta says, “I know some people who are looking to go to the US to do their Master of Fine Arts, a degree in creative writing”.
Typical day in the life of a Poet
Pros & Cons about this career
Having the musings of one’s inner life heard Fulfilment that comes only from having expressed oneself Admiration and awe of fans/ patrons
Mostly doesn’t pay, especially when starting out