Haki R. Madhubuti
“A Poet’s Handbook”
You may not be able to earn a living exclusively as a poet or writer, but if you persist, work hard and nurture your talent, it is almost guaranteed that you will earn a life. To choose to be a “poet” as a professional endeavor is not very high on the preferred or most lucrative career path in our nation; therefore, as a poet, you must adhere to a few standard and not so standard rules.
Learn to “run toward fear.” Understand that – even with the emergence of performance poetry and poetry slams and the increasing number of individuals who profess to be poets – few people actually read poetry. Understand that although small-minded individuals rule the world, it is always right to question, challenge and hold them accountable for their actions.
Think about, read, and study more poetry than you write.
Repeat number two.
Minimize the praise given to your poetry from parents, friends, lovers, siblings, spouses, running buddies, cheerleading squads, creditors, and former lovers.
Read and study good poetry from all cultures and, if possible, try to talk to poets whose work you respect and enjoy. However, be realistic about what to expect from them. Most poets are too busy talking to themselves and may not always hear the whispers from the next generation of poets.
Do not anticipate informed or knowledgeable guidance on the craft of poetics from family, friends, lovers, scout troop leaders or strangers looking for a handout.
Never give up on love, children and good poetry. Immerse yourself in the work of a poet that you admire. Read every poem that he or she has published, keeping a careful eye on his or her growth line. Examine their work for instruction rather than for imitation. Read about the lives of poets and writers from publications like Poets and Writers, Black Issues Book Review, QBR: The Black Book Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle.
Upon people discovering your secret life as a poet, get accustomed to them asking, often with subtlety, “Okay, but what do you do for a living?”
Prepare yourself to be able to make a living in many professions, such as: movie popcorn maker, clown, grocery bagger, after-hour escort, bookstore clerk, nanny’s assistant, and high-way ticket toll-booth money-taker, naturally these are temporary jobs that require little thought as you think mainly about making poems.
Write your truth and you will seldom have writers’ block. Always carry a pen and notebook with you in order to catch the unusual comments, conversations, lies, slogans, and picturesque words that pepper everyday speech of everyday people.
Madhubuti, Haki R. Run Toward Fear: New Poems And A Poet’s Handbook. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, Inc., 2004.