Make Money Writing
by Joy Jones
has long been the poor relation of literature, promising prestige
in place of reward. However, I've found a way to generate
income from my poetry.
success hasn't come through literary avenues. My poems that have
earned their keep have done so through The Spoken Word.
Spoken Word is a group of writers organized by Darrell Stover. His
idea was to develop performance poets as the modern practitioners
of the ancient African oral tradition. Our poems are for the ear.
We write about the black experience and are called on to recite
at celebrations (such as fashion shows or fund-raising parties),
holiday events (such as programs observing the birthday of Martin
Luther King Jr.) and concerts. We're even called on to teach our
craft--leading poetry workshops for students from first grade through
we're writers and not actors, we do bring dramatic techniques into
each presentation. We've moved from just reading our work to
reciting it from memory. Sometimes we augment a poem with simple
percussion instruments, or invite a musician to embellish a piece.
We use choral arrangements, dividing a poem into segments for each
member, or sometimes recite key lines together in one voice.
The Spoken Word's focus is on the African-American experience, our
busiest month is February, Black History Month, when we perform
anywhere and everywhere--schools, churches, theaters, nursing homes,
museums. But I'm convinced that any poet or group of poets
could develop a theme.
probably won't be able to pay your rent being a performance poet,
but it will generate an occasional check for poems that would otherwise
live in the bottom of your drawer. We started doing readings for
fun. Our first paid engagements came when people liked what they
heard and spread the word. I've cultivated paying engagments for
myself and for the group by contacting community organizations,
special interest groups and student organizations at local colleges.
Today, three years after our first reading, we give more paying
performances than freebies. Most of our engagements bring in $25
to $75 a poet. Soon, we'll generate more revenue through our self-published
Bad Beats, Sacred Rhythms, a collection of our "greatest
hits"--those poems that have been consistent crowd pleasers.
as a performance poet has enhanced my writing skills, too. Standing
in front of an audience lets you know in no uncertain terms whether
what you wrote is on the mark. At our practice sessions, and even
at performances, there are often discussions--no, debates--about
the viewpoints and concepts expressed in the poems. Since writing
is so often a solitary act, this interaction has been one of the
group's greatest benefits. This healthy debate has inspired me to
write not just poems, but stories, articles and essays--genres that
pay without performance.
a bad dividend for a little creative attention given to literature's
published by Writer's Digest, Fall 1997, Vol. 22.
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