If you’ve been watching the popular television show “Dancing with the Stars,” you know that celebrities work very hard for many weeks for a chance at a trophy that only one person will take home. It’s a little like being a poet who works for weeks on one poem in hopes of getting paid with publication and a free writer’s copy of a prized journal.
Prizes change from one competition to the next. People have natural talent or they do not. Motivations vary. Nevertheless, some basic steps toward success seem to stay in place.
Whether you’re a poet or a dancer, a move toward triumph typically includes talent, determination, and these traits:
Musicality matters in poetry and in dance.
People with little ability can compensate with study, practice, and hard work.
Individuals who consistently show persistence, commitment, and an eagerness to learn from their masters will often amaze themselves and other people too.
Gorgeous costumes and patterns can add pizazz or trip you up, getting in the way of what you want to say.
Academic, athletic, social, financial, political, popular, or poetic connections can initially be useful in opening doors for you but ultimately do not matter unless you yourself connect with people, who then welcome you into their homes and want you to stay awhile.
Practice, practice, practice makes “winners” whether you win the prize or not.
If a dance routine or a route to publication does not work well, other options can be considered and choreographed to fit you.
Say, for instance, that people do not respond well to your cerebral poems. You don’t have to “dummy down,” but you do need to choreograph a connection between yourself and your readers as you revise. This might mean toning down intellectual wit and wordplays or adding a touch of humor that lightly pokes fun at yourself. Or maybe you can find a common expression that’s just short of a cliché to work into a poem as you revise.
If humor happens to be your strong suit, play it up in style. Quick! Step into the iambic and trochaic foot patterns needed to dance your way into a limerick, lively sonnet, or obsessive villanelle. Don’t look at your feet though. Look at your audience. Enjoy their enjoyment of you! Then go for a repeat performance by finding out what you do that entertains them well.
Yes, at first the expectations of your audience and the heightened awareness of your work and yourself might make you feel self-conscious or uptight, but don’t worry about it. Keep on practicing, and do not be afraid to learn!
Learn about poetry. Learn what you like and dislike. Learn about yourself.
If, for instance, you happen to be naturally good-hearted, graceful, and gorgeous in your dance, go with that lyric flow. Trust yourself to move well, but find out where your weaknesses are so you can strengthen those areas and keep your balance as you float along the stage or page.
Remember that your dance toward a published poem is not just about you and the professional editor or poetry publisher with whom you partner. The revising, the editing, the hard work of poetry is also about your audience – your readers who root for you, stay with you, and really want to see you give the performance of a life.
[If you would like professional guidance for your poetic performance with down-to-earth suggestions for improvement, see The Poetry Editor website for fees and information.]
(c) 2010, Mary Harwell Sayler. All rights reserved.
Do not use without her permission.