Why thinking smaller—and connecting well—gets us farther.
Right on! Your essay is exactly why I started a Substack. As I added prose to my poetry writing and realized I had poetry community, but no idea how to build prose community (and why does genre matter so much anyway?), the idea of going straight to readers felt radical and rewarding both. And yes, as exciting as it is to get a new subscriber, most are people I’m already connected to, many were not poetry readers, and we’ve had some heartfelt conversations sparked by posts (via email, not Substack comments, for the most part). Acclaim is satisfying, but connection is life-giving.
I have had wonderful experiences meeting with book clubs who have read my chapbook, What We Bring Home, a collection of travel poems. Because the groups are small and people know each other, the conversation about the poems is free flowing. In another instance, twenty neighbors and friends gathered at the local bookstore for my reading. Though some had not yet read the book, we talked and laughed and shared many stories sparked by the poems I read. Even with small groups via Zoom, the time together passes swiftly when the group of people gathered know each other. Using a network of friends to reach small groups has been very meaningful to me and, I believe, enjoyable to the participants. I encourage others to try this.
I truly admire the work you do to keep poets connected and informed. It is a wonderful community of like minds. Thank you so much.
A home run, again!
I am still working on a full-length mss while writing new poems. In addition to participation in some Poet to Poet groups, I have been learning, on the poem level, from the editor of a small, prestigious literary press and, more on the mss level, from a teacher in Taos. Both have extraordinary literary prizes in their pockets and a track record to admire, yet what one would would remove from my full-length mss, the other would keep right there as it is. I learn from them both, in their respective forms of intelligence and generosity.
These teachers, while likely recognizing my limitations, are part of my quest, though lightly held, to publish with journals and presses I especially admire. I'm a former endurance athlete--I have always liked an extended aim. I don't always do my best. I'm not going to get there fast. I do something unskillful and get injured, have to drop out of that day's race after months of preparation. But I always retain delight in my home ground, where I do the work. I retain its preeminence, knowing this is where I may share the most growth and sustenance, glad to venture abroad and bring back thoughts.
One of my friends writes as she wishes and has published a lovely collection with an obscure press, having simply alphabetized her poems for the book. Another friend has published with a prestigious press, having worked on the mss elements for years. Neither need their book for tenure. What matters here? That each values her own work, that they can bring their work to people who likewise care about it, who celebrate it.
My home ground is Poet to Poet, for the reasons you describe in this week's post. It is my home ground because of because of all the ah-ha! moments together and, most important, because the bedrock values are my bedrock values, all true to the source.
As I said: a home run!
Good job Radha, thanks. Food for thought.
As someone who makes my living writing and wrestles with this every day, I think the question is a mix. When you're out chasing funding for a project or a site, the numbers and metrics matter. When it comes to long-term goals and growing a body of work, the one-to-one connections between authors and readers and other authors are what are sustaining, and what supports true growth on the business end AND the creative end. It's a constant seesaw.
The only audience I ever want is a reciprocal--dialogue and ongoing willingness to engage--audience. When I'm lucky enough to find such an audience, it is a fact that it is very small in number. Very nice essay, and important to celebrate small treasures like this.
My first chapbook was published a few weeks ago and I'm trying to wrap my arms around book promotion, which I'm finding daunting. This post was comforting in that it underlines that what I've been doing, mostly outreach to friends (some who are poets and many who are not), is vital and meaningful. I appreciate having the concept of micro audience in my mind as a comfort when I get overwhelmed by efforts of trying to reach a wider, unknown audience.
That rich poets' retreat in Taos sounds like something I would be interested in if I weren't a poor poet.