Poets love to gather together and talk poetics. It is something we need; it’s like oxygen to us, to find others who care about the same things and are happy to share ideas for magazines to submit to, places to read, courses, who’s up for prizes, which new collections have blown them away etc. We hunger for it. Social media has played a massive role in facilitating this kind of talk, but it can be ultimately dissastisfying to be typing on threads and encountering offensive and irritating people who love to stir things up negatively. I have made many poetry friends through social media, but nothing beats meeting them face to face and having conversations with them.
Here are some ideas for building your own network of poetry friends.
1) Go to poetry festivals. Many have a central space where poets can meet and mingle. StAnza at St Andrews every March is particularly good for this, as The Byre acts as a hub as well as a main venue. Wenlock has its cafe where anyone can obtain snacks and drinks and bump into guests and punters alike. I’ve never been to Aldeburg Festival but from the comments I see, it appears to be great for meeting others. Sally Evans’ Poetry Weekend in Callander is excellent for meeting others – I have made many friends there – because there is only one event on at a time and only one venue, with lots of readers doing short slots.
2) Run your own open floor night. All you need is a venue and some people who’d like to come and read. Often poets who don’t live too far away and have a new book out are willing to come and do a guest slot for the chance to sell some books. Or if you make a small charge or pass a jar round for a collection, you can pay a small honorarium. If they come from a little further away, offer to put them up for the night and feed them. A poet staying overnight has often given me a great opportunity for poetry talk with them. I’ve made friends by running my own local group and by helping to run Zest! in Chester.
3) Depending what stage you are at, join a local writers group. The danger with these is that they can easily become cosy and turn into ‘praise groups’, which is not going to develop you as a poet, but rather keep you stuck in your comfort zone. But they can be great for finding some fellow beginners and making initial friendships. You can always meet up with like-minded friends aside of the group meetings for in-depth discussion.
4) Go along and support open floor nights in your locale. You can find out about these from Facebook, flyers, or searching Write Out Loud and other similar sites which offer listings. There are often email lists you can subscribe to as well. If people like your poem, they will often come and speak to you about it. Friendships grow that way, especially if you return when you can.
5) Offer to read at open floor nights who feature guest readers. Sometimes organisers can be wary of asking you, if they cannot pay a fee, but are only too grateful if you approach them. The worst that can happen is a ‘we are fully booked for the foreseeable future’ but it could be a gateway to a new friendship.
6) Accept that the poetry community is scattered, but make the most of any trips you are making to other parts of the country to ask if you can meet for a coffee while you are in the area. I recently made a new friend this way, whom I had only known from facebook previously. She was actually staying in my village for Christmas and we had a smashing two hours chatting in the local pub.
7) Connect with The Poetry Society Stanza groups. Information is on their website. You do not have to be a member of the society to join one of these outreach groups and it’s a great network to be part of. If there isn’t one near you, consider starting your own. Contact membership secretary Paul McGrane to find out how to do that. He will give you contact details for Poetry Society members in your area so you can let them know about your plans.
8) It’s worth checking to see if any of the poets you know on social media actually live near you! It’s easy to overlook the fact that someone whose work you know might live in easy travel distance. I discovered someone whose work I’d admired for years and who had been in many of the same children’s anthologies only lived 3o minutes drive away. We met up and got on really well, and though she has now relocated 200 miles away, we will keep in touch.
9) Go on a course, a residential one if possible. If you can’t afford a week at Arvon or Ty Newydd (though it’s well worth saving up for or looking into the possibilty of a grant) then consider a shorter course. On a residential course, a community develops naturally, and there are always attempts to keep in touch. Success can vary with the whole group but there are often one or two people who really strike a chord with you.
10) Find some day workshops, for example The Poetry Business offer one day writing workshops in Sheffield, The Poetry School’s workshops can be pricy but I hear they are very good, and they are increasingly offering them outside London. The WEA and LEA often include evening writing courses in their programmes. These can be very reasonable and tend to run for 10 week sessions. I used to tutor several of these locally. You will meet like-minded people while honing your craft.
11) Collaborate with another poet, or someone from another discipline, such as art or music. This can bring deep and enriching friendships, as you nuture each other’s work. I have had a successful collaboration with artist Maria Walker, which is still being shown in art galleries and appeared at StAnza last year (The Lightfoot Letters) and I am currently collaborating with Sarah James, to produce a pamphlet of paired poems called Hearth, to be published by Mother’s Milk Press in March 2015.
12) Contribute to an anthology and attend launches if possible. I’ve got to know a lot of my poetry friends by contributing to Split Screen and Double Bill (Red Squirrel Press), Heavenly Bodies (Beautiful Dragons) and from editing and c0-editing several of my own.
If you want to make more poetry friends, because let’s face it, most of the time we are writing, we look deep within, not outwards and so being a poet can be a lonely pursuit. Poetry friends keep us rooted, we can be warmed by their successes and encouraged by their knowledge. One caveat: avoid those who are only interested in making you a follower of their fame, not an equal. In my experience the best writers are generous and love to encourage others because they are secure in their own skills. Friendship is my its nature, mutually beneficial.