Many people who say they want their work, writings, critiqued really don’t. They just want to include your stamp of approval on it. They want to include you in their circle of same friends, same crowds and same stages where they receive recycled applause. Unfortunately this will keep them exactly where they are, using their art as a part time hobby and working someone else’s dream full time.
The only thing safe in this game is your vision. What you ultimately want your work to be regarded as or categorized as. The voice or narrative you want to represent is the only thing you can control. But that is the opportunity with most writers. They don’t know who/why they are writing. It’s as if everyone is falling into the “I write for therapy” “I do this for me” reasonings. I don’t believe that. In fact, you will have a hard time trying to convince me of this. What I do believe is that due to a lack of reading and developing of worth or value for oneself a lot of writers cannot express why this art form has become so tangibly easy for them.
Before I could perform on stage or even write my own work, it was required that I read and memorize the literary greats that had come before me. I had to memorize and know the works of Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, etc BEFORE I was allowed to share my own work. These were my dues so to speak. I am finding that nowadays writers are simply encouraged to write and express. “Write what you feel and then get on stage and kill it!” There is no base, no foundation. Just quickly constructed brick walls and rubber windows. Then artists stand hostage inside defending everything they write or perform.
Specifically poets often ask me how to be a full time artist. I always ask them to identify another poet who is working FT in their craft. Some of the usual responses are Saul Williams and Nikki Giovanni. Well, Saul lives in Europe and makes an incredibly living from his music and Giovanni is an educator and speaker in addition to poet. So I ask them to give me someone else they could contact to be a mentor for their poetry career that ONLY does poetry. I am still waiting on responses from the majority of them. See, this art thing is medicinal. It is not an individual thing. If your mantra is, “I do this for me” you’re on a paved road, a safe path with lots of company and acceptance. Not the wild road to discovery with silent strange faces and a million “no” responses. With that being said, poetry cannot be isolated. Poetry is the word. Poetry is the color of the sound. Poetry is the taste of the wind. Poetry is an integral part of the seven sciences connecting to “it all”. This understanding is how FT artists sustain.
I don’t know any FT artists who at some point do not incorporate education into their lifestyle as a workshop facilitator or speaker. But what are they talking about? They are talking about that base and foundation from which they developed their art from. They are protecting the vision, establishing the livelihood of their narrative. They are doing something most poets/writers cannot do these days.
So what are you saying? I’m saying, you need to read twice as much as you write. You need to study. You need to know your art form and the cause behind it better than anyone else. You must let go of the criticism that will come with your art and be more concerned with the status of the people holding together the foundation. With that knowledge will bring a security and confidence that will open doors and opportunities to you as a writer/poet.