How to Be a Famous Poet Here in the 21st Century

By Tiara Ogabang

A classic art form

The history of poetry as an art form is fascinating, and we encourage you to check it out if you have the chance. 

Poetry is easily one of the oldest art forms around, especially when we include early spoken-word storytelling traditions. 

Even the ancient works of Homer combine poetry, different forms of verse, and mythological storytelling. 

Now, thousands of years later, poetry is still very important to human culture. But at the same time, we can’t deny that contemporary poets are nowhere near as popular and well-known as their counterparts from the 20th and 19th centuries, especially here in the West. 

In fact, if you stepped out onto the street right this minute and asked the first person who passes by to name three poets that are currently living, they would probably have a very hard time giving you even one or two. 

But poetry is still vital, and the question among many young poets is how to be a famous poet in the 21st century. 

Well, that’s exactly what we’re here to talk about, so have a sit and check out some of our tips and ideas for making a name for yourself as a poet. 

Build your portfolio 

It’s going to be very difficult to establish yourself as a famous poet if you don’t already have a significant amount of work, and if that work isn’t especially good. 

That’s why you need to write as often as you can. On the one hand, this helps to build up your catalog of work, but it also gives you practice every time you sit to create something new or edit a previous piece. 

Build your portfolio

Sure, Rimbaud got to stop writing in his 20s and still become a legend, but that’s mostly reserved for the prodigies. 

If you want to be a famous poet, you need to very honest with yourself about the quality of your work and your intentions as an artist. 

What kinds of things would you like to communicate through your poetry? As it stands right now, does your work communicate those things? 

Show some of your poems to friends and professors. Do they think your work communicates those messages? 

Remember this: nobody is naturally an expert-level poet. All of the poets you love had to work extremely hard to achieve what they did, and you’ll need to work just as hard, if not harder, to join those names in literary history. 

Create a chapbook 

If you’re not already familiar with what a chapbook is, it’s basically a tiny paper booklet, often self-published, that tends to be pretty short. 

Chapbooks are especially popular in the poetry community. It’s a way for many poets, especially young poets, to get their work out to the public in some form, all without waiting around to get a book deal from a publisher, big or small. 

You can find plenty of guides online that will tell you how to format your chapbook to get it ready for printing, but much more important here is to focus on what you want to include in the chapbook and where you’re going to be able to share it. 

Some local bookstores allow local writers to leave their chapbooks in the store, most often offered for free. You won’t be making any money from these chapbooks, but it’s definitely a great way to get your work seen by more people, and it could even lead to some event bookings or, in a best-case scenario, a book deal later on down the road. 

Perform live 

Performing poetry live is still a popular event in many parts of the country. In fact, certain contemporary poets now consider live poetry performances, especially slam poetry, to be one of the most accessible forms of sharing this work with others. 

You might be surprised at how excited audiences get to hear a new poetic voice for the first time, and if you learn to put on an especially compelling and vibrant live show, then you’ll quickly find yourself with requests to perform at other venues or during other shows. 

Depending on the venue and the organizer of each event, you could even earn a decent amount of cash for booking shows and performing.

Perform live

If you try to perform for the very first time and find that you’re not great in front of a crowd, that’s ok. Actually, it’s probably the most likely outcome for a first-time performer. 

But like anything else, the more time you put into it and the more practice you get, the more you’ll be able to save yourself from a bad set. 

If you can really captivate an audience, then you’ll very likely gain some steady followers who will stay invested in your work and will be excited to see what kind of work you’re going to do next. 

Collaborate with other artists 

As you start to perform or just become more well-acquainted with the poetry community in your area, you will no doubt also get to know some other poets. 

Take every opportunity to speak to other poets, both to learn from them but also to join the poetry community you’ve just joined. 

It’s inspiring to be surrounded by other artists you admire, and depending on their own followings and booking, these friendships could lead to you touring with some of them or even collaborating on a larger project. 

You could work with them on a chapbook of collected work or you could even form your own poetry collective, which might allow you to better attract attention in the larger community. 

Look into music 

Now, just because someone is a talented poet doesn’t necessarily mean that they will also be a talented lyricist, but the fact of the matter here is that poetry has lived on through music. 

In fact, that person on the street we mentioned earlier might just name contemporary music artists they enjoy. 

Rather than taking this as the death of ‘real poetry,’ whatever that means, you might want to see this as an opportunity to expand your skills into the world of music.