Poetry Karma

October 7, 2020

This is a guest post by
Dayna Patterson

Do you have a poem or book of poetry you’d like to promote, but feel like doing so in the midst of social injustice, climate catastrophe, and pandemic would shrivel up your soul like a spider on a hot stove? How can you garner attention for something you’ve worked so hard for without feeling like you’ve become one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, or Freddy Krueger’s cousin, or the demogorgon from Stranger Things? Well, let me tell you about Poetry Karma.

First of all, I just made that up. Poetry Karma is not a real thing, except in my head, and maybe soon it will live in your head, too. Poetry Karma is a way I’ve been framing my interactions with the poetry world for going on a decade now, and I’ve found it especially helpful when so much is transpiring in the world.

You already know what karma is. When you do good to others, you acquire good karma, like an angelic nimbus that trails you wherever you go. When you harm others, your karma begins to resemble a storm cloud, heavy with potential lightning that could strike back at you at any given moment.

Poetry Karma, then, is the kinds of energy you draw toward yourself based on your interactions within the literary community of readers, writers, editors, and publishers. Do good to others, and your poetry karma will hold onto that good like a warm coat in winter.

We all know or have heard of folks in the literary community who have bad Poetry Karma: they only promote their own work; they take, take, take; they tear down other writers; they don’t earnestly engage with the work of others; they are attention-seekers; they misappropriate and/or plagiarize, inconsiderate of the harm they inflict; their Poetry Karma is ravaged by ego.

So how can you influence your Poetry Karma for good? To my mind, amassing positive Poetry Karma can involve many different approaches:

  1. Write book reviews. If you want folks to write reviews of your books, start building up your good Poetry Karma right now by setting a book review goal for yourself. How many books can you reasonably review in a year? A month? Alternatively, you could interview another poet for a literary journal about their new book.
  2. Share and promote the work of others on social media. Chelsea Dingman and Nicole Sealey are wonderful examples of poets who strengthen community by encouraging folks to read and share the work of others. When you’re sharing, examine your intentions. If you’re sharing just to be noticed by a prominent poet or poets, that action can actually damage your Poetry Karma rather than enhancing it.
  3. Volunteer your time to read or edit for a literary journal (or start your own!).
  4. Volunteer your time to help run or organize local poetry events, conferences, festivals, etc.
  5. Engage in a collaborative writing project, which will help to suppress that ravenous beast Ego.
  6. Celebrate the achievements of others. Be liberal with your sincere praise.
  7. Start a poetry blog where you share news and submission information (props to J.I. Kleinberg, Trish Hopkinson, Derek Annis, and others who are doing this kind of work!).
  8. Volunteer to teach a poetry workshop (maybe for your kid’s class, or for inmates, or for your neighbors, or . . . ).
  9. Start a writing group and be generous with your feedback and encouragement.
  10. [Fill in your own idea here. I’m sure you’ve got plenty. You’re a poet, after all!]

Will it still feel weird to promote your book or poem or literary event? Yes. But you can engage in activities to strengthen your good Poetry Karma. You can publicize your stuff and balance those look-at-me moments by boosting and uplifting others.

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Dayna Patterson’s first collection, If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020), was released around the same time COVID struck the U.S. She’s been trying to publicize the book while not feeling like a jerk all of the time. She is also the founding editor of Psaltery & Lyre, an online literary journal dedicated to publishing literature at the intersection of faith and doubt. More at daynapatterson.com.

[Ed. note: Dayna Patterson will read from If Mother Braids a Waterfall as part of the 2020 Utah Humanities Book Festival on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 7:00pm Mountain / 6:00pm Pacific. The reading is free but registration is required.]

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Photo of Jain Temple ceiling ornament, Ranakpur, Rajasthan, India, by Shakti

Author photo by Mariana Patterson

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