Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Muse: The Poetry Doctor Is In

Logo for Poetry Surgeries Program
The Poetry Society, United Kingdom

Are you suffering rejection malaise? Can't seem to get useful feedback? Unable to count syllables? Failing to get your rhythm right? Maybe you're just heart-sick and not sure how to describe your symptoms in words your readers understand? Are your love poems not hitting their mark? Do you need professional help to learn how to avoid mixing metaphors that sends others' blood pressure up? Is seeing imagery in your mind causing you migraines? Would your lines benefit from new breaks? 

Perhaps you need Poetry Surgeries to bring everything into alignment. Limited to emerging and mid-career poets, they're an entirely elective form of critical care that tend to have the best outcomes when patients are open to criticism and know not to take their medicine too personally. Caveat: Willingness to fill a prescription for improvement right away is no guarantee you'll enjoy publishing success. Poetry Doctors have no control over run-away editors or critics who exercise their own subjective opinions about which poems to accept. 

How I Think Poetry Surgery Works

Four times a year, professional poets in the United Kingdom with the right credentials get to hang out their Poetry Doctor shingle and practice the medicine of word-righting. Licensing is through The Poetry Society, which, for added convenience, currently coordinates surgeries in three locations (London, Edinburgh, and Norwich) to put the right patient in touch with the right doctor. Wordsmiths who understand iambic pentameter and are skilled enough to explain how a simile differs from a metaphor or why Plato wanted poets in his republic are preferred. Applicants with years of teaching experience may be awarded extra credit at time of e-mail.

Those selected to become Poet Surgeons (and there can never be too many) offer appointments on their own hours. Some surgeons may be so adored by their patients that they fill their calendars early. For example, this year, London Poetry Doctor Katy Evans-Bush had to schedule her December surgeries in October.

A simple pre-admission requirement is in place: Prospective patients will be asked to submit a few sample poems in advance. (That should be a breeze. Imagine if you had to write an essay about the history and symbolism of the caduceus! As a poem!) If you've published something recently, keep that fact to yourself, unless full disclosure is requested. Any additional requirements will be communicated when the appointment is confirmed. Different doctors have different requirements, depending on the specialty or degree of expertise sought. None is associated with any school advocating death-by-writing panels.

Payment is required at time of booking. No exceptions! Be sure to let the doctor know your affiliations when you call for an appointment, as fees are discounted based on your particular plan; members of The Poetry Society, for example, are charged one fee, with the scale sliding up for non-members.

Working With the Doctor

Patients will be told to arrive promptly at the specified hour; no esteemed Poetry Surgeon wants to be kept waiting when she has a full schedule and limited time for her own writing after hours. If you're booked (i.e., accepted), expect 30 minutes of relaxed conversation per session; the meeting place will be specified in a virtual letter of acceptance.

Bring your own Kleenex if you forget to take your anxiety pill in advance of your meeting. It's helpful to have a writing pad or some other device to take notes as the doctor talks with you. You'll want to have your own printed copy of the poem to be discussed.

The session is one-on-one, face-to-face, although some doctors might keep an assistant at hand to record minutes out of view of the patient. Any such record is retained only until publication or destruction of the poem, whichever occurs first.

Bribes of cream teas and scones are strictly prohibited!

Expect every Poet Surgeon to provide a diagnosis that aims to highlight the strong points in every poem read and picked apart. If necessary, the doctor will prescribe personalized medicine to heal earlier wounds, which means he will seek to concentrate your attention on how to make your poems stronger, not wad them up for the circular file.

After the initial consultation and diagnosis, ongoing communication with the Poetry Doctor is between you and the good Doctor. No need to drag The Poetry Society into further affairs.

Going Abroad or Staying Home: It's No Choice

The Poetry Society has not shared any plans to export its National Health Plan for Poetry to America, credential its Poetry Doctors for work abroad, or encourage doctor-patient relationships in the former colonies via Skype. No doubt poets-to-be in the United States would benefit from more open direct-enrollment and consumer-directed policies but there's a limit to everything, you know. 

So, forget traveling abroad to work with English poets. There's an easier way to offer poetry care right here at home. Given the thousands of would-be poets twittering in word communities throughout the United States, many looking for attention, your best bet, if you're a professional poet on this side of the Atlantic, is simply this: consider the British Poetry Society's model your own, and don't be shy about putting the good idea to practice. After all, America has its Poetry Foundation, its Academy of American Poets, its Poetry Society, its presses large and small; any one should be willing to take a virtual leap at the opportunity to increase revenues without having to publish a thing. It's the American Way to make (and hold onto) a profit.

Now, convincing any one of our national, regional, or local organizations to sponsor custom Poetry Surgeries shouldn't take your writing hand or a cup of sharpened pencils, and equitable cost-sharing arrangements with mentors shouldn't take an act of Do-Nothing Congress; however, at this point in my essay, you're entirely on your own. But do be the first to submit a proposal. Don't confuse talking points with a real plan. Remember to give your venture its own catchy name to avoid testy run-ins over trademarks. Keep your prescriptions legal. And consider offering prospective mentors an incentive to up their patient-loads, say, an app guaranteed to keep all negative criticism confidential while blocking patient access to FaceBook or other social media reporting sites.

One final bit of advice. When you're ready to affiliate, be careful to not impose too much red tape. Encouraging creativity is an art and poets are known to be especially sensitive souls.  Nobody likes a poetry snob, especially when in need of  a doctor.


Louise Gallagher said...

Ok so now you're stretching my poetry muscles! :)

Anonymous said...

Ooo. Great interpretation of poetry. Whenever i ask people what poetry is to them, they would either say "Rhyming?" But there are more selections than poetry to me than just rhyming. Poetry is something to describe how everything is, wherher it is musically or politically