Community–the word has numerous definitions, but generally speaking, a community is a group of people with something in common, be it geographical, social, economical, professional, or a matter of general interest(s). Without question, our lives are filled with people, in general, yes? And those people make up our collective “communities” that influence us and help us through this grand scheme of Life. Whether your “people” are from school, church, work, social settings, friend groups, family, etc, each person contributes to each unique Community you have.
When it comes to poets and writers, I wholeheartedly believe that our individual Poetry (or Writing) Community is not only extremely valuable to our writing process, but also very practical and conducive to our overall well-being as Creatives. I see our peers and colleagues as a bonus to our Self. Sure, our family members and day-to-day friends (important and wonderful people!) are typically kind enough to support our poetic endeavors, but, just like any niche or obscure profession, nine times out of 10 they are prone to missing the mark when it comes to understanding our needs as poets…and that’s okay! That deep-thinking, musing, confusingly creative side of us is simply tough to comprehend if you’re not also a poet. But on the flip side, it is incredibly comforting and healthy to find yourself a handful of like-minded writers with whom to collaborate creatively. Here’s my thinking…
Simply put, as humans we were made for fellowship, for camaraderie. It is only natural for us to desire friendship and kinship with someone with similar interests or with someone who complements our personalities, correct? This is how people fall in love, or find their lifelong best friend(s). I do not believe that there is a single person in this world who doesn’t desire that kind of connection in the deepest, most human part of their very soul. That being said, as poets, I think there is a natural “pull” to associate with other poets and writers (even though we are an odd, introverted sort, usually, haha). And while friendship is always nice (and preferred), being involved with a community of poets (no matter the level of intimacy) is also conducive to producing better quality poems and will make you a better writer, simply because you are immersing yourself in other people with different opinions and viewpoints and styles, which, in the end, helps you become a more well-rounded and versatile poet. Indeed, it still stands true that while our craft, our process, can stand alone just fine during our working hours, it is in those times when we are not working nose-to-paper that our Community plays a huge role. If you have yet to begin building your network of fellow writers, I suggest you begin sooner than later. The benefits of having a community of eclectic writers far outweigh the perks of being a hermit-poet.
You see, our selected, precious writing colleagues are essential to us; while we do an awesome job by ourselves writing and studying and reading and working on our own time, it is important to engage with other poets to expand your experience, knowledge, and perspective on the craft as a whole. In this Community, the various different types of colleagues play their respective roles in our work. For example, there are the Acquaintances (e.g., the writers you know in passing or have met a few times in writing groups or through a friend, who match your writing interests enough to stay at least somewhat interested or remain in loose contact), the Comfortable Friends (e.g., the writers you are getting to know better, and have piqued your curiosity to know them better, as they are proving to be more valuable to both you and your work), and your Bosom Buddies (e.g., the colleagues whom have crossed over into buddy-buddy territory with you by proving themselves to be reliable and indispensable when it comes to honest and/or brutal feedback, uplifting pep talks, and that tough-love encouragement to push you to be the best poet you can be).
Naturally, these aren’t the only ‘categories’ of colleagues, but you get the point–there are varying levels of intimacy when it comes to the people you include in your Poetry (or Writing) Community. And as poets, finding other like-minded poets (and writers, too) is extremely helpful to give you perspective and glean appropriate feedback for your work. And, the wider the net, the greater the feedback. It is much easier to run your first, second, ninth drafts by your colleagues, rather than strangers. And if you’re good, and are able to gather a group of differing minds with differing backgrounds and experience, you will cash in on their priceless assortment of suggestions; the writers and poets who don’t know you very well will be able to give you one type of honest feedback on your work–unbiased because at this point in your relationship, it isn’t really personal, it’s still relatively professional and they cannot take your emotions into consideration because of your polite indifference, and at the same time, while those colleagues who know you incredibly well might not be able to separate their emotions from their feedback, they offer you another type of honest feedback–they are well-acquainted with your voice, your style, your abilities, your heart, and know how to suggest edits that will stay true to your voice and your message. Each person in your Community plays a vital role in helping you be the best poet possible. I have been without such a Community before, but now that I have one, the difference is staggering and I wouldn’t dare trade it in. It has become too invaluable (and too fun!) for me to miss out on.
In conclusion, on the sliding scale of poets and writers that make up your Community, it’s a good idea to have a balance of all levels of intimacy and experience in order to gain a proper perspective of how to improve. Every single person has something to offer you, each person has strengths and weaknesses, but together you can offer each other endless benefits–support, camaraderie, laughter, honest revisions, brainstorming sessions, intellectual stimulation and discussion, and on and on. All you need to start with is one single person. Be courageous and put yourself out there, network, talk, listen, ask questions, then ask some more and gather your writing people close to you. I can promise you–it is one of the best things you could ever do for yourself to improve your writing career and to improve your entire well-being. And the best part–the part that makes this such a win-win for all poets and writers–is that you have nothing to lose…and everything to gain.
Cheers, and happy writing,