Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Payment for poetry readings?

Over the past five years I've given readings as a guest poet in Oxford, Shrewsbury, Leicester, Portsmouth, Coventry, Edinburgh, London (three times), St Andrews, Nottingham and Cheltenham, while Lewes and Bradford on Avon are coming up. In doing so, I've met a lot of lovely people, many of whom have become friends, while also introducing my work to terrific audiences.

On certain occasions I've read to no more than a dozen people, on others to packed halls. Sometimes I've been paid well, but just as often I've received no fee whatsoever. In those cases, I was delighted just to have the chance to present my poetry and maybe sell a few pamphlets to cover costs. What's more, I'll continue to read at such events when I get the chance.

However, another issue presented itself a few months ago during a conversation with a well regarded organiser of poetry readings. I was told that they only offered a fee if the poet in question made a living from their verse (even if indirectly via Creative Writing courses, etc), regardless of the quality of the poetry or the pulling power of their name. If a poet had other sources of income that weren't connected to verse, the organiser preferred to save any available funds for someone who was financially dedicated to the art.

I disagree entirely with such a position. The standard of verse, the quality of a reading and the potential audience should be the fundamental criteria, not the way poets earn a crust. What do you think?


  1. There's a lot of variation. Wendy Cope's about to talk to my local group for almost nothing. A few years ago Jeffrey Archer gave us a free talk on the condition that it was members only. The local CB1 poetry venue sometimes just pay travel expenses for performers, but are asked prohibitively big money by others. People like the Society of Authors might prefer you not to undercut people whose livelihood is giving readings/workshops.

  2. Dear Matthew

    The economics of poetry could not be more absurd. I have dedicated the last twenty-one years of my life to the craft without showing the slightest profit. If we didn't have other sources of income (mainly EFL teaching) my wife and I would have starved to death years ago.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish