Okay, so it’s not as catchy as “Have Gun, Will Travel” (does anyone else remember that TV show?), but it’s been a big part of my life the last few weeks. A chunk of my writing time has been spent writing custom verse for people who need it.
I have to say, I love this gig! There’s something scary and exciting about getting an email from a total stranger, giving you some facts and asking for a piece of poetry. Every one is different, every one is a challenge, and every one is fun.
I’m considering just taking my Penguin rhyming dictionary and my thesaurus with me everywhere. The last time I got a request I was away from home and didn’t have either one. I had to resort to the rhyming dictionary in my head. It served the purpose, which is another delightful discovery.
I first thought about doing this perhaps a year and a half ago, about the time I started the Scriptorium. I like writing verse, and I like writing parody. I know that people are always looking for something special and unique, and preferably personal, for the occasions they want to celebrate. “Why not?” I thought, and began to look into the market.
There are quite a few poets for hire out there. One of them charges $1000 for a poem, which I think is a bit steep. Some of them write free verse, some write rhymed. Inevitably, some of it is pretty bad – not stinking bad, but high-school bad, the kind of bad you get when you’re going to get better with practice, but aren’t there yet.
I did a few samples, got a few testimonials, put out my shingle and waited. For a long time nothing came in. To be fair, I was working on other writing projects, and not spending time marketing this particular service. In the last few months, however, I’ve had a small but steady trickle of requests for custom poetry. So far people seem to be pleased with what they’re getting.
I try to keep the price reasonable, which means it’s worth my while to do the work, and it’s not prohibitively expensive for the customer. So far I’ve had no complaints, which I think means I’ve hit the price point fairly well. Perhaps I could charge more, but I’m happy with what I’m getting, and the customers are happy to pay it.
My advantage is that I’ve been writing verse of some kind almost as long as I can remember. I recall writing poetry in public school. That was back when the mountains were cooling and megafauna roamed the earth, and poetry had to rhyme. I never did get much of a taste for writing free verse, so I’ve had decades of practice with rhyme and rhythm. Word-nerdery is a definite plus in the pursuit of poetry.
Could I make a living on the poet-for-hire gig? Hmmmmm – probably not. I’d have to write 32-40 lines of poetry per day, five days a week, to do that. I don’t think the poet-for-hire market is that big. I could be wrong. Maybe the publication of my occasional poem “House Blessing” in The New Quarterly will boost my profile. I’m also going to put out some posters (add that to this week’s to-do list!) and see what that kind of advertising brings me.
In the meantime, I’ll keep a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus handy.