It’s no wonder you’re thinking about bringing a poet to your campus – and you should definitely bring a poet to your campus. Poetry and Spoken-word is currently at the top of its peak and climbing in the entertainment industry. From TV shows, competitions, and showcases, poets are demonstrating more and more why their presence is of value.
Poets and spoken-word artists represent diversity, inclusion, voice, and engagement. Maybe you’ve been in the audience and witnessed a poet discuss some of the most complicated topics in the most brilliant and effortlessly spoken ways. Maybe they emoted such genuine sentiments that you felt seen or they provided you with an alternative perspective you hadn’t yet considered. Important to remember how unique and authentic a poetry experience can be. Here are a few tips on what’s important to keep in mind when booking a poet (the should and should nots if you will):
Advance the show. Make sure poets have all the information days or weeks before the show. Do they need a parking pass? Where should they park? Does someone know how to direct them from the entrance to the parking lot or venue on campus? Is there someone available to greet the poet once they arrive? Has all the paperwork for payment and contracts been signed and submitted? Has the rider been reviewed and accommodated?
Invite poets to dinner. Most poets don’t eat before a show. They likely already have a pre-show routine that helps them to feel prepared and comfortable. But afterwards, they’re also likely too pumped to go directly to sleep. So conversing over a meal might be something their interested in. Ask. But don’t get upset if they don’t want too. Also, don’t take the decline of this invitation personal. Like most entertainers, poets are used to being by themselves and might have some personal reasons or things they’re going through that won’t allow for them to attend. I should also add, they might very well be exhausted and in need of a quick nap before that 6AM flight.
Make sure poets are hydrated. Not to sound gross or anything, but poets use a lot of saliva when speaking. It’s literally the reason why the phrase SPIT POET! is such an encouraging phrase used to praise poets while their performing. Have water for them before they go on stage, while they’re on stage, and after. Better yet, you should…
Read and honor the poet’s rider. I know poets aren’t always looked at as a “big deal”, but some have pretty extensive riders that help them not do all the heavy lifting before or after a show. Sometimes, poets might have something written that seems funny or ridiculous; reach out to them for clarification when you advance the show to make sure – they might just want to know if you’re taking them seriously. Mic checks don’t take very long for poets, but almost all of them (depending on the venue setting) do need a mic and stand with sound, lights to be seen, and (this is important) an audience.
Make sure the event is well attended. Although poets can perform anywhere, that doesn’t mean they want too. Performing in a cafeteria might have a lot of foot traffic, but poets aren’t spinning sign-holders on the corner. They also don’t want to interrupt someone’s study session in the library as a random pop-up no one was made aware of. Poets would much rather the undivided attention of a well-attended event. Competing with side conversations or an announcer for order number 20 is not ideal and can be very frustrating for a poet. Similarly, poets don’t want to perform for 3-10 people in an auditorium… trust me, it can make for a very weird experience for everyone involved. If you’re unsure, consult the artist or agent. Have your event on days and at times in a location on campus where it will be successful. Use photos or videos for posters and other promo approved by the artist. Start promoting weeks before the event. I repeat…
Promote the event. We know you’re working hard to get students involved and out of their dorm rooms. We also know that you can promote months in advance and students still gonna student. But, get creative. Invite certain organizations, groups, and departments to the show. Bring poets during a time of year or during a month that promotes awareness around a topic or issue. Poets generally have poems wrapped around subjects they’re passionate about and are possibly even activists for. Have local or student openers for the event; poets love on other poets and bring out their own following. Add a workshop (writing or otherwise) to help promote the event too.
Have poets emcee your event… they’re good at it! Poets are some of the best when it comes to moving the show along or being flexible when an event needs more time. They’re also really good at getting the crowd hype or intrigued. A lot of poets come from the slam scene, so they know how to engage and entertain, create energy and a mood, interact and most importantly, take the pressure off of you.
Pay poets what they are worth. Although the entertainment industry sees the need for poets and values their skillset, they often times are lowballed with disrespectful amounts that don’t align with the amount of work a poet puts into their craft. To have a career in poetry is no small feat. You’re not just paying for the performance… you’re paying for them to write, rehearse, and present their work. Not to mention, the time and energy in being attentive, vulnerable, personable, and accommodating once they arrive.
Be mindful. While there are a wide variety of topics to address and speak on, poets cannot singlehandedly confront or cure any school’s systematic oppression. Some poets might not have the content or confidence to address certain topics. Above all things, poets should be made aware of any homophobic, racists, or sexist tensions happening on campus in real-time; this ensures the safety and comfortability for everyone, especially the artist. If you love the poet, but there is a poem you know they can’t perform or certain language they can’t use, let the poet know when you’re advancing the show. Things happen and you won’t always know what’s next, but try to get out in front of complicated matters as soon as possible.
There are a lot of reasons to book a poet to come to your campus. Bass/Schuler Entertainment has some of the best poets this country has to offer on our roster. Calendar days are going by so rapidly; next semester will be here before you know it. So, let’s start booking poets and more.