By Lissa Provost
California, and the San Francisco Bay Area especially, is a hotbed for poetry activity. Every town has a Poet Laureate and every county and region, too. There are workshops, festivals, readings, and open mics in communities from border to border. We are amazed and proud of what Litquake does for poets in our city. There has never been a better time to be a poet! But there’s a big gaping hole in this poetry boom: how to get poetry published.
Many writers in every genre have a secret place in their heart for poetry, but it doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t support their writing career, so it gets moved to the back burner and glanced at every now and then, but not stirred often and seasoned to its full potential. After all, writers make a living by publishing and if nobody is publishing poetry…well, writers are sad about it but don’t feel like anything can be done.
The San Francisco Writers Conference begs to differ. We’ve always had a poetry track because we believe poetry is an essential ingredient in a rich literary culture. Our literary culture is the soil in which we nourish future generations with the raw ingredients for empathy and ideas to improve our world. When writers take time to pay attention to poetry all of their writing craft improves. But, in addition to improving all of our writing, we believe poetry itself should be published and we find poetry publishers to invite.
Since publishing poetry is not especially profitable yet, most of our attendees every year prioritize other tracks. In the past we have gathered amazing speakers and designed a first rate craft-to-publishing syllabus each year, which we then ended up presenting to a small core of attendees who went away with the information and connections to pursue publishing but wondering why the room wasn’t filled to capacity. The reviews always glowed, but the scale was not accessible to most poets.
Hence the new Poetry Summit at the San Francisco Writers Conference. By condensing the poetry track into our longest single day of breakouts it remains accessible to full conference other-genre/poetry attendees, but we can also open it up to poetry-only attendees at a significantly lower price and time commitment. With public transit, most of the region can easily ride in for the day. For those who must drive, it’s still much less than the cost of staying over in a hotel. It’s one full day of content and connections from 9:00 am through 7:00 pm followed by a fantastic Poetry and Jazz celebration that usually goes ‘til 11:00, for the incredibly low price of $195.
That’s how we’ve improved the accessibility, but the reason why poets should come remains the same: our steadfast belief in the value of publishing poetry and the amazing group of speakers and poetry publishers we’re bringing in to guide Poetry Summit attendees toward that goal. Our poetry content and connections have always resulted in the best reviews of the whole conference.
As I get out and talk about my own poetry book I am amazed at how often I’m told about the poems of prior generations that people found in trunks and shoeboxes. Publishing poetry is more accessible that it’s ever been. Don’t leave all of yours in a shoebox, or on a hard drive, for your grandchildren to find.
San Francisco Writers Conference
Director of Operations
Poetry Summit Coordinator
(Opens for submissions Feb. 13, 2020)