Photo taken by John Bonnar

Photo taken by John Bonnar

Points To Ponder When Commissioned To Write A Poem

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

In my last VLOG (video blog) When Commissioned To Write A Poem… I talked about things I have learned via writing a poem  commissioned for the upcoming SPINLAW conference.

These are points you should think about before agreeing to take on such a task.

I know that some of you (my readers) enjoy reading my work more than watching me speak via a VLOG, and some of you enjoy the VLOGs more.

So here is a the same advice in my VLOG in writing:

1. Do you have the time?

Writing a commissioned poem is no joke.  It takes up a lot of time.  You want to do the best job you can for the person or organization that is commissioning you.  Time is essential to the writing process: writing, re-writing, reading, editing…

2. Are you willing to make and take the time?

I’m in a different position than many writers.  I have no kids and I’m single.  So, although I write for different places I have more time than other writers.  For those that don’t have the same freeness that I do, are you willing to make the time for this poem?  Being busy does not mean you can’t take on a task like this (most likely a side project on top of your other writing: fiction, non-fiction, journalism etc.).

3. Do you want to work with this person or group?

The SPINLAW folks who have commissioned me are lefty law students soon to be lefty lawyers.  Were on a similar page.  I don’t have to hide my politics.  And they came to me because they know, or have a good idea, about what I fight for and write about.

Would I write a commissioned poem for the Conservative party of Canada or the Canadian branch of the Klu Klux Clan?  No.  I have no interest in working with such peoples.

4. Meet with the person or group that is wanting to commission you.

Email and phone conversations are great but there is nothing like an in person meetup.

I met up with Laura Spaner, my SPINLAW contact, twice for coffee.  She laid out their ideas, I laid out mine, and we were able to ask each other questions for clarification. That’s the beauty of being in person.  You come prepared and and leave full.

5.  Make sure they know your work.

My SPINLAW contact, Laura Spaner, has known me for years.  But did she and her group know my work?  I mean really know my work.  You don’t want to agree to write a poem and then send them something they are not pleased with.  Again, writing a commisioned poem takes time.  Imagine putting in all that hard work and then having them be displeased with your style, your content, your politics?

6. Send them some of your work.

I sent Laura and her crew videos from my YOUTUBE Channel so they could get acquainted with my poetry.  It really helped.  They stated what poems they liked and what style they wanted me to write!

7. Ask what they want.

This is not a regular poem.

Remember, someone, or people, have come to you to write for them.  It’s not about you. It’s about them.  And it’s a privilege and an honour that they have chose you.

Aks detailed questions about what they want so you can do the best job for them, and for your art’s sake.  You want everyone to be happy.

8. Do your research and ask them to send you stuff.

SPINLAW wanted me to write about the 30 year anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  So, I looked up SPINLAW and the charter.  I also asked Laura to send me some articles about issues with the charter that they wanted in the poem.  I did my research and I read the material they sent me.

9. Make sure both parties are happy and that both benefit.

Again, there are two sides to this: you the poet and the person or group that has commissioned you.  And you want both sides to be happy and both sides to benefit.

You do the best job you can.  And you state what you want to come out of this as well as ask what they want to come out of this.  There will be an editing process and you have to work with each other.  It’s OK to set boundaries.  It’s OK to disagree.  But you have to meet half way sometimes and leave your ego off the page!

10. Remember: this is an honour and a privilege!

When I got the email from SPINLAW I was shocked and wowed!

They were kind, encouraging, and excited to offer me the opportunity of writing for them.

It was a recognition of my hard work here on this website and the other places I write for. SPINLAW not only chose me they showed me respect.  As a poet I know that poets are at the bottom of the barrel in the writing world.  So, for SPINLAW to not only recognize my work, but to recognize that poetry matters is BIG!

Also, not many poets are commissioned to write poems which magnifies why this opportunity has been an honour and a privilege and I won’t forget that!  And neither should you if you get such and opportunity.


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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  1. Good advice. I sometimes forget to remember that last one.

  2. Pingback: VLOG: IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY, NOT COMPETITION #2 | Black Coffee Poet

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