How do you judge your success as a poet? It is certainly not in terms of an annual income from your activities, nor the number of poems written per annum.
I believe it is fundamentally about your work being read or heard appreciatively by your readership. It starts with positive feedback from peers and friends in a small group setting or one-to-one. Positive feedback could be appreciative murmurs from all, or even better, where someone says later how a poem haunted them for weeks after.
After this stage, one tangible indicator of success is being published in magazines or literary journals where the editor has determined that their readers would be interested by your work. Poetry editors are extremely well-read in contemporary verse and know their market. They know what will interest or stimulate their readers. Moreover, those readers are prepared to pay for that material, demonstrating real appreciation rather than feigned interest.
Another is being judged against peers in a competition. Judges (of all types and persuasions) select the works they feel have the highest quality, which are always anonymously judged blind. They have honed their skills amongst the poetry community for a significant time and should be able to judge quality. The poem stands alone on its stage, out of context, defenceless, and without your reading abilities or endorsement to support it, then its relative merit can be determined. Considering the hundreds or thousands of entries, even making the shortlist can be a real endorsement of your work.
Yet another indicator, that perhaps comes later in your “career”, is to be invited to read at an event – a great opportunity to share your work with strangers of wide experience and background. I had the honour of such an invite to the Cheltenham Buzzwords group this month and have two other invites for next year, elsewhere. All part of promoting my collection The Thin Veneer. Do you have your copy yet?
These are examples of tangible indications, validating your work as successful.
Critical success factors during your career include: the effort spent learning the craft; how much you read other contemporary and legacy poems; a love of and facility with language (e.g. some poets have an advantage of having learnt other languages – I believe one of the best ways to master one’s own language); practice, practice; then the confidence to put your work out there to be judged or read; and, I suppose, some natural talent.
Some recommend also that practice with poetic forms hones some of the key skills. If that is not working for you and you have tried hard then perhaps a different style of expression may work better for you. I tried short stories when I began writing and it just did not work for me. A few experiments with poetry put me on my current career, where I’ve had much more success.
These are just some thoughts that may help you. As always: write, edit, read, and repeat. It’s a process of trial and error. Get your work out there in front of other. Be persistent and be patient.