100 words on commissions for a contemporary poet

the maze at fatima JinnahYou’re requested to write poems for an organization with a budget and imagination. It’s for an event, for TV,  for YouTube, for radio, for a public art piece, for an album, for a book.  Welcome to The Commission.

You don’t know what to charge so you take what they offer. Turn it down if it doesn’t feel right.  Become known for your work more than taking it. A commission doesn’t dictate what you write. It asks if you are interested. You must ask yourself why would I be interested. And if you can answer that then do it. You can measure the health of a poet by the work they turn down as much as the work they take.

Anyone who commissions a poet deserves respect in my book cause they’ve found the connecting cable to everything. It was hidden beneath the clunky sofa of popular culture – not as clunky as that metaphor though.. Fee for a commissioned poem can range  from  £10 to £20,000 depending where you and your commissioner are at. It’s like this.   When someone lifts your pen from the paper and says,  “I’d like to pay you to write about something else ” treat that  space between pen and the paper with the respect it deserves.  It is a pause between what you are and what you love.


5 thoughts on “100 words on commissions for a contemporary poet

  1. Hi lemn,
    Auden said that artists are always in the process of commissioning themselves, and for Kate Tempest it’s a case of ‘I could not be shut up’ that’s the feeling I got from hearing you speak and Zephaniah, Merle Collins, Kwesi Johnson, Binta Breeze. I’d only ever experienced that before with music, suddenly here it was in spoken form, and not comercially led.
    Commissions can be great of course, they can be validating and create connections between individuals/communities, taking an artist in a direction they may not have explored otherwise, and allowing them much needed income, but as you say, the real test is how does the work interest you, and does the commission allow you to be yourself.

    • I see Rhiannon. There is no reason why commissions shouldn’t be a great thing for an artist. After all you do what you do above all things in your art. A commission simply allows you to do what you do best. Just saying that you must be aware of the position of commissions in your growth as an artist.

  2. Watched yourself perform an amazing act of heartfelt emotion, when you appeared on random acts the other night. Just wanted to pay my respect to your way with words and passion you seem to convey. I have found myself getting back into poetry recently, since leaving school I have rarely put pen to paper as my brain has been to busy with other pleasures in life. It seems to fill me with lots of emeotion when I write sometimes too much, I am learning to deal with this and use it in the right way.

  3. Hi … I would love to start doing commissioned poems but as a person of ‘very little business sense’, I have no idea where to start.

    Over the years I have written poems for other people and for various occasions. Everyone has been pleased with my work (so far), and as I am now retired I thought this might be a way forward.

    Would love to hear your thoughts and hopefully get some advice.

    Many thanks …

    Trish Chester

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