Writing the Poet’s Bio

When printing poetry, many publishers ask for the poet’s biography. Even the WGPP does this for the anthologies. And the request invariably freaks out a few of the poets that have never done it before.

The publisher thinks: You’re a writer. Just write about yourself.

The poet thinks: My writing isn’t about me. It’s about poetry stuff! I’m doomed!

Well, for those who are new to the bio blurb business, let me reassure you. There’s a bit of a formula to it. Most bios just answer the basic questions a stranger might ask. For instance, here are some general questions, along with answers that a (purely fictitious) poet might give.

1. Where were you born and in what year (especially if very young, very old, or born in an auspicious time or place)?

>>Chesbro, Ontario in the mid 40s.

2. What is your educational background?

>>I briefly attended Dartmouth, which was fabulous in the 60s. I am currently pursuing a Doctorate in Fine Arts at Saratoga University.

3. How did you start writing poetry?

>>I’ve always loved poetry, but began writing in earnest after a critical car accident left me unable to speak for six weeks.

4. What is your writing philosophy?

>>Everyone can have a clear, free voice on paper.

5. Have you been published before? If so, where?

>>My poetry has appeared numerous times in Ember Magazine, and most recently in Cherry Lane.

6. What are your favorite hobbies?

>>I’m a novice taxidermist. I also collect vintage thimbles.

7. What are your proudest or quirkiest accomplishments?

>>I was once a candidate for astronaut training. I’m (secretly) the inventor of the cordless mouse.

8. To what groups, clubs or associations do you belong?

>>I serve as Secretary in the Women’s Golf Association, and I’m a regular volunteer at my niece’s Montessori school.

9. What is your current profession.

>>I teach third grade. It’s the most rewarding job there ever was.

10. Where do you currently live?

>>Los Gatos

11. Do you have a spouse or significant other? Children? Pets?

>>Husband Joseph. Two dogs.

After answering the questions, you merely pick some of the more interesting elements. You can jumble their order, place similar facts together, and combine some of the smaller statements. Liberal use of “and” works great to connect short elements. For some publishers (like us), it’s customary to convert the bio to a third-person format. Try to alternate a bit between the use of your name and third-personal pronouns. Be sure to rephrase things to flow logically. Finally, a few creative embellishments can go a long way to give the bio a sense of life.

For example:

Tina Shakespeare—
     Tina is originally from Chesbro, Ontario. She’s always loved poetry, but began writing in earnest after a critical car accident left her unable to speak for six weeks. “Everyone can have a clear, free voice on paper,” she says. Her poetry has been published in Ember Magazine and most recently in Cherry Lane.
     Tina is also a novice taxidermist, a collector of vintage thimbles, and was once a candidate for astronaut training. She currently teaches third grade, the most rewarding job there ever was. She and her husband Joseph live in Los Gatos with their two clever but messy dogs.

Sometimes the publisher provides guidelines on length or style, but for WGPP you can really say whatever you like about yourself. Some people have given us a single sentence. Some hand over pages (though 80 to 100 words seems about right to us). Some are prim and proper, and some just joke the whole way through. As such, it usually ends up a rather interesting reflection of their personality.

One thought on “Writing the Poet’s Bio

  1. Hi there.   Judy Sandretto’s Bio

     Judy discovered the Willow Glen Poetry Project when visiting the WG library and has been participating in the activities for 2 years.  After just one meeting she was hooked but it took a while for her to read her own words aloud.   She likes listening to the work of the poets and likes the challenge of expressing herself through her own poetry.  Judy is a classical pianist and teaches in her home.  She is a dedicated bridge player, does volunteer work for Eastfield/Ming Quong Guild and loves entertaining since there is always something to celebrate in her large Italian family.



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