So you wanna be a published poet?

April 04, 2016
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Have you ever dreamed of seeing your poetry in print? At just 30 years old, Caitlin Maling is about to tick that dream off for the second time, as she’s preparing to launch her second poetry collection.

“I’ve always written - since before I was a teenager - and pretty much always poetry,” Caitlin says. Her first poem was published when she was 18, long before she decided to pursue poetry as a career.

“I really, truly thought that I was going to be an academic criminologist,” she says. After completing a Masters in Criminological Research at Cambridge, she suddenly re-evaluated. “I thought, ‘No! What if I like poetry more?’”

It was an important turning point. Caitlin applied for a Varuna Writers’ Centre Fellowship Program, where she worked with a mentor on her first collection of poems. She remembers sending the manuscript to Fremantle Press. “I heard from them that they wanted to take it, and that was really great!”

Her first book, Conversations I’ve Never Had, explores childhood memories in Western Australia. She is fascinated by the “ugly” and “strange” qualities of the WA landscape, focusing on places that are “hard to inhabit”, like the coastal desert.

Caitlin’s interest in landscapes “of extreme sameness” made her fall in love with Houston when she studied a Master of Fine Arts in Texas. “It’s just oil refineries and freeways,” she says. The poems she produced in the US form the basis of her second collection, which is due to be released next year.

“I’m excited and I’m also nervous, because it will be out in the world and it will be done,” she says of her second book. “The worst part is living with those poems!”

Apart from the landscape and travelling, study is another major influence on Caitlin’s work. She’s currently doing a PhD in English at the University of Sydney. “[My poems are becoming] more driven by what I study than by what I’m feeling,” she says.

It’s about the process of what you individually get out of making your work ... It’s all about how it feels in creating it.

So what’s it like living day-to-day as a poet? Most mornings, Caitlin can be found writing at a local Sydney café. “I head up to the coffee store, without my phone and often without anything else to read, then force myself to sit with my notebook for about an hour and see what happens,” she says.

“I find fancy pens and papers to be way too much pressure,” she says, showing me the inexpensive notepad she carries with her. “I like to get the cheapest things possible.”

Her days are mostly taken up with PhD research, leaving little time for “the extra stuff associated with poetry”. At night she types up poems or writes grant applications in front of the TV. “If the TV is on I can pretend that I’m not still working at 10pm!” she says.

Caitlin is full of encouragement for new writers: “Australia’s a really, really great place to be an emerging writer or a new writer and get your poetry published.” She recommends taking advantage of magazines like Cordite that offer blind readings of poems. You can send your poems to established journals like Island, Westerly, Meanjin and Australian Poetry Journal, or explore newer ones like Rabbit, Seizure, Tincture, Lifted Brow and Writ Review. There are also magazines for writers under 25, such as Voiceworks. Most universities also have a literary journal that publishes student poems.

Aspiring writers should be prepared that it’s difficult to make a living from poetry. A writer in Australia typically earns under $13,000 per year from their writing. With this in mind, Caitlin stresses the importance of loving what you do.

“It’s about the process of what you individually get out of making your work,” she says. “That’s what I say to my friends who are other types of artists as well: it’s not going to work for you unless you’re getting something internally from making that work. It’s all about how it feels in creating it.”

Melinda Cooper

Melinda loves reading on rainy days, drinking cups of tea and making things. She is doing a PhD in English at the University of Sydney.