The Principles of Door-to-Door Poetry

Door-to-Door Poetry is the act of approaching a stranger in their home and writing them a bespoke poem on a subject of their choosing.

The purpose of Door-to-Door Poetry is to:

A) Promote poetry to everyone;

B) Help people express their opinions and beliefs;

C) Propagate kindness, and

D) Increase a sense of community.

Since I became the world’s first Door-to-Door Poet three years ago, various people have contacted me to ask if they can be one too, and if I have any advice on how to do it.

Although I’m the first person, as far as I know, to have gone about writing poems for people on their doorsteps, the idea and the name are not copyrighted: There is absolutely nothing stopping you from becoming a Door-to-Door Poet.

However, I’d like to offer some guidance and advice to anyone considering doing this, to ensure their safety and to make sure the aims of the project are maintained. This is not an invitation to become a Door-to-Door Poet, it’s merely an attempt to try and help those who have already decided they are going to do it.

As incredibly fun and rewarding as it can be, Door-to-Door Poetry is a serious and complicated endeavour and should not be taken lightly. You can easily put yourself and others in serious jeopardy.

The following seven principles have emerged from the lessons I’ve learned over the years. I strongly suggest that any budding Door-to-Door Poet read and follow them closely.

Rowan McCabe,
Door-to-Door Poet
13/12/18

1. Believe in the Kindness of Strangers

It would be wrong to argue that people never do things which are cruel or unkind. However, the poet must hold a belief that people are, generally, kind; that it takes more effort to be cruel than it does to be neutral and that people usually do unkind things for a reason, whether they know it or not. This is the most important of the 7 principles and guides every aspect of Door-to-Door Poetry.

The poet has a responsibility to promote this as much as possible while they carry out their work, be it verbally, in print or online.

2. Don’t Start Until You’re Ready

To promote poetry to everyone, a Door-to-Door Poet must be an experienced poet already. The reason for this is, quite simply, if you have no experience, there’s a good chance the resident will not like your poem. If this resident already has negative feelings towards poetry, it will further discourage them.

The primary way that a Door-to-Door Poet communicates with residents is through a live performance on the doorstep, not always the easiest performance arena. If you’re not already an experienced poet and performer, this is not the place to learn the basics of your trade.

I strongly suggest, unless you have a track record of performance, including professional engagements, commissions or competition wins under your belt, that you focus your attention on gaining these first.

3. No Payment For Poems

Door-to-Door Poetry is not a business, it is a mission. A poet must not ask for any payment from a resident in exchange for their poem (monetary or otherwise), for the following three reasons:

Firstly, if a Door-to-Door Poet asks for payment for their poem, the project will only appeal to residents who already enjoy poetry. This would not promote poetry to everyone.

Secondly, by putting a value on this exchange, it runs the risk of pricing out anyone who can’t afford it, which would not promote poetry to everyone.

Thirdly, the primary reason a stranger knocks on a person’s door in many cultures is to try to sell them a product or a service, which leads to the common belief that strangers are unkind or, at best, have ulterior motives. By offering a gift completely free of charge, the Door-to-Door Poet is a living example of the fact that strangers can be kind. This builds community spirit, increases kindness generally and makes it easier for the work to continue.

This would not prevent the poet from applying for a grant or sponsorship, crowdfunding, or other fundraising activity, so long as no resident on the doorstep is asked to pay in exchange for a poem.

Once the poem is delivered, the resident may spontaneously offer the Door-to-Door Poet a reward for their poem. It is strongly advised that the poet does not accept this. Despite the fact it is a gift, it still serves to put an exchange value on the experience.

4. Do Not Preach

The primary job of a Door-to-Door Poet is to listen, and to help the resident to express themselves. A Door-to-Door Poet must not use their role to promote any religion, political party or business.

If a resident expresses a belief that the poet agrees with, the poet may then express their beliefs on the subject and write about it as they see fit.

However, if a resident expresses beliefs that the poet doesn’t agree with, the poet must take care not to correct, mock or argue with the resident. This is not kindness. If they feel they must express dissent, they should do this in a way which is respectful and understanding at all times.

Having said that, there could be situations where a poet might challenge or restrain a resident; for example, if the resident was directly engaging in physical or verbal abuse towards another individual while the poet was present. However, there are currently no reported cases of this having happened.

A poet also has a responsibility not to spread anything which is unkind to others. If a resident has expressed beliefs which are harmful to anyone else of a particular race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, or any other vulnerable member of society, the poet should not propagate these views, as they would go against the rule of promoting kindness. Please note: Cases of this happening are also very rare.

5. Visit as Many Different People as Possible

A Door-to-Door Poet should try to promote poetry to everyone, as much as possible.

How a poet chooses to interpret this is open to their judgement. However, it would follow that to reach a broad spectrum of the human race, the poet must try to be as inclusive as they can towards people of all social classes, races, religions, ages and endeavour to be as inclusive as they can to people of different genders, sexualities and people with visible and invisible disabilities.

6. Respect People’s Privacy

The role of a Door-to-Door Poet involves approaching people in the comfort and safety of their homes. This endeavour should be taken very seriously and all care should be made to ensure this experience is enjoyable and pleasant for everyone involved.

The concept should not be pushed onto anyone who is unwilling to take part. No resident should feel like they’re being forced into getting involved. In their initial introduction, the Door-to-Door Poet must offer a clear opportunity to opt-out at a very early stage. For example, this could take the form of introducing yourself and asking “Do you have a minute to spare?” before you pitch the concept. (A successful method is to change this amount of time to accurately reflect how long your pitch lasts. E.g. “Do you have a minute and 10 seconds to spare?”)

If the person says no, the poet must make no further attempt to persuade the resident. There are many reasons why someone may choose not to take part in this project. There are also many people you can ask in the world. With persistence, you will find someone with time to spare.

As well as this, the nature of the role means that people will eventually relay personal and often very sensitive information about themselves. This should be treated with the highest level of care. By asking someone to talk about what is important to them, you are conducting an interview. This means that you are, for all intents and purposes, a journalist. For this reason, before knocking on anyone’s door, the Door-to-Door Poet must first educate themselves on the elements of good journalistic practice, including legal considerations, and follow these at all times.

7. Take Care of Yourself

This is a practice which involves interacting with members of the public in intimate and sometimes enclosed spaces. Your own safety must be treated as the highest priority. Always tell a trusted person where you are going and when you expect to return. Carry a mobile phone at all times. Remember, the purpose of this document isn’t to encourage you to become a Door-to-Door Poet, it is to help those who have already decided they are going to. Your safety while doing this is your responsibility and yours alone.

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