So you’re going to have your first poem published, or you’ve been accepted onto a writing programme, or you’re going to perform somewhere, or maybe you’re even setting up your own website… and you need a biog.
What on earth is a biog?
A biog (or bio, or ‘short biographical statement’) briefly introduces you as a writer. The idea is to give a flavour of the person behind the poem, and where else the reader might find your work. As you gain more experience, your biog will grow and change. It’s a bit like a mini, informal poetry CV.
The best way to understand what a biog is is to read some examples. Google some of your favourite poets’ names + biog, flick through a poetry magazine, or look at the end of Young Poets Network features and challenges. Here are a few made-up examples:
Noah is a seventeen-year-old poet from Bangor. In 2020, he was the second-prize winner in the Made-Up Challenge on The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network, and performed at the Senedd Cymru as a result.
Ray James is a Jamaican-British poet who writes about football, cats, and cats playing football. They tweet @PussInFootballBoots
Zara is studying Physics at the University of Birmingham. She was a Foyle Young Poet in 2017, is a member of Young Identity, and has performed at the Hippodrome, Birmingham. Her poems have appeared in Really Excellent Poetry Magazine, Wow So Impressive Poetry Journal and An Anthology of Brilliant New Poets (2020). Her favourite poet is Mary Jean Chan.
Mohammed Abidal is a sixth former at a local school. He was born in France and grew up in Aberdeen. This is the first time he has ever performed his poetry.
You can see that, depending on the context, you might want to give different information. Mohammed’s biog sounds like it’ll be read out before he goes on stage – so the audience will have some geographical context for ‘a local school’. It’s usually best practice not to name your school or a place more specific than your city or county, to protect your own identity.
What do I write about?
First of all – shorter biogs are usually preferable, so you don’t need to answer everything we’re about to cover. And if you do have an answer, cherry-pick the most interesting or important details. But here are some ideas…
Include all your writing accolades if you’ve got any – have you won or been a runner-up in any competitions? Have you been published anywhere? Have you performed anywhere?
Include any writing activities you get up to: do you edit a magazine? Do you run a poetry society/club or a night? Are you part of a poetry collective or mentoring programme?
And, if you have space, the more general stuff: what are your interests (poetry and otherwise)? What kind of writing do you do? Are you studying? Are you working? Again – read some other people’s biogs. What do you find it interesting to hear about when poets are introduced?
But I’ve never been published/performed anywhere!
That’s okay! You can still give the audience an idea of who you are – go for the more general stuff. You’ll be able to update it as you go.
How do I present it?
Is someone else asking you for a biog? If so, have they specified how they want it to be presented (e.g. is there a maximum word count? Have they specified that they want it written in the first or third person*)? Follow their instructions if so.
If they haven’t given you any instructions, it’s probably best practice to write it in the third person and write around 30-60 words, like the examples above. They’re usually not long at all.
If you’re writing a biog for your own website or blog, it can be as long as you like, and you can include a wider range of details. You can write it in the first or third person. Again, look at your favourite poets’ websites for ideas.
And in terms of structure… well, you’re a poet! As long as it makes sense, flows nicely and sounds as impressive and interesting as you can make it, you’ll have done a great job.
Final pro tip – have a document where you keep versions of your biog of different lengths. Some people might want a one-sentence biog; some people might ask you for 50 or 100 words or want the full works. Having all these to hand in advance just makes your life much easier!
*First person = “I am a poet from Newcastle, my favourite writer is…” Third person = “Jasmine is a poet from Newcastle, her favourite writer is…”
Still got questions? Leave your queries (and your own tips and biogs) in the comments below.
Published June 2021