How the Internet Transformed the World of Custom Poetry

Sites like Etsy and Instagram are remaking a classic artistic hustle

Veronica Walsingham
OneZero
Published in
5 min readJul 10, 2019

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Illustrations: Shira Inbar

“Don’t believe those people who say being a poet isn’t lucrative.”

That’s Eric Vance Walton, a writer who composes custom poetry for clients. His business stretches back to the 1990s, before bespoke everything — shampoo, perfume, Game Boys — became an online phenomenon fed by vendors on Etsy and Instagram. But Walton’s something of an OG: Search for “personalized poetry” on Google and his store is, for now, the first link below a flotilla of ads.

“Most people found me by word of mouth or internet searches,” he says. “I hadn’t heard of anyone else doing it at the time, but I’m sure there were others out there.”

Walton’s been around for a while, and he charges $125 a pop for his custom poems. (He’s also worked a day job at an insurance agency.)

But those without the benefit of SEO need to set the bar a bit lower. People who offer bespoke, personalized poetry on Etsy — and there are a number of them — often start at around $50, sometimes less.

Ryan Wilson is a college student who sells custom poetry for $30 on Etsy. He says he helps provide a service for special occasions.

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Veronica Walsingham
OneZero

Freelance arts and culture writer. Previous bylines include The New York Times, Playboy, Glamour, Vice, and other publications. Instagram: @veronica_notvaughn