Rich Poets and Other Mythological Beasts

benjamins

A lot of people want to be writers, but the day-to-day reality of it isn’t easy. What works is being obsessed with writing. Like looking at your cellphone–instead of “I can’t get through my day without constantly checking for texts,” it’s “I can’t get through my day if I don’t write!” Instead of “Must. Look. At. My. Cell.” it’s “Must. Write. Something. Now!” Instead of ignoring the person across from you at the dinner table by looking at your binkie (read: phone), it’s ignoring the person no longer across from you at the dinner table because you stole away to your writing place (read: your writing place).

It is both tempting and amusing for writers to dream big. They think of fame in their chosen field. Not only fame, but its trickster cousin twice removed, fortune. The mansion. The pool. The publishers on the phone begging for another book because they just sold movie rights to the last.

I suppose there’s a camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle chance that these dreams might come true for novelists and screen writers, but poets? It is to laugh.

Can we really picture Billy Collins wearing sunglasses at night (á la Corey Hart) while he goes to New York restaurants at night so he won’t be mobbed by groupies for autographs (which he would be forced to sign in blank verse, of all things)?

Or how about Mary Oliver living in one of those “looks simple but costs a fortune” ranches out in the wilderness (which her lawyer bought for her)? The great unwashed can work 9 to 5, but Mary punches the clock by going outside at 10 a.m., watching a few Canada geese fly over, and returning home for lunch served by a nutritionist/cook. Her afternoon looks like this: a nap.

Since we truck in literary terminology, let’s get this straight right out of the proverbial gate: “Rich poet” is an oxymoron. No poet ever made his or her fortune on poetry. But it’s human nature, I suppose, to happily delude oneself. Like buying scratch lottery tickets. “Maybe this time… maybe me…” Uh, no. “Maybe not” is what you’re looking for.

So it’s Onward Christian (or Jewish or Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu, atheist or agnostic) Soldier. You can’t write for the money, you must write for the intrinsic reward. And intrinsic rewards, on the going market, don’t pay much. Hope, then, that they pay attention. At the very least. For poems, attention is as good as cash. Readers are riches. If a hundred people read your poem, it’s as good as a hundred dollars.

Instead of Benjamin, just picture readers crowded onto that legal tender. And keep the change!

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11 thoughts on “Rich Poets and Other Mythological Beasts

      1. Quite a famous English poet, from Yorkshire, the same area of England as Ted Hughes. He’s a very English poet. Started writing in the 80’s, during Thatcher. Writes lyrical poems but with a contemporary English idiom, lot of slang n’ wot (sic) not.

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  1. Doug

    it is true that almost no poet got their start in a life of prosperity from writing poetry but by some other principal profession like being a college professor. The success may come very late in life. It takes a support team or family wealth, a reputation or supplemental work like articles or novels and whom you know to become rich by writing verse, songs excluded. Poe made it to the title on his own, but he died at 40, Robert Frost supported his poetry for the first two years by working in a factory. Your advice is noted. Passion is indispensable.

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    1. Frost was a teacher and a farmer, I think, too. And interestingly enough, England made him famous first with “North of Boston” (I think it was). America caught onto its own only after that fact.

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