It Ain’t About the Money

How to Make a Living as a Poet

“There’s no money in poetry, but there is no poetry in money either.”

Robert Graves, poet

“It’s not about the money, money, money
We don’t need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag

from Jessie J’s Price Tag featuring B.oB. (YouTube link here.  Should be adopted by poets as their official anthem.)


Physicians get paid for their medical services.  Lawyers get paid for their legal services.   Teachers get paid for teaching.  Plumbers get paid (and paid well) for fixing your pipes.  Why is it that poets usually don’t get paid for their poems?  And if they are fortunate enough to get paid, usually it’s enough to cover the postage for the submission and lunch at MacDonald’s.

I got a copy of Glazner’s book hoping to get some practical advice on how to make a living as a poet.  He’s a former florist who sold his shop and took off with his wife on a world tour to find poetic inspiration and meet poets wherever his travels took him.  He wrote about his journey in his book, Ears on Fire.  The most valuable thing I gained from reading his book is not so much as how to make a living as a poet, but how to creatively start thinking about ways to get my poems out there (including this blog) to be seen and read.

The harsh reality is that most poets will not be able to make a living at their craft (there are always exceptions, but they’re few in number), but they will make whatever necessary sacrifices and accommodations in their lives in order to be able to continue writing poems regardless of whether they can make a living at it or not.  The trick is finding a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table without demanding too much of body and soul while leaving enough time and energy to devote to writing poems.

If you’re writing poetry in an attempt to make a living, then you’re in the wrong business (publishing, with its priority on profit and laser focus on the market, is a business:  poetry is not–it’s a calling requiring devotion and sacrifice).  Writing poetry and being a poet is not about fame, fortune or success–never was and never will be.  If these matter to you, then be a rock star or act in some Hollywood blockbuster.  Poets will continue to express themselves in poems whether they get paid or not.

“You can’t put a price tag on our lives
We do this for the love,
So we fight and sacrifice every night.”

from Jessie J’s Price Tag featuring B.o.B

By the way, Robert Graves paid the rent by writing historical novels like I, Claudius and King Jesus as well as writing translations.  Dylan Thomas finally found monetary success in his reading tours to America which unfortunately contributed to his early death.  As for Gary Glazner, in the book’s blurb, it states he’s working as the editor of the World Art:  Poetry Broadside Series and sets type and runs the old printing presses at the Palace of the Governors Museum in Santa Fe, NM while continuing to be a poet.

No laurel crown sits bestowed upon this brow,
Nor had Polyhymnia deemed to kiss these lips;
No masses gather to pay homage to this voice,
Neither the wise nor the foolish heed these words;
No praise or coinage is given in support.
Day after day, alone, I labor,
Composing heart-bled songs that few will hear,
Letting the white, word-strewn sheaves
Drop one by one until the branches lie bare
And winter’s kiss these lips have stilled.

(©Poeticmeditations 2011. All Rights Reserved.)

A personally signed copy of this poem can be ordered at PoeticExpressions.


About poeticmeditations

A 19th-century romantic poet living in the 21st-century. The Romantic poets, nib pens, candlelight, waistcoats, and pocket watches are a few of my favorite things.
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