Poetry: Where the Big Money Is(n't) - Let's Talk...
There's an interesting blog post here by Nic Sebastian to check out called "poetry – an inherently non-profit activity?"
The fact is that selling poems is just not good business. Packaging poems ‘for sale only’ doesn’t make money and cuts down on potential readership. Do we want to sell poems, or get them read? The two objectives are, in my view, mutually exclusive to a high degree. Sell, ok – but don’t only sell.
It's an interesting concept that goes even deeper in the large much read book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde.
Truth be told, the majority of the money I've from by writing poetry has not come from royalties, book sales, or payment from magazines and publishers, but from reading honorariums, teaching at writing/reading conferences or poetry festivals, individual consulting and editing on poems and poetry manuscripts with writers, and from grants.
Writing a poem has not been my ticket to J.K. Rowling-ville. It has not equalled a movie deal or an appearance on Oprah. I am not on booktour in England. I do my own laundry.
But still, I do it.
Why spend so much time on something that offers such a small financial reward? In a world & culture centered around commerce, this doesn't make sense.
But it does.
I've said it before-- Writing a poem is an optimistic act. And this is what I know of all true artists and writer friends-- the writing or art is always the first thought, not the money.
We forget there are other rewards besides financial.
If I was making zero money from writing or the things attached to writing (teaching, editing, consulting, one-on-one work, etc), I would have less time to write because I would need to find some way to pay the rent. But I would still write.
I would still write poems even if I knew they wouldn't be published. Even if I knew they or their comet tail of dreams would never open any doors, earn me any money, bring me any amount of success.
Would I like poets, writers, & artists to be earning equal or greater amounts of money compared to Hollywood actors--- oh, I would love that!
Do I think poets, writers, and artists should have salaries as high at the top paid CEO -- yes, and even more so they can share the wealth with others.
But maybe that's the thing-- money distracts. It can make us forget who we are.
But if I had the choice-- I'd take the risk that you all could live on incredible over-the-top poetry salaries and still make the best decisions for you and your art. I would trust that.
I guess my feeling is don't ever close the door on the idea that writing poems could earn you enough money to live more-than-comfortably, give you enough money to travel freely, or take care of you, but also, don't expect it.
Will it ever happen? I guess we'll all just have to live a little longer and see what works out.
(Though I'm thinking my new Kelli Ru$$ell Agodon signature might be a little premature.)