Two Poets “Earning Their Keep”

David Green, NYC Subway Poet

Initial Query

So I commissioned a female artist not long ago to make some dolls of my partner-in-crime, Ana, and myself. I was thrilled when they arrived. But their arrival got me to thinking, especially in relation to the film, “Who Does She Think She Is?” — How many of us are ever commissioned to sell our own art? How often do we support artists who are making a go of doing such? Is it possible to write poems for pay? Is there a way to start a trend, especially in the face of current economic climate, that gets back to supporting the little artist toiling away at her craft? Are you one of those artists who would be willing to give it a whirl?

I realize this raises a whole host of loaded issues (i.e. can creativity be prompted by pay? Can a poet actually sell poems? Is this a call to pull your dusty mimeograph and letterpress machines from the attics and basements?), but I ask after finding out a poet I know has done as much, and he’s something of a name… and I’d like to open a discussion about such the business of making a life as an artist in this country. Or are we all just supplementing our lives with side art / “hobbies”?

As if reading my mind (or my query) Molly Gaudry the next day posted a call for a buck a poem. You can read her offer here. And support her to boot if you think Molly’s writing, and Molly herself, worth a piece of your slice of the pie.  

Follow-Up Convoluted Thoughts (in response to Evie Shockley)

It does seem like an antithetical question in light of my campaigning for the freedom from capitalism that far “left”/extreme/experimental/post avant/etc (or however you want to label it) poetry enables (and is often ignored bc of). I guess there is no true escape from the pull of capitalist status quo influence, even if you are writing for writing’s sake and space to speak freely. Because even then, unless you are willing to go the Dickinson route, one still seeks some form of distribution (no such thing as “free speech”), and that also entails engagement with the platforms/mediums already in place, depending on how far and wide you want to be heard (and why). Even the most basic DIY typically uses the gov’t means of distribution via stamps. But the point I’m going for in this ramble, I think, is to connect what it means to produce on a small scale and survive as a member of the state without ‘selling out’ — but even those you’re expecting to support you, like Horton, are part of the bigger machinery, so there is no true escape, so to speak in very general and abstract terms. I guess the ultimate question would be to what degree do we use the state until the state ends up using us?

Bc obviously, there are poets like Ashbery and Collins who make their livings as writers — one can ask how do their poems fare in the more mainstream flow of Poetry World and what do they do/what effects/messages/”successful”/etc — versus the little local pockets who aren’t gunning for such noteriety (or are they!), who make on the local level and don’t even expect to “earn” a living but do hope to fund their projects with sales from broadsides or passing the hat at readings, etc.

I know this is all over the place but it’s a start that has likely already been hashed out elsewhere but I’m just thinking these issues aloud for myself now…

Economics Education Entertainment Life Sexy

AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

11 Comments Leave a comment

  1. A lot of the work in Conspiracy of Leaves was done “on demand,” in response to lists of words given by others, but it wasn’t for money; I just liked the challenge. My husband Brian likes to give me words like “involuted” or “Fortran.”

    The poem “Too Many Words for Sorrow” was written as an intro poem, taking something like 15 lists of 10 words (a few months worth of their weekly prompts), at an online site I was exploring (and ended up frequenting for years, until it closed down). You can read the poem here:

    Maybe I should write $100 poems, instead of the $1 poems our colleagues are selling. Folks can give me 10 big words, and I’ll make a poem with them for $100. That’d help us make some groceries.

  2. why don’t poets have paypal thingies on their blogs

    where readers could buy inscribed copies etcet,

    and with a *donation* option also—

    admirers of their verse may be responsive . . .

    once when i went to subscribe to a mag thru their paypal, i noticed they
    had an extra option for donations, so i not only subscribed but donated

  3. These are good ideas, and they should certainly charge more than a buck… or at least, as you note, offer the option for donation, which (I think) Molly does, though she could put the paypal button right on her post …

  4. well, I just mentioned it because I see blogs whose poets I wouldn’t mind supporting with a donation

    occasionally if it were easy to do so, if I could do it with a click or two,

    and also buy inscribed copies of their books—

    including yours!

  5. Dear Amy,
    I love your enthusiasm, I will therefore be brief. I think poems do not sell. And poetry is to my own enrichment, while I am working as a teacher. A teaching job is a poem by itself. This is what I think.
    My best to you, Anny

  6. Thank you, Anny. I think you are right about selling poem by poem. Books, yes. One poem at a time: very time consuming and likely not sustainable. Cheers! Amy

  7. This all brings up questions about what is poetry as a commodity vs. what is Poetry as Art, or what are the uses of poetry, should it exist solely as art for art’s sake, or can it serve other purposes. Personally, I think occasional poetry, while it may not always meet Art’s strict standards, serves a human need. I know for myself I’ve written poems for birthdays (friends’ & lover’s), for Valentine’s Day or anniversaries or deaths, poems as consolation or encouragement. I don’t see why a poet wishing to make money can’t also make meaningful verse.

    The tough thing about selling a poem through the vehicle of a paying journal, is that one has to please a large number of people (or potentially do so, in the eyes of the editorial staff). When I was painting, I sold a number of works for a nice amount of money, but in that case I had to please only the individual who bought each piece. Would readers of poetry appreciate poetry to hang on the wall? What about broadsides, maybe something that mixes the verbal and the visual? Poets at art fairs, selling their wares?

    You’ve certainly given me something to think about, Amy, especially at this point when we’re setting up a new life, attempting some measure of financial independence from the shitsdom.

    (I did look on my blog preferences, though, and a PayPal widget doesn’t appear to be an available option.)

  8. i’m not saying i’d do it every day/week (or month, even) but if i was moved by an outstanding poem or post on a po-blog,

    i might well donate something to aid her/his activities

    if it were convenient easy to do so, quickly on the spot/spontaneously

    with just a click or two—

  9. I dug further and discovered that we can add a PayPal donate button by using a text widget. You should check it out, Amy. You do so much for the poetry community, I bet there are plenty of folks who’d like to say thanks with a buck or two.

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