March 2nd, 2017


Poems Don't Pay

Writing about Robert Lowell and how his work has fallen out of fashion, Max Liu suggests that "it’s not always easy to feel sympathy for an artist with a trust fund and whose family have their own graveyard." Really?  Seems a bit specious to me. Do we chose our writers by caste? Byron and Tolstoy were aristocrats too and it doesn't seen to have affected their popularity.

No-one- with the possible exception of Alfred Tennyson- ever made a living from poetry alone. Poetry isn't a career or a profession. It doesn't pay. And almost every famous poet you care to name either had a private income, rich patrons or a day job.  T.S Eliot was a publisher, Philip Larkin a librarian, Stevie Smith a secretary, Robert Graves a popular novelist. Wallace Stevens was so much the successful businessman that his colleagues didn't always know that he was famous for something else.

Lowell's inherited money freed him from the grind of the nine to five but it didn't guarantee him an easy life...

Supplementary To The Previous Post

I've been writing poems since my late teens. There have been times in my life when I've written very few- and other times when I've written them at the rate of two or three a week. I was at my most prolific during the late 80s and early 90s. These days poems come along at the rate of one or two a year.

Poems can't be forced. They come when they want to come. I have found though that they can be elicited by prompts. One or two of my better efforts have come about because someone gave me a topic to deal with- and sometimes a topic I'd never have tackled otherwise.

T.S. Eliot said there was no such thing as a poet, there are only people who write poetry.  I think that's right. Poetry comes and goes. Just because you wrote poetry in your youth doesn't mean you'll go on writing it all your life. Eliot himself is a good example of a writer whose gift deserted him. He wrote great poems from youth through middle-age but the love poems he wrote for his wife in old age are embarrassing- and he must have known it because he held them back from publication.  Most Collected Works contain a good deal of filler.  To set yourself up as a poet and commit to turning out slim volumes on a regular basis is to ask for trouble.