Every now and then you read about someone like Harryette Mullen winning a large cash prize for poetry.
Which is, of course, very nice for Mullen, a professor at UCLA who writes lines like:
“she gets to the getting place
without or with him
must I holler when
you’re giving me rhythm.”
(from [go on sister sing your song])
But it also points to the larger issue of how most poets (and I think we can safely add in most other writers, artists in general) make very, very little money, woefully little money.
And it’s not a new problem.
The new issue of Lapham’s Quarterly has a nifty graphic showing the day jobs of some writers over the years: Trollope worked as a postal inspector, Bronte was a governess, Kafka worked for an insurance company.
In 1938, Time Magazine reported on a study from the Academy of American Poets on the average earning of “established” poets — defined as one in middle life with four volumes to his credit.
“That poets have low incomes is no more news than that they are temperamental,” the story started before summing up that a poet with those books might get $250 a year and maybe another $250 a year from magazines.
I bring it up because April is National Poetry Month, which was started by the Academy in 1996 with the hopes of turning April into a month “when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.”
Well, if you’re looking for a way to mark the occasion — I have an idea: adopt a poet.
Not literally, of course.
In an age where Glenn Beck is making some $13 million a year from books, maybe it’s time we did something to help those who are certainly as deserving.
So, what do I mean by adopting a poet?
Subscribe to a literary magazine.
Go to a reading.
Support a not-for-profit.
The key is use this month to show your appreciation for the arts — poetry, in particular — and the people who create it,