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Saturday, July 05, 2008

What Use Is Poetry?

'What is your ideal dream blog job?' asked Lorelle VanFossen recently on Blog Herald. She was talking to freelance writers and she meant paid jobs. But what popped straight into my head was, 'To be free to write lots of poetry and have it read by people all over the world.' Well guess what – that's exactly what I've got!

No, it doesn't pay me, and I do have to eat and pay rent like everyone else, so it's fortunate that I have other sources of income. It's also a blessing that those sources of income don't take up so much time and energy as to crowd out the poetry.

Not everyone sees it my way. There are those who think I am irresponsible and even crazy for wasting time on poetry that could be spent pursuing more money. And it's not as if I have huge numbers of readers nor any great fame, so really, what's the point? What's the good of all this poetry?

Actually, the question's academic.

First of all, poets don't get very famous anyway, so that's beside the point. Nikki Moustaki, in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Poetry (a very good book, by the way) says: 'To begin with, the phrase "famous poet" is an oxymoron. There ain't no such animal. You and your friends might discuss poets X, Y, and Z, but that's because you love poetry, I hope. Poets simply do not get recognized at the post office, nor do their publishers take them out for lavish dinners. Most poets, in fact, write poetry between teaching, watching their kids, and picking up after their dogs.'

Secondly, writing poetry is something I can't not do. On the rare occasions in the past when I could not do it, I experienced that as a condition of sustained misery. No writer likes writer's block! So I'm not likely to stop. But does my writing have any value beyond self-indulgence?

This morning our friend Amanda came to breakfast. She's one of a number of people in my Yahoo! group of Rosemary's Readers, who like to receive my new poems by email. I started mentioning something about the latest, then asked her, 'Oh, have you seen it yet?'

'Yes,' she said. 'I loved it.' Then she told me how it lifted her spirits to receive my poems that way. 'It's lovely,' she said, 'When you've got a whole lot of work emails, to see a poem amongst them, and to be able to read something beautiful.'

I was reminded of a reading that my friend Raeline Brady did for me with her Spiritual Voyager cards when she was here in January. One of the messages that came through was, 'Poetry gets to the core, the heart. That is the pertinence of poetry now. It is essential for people to have access to poetry as a means for heart activation.'


  1. Rosemary, I totally agree with your blog. Even though poetry doesn't net large pay checks, true poets have to write. There's just something in us that forces us to write. We may not change the world with our poems but if we can touch the mind or heart of a few people that's almost better than money.

  2. Why should we all be rushing around making more money? Does it make us any happier? Can we take it with us when we die? How much do we help other people?

    If we can use that money constructively, then that's good. However, I think you reach a time in life (at least I hope people do) that you hope that once you have enough money to live on, you can do something which doesn't have to involve earning more money.

    Your poetry writing inspires people; it makes people laugh; sometimes it makes them cry; but it always makes them think. Not a bad job really and certainly more than most people manage when they go to work.

    Continue with what you're good at ... but please enjoy it as well.


  3. Thank you, Susie and Sue!

    Susie, I'm about to read your writing on MySpace. :)

    Sue darling, I do enjoy it, don't worry! Writing is one thing from which I never need a vacation. xx

  4. It is a shame that we need to have money at all. I often think that my goal is not to earn a lot of money from writing (which is just as well since I've never earned a penny!), just to be able to do it and have it read... but really, I do want to make a living from writing, because only then will I be able to stop working in the conventional sense and concentrate on what I want to do.

    On the other hand, if I didn't have to work, I wouldn't have collected so much material with which to write, so there is a plus side I suppose.

    Sometimes I think, I wish I wanted to do something more useful to the world; something that would help people... but you're a writer or you're not - you don't choose it, and whatever the point, it is what we must do to be happy.

  5. Yes, it's a dilemma. I have known people support themselves by poetry but it's an exceedingly frugal living! (And includes related activities such as reviewing, running workshops, etc.)

    My own commitment is to earn money doing only work I enjoy, which still isn't a road to riches but does broaden the scope a bit.

    I think lifting people's spirits, touching their hearts or engaging their minds IS useful! :)

  6. I agree with you Rosemary, when I think of what I have gained from reading - so much of it has taught me about how I want to live. I don't consider myself a writer, but I don't think I could survive at this point if I didn't scribble out what's inside.

    I'm sorry I didn't respond to your last comment about my situation. I have been caught up in thinking about what it 'ought' to be, and I am finding it hard (but necessary) to let that thinking go. Your comments are always appreciated and lend much needed perspective - something I've never been good at :)

  7. Thank you! I'm glad you don't consider me an interfering old so-and-so. :) I happen to think you're a lovely writer, and one effect of that is that I become engaged by what you're saying, and next thing I'm commenting.... It's gracious of you to be so receptive.