Why is it so hard to earn a living through poetry? This is a question I keep on asking myself, whenever I look at the options through which a poet can earn money. And it is against a background where I happen to be a reasonably talented poet — and where many of the people who know me keep on asking me how much money I earn through poetry. Whenever this question comes up in a discussion, I tend to blush and change the topic swiftly. I react that way because I am too ashamed to talk about the money I earn through poetry. If I was to be honest about it, the truth of the matter is that the amount of money I earn through poetry is pitiful. Peanuts. I have spent countless nights writing poetry – I am more of a night owl, as I told my readers in an earlier post. And after putting in so much effort, I have often ended up with money that is not even enough to finance my coffee habit.
One option for earning money through poetry is by putting together an anthology (in the form of a book), and then trying to sell that. But then, there are only so many people who are sophisticated enough to see the need to spend their money buying a poetry anthology book.
Another option for earning money through poetry is by putting up public performances. But then again, the audience you are likely to attract is very thin: as there are only so many people who are sophisticated enough to spend their time (let alone their money) attending poetry sessions.
In the final analysis, one has to engage in poetry as a hobby. The chances of earning a living through poetry are very slim, unless you are lucky enough to get a teaching position in a college somewhere. That, then, is how you end up with a talented poet having to seek a mail handling job at a company like UPS. That way, the poet is at least assured of being able to log into Upsers.com every fortnight, to find a paycheck waiting for him. Admittedly, the poet may find the task of dealing with UPS tracking number generation rather repetitive. He may find the mail sorting, parcel delivery or any of the other tasks that Uspers engage in to be mind-numbingly boring. But then he has to put bread on the table — and poetry simply doesn’t pay well enough.