I have had so many students, over the years, ask me how they can make a living as a poet. My answer is always the same, “with great difficulty.” At least, that is true of being paid to write poetry or to get paid to publish your poems. In all the years I’ve been writing and having my work published, I have only been paid twice, and both times, it was in the form of an award.
The way, I’ve found, to make a living doing what you love, living poetry, is to either teach it, in a classroom or in private or sponsored workshops, or become involved in the publishing of poetry.
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to conduct poetry workshops by Poets in Public Service. I conducted workshops with children from grade school through high school. I taught what poetry is, how thoughts and emotional reactions, evolve into a poem on the page. I taught about imagery and alliteration, about hyperbole and enjambment. I taught how to take your innermost feelings and turn them into words and images that resonate with others. And then, I taught them that for a poem to be a whole poem, it must be shared. And so, after working with a class for several weeks, students would present their poems in the form of a performance.
I was fortunate enough, while working with Poets in Public Service, to meet an amazing music teacher/specialist, Judith A. Thomas and to work with her, conducting independent workshops, for almost thirty years. We taught together, children, teachers, educators, and businesspeople, and we made a living doing what we loved, being a poet and being a musician. We had our students write poems from a prompt (anything from listening to the sound of whale songs, to going outside, stretching out on the grass and “cloud dreaming”) and then take their poems and translate them into music and movement. The results were astounding!
Together, Judith and I, traveled from New York to California, and on to Toronto, Canada inviting, inspiring, validating people’s need to write, passion to be a poet. It was not only a joyful endeavor, but it was also financially rewarding, as well.
I never got involved in the publishing of poetry, but I do know some poets who began their own poetry magazines or, put together anthologies and then, sold them and made some profit doing so. In the end, I would encourage you to write poetry because, writing poetry is what fulfills you, validates you, inspires you. It is why I have always written and will continue to write.
Making a living is important. Making a living doing what you love, is magical. I do hope, all of you who have asked me “how do I do it” will find your own answers. Not to be trite but, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”