Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Poets and Day Jobs

Since it's confession time over at January's blog (or perhaps not, time differences between continents always confuse me) - anyway, Tuesday there or not, I thought it was time to confess what a terrible procrastinator I am. I have little bits of paper stored up for months on which I have ideas for poems and blog posts.

This week though, I thought I would try to have a catch up and get some of those blog posts (and maybe even poems) written. So there will be lots of posts from me this week.

One of the news items over at Poetry Daily is this one about poets and their day jobs. Not many poets, of course, make a living from writing poetry. Some have jobs in universities and make a living from teaching poetry, but I don't think it's the same thing at all. Robert Saxton says in the article, "the price I pay for a salaried job is lack of collegiate empathy" - where does he think the collegiate empathy would come from if he didn't have a salaried job? Wouldn't he be rather isolated from other poets - unless he was in a university - and then he'd have a salaried job, in which he would spend quite a bit of time teaching rather than writing.

I found myself thinking about poets and their day jobs - in most cases, I can't tell from the poetry what the day jobs are. There are exceptions, of course. In New Zealand, Glen Colquhoun is well known as a doctor poet, and one of his collections, "Playing God" is full of poems that arise from his experience of medicine. Ted Kooser worked for years as an insurance executive, but you don't see that much in his poetry. The Czech poet, Miroslav Holub, was an immunologist, but the poems I remember most from reading his work are his "Minotaur" series. I've read a poem about the work of engineers, and another great poet about a manager having to make men redundant, but whether the poets were in that line of work or not, I have no idea.

I found the article interesting, but wondered about the comment from Jane Routh. She's a farmer. I think that's a great day job for a poet (despite being rather time consuming) but then, I'm rather partial to nature poems, myself. Much more interesting than "office" poems. However, she said "the worst 'day job' would be poetry: what would there be to write about?"

Well, of course, all those things we write about when we are not writing about our jobs. Families, nature, friends, history, ideas, science, childhood memories, and on and on.

I found myself wondering what I write about most. Not my day job, that's for sure. I don't find a lot of poetic stimulation in accounting, although a spreadsheet did make an appearance in one of my poems once. I've written a fair few poems based on my family history research - both about specific ancestors, and about the lives of people of earlier times in general, the immigrant experience, and so on. I've written about the colour white, the letter Z, simple kitchen ingredients like eggs and honey, I've written about scenes from my trip to the UK last year (though much less than I expected), mythology, missing my parents, incidents from my childrens' childhood. Currently, I'm obsessing about birds. It started with a discussion about how poetic crows are, and then I began wondering why there are no crows in New Zealand - why the English didn't introduce crows, even though they did introduce starlings, blackbirds, sparrows and many others. Whooops! I thought I was on to a new topic there, but it seems to have come back to social history, and the immigrant experience again. But with another layer.

So, I don't think it would be a hindrance at all for your "day job" to be poetry - you would still be able to find things to write about. But you probably do need some sort of obsession that isn't poetry. What Natalie Goldberg calls "the third thing". There is you, and writing, but what is the third thing that informs your writing?

What do you write about?


Anonymous said...

I want to work as a wine educator. That would be a good day job. And there would be wine. Everywhere.

Anonymous said...

You've been tagged by The Poetry Collaborative to do a writing prompt with us. Here are the details:

Come. Write. Play. You know you want to.

Kay Cooke said...

Oh what wouldn't I give for a day job writing poetry! I've got a sneaking suspicion that I write about wishing I had more time to write more than anything else ...

Catherine said...

Dana, do you think you'd write good poems with all that wine around? I once heard of a student who got a summer job testing recliner rocker chairs. Now wouldn't that be a great job for a writer?

Crafty Green Poet said...

I have a four day a week job, which gives me more time for writing which is good. I like the connection with the world outside poetry that a 'real job' gives me though i would be very happy to work fewer days!

I write about all types of things, though Crafty green poet only contains nature poems and poems on environmental themes.