Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Does Dreary Economic News Mean for Poetry?

I'm seeing all sorts of posts about what the dismal state of the economy means for the state of poetry, especially since the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival has been cancelled for 2010, and perhaps forever. For the bleakest posting, go here--the post appeals to my inner Apocalypse Gal, but I try not to give Apocalypse Girl the reins too often.

And of course, there's bleak news from across the country, even if the programs and institutions don't have the name recognition of the Dodge Poetry Festival (although I don't know how many of my non-English academic colleagues would even recognize the name of the Dodge Poetry Festival). Ann Haines tells us that the Writer's Center of Indiana has laid off its staff and here Collin Kelly tells us that most of the staff at The Literary Center at the Margaret Mitchell House (in Atlanta) has been let go. Sigh.

Can there be any possible bright spots?

Diane Lockward reminds us here that poets are lucky because poetry programs can be run on very low budgets. She sees possible opportunities, as does Reb Livingston here (scroll down to Jan. 15 entry).

And of course the brightest spot is that most poets realize that poetry will never pay the bills (unless we're living very cheaply). I can't think of any living poets who are living solely off the proceeds of their poetry. That might be a good thing. Having to do something because you have bills coming due can strip the joy right out of an activity, even if you started doing it because you love it.

And we can do poetry cheaply. I don't even need a computer to write poetry, while I would never again consider writing a novel without a fairly up-to-date computer. I don't need space to write poems (the way I would if I did ceramics or large paintings) or expensive supplies. I love to write on lavender legal pads with cheap ballpoint pens (a Bic round stic fine, if you want specifics, blue ink or black).

I write poems because the process affects the way I see the world; it suffuses the world with wonder and with connections that I would never make, if I wasn't on the lookout for interesting material for poems. I move through my work day with the sense that I also have a larger purpose (my art), even if that purpose isn't always honored by the larger world. I move through my world feeling a sense of blessedness and purpose. If I never made a penny, those benefits would be enough.

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