What about the poets?
There’s been an enormous change. As late as 1930 there were only a few men and women who supported themselves as poets. One was Robert Frost and another was Oscar Hammerstein II. We had great respect for e.e. cummings because he lived as a poet, but even he got a little money from his mother. T. S. Eliot was a bank clerk, and then worked with Faber & Faber, the publishers. Robert Frost managed to support himself after North of Boston by readings, and by lecturing at universities. He rather blazed a trail in that respect. Now, a lot of poets are poets primarily. Many of them may teach or read their poetry to keep up, but probably two or three hundred people in the United States if asked their trade would say “poet.”
Do you regret not having concentrated more fully on your poetry?
Yes, I have regretted it very much. The shift, for me, was the essential middle-class feeling that I had to support myself.
What were you paid for Blue Juniata?
I got an advance of $125 and no further payments.
That was why you didn’t go on?
I wanted to go on writing poetry, but I always had the feeling that I couldn’t write any poem that didn’t come to me. I didn’t say to myself, “Go spend two hours and write a poem.” Perhaps I should have. Of course, if I’d had a few more dollars I would have written more poetry. Book reviewing didn’t help. Odd: being an editor didn’t interfere with my writing; it was being an editor and a book reviewer. You find that you put everything you’ve got into anything you write. There may not be so much left over.
Link to the full interview Paris Review
One day my significant other came home and said “Rob Cowley is moving across the street and wants me to take all the stuff to the dump. Do you want it?” “Who’s Malcolm Cowley?” I replied. He said “Famous editor.” I, not very smartly, never having heard of his famous book Exiles Return, not realizing he knew everyone in Paris in the 1920′s, reluctantly said “Okay.” And for almost three years I sold off some of the most remarkable literary collectibles I could imagine. I had first editions by luminaries of the 20th century. Oh yeah, Rob, kept the best, but I still have a signed first edition from James Thurber. It was an education and I often say Malcolm and his good friend Peter have acted as my guardian angels.
Guest post by Barbara Morgenroth