The copy center guy authored a children’s book. I just found that out. Alex came over to drop off whatever documents I’d sent along for duplication and saw me working on a poem on my computer screen.
“You’re a poet?” he asked.
“Oh, y’know—I dip and dabble,” I replied. Sometimes it’s best to keep the artistic pursuits and the day job separate, for the sake of sanity, and boundary.
The next day, Alex brought in a copy of his children’s book and gave it to me gratis. It was the story of a boy from Jamaica who moved to New York when he was six years old.
“Write what you know, huh?” I said, stopping by the copy center later in the day to pay my compliments.
“Pretty much,” he laughed.
We’re still simply work colleagues—no real friendship has bloomed, or at least not yet—but there’s something charged to our exchanges now. A solidarity. A comradeship.
. . . .
I liked this idea of art and wealth commingling in my life. It’s not something I would have admitted at the time, but I liked believing that I could—would—be the outlier. I’d live in a top-floor high-rise apartment, with a little place in the country as well. My friends would be famous, too: I’d drink absinthe with Johnny Depp, schmooze with Stephen Colbert on set.
So I kept going, kept grinding. But poems—always a mere habit and hobby, started in college—began to take center stage in my creative life. They were pleasurable to write. I didn’t feel pressure to sell them or bend them to an audience’s need. There was no money to be gleaned from them, and so my shallow side, still very much in charge of my life’s choices at this point, had no use for these strange, irregular texts. With poems, I could work in private and play.
. . . .
Wallace Stevens: insurance executive. William Carlos Williams: doctor. T.S. Eliot: banker. The list goes on and on. No one makes a living as a poet. That’s the genre’s curse…and its gift.
. . . .
We’re everywhere. Poets and children’s book writers. Novelists and memoirists. Painters and sculptors, dancers and, yes, even actors, and folks who play upright bass in three-piece jazz band trios at the coffee shop on summer Sunday afternoons. We clean your teeth, snake the clogs in your drain, and drop off color copies to your desk during the week. Hell, some of us are even chief executives! Sure, there are those of us who teach at the high school or collegiate level, anchored into tenure or as frantic adjuncts. We keep an unending variety of other job to support ourselves and our families, so that we might in our free time still do the thing we love most to do. It doesn’t always pay, but we do it anyways.
Why would you do that though, I’m often asked at parties, by those who couldn’t possibly understand, or even by my own nagging voice during necessary moments of doubt, Why poetry?
I still haven’t figured out how to answer that question, succinctly or definitively.
Quite frankly, the question doesn’t need answering.