Read with interest this blog post by Charles Jensen, in which he wrote:
Over the last few years, I have encountered and had the pleasure to work with some amazingly talented poets who live entirely outside the academy. I’ve come to understand this is more common than many people think, particularly those who spend the majority of their lives and careers within the academy.
These “outsider” poets generally have no idea that poetry is so entrenched in higher education. They perceive poetry as open to everyone, not as a cloistered and privileged pursuit. They have less awareness of the inner machinations of what some folks call “pobiz” and are generally the happier for it. They may or may not have heard of AWP if they’ve attended it. They read many poets, focusing, perhaps, on what their friends in their poetry circles are reading, what has been nominated for national awards, or what their booksellers or librarians recommend. I think this community of poets is growing not more larger, but more visible.
There is this duality in the poetry community, although I tend to think of it as professional / non-professional, rather than academic / non-academic. The professional poets, in my mind, are the ones whose living is somehow tied to poetry — whether writing it, or teaching it, or both. Each hour of teaching, each publication credit, everything they read or write or do as a poet, has a potential or actual dollar value for this group, and all their decisions need to be taken with this fact in mind. (I hasten to add that I am in no way asserting that anyone is ever foolhardy enough to try and make a living actually selling poems. What money there is in poetry definitely does not come from selling poems.)
The non-professionals (people like me) earn their livelihood in some way completed unrelated to poetry and do the poetry thing pretty much as a hobby. (Although labeling poetry ‘hobby’ doesn’t seem right – in fact screechingly un-right – but I guess that’s a separate post.)
Obviously, the common factors that unite the two groups (addiction to writing and reading poetry, desire to be read and understood etc) are much stronger than those that separate them, which is probably why the separating factors don’t tend usually to get much play.
It’s funny – Charles’ sense seems to be that there are more ‘professional’ than ‘non-professional’ poets out there, and I always had it figured in my head the other way around completely. It has always seemed to me – based purely and vaguely on the evidence of anecdote, impression and interactions with other poets over the years – that most of at least the online poetry community is ‘non-professional.’
Am I wrong there? Are we mostly professional poets online, do you think?