Poet Luke Johnson says being a poet is a real job. Well, sorta:
There’s precious little recompense in the life of a poet. It almost doesn’t make sense to call it a “career’”—because careers are generally synonymous with opportunities for advancement, benefits, and a retirement package. There’s little chance a successful collection of poetry will land you on Oprah’s couch (despite the recent “poetry issue” of O Magazine). There’s a much greater chance that it will land you in the wine-aisle of the wholesale grocery store. Most poets live in permanent recession and must be okay with the intrinsic 401K. The greatest professional reward they will ever receive is the just-written poem. Wallace Stevens called it an “unalterable vibration.” I call it afterglow. The completion of a first draft is a strange and miraculous thing—and more often than not the poem will need hours more work before it’s abandoned (and/or published)—but, those moments after the last period hits the page and before you realize the poem’s flaws are as close to religious experience as I’ve ever come (as the son of two ministers, this seems significant). There’s a renewed attention and clarity, a stirring, a sense that the world has finally fallen into place. Meaning invades household items: the puppy-ravaged couch, the dirty dishes, the neglected azalea bushes; all of them seem to glow with significance. The right poem at the right time can reveal the world in its glorious imperfection, can make it all seem manageable and sane.
But, alas, glow doesn’t pay the rent. So, poets teach, or they go back to school so they can later teach, or they collect obscure job titles to one day use in a cheeky contributor note (I currently work as a Pet Service Specialist).