Poetry Diet

struggling poet, making money as a poet, appreciating poets, life of a poet,

“Favourite Poete” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.  ~Thomas Gray

The term Poetry Diet might imply a rare appetite. The sort of longing only appeased by words strung spare and stark, like a meal so desired that imagination keeps creating it anew.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
~Mark Strand

Or Poetry Diet could imply hunger for that rare current some call inspiration, the elusive muse carrying phrases from ether to pen.

Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet and remains in bondage like the princess in the fairy tale ’til its appropriate liberator comes to set it free.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

However in this case, what I’m calling the Poetry Diet is something much more mundane.  It simply means to eat nothing but what is purchased with money earned from one’s poetry. Reading, teaching, publishing, wearing them on your naked body, selling poems painted on scrap metal, whatever it takes. If I started a Poetry Diet now I’d be svelte in a week, thin rather soon. Before long, starving artist might be a literal (hah!) condition.

Surely a Poetry Diet would provide a vast incentive to write and, here’s the rub, send out one’s work. It could also leave the poet so imperiled that friends might stage a poetry reading to raise funds to feed the annoyingly hollow wordsmith.

Thus far I’m not dedicated or foolhardy enough to attempt a Poetry Diet. Mostly because I’m already trying to live by patching together the Essay Diet, Columnist Diet, and Editor Diet. But also because I know how long it takes from inspiration to paycheck. Right now I’m waiting for one of my poems to appear in Christian Science Monitor, two in Trillium Literary Journal, two more in J Journal. The total pay will amount to, well, let us not speak of actual numbers. I wouldn’t last long on the Poetry Diet. Surely that says something about the quality of my poetry but it also says something about our culture as well.

Poets aren’t very useful
Because they aren’t consumeful or very produceful.
~Ogden Nash

I hardly expect to live by poetry alone, although I have been sustained by the work of other poets in ways more vital than any meal. I long to see greater support for artists of all kinds. I have dear friends who devote their lives to perfecting a craft. They act, compose, weave, calligraph, paint, weld, invent, write, bake, work with wood, sing, and throw pots. They are driven to explore the intersection of art and cosmology, continually refining what it means to create. Yet most of them spend their days at jobs that are unrelated in order to survive. They wait tables or work in accounts receivable. Their real gifts emerge during precious hours plucked from mundane obligations.

It’s quite possible to attend a production at a local playhouse and see performances that shift the way you experience the world. You walk out a changed person for the extraordinary art you’ve enjoyed. Chances are that director, those actors, that playwright are unable to support themselves with their work, vital though it is.

I’m certainly not in league with those whose work is transformative. My poetry is about ordinary things like opening doors, moving stones, forgetting a name.

Perhaps I should head in a new direction—food poems. That way I’d feel nourished while contemplating the swirling curds and whey in the next batch of cheese I make. I’d also be answering Chesterton.

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.  ~G.K. Chesterton

6 thoughts on “Poetry Diet

  1. interesting.

    the first thing I thought of at the term poetry diet was that maybe you’d be cutting back… goes to show how influenced the word ‘diet’ has become in these modern times.


    poetry now is everybody’s game… and the standard is so subjective that how does one even determine good poetry? has any poet ever lived off his words? the only words worth that are capable of sustaining life found here: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”


    the GK quote made me laugh outright.


    amy in peru


  2. I’m not sure how many poets manage to live off their art. Or in the example of a Poetry Diet, simply afford to buy food with money made by poetry. Let’s hope there are a few.

    Yup, betcha a book of poems about nothing but cheese hasn’t been published.


  3. Congratulations on your acceptance letter!! Maybe Pablo Neruda wrote about cheese in his later years? *I* believe it is certainly a worthy topic.

    After reading your post this morning I came across another one in my blog reader that made me think of what you had written about poetry. It really resonated with me and I thought it might resonate with you too, from a blogger I’d never heard of before: http://www.ordinaryartblog.com/?p=1260


  4. Thanks Rebecca. I took the opportunity to mosey through your blog. Fascinating to find how many ways our interests converge.

    I also enjoyed looking through Ordinary Art. A comment left on that post has filled me fuller than I thought possible. It quotes Nando Parrado, author of Miracle in the Andes, who was trapped after a plane crash. Trying to walk out, he becomes hopelessly lost. He writes,

    “In that moment, all my dreams, assumptions, and expectations evaporated into the thin Andean air. I had always thought life was the natural thing, and death was simply the end of living. Now, in this lifeless place, I saw with terrible clarity that death was the constant, and life was only a short, fragile dream. I felt a sharp and sudden longing for my mother and sister, and for my father, whom I was sure I would never see again. But despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy.
    It staggered me—the mountains could not crush my ability to love. In that moment, I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but it is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? My fears lifted, and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through that godforsaken country with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I’d walked all the life out of me, and when I fell, I would die that much closer to home.”


  5. You’re welcome! Thank you for moseying over to my blog, that means a lot! 🙂

    That quote really knocks the air out of me, too. Let’s spread it all around for more to see!

    And keep us posted on any cheese poems.


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