It was told to me, and I will tell it to you: there is no money in poetry. Sure, there is a slim ray of hope that you could become Poet Laureate of the United States, or your own country if such a position is available, and if your own country is Canada or New Zealand or the UK, you’re set, but at least here in US-land, the Laureate’s stipend is only $35,000. That used to be a lot. It isn’t so very much now.
I can write a bazillion poems, and save for a few prestigious prizes, there are very few ways to get paid for my work. Most markets for poetry are non-paying markets. Where markets pay, they don’t pay much not out of cheapness, but because poetry is generally a much shorter form than prose, whether fiction or non. You’d have to do a LOT of publishing in order to pay the rent.
Then there is the notion that no one reads poetry. Or that only other poets read poetry. I know I read poetry, but I’m a poet, so I think that only supports this notion. And honestly, with the supposed shortening of the modern attention span in the days of publication by tweet, you’d think that such a short form would be more widely embraced. Maybe it is, and I just haven’t seen the actual number of subscribers to various publications.
The hard reality is, if you’re writing poetry and seeking publication, there has to be a motive other than riches behind it, because save for the likes of Billy Collins, few poets are rich or even well-fed off their words. Unless their primary body of work is in some field of prose.
The funny thing is, it’s not a deterrent to me. Poetry has an intrinsic value to me. I have to write, or my brain will flood. I will continue to enter to compete for poetry prizes, knowing full well I stand no chance of winning, but it’s more a way to feel as though I am active in the field. It is more of a means to feel that my entry fees are keeping poems in print for everyone.
Because there is no money in poetry, my reward for writing poems is… writing poems.