Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day Job

Some poets have one; some don't -- the "day job." Recently, a long and interesting discussion on the WOM-PO newsgroup list centered on how writers who have a "day job" (a non-poetic, non-academic job in the business world) balance work and art. I wonder.

I do feel like an oddity when the topic comes up. I've always had a day job, and all along have made the conscious choice to not use art to feed spirit and pocketbook at the same time. I am amazed by folk who are able to make a living from their skill with words -- generally indirectly by being a teacher of literature or writing -- and can still summon up the magic of creation when it's time to write. They have my admiration and respect. They are probably less schizophrenic than I am.

Keeping spirit and pocketbook separate does present problems, even though it's the only form of balance I feel capable of. At work, poetry is nearly always there, but unvoiced. It's a ray of light glazing the edge of the windowsill in the copy room. It's a story a coworker tells, some dialect or tone in it that surfaces as a song. I pocket the moment, write it down later. It is an exercise in finding the extraordinary within the ordinary.

It frees me up to keep career-related ambition, fear of poverty, and drudgery out of the poetry sandbox. Of course, the downside is that it's more difficult to be connected to the world of writing, and to keep poetry a priority when things get hectic or when work imposes pressures and deadlines.

Of the five authors published in the Cherry Pie series so far, two work in an academic literary setting, one in an academic nonliterary setting, one is a retired elementary teacher, and one is raising a child and working part-time in a medical office. Three of them have worked (unpaid of course) as editors of either poetry or fiction publications. My own jobs have included medical copyediting and computers (programming, now quality assurance).

Poetry comes in so many guises. It has no uniform.

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