and how that relates to poetry:
So last week Amanda Palmer posted this blog, which I linked to in an earlier entry. In it, Amanda defends her right to publicize how much money she makes, information which is only incidental to the absolute rock-solid truth she presents in the same entry: artists have to make money.
As Amanda points out, artists used to have middlemen to handle the dirty work, collecting fees for their art. Or they used to have patrons, such that financial concerns were never really concerns, so long as their creations pleased their patrons. Of course, in today’s society that’s pretty unreasonable: no one has patrons anymore. And even if we did, I’m not sure I’d want to be beholden to someone else’s political and social ideals in my art.
What hasn’t changed is the idea that artists shouldn’t get their hands dirty with the financial details. Of course you can find exceptions to the rule, but I think the rule among artists tends to be that we create for the sake of creation, not to make money. And I believe that about most people – but the simple fact exists that we do need to make money. My mortgage isn’t going to pay itself, and neither will my refrigerator fill itself with Jacob’s favorite juice boxes and fruit tarts from Wegman’s. I’m certainly not going to get that kind of income by writing poems, but I’m also not going to pretend not to like it when I get published by a venue that pays, or when someone shells out an incredibly inflated price for a copy of my chapbook.
The truth is, I’m conflicted about money and its ties to art. I do often feel guilty taking people’s money for my writing. It’s something I enjoy doing, even when it’s difficult, and I feel like I shouldn’t be asking people to pay for something that gives me so much pleasure. On the other hand, it can be difficult, and I think I have a right to be rewarded for that. And let’s not forget, I am always more than happy to shell out my hard earned cash for a copy of Tony Hoagland’s or Marie Howe’s latest endeavor. They also work hard, and I’m happy to do what I can to support them.
This past winter, Donna and I ventured into Philadelphia on a wet Sunday afternoon to check out Space 1026, an art collective in Chinatown. They were having a blanket sale – several of the artists involved in the collective set up blankets to display their wares, offering them for purchase. The idea was simple: local artists, local buyers, simple trade: creation for cash. There was nothing gauche about it, nothing complex or difficult.
Poets are getting better about it – a few Sundays ago, I went to a celebration of Bukowski’s work with Anna and Donna. The two poets who were featured that day set up a table of their books and CDs, and constantly reminded us throughout the reading that they were happy to take our money. But that doesn’t happen often enough, and I think that it’s tied directly to our ability to advertise ourselves.
Like the feeling that dealing with money is somehow icky, most poets I know are notoriously bad about advertising themselves. Our attempts at self-promotion are either too feeble, or else are incredibly self-deprecating. And I really don’t understand why. What we do is important. The words we write mean something. It’s obvious that we believe that, or we wouldn’t continue to do it, would we?
And somehow we still find ourselves mumbling that we’re poets, quietly admitting under our collective breath that we do something artistic. Yet if we were to take a cue from musicians, we’d be plastering notices all over telephone poles and spamming our friends on MySpace every time we booked a reading or achieved a publication.
Especially now, when we have a whole new slew of social networking channels open to us, we should be reaching out to the world at large. We should be attempting to create our own communities, our own fan bases. And we should be taking money from the people who give it to us, because our art, our words, our ideas – these things have value. And we need to stop being afraid to acknowledge that out loud.