Two years ago I sat on a bare window seat at an inn in Pittsburgh. The air was dry, the day light, as sun reflected off deep, deep snow outside. On this morning, my last at the inn, the owners had gone and I was left with the tawny-haired dog who was keen on shedding. My New-York-black attire was in constant jeopardy as I had earlier roamed the old Victorian with my camera, taking shots of antique irons, a spinning wheel, purple bottles, an out-of-tune piano (How did I know it was out of tune? I had sneaked a little time with it of course.)
My amateur photo session finished, I was at the window with a book about poetry-writing. The wooden seat beneath me was worn and heavily grained, and this reminded me of a photographer friend who takes a lot of pictures of woodwork. I mused that she would have taken better shots than I did, since I was not a photographer in any significant sense.
What surprised me was not this moment, of knowing I wasn’t photographer, of admitting it almost fondly in my ponderings, and silently admiring my friend. Rather, my surprise came when I opened the poetry-writing book.
“Did you think it would be easy?” the author asked, meaning, did I think that being a poet was a simple thing. The answer? Yes, I had. But suddenly, and forcefully, I understood my error.
“I am not a poet,” I said to the room, and the dog shifted a little on the braided rug near the fireplace.
Truth be told, I was not really making my statement to the room. I was dropping it into a timeline that I now recognize. I was experiencing these audible words as a turning point, or at least the offer of a turning point.
As it goes, I accepted the deal.
How long did it take to come to that point? Decades perhaps? Could I trace my poetic life back along many moments and claim a series of markers? If I wanted to make a memoir of it, I suppose I could.
But that day is when the ship began to turn, in a way I could actually feel, and I needn’t write the memoir (at least not now). On that day I took action, determining to buy more books on poetry and read more books on poets and criticism. When I returned to New York (and after I got the dog hair off my black sweater), I also began writing poetry in earnest. I opened myself to possibilities I could not even yet imagine. The imagining was not the important thing; it was the opening that counted. I had already published a book of poetry with International Arts Movement, but this was different. It was a looking forward, potentially to an entire life of poetry ahead— an odd pursuit, it seemed, considering the odds of how little renown and financial support it might lend; yet, as a professional writer, I had to consider these odds, because a person only has so much time to give, and a person must have a livelihood (though not renown, and that is probably a good thing).
Unexpected outcomes followed. That sounds so business-like! And yet that is exactly what it should sound like, because poetry is now, in significant ways, my business. It is my business in the reading and the writing of it. It is my business in the acquisition of it, for a small press I started just a year after my recognizable turning point. It is my business on Facebook, where I am happily gathering an audience for poetry. And it is my business for a daily-poetry subscription, which takes a great deal of delightful work and which I must charge a small annual fee for ($2.99), to cover my costs.
It remains to be seen if I can actually live off of poetry as a business. Few have done it. Many entities that sponsor poetry are, themselves, sponsored by grants and donations. I feel unusual, focusing on a business model instead of a non-profit model. I wonder if people will think my efforts are counter to the very spirit of poetry.
Still. Once a ship begins to turn, it is exciting to stand on her and look to far-away waters, open to where you might travel—to lands of coconut trees, and jingle-shell beaches, or groves of oranges and new-ripe peaches, or even back to an old inn in Pittsburgh, to pick up some purple-bottled poetry for the uncharted days to come.