Monday, June 13, 2005

Homeless Poet, Broke No Food

So I was on my way home from Belltown after a meeting with Sue. She's going to mail out our book proposal to a bunch of agencies this week, and then we can spend the rest of the summer waiting to get rejected.

Anyhow. As I approached the onramp to I-5 I saw the ubiquitous pile of backpack-and-secondary-sign that indicates the presence of a Freeway Stoplight Panhandler. In my prebaby days, I used to open my window and give these guys my change. Now I have too much to lose if I should happen to encounter the one psycho killer in the sea of harmless eccentrics, so I usually just stare straight ahead and feel guilty.

But for ignoring this guy, I felt no guilt. Let me tell you why.

The first sign I saw, the secondary one propped up on the backpack, was a poem. It began with something like He marvels at the irony of life... I'll never know whether or not the rest of the poem actually dealt with an ironic situation, because traffic statred to move along.

The man who marveled at life's irony was standing at the next light, about 50 feet away from his backpack. He was twentysomething, multiracial, no visible physical handicap. Didn't look crazy either. The sign he had chosen to hold said

Homeless Poet
Broke No Food
Anything Would Help

Now, I don't know this man's life history. It's entirely possible that he has some grave problem that precludes him from flipping burgers or scrubbing toilets or otherwise earning his daily bread. But what he chose to tell me about himself was that he was a poet, and that he was broke and homeless because being a poet was not bringing in any income.

NO FREAKING KIDDING, NUMBSKULL. I am fortunate enough to be acquainted with several fine poets, recognized talents who have every hope that their work may be anthologized a hundred years hence. They toil diligently at their craft. They are published by famous magazines and venerable presses. They tour. They lecture. They inspire future generations of poets.

And they also have jobs, by which they earn the money that pays their rent and buys their food and keeps the DSL turned on. Because you cannot make a living on poetry in this day and age, even if you are a genius. Being a poet in the 21st century isn't a career - it's a vocation. So if you don't want to wind up begging on the street, it might be wise to train yourself for something that will pay a living wage.


At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If that post isn't some form of projection, and I'd argue it is, then it's pretty as far as arguments go.

Who knows if that guy is really a poet; maybe he just wanted an edge in the competition for yuppie money, maybe he wanted to remind himself and others that there's more to him than his current condition. The point is, is that his signs could be emblematic of virtually anything and the meaning you attached to them was fairly introspective: you know, the part (not precisely necessary to your narrative) about dropping off the book proposal that will probably be ignored or rejected? Ultimately, there's not much of a difference between his purported writing and your own, only if yours doesn't bring in any money, you still won't be homeless. Why take your frustration out on this guy?

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

Sorry, I don't engage with anonymous posters. If you're somebody I'm acquainted with, then please identify yourself.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Trista said...

well, you CAN make a living as a poet. If you're, oh, I don't know, Maya Angelou or something. But as for the rest of us, the best we seem to be able to hope for is a teaching job somewhere. Or a sugarmama/daddy. Or, apparently, panhandling on the offramp. Honestly, I get more money when I hold a sign claiming to be saving up for an LDS Mission than I do claiming to be a poet.

One of these days though...


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