Poetry as a Living

  • James Booth


According to convention the lyric poet is above the world of getting and spending: either surveying the world from an ivory tower or starving in a garret. Lyric poetry is, like love, the province of the amateur. The great ages of the lyric poem are the seventeenth century when courtier or clergyman poets circulated their work in manuscript with no thought of payment, and the Romantic period when young idealists burnt themselves out in exile from respectable society. Poetry cannot be measured in material terms. It is valueless because it is invaluable. Poetic authenticity may even seem guaranteed by the fact that it is worth nothing in material terms. A. E. Housman published A Shropshire Lad at his own expense. Wallace Stevens boasted: ‘My royalties for the first half of 1924 amounted to $6.70’, adding: ‘I shall have to charter a boat and take my friends around the world.’1 Larkin forgot to mention money to the publisher of The North Ship, and never received a penny from him. Poetry is ‘professed’ as a selfless vocation, it cannot offer the gainful employment of a ‘profession’.


Ivory Tower Lyric Poet Young Idealist Material Term Lyric Poetry 
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© James Booth 2005

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  • James Booth

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