Poetry And Poverty
Louise Gluck has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I am familiar with the name. I had to re-familiarize myself with her poetry.
Life moves from poetry to prose.
In high school and college, Poetry saturated me.
I have been searching for a better word than saturate. But that’s the one. Poetry surrounded me and filled me. I read it. I wrote it. I spoke it.
Oh, and I won prizes. Not like the Pulitzer Prize, like Gluck has won. And not the Nobel Prize, which she has now won. No. Just little prizes. Just enough recognition to encourage my flightiness.
That’s what it was. I guess – Fantasy. I remember after winning what was considered a prestigious award in college, I excitedly called home. I informed my mother in thrilling, immodest words, that, once again, I had been recognized for my poetic endeavors. After a polite pause, she said,
“I was just reading the Hartford Courant, and I didn’t see a single Help Wanted ad for a poet.”
Mom, as usual, was correct.
Poetry was my past and present. But not my future. With a degree in English, I intended to go on to graduate school. To live in an attic, surrounded by books. To discuss literature over coffee. To always be walking distance to campus.
But I had no money. Poets do not make money. My prestigious prize was fifty dollars.
Sure, Louise Gluck, in winning the Nobel Prize, also wins over one million dollars. But she’s 77. She probably could have used that money fifty years ago. The monetary value of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature is $15,000 – it was probably less 27 years ago when Gluck won. The National Book Award, which she won in 2014, is another $10,000. And she was the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2003, which earned her a salary of $35,000 plus travel expenses.
I took a job in 1974 after college, with the sole intention of saving money for graduate school. But there was no money to be saved. There was, however, an opportunity to go to school on the company’s dime. They weren’t looking for a poet, however. They were looking for an accountant.
But school is school, and I liked school. I went. I got my M.B.A., and over the years, a terrific series of promotions and raises. In 2003, when Gluck received $35,000 as Poet Laureate, I made several times that much as a financial executive.
Which was a good thing, because I am not in the running for a Nobel Prize.
It is a shame really.
Not that I will not win a Nobel Prize. That poets are poor while people who sell antacids and advertising and stock portfolios are rich.
But a life of Poetry is a pretty good life, I think.
Congratulations, Ms. Gluck.
I wished I lived now within walking distance to campus.
From “The Untrustworthy Speaker” by Louise Gluck