Po Biz


Years ago, many years ago, I graduated with an MFA and at our last day, just before the faculty handed out diplomas, our class met for what was a conversation about “po biz.” We were urged to participate in all the poetry readings we could find, submit our work everywhere, and always apply for grants, even the big ones. This was the less creative part of our future, but one that faculty endorsed, no, insisted.

Like a good kid, I’ve taken some of that advice, but I have to say, it’s not fun. Tracking submissions, meeting deadlines, budgeting fees, joining writing groups, leading writing groups, teaching freshman English as a full-time job, I’ve done all of this and still do, except for the teaching. I gave that up because I like to eat, live in a decent house, travel occasionally, all of which costs money. I do keep spread sheets for tracking submissions, I do attend local poetry readings, and gladly share my work with other writers, in person, and online. As necessary as much of the office work is, it’s not what keeps me writing. My writing happens despite this bookkeeping. Writing is a gift and I like sharing it.


One response to “Po Biz”

  1. It always struck me as odd that we all used to throw around the “PoBiz” insult while working away at low-level jobs we hated, or mid-level jobs we quietly resented because they ate into our time to write. And yet the writing got done, the poems got published (or not), and on occasion a poem’s publication might have generated a check for $10 or $50—but the poetry could never be called a business. What the sneering classes meant, of course, was to needle poets who’d somehow turned their reputation as important poets into an income stream. Did that harm their poetry? I’d like someone to demonstrate how. Because it seems to me that the old sneer was rooted in jealousy, pure and simple, and/or a personal dislike. Keats, wrote Byron, was a “little dirty blackguard”; “Rilke was a jerk,” wrote Berryman (pot, meet kettle); on and on. The greatest poets have been prey to the same pettiness we all succumb to now and then, and in some cases it turns into income-jealousy. As if wealth could guarantee good poetry! As if the business of poetry didn’t lie elsewhere; as if the payment for it wasn’t something doled out long after the poet, being dead, can no longer enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

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