Money and Poetry


I want to live in a world where the poets don’t have business cards and you don’t have to pay to go to a poetry slam.

I’m having a bit of trouble making ends meet. I just had to negotiate the guy at the internet cafe down from 3.25 for printing my resume. I paid 40 cents. Thank god I have good smile- or do I just seem that desperate?

On Monday, I ventured once again to a poetry slam. Those motherfuckers made me and everyone else pay 5 bucks at the door. This is not a lot of money but my account balance was $17.57 at the time with three days left in February.

I am basically at the point where if I were a man, I would sell my seed. But because of biology (thanks, God) I could masturbate all day and ain’t no one going to pay me. Pay inequality in terms of selling one’s kin is the ultimate glass ceiling. It’s actually quite a racket around Columbia University whose newspaper is funded by ads seeking healthy, slim-built 100% Koreans to carry babies. But I’m getting distracted by these gloomy economics.

Which is what I wanted to write to you about. I’m sorry I have been neglectful, it’s just that  I have been seriously poor and it’s distracting. When money is absent, it makes everything a problem. Even open mic nights.

New York Open Mic nights are a specific mix of whim and networking. I watched two artists compare business cards.  I could think was: How much does it cost to get paper-stock that firm? I could not even really focus on whether or not the picture was cool.

The charge at the door and discussion of business card put me in a lousy mood. I lost my temper and got pissed at every one: The performers, the organizers, business card designers. They were a bunch of sell outs and I was the one, true poet who refused to address such marketable subjects as rape and racism.

As the poetry commenced, I calculated the value of each one.

Prison-time pain? 20 cents.

You had a rough childhood? 10 cents.

Oh, it was because you were a boy born into a girl’s body. 15 cents, then.

To the girl who says her mom is like an empty refrigerator, you keep hoping it will provide you nourishment. You are a dime a dozen.

I’d give the guy who brought out the line, “There are niggers in Paris,” 50 cents because showmanship counts for something.

This was not a productive or meaningful discourse. But man, when you’re broke, it’s all about the money. I went to Louder Arts in hopes of making an escape from myself and instead I just got faced with a bunch of other people’s pity and pain. I was too worried about the five bucks I had just spent to let the art transcend the salacious personal details being listed on-stage. I tell myself you can’t always be in the poetic mood, sometimes you have to focus on how to feed yourself.

The struggle between money and art is not a new struggle. How poets and writers make their living is an obsession of mine. Hemingway married money- to a certain extent. He would have lived beyond his means had he not had Hadley and Pauline. Cervantes was a permanent nomadic guest to his rich friends. In what now seems a bizarre reversal, Chekhov supported himself through medical school by writing. Money matters determined the structure of Dickens’ novels.  Virginia Woolf’s uncle died. Lucky girl. We all know how Fitzgerald and Zelda fucked up their finances. This list could go on.

Virginia Woolf called the humdrum logistics of living the “cotton” of life. My favorite Italian, Alberto Petit-Merde, called things like ironing and paying bills the administration of life. No matter what you call it, it is boring and necessary. I think of it like cleaning your room. As soon as it is done, you are ready to work again and get it messy.

Robert Frost touches upon the issue in his lovely poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”:

As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

The point of the poem is that Robert Frost believed in doing what you love for a living (“My object in living is to unite/ My avocation and my vocation /As my two eyes make one in sight.” ).

I’m going to go ahead and take the above passage out of context and focus on the idea that where love and need are both present, need trumps love. If money and administration and bills and flossing are not given their time and attention, they invade every part of your life. Mr. Frost is also talking about the sheer love of doing in and of itself. This is a pleasure I have trouble connecting with when I am worried about money.

I love writing. But I need money. Unlike Mr. Frost, I’m not sure they should be united. The charge at the door made the night about money for me.  No poetry was going to be worth the price  because poetry is about a kind of beauty that does not and should not have a price. Open mike nights, no matter how well-known, should not have a mandatory cover charge. It works against the principle of this open art-form.  Make it optional so that curious young (and broke) people can come and forget about money for a little while.




2 thoughts on “Money and Poetry

  1. Excellent piece Georgina…I couldn’t agree more. It’s interesting because I’ve just read “A Room of One’s Own” by Woolf which made me think about these issues (and also, because I’m quite broke this year). Making people pay for open mikes is lame.

  2. Dear Georgina,
    As i look out from my 6th floor Paris perch, atop the thiinning branch of my sweet library of remembrance with no electricity–(i’m on battery right now, thanks to an earlier run to ye olde bibliotheque )–no frig, no hot water and two and a half slices of stale wheat bread to sustain me until tomorrow–i think of you. For what it’s worth…and iIf it is any consolation, dear Georgina, i would choose to read and re-read your letter rather than enjoy the 5 euros that would certainly afford me a hot meal this evening. ala Franprix. (Yesterday i was so hungry i typed instead of hotmail. haha i’m not kidding!) So there you go! Thanks for your letter. Keep writing, my friend. Remember you are rich in spirit and we the richer for it. Sincerely (with love) Antonia

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