The Poetic Vocation

Hello poets and readers,

At a time when the work of many artists is sidelined by COVID, the issue of earning a living from art is more glaring than ever. As a poet you know that very few poets earn a living from their work and have to do something else to survive. So why do we do it? One answer came to me when an elderly reader of mine told me she was going to include one of my poems in her funeral notes. The poem helped her express something, and her response helps me value my vocation as a poet: it has an important role in the community, and being a poet is a calling from which there’s no escape, even if you wanted one.

In my essay ‘The poetic vocation’ recently published in Qualitative Inquiry, I describe the process of writing and what it’s like to work seriously at a vocation that is all-consuming, and that has to include regular doses of play to nourish the creativity that’s at its heart. The article includes original poems, mostly in the prose poem form, to illustrate the ideas discussed, and refers to Max Weber’s ideas about vocation in politics and Vincent Dubois’ research into cultural vocations.

You can access the article here from Qualitative Inquiry.

Or, you can read the accepted version (which is only slightly different to the final published version) on my Academia page for free.

  3 comments for “The Poetic Vocation

  1. John Geraets
    December 6, 2020 at 7:30 am

    Many questions cannot be answered regarding contemporary poetry. The sense of its marketplace, always contentious, is increasingly marked by proliferation and decimation. The first word because it’s ever-easier to (remotely) connect with others, share, exchange, smile together, cheaply ‘publish’ (an obsolete word?), file, purge, delete. The second word because a major consequence of the proliferation is that optionality is experienced in excess. Now inclusion and responsiveness-to have become unnecessary, perhaps burdensome. Historically raised on notions of excellence (in composition) and the self-purifying canon, nowadays poetry lines up with all the other forms of distributed systems, an issue of implementation rather than one that is value-based over time.
    Nowadays the questions that poetry raises are more interesting than the answers it once proposed. Is poetry a new thing? Is the old poetry of individual transcendence caput?


    • December 6, 2020 at 10:33 am

      Thanks for your insightful comments. John. I particularly enjoy your succinct remark: “Nowadays the questions that poetry raises are more interesting than the answers it once proposed.”


      • John Geraets
        December 7, 2020 at 1:44 pm

        I continue to be drawn to poetry as an agent of uplift (let’s avoid ‘transcendence’). Yet the contemporary situation downplays that in favour of poetry as a transactional event. Are there still readers of poetry, or only poet-readers? I think of Benjamin’s concern that we’ve dispensed with the originary (uplift) in favour of the horizontal: poetry relocated from the y to the x axis, as my long-suffering high school math teacher would explain to me, a flattening, reproducible effect?


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