How to make a living as a poet.

It is perhaps something all poets yearn for. Not merely fame, the adulation of the masses or the soft tears of the ladies when you have to move on to another city. It is not even the rapturous applause of the crowd at a reading of your poetry. What we yearn for is financial security, the knowledge that our art is putting bread on the table and paying the rent. Writing poems is the simplest part of being a poet.

So how does one achieve this? How, in all candour, have I managed to cheat the harsh fate that hounds so many of my contemporary artists? Why is it that I alone of all of them have not had to sully my hands with toil but keep them fresh for the pen?

This knowledge is hard won, but I share it willingly. I learned early on and at the feet of a master. I have intimated that I travelled south into Partann. Well I travelled far south indeed, to Dalvin Keep which you see pictured below. It lies close to the coast, schooners call in but the trade is quiet now to what it was in the glory days. But still you see that there are always guards patrolling, checking passers-by and all expecting a gratuity to ensure their sweeter nature shines through.

A tower in Uttermost Partann

It is in a hut some miles from Dalvin Keep that I found Gathin, perhaps the greatest of poets of the last generation. When I arrived he was working with his orids. I explained my mission, to learn how to be a poet. He passed me the shears and a strangely bladed hoof knife and set me to work. I laboured all day, stripped to the waist in the hot sun. With the shears I would cut away the dung soiled fleece round the orids rear, and if any maggots were revealed I would coat the area with a foul smelling past made from kaolin, vegetable oil and three different herbal extracts. Then I would turn the animal over and check all four feet, trimming the hoofs back to shape and treating any lameness. As the sun set he clapped me on the shoulder, told me I was a capital chap, a fine worker, and we were to go out to a poetry reading.

After a brisk wash he was ready to go. In my own case it took three kettles of hot water, then the use of pumice followed by oil and fine sand, before my hands were clean. All evening I was in dread of someone standing too close to me because at least to my own senses, I still stank of orid.

And thus Gathin taught me my first lesson. Work is fine, I have no doubt that even today I could still be a useful man to help with an orid flock. Work is dignified and it ennobles the working man. But it is not for poets who must be prepared to mingle with the highest in society at the mere flick of a fan.

Next morning I formally asked Gathin to teach me how to be a poet. He responded that I could look after the orid for him and that would pay for my keep. But see how well I had learned. I told him that I had already mastered that lesson and wished to learn new things. With this he smiled and then told me he would teach me all he knew for my weight in gold alars, freshly minted.

I pondered this briefly and realised that here was his second lesson. Never be afraid to ask for payment, even payment on a scale beyond common imagining. I could not pay such a sum, indeed I puffed out my cheeks and made a dismissive gesture with my left hand, like so. Indeed throughout his career, as Gathin admitted to me later, he had made the request scores of times. Not once had anybody attempted to comply with it. But, to quote his wise words on the subject, “It would only take one, just one, to take me at face value and pay me his weight in gold for me to be financially secure for life. It is unlikely to happen, but if I don’t ask, it will never happen.”

He then took my purse, emptied it into the palm of his hand and looked sadly at the few dregs he found there, before placing them in his waistcoat pocket, saying as he did so, “This will have to do.”
Thus you see, he taught me the third lesson. Just take what is there, and don’t turn your nose up. As he explained to me later, “Fifteen dregs is a trivial amount of money to be sure. But remember it is infinitely more than no dregs.”

Well after a week or two working with him, he pronounced the result of my exertion fit to be heard. He then sent me off to the Drunkard’s Head, a hostelry three villages away, to perform. I arrived to a merry scene which was repeated throughout the night.


Immediately I realised that my tentative programme for the evening, consisting of a sonnet or two on flowers, a long piece on the futility of toil and a romantic piece addressed, ‘To my sweet mistress’ was not going to suit the temper of my audience. Hastily I improvised and sang them a number of songs, all comic and most scatological. This went down well enough; I got three mugs of moderate ale and a handful of coin, mostly crude local forgeries of little value. But at least I had lived to tell the tale and on my way back to Gathin’s humble abode next day I met a charming young lady for who my romantic piece could well have been written.


And thus Gathin had taught me another important lesson; that I must contrive verse suitable for my audience, because in all candour it is easier than trying to contrive an audience suitable for my verse.

So there you have it, the lessons laid out before you so that in a few moments you can learn what I learned with so much toil. And what do I ask of you? It is notable in these sad and fallen times that writers are assailed from all directions. Hucksters hound us, claiming that if we only give them money they will write reviews, or send out messages to all lovers of literature telling them of their high opinion of our work. Then fame, reputation and fiscal security shall inevitably be ours.

Am I going to lower myself to their level? No, here are my wares, spread out on the table before you. Take what you need; take what helps you to grow as an artist. Take it and move on, secure in my blessing.

Yet should you feel a twinge of gratitude, or have an irrational urge to decorate the shelves of your library with fine literature and simultaneously to make a jobbing poet very happy, you could always purchase a copy of Lambent Dreams for a mere £0.99

25 thoughts on “How to make a living as a poet.

      1. Paying poets is simple. Take a double handful of coin, but only noble metals (as an aside, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, and iridium are fine but considered irredeemably fussy). Pour these coins into a purse. Close the top (all the while without counting or weighing or other such nonsense.)
        Once the poet has finished his performance, merely drop this purse into the poet’s pocket in a casual, nonchalant manner. The task is to do it in a way that does not attract unwanted attention from the tax authorities, but does display your generosity in a way that encourages your peers to emulate you.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I just assumed it was because they were deeply serious literary types, striving in angst ridden emotional fog, determined to write great but unreadable (and unread) literature suitable only for study by university undergraduates and literary editors of pretentious weekly newspapers 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    1. And just think, less distinguished poets on less authoritative websites demand that you pay for this wisdom. They hide behind a paywall or demand that you subscribe. Not so with the genius of Tallis Steelyard which pours out freely like a flood, a bounteous irresistible tide, a veritable diarrhea of wisdom!

      Liked by 2 people

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