How to make a living as a poet, part two.

So you wish to make a living as a poet? Had enough of the daily grind? Feel that the fate which condemned you to a life of drudgery as a wage slave is undeserved? Do you yearn to follow your muse wherever that wanton mistress leads you? You too can live life on the edge as a practicing poet. For the person who has no wish to be trammelled by extraneous possessions and shuns the concept of regular meals I can think of no better way of making a living.

It must be said that I have recently achieved some small notoriety as of late. My suspicion is that with the publishing of my small work, ‘Lambent Dreams’  my reputation has taken something of a boost. At the same time the fact that I feature in the tales about my good friend Benor Dorfinngil, such as in ‘Flotsam or Jetsam’ has also brought me more into the limelight.

Therefore more and more people are approaching me seeking advice. In the spirit of open-handed generosity for which I’m reputedly renowned, I shall continue the work I started in a previous article.

The first thing you need is a patron. The purpose of a patron is to accept your work both gracefully and gratefully and shower you with gold. Sadly most don’t realise this to be the very acme of your relationship. But still, the question has to be asked, how to get a patron?

The first thing to do is your research. Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted! Would one of the great condottieri captains of our city’s glorious past have neglected to at least check how large a force he was matched against? How else could he hope to flee to safety whilst still maintaining the pretence of martial prowess? Does not even the Partannese bandit spend time assessing the merchant and his bodyguard as they escort their over-laden wagon through the wilds of Partann? For myself the first source is my annotated and expanded copy of Lantram’s ‘The Sinecurists of Naain’. Everybody who is anybody is in there. Should I come across a rumour in one of the scandal sheets, or a court case in the more respectable newspapers, the clipping is added to the appropriate entry.

Now obviously there are categories to exclude. Forget the old aristocracy. It is not that they lack wealth or shun poetry. They have money enough to spare. Indeed most of them are more than competent in the older verse forms so don’t need a poet anyway. But the real problem is that should they become your patron, you are added to the entourage. They will get to know you, discover your other skills and suddenly you will find that you are also a pedagogue, a knight or even a factotum. Now these are all honourable professions, and I’d even encourage persons employed in them to dabble in poetry. But they are not poets. Their employment gets in the way.

Next do not under any circumstances take as a patron some dolt who is convinced that they too are a poet. You will find your mind spinning with their stumbling rhythms and excruciating rhymes. I remember one of my patrons who wished to make ‘slough’ as in a ‘slough of despond’ rhyme with ‘cough’. I had come to that point where I recommended to him that he would better rhyme ‘coughing fit’ with ‘complete nonsense’. Our relationship deteriorated rapidly from then on.

The most you can hope for is a patron who is modestly wealthy and who loves poetry enough to appreciate your work but not so much that he labours under the delusion that he can produce his own.


Here we see a patron and his entourage. The patron stands to one side, dark clothed to stand out from amongst the others who are ranged in order of importance. We have the poet in the foreground, behind him the factotum and the chief bodyguard. Then we have the mistress, the wife, the brother of the mistress and in larger establishments we’d have the mistress of the brother of the mistress and a score of other hangers-on.

But one patron or more?
This is a much debated point. There are arguments for both sides of the discussion, but as you know I fall on the side which prefers multiple patrons. One good patron, wise, generous, understanding, is obviously to be cherished. But you are utterly dependent on that one individual and a disagreement, a bankruptcy or a fatal illness can shatter your illusion of security.

With multiple patrons, their individual quirks and foibles can be more easily accommodated or, in extreme circumstances, tacitly ignored. Should your relationship with one break down, well the other score or more will support you until you have replaced the one who has drifted from their moorings.

There are problems with multiple patrons. At the very least one has to make sure that they are not involved in some convoluted blood feud. After all, having to pen an ode in praise of the valour of one patron, all the while sitting in the presence of the blood dripping head of another patron, is disconcerting at least. But in a large enough city you should be able to gather a decent number of patrons without having too many of them fall out with the others. So long as you are aware of the factions and parties that divide your fellow citizens you should be all right.

Now some have actually made a faction their patron. This can be lucrative because those dispensing the faction’s money do so with the liberality people always show when they’re spending other peoples’ money.

From the point of view of a faction leadership, it is a good system. You praise them in person, but they don’t pay for you out of their own pocket. For the poet it is less good. It is one thing to be set upon by thugs hired by an individual you personally have insulted in verse. It is an entirely different matter to be set upon by thugs who are going to beat you up because of what someone else has said. This is especially hard when you might even share their opinion that the person in question is an individual of doubtful morals and proven stupidity.
As an aside, Poets have to be aware of the possibility of this sort of criticism. Some adopt a bold, swaggering demeanour, keep their hands hovering close to their sword hilt and stare coldly into the eyes of any who look too boldly at them.

Myself, I ensure that at all times I am wearing sensible shoes suitable for running in.

Meeting your patron for the first time is where the test of wills really begins; even something as simple as introducing yourself can have infinite significance.

If I say, “I am Tallis Steelyard’ with the emphasis on my name; it sounds as if I am afraid he has never heard of me.

If I say, “I am Tallis Steelyard’ with the emphasis on the ‘am’ then it sounds as if I am afraid that the potential patron would never believe that one such as I was the renowned Tallis Steelyard.

So instead I say, ‘I am Tallis Steelyard.’ Here I put the emphasis gently on the ‘I’. This allows you to give the impression that the patron has been searching for you for some time, following up rumours and having to cope with the host of lesser lights who try and steal a little of the glamour that is attached to the Steelyard name. The slight emphasis on the ‘I’ lets him know that his quest is over and he has achieved the goal to which he has been striving for all these years.

But as always, there is much to discuss, but time presses and I have surely given you enough to be going on with.


Should you wish to read more about Tallis and Port Naain

Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.

As a reviewer commented, “Any story that contains immortal sayings like “I will merely point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambience, it was an ambience that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of my shirts.” Is well worth reading.
Additionally, this tale refers to maps, missing gems, pie eating contests and even a marimba – what more could a reader want?”

2 thoughts on “How to make a living as a poet, part two.

  1. The immortal Tallis has (bizarrely) inadvertently omitted an enormous fringe benefit of writing poetry. Ladies just swoon at the feet of a bloke with a finely tuned haiku or a large iambic pentameter. And one who can recite such things before an audience will never be short of company. Nor, if he is wise and takes a shopping bag, will be short of fruit – as thrown by the philistines and/or husbands of the afore mentioned beauties…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is true that there is much ground to be covered, there is the whole field of Lady Patrons, performance poetry, the decline of the standards of poetry since the days when I took my first commission, the general lack of respect amongst the young…. I could go on, but I felt that was a limit to how much wisdom it was safe to impart in one blog post


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