A great advantage I have, when attending poetry conferences, is I am thoroughly amateur. Most around me will earn their living from literature. I, sitting at the bottom of the compost, have no career to damage. They have to be at their best (and, when they are, they’re very very good). If I make a contribution, I can be thoroughly awful, yet I can’t be knocked any lower (well, except to be banned, I suppose!). I can enjoy myself carelessly. There is a toxic pile among amateurs, of course, but it’s pretty irrelevant when around professionals.
This isn’t leading to a confession, incidentally.
It’s interesting, though, that most people who earn their living from poetry do so from ancillary activities, often by teaching literature. They get to do what they love and be paid for it, but they don’t get paid to be poets. Even so, they get professional time to travel their art, presuming none teach literature for the money.
The recent visit of Jaap Blonk to Wurm im Apfel reminded me that even these people, though, aren’t pure poetry professionals. Jaap is; he earns his income directly from his own work, from performances, from sales of his CDs. Such people are rare, they have to enthuse their audience, to be among the very best, or they don’t get dinner.
Such poets represent the very old traditions of poetry in the modern world. Having Welsh roots, living in the Republic, adoring the classics, I can’t help but be aware of bardic traditions, living from performing. A bard is a rare profession today, and it was a privilege to welcome a bard to Wurm.