Cheryl Rice reading

The Flying Monkey: Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Once upon a time, when I had the chance to ask any question of a renowned poet I was taking a workshop with, I decided to ask about how I could become a full-time poet. She had no answer for me, of course, and in the decades since, I have come to the brutal realization that in our uncivilized times, no such thing exists. It was a hard lesson, but a useful one.

One might recall the days of Shakespeare and Marlowe, when writers could survive on the generous support of royal sponsorships. In Bill’s case, this may have slanted his output somewhat, but many of the royals portrayed in his plays seem to be less saint than sinner. His sonnets, those mysterious poems addressed to an unknown lover (or not), seem to be completely of his choice and unaffected by patronage’s sway.

It seems I was born at the tail end of a time when so many professions I thought I might naturally have fallen into, given my inclinations, were on the decline. Journalism still doesn’t know what it will become, newspapers giving way to personal blogs and paychecks replaced by online ads. I studied to teach in the public schools, but never learned how to behave in an interview. These days I am relieved to have not become mired in the dreck that now passes itself off as “education.” My time in college was spent with experienced (a.k.a. ancient) professors, many working off of notes on yellowed index cards. I had no idea that due to cost cutting, many of these positions would not be filled after their passing, and instead classes would be facilitated by underpaid assistants with no hope of tenure or retirement.

Aside from substitute teaching, back when I still hoped I would land a permanent position, most of my working life has been spent in the private sector. For ten years I answered calls for a company I like to refer to as “Cosmodemonic Communications.” They paid well, and I have a small pension to look forward to, should I survive just a handful of years longer. I resigned when my depression began to get the better of me. I’ve done my share of time in retail as well, having first-hand experience behind the registers of most past and present book stores in the Hudson Valley. I’m now approaching my 10th anniversary in the registration department of a local retreat center. This position has probably been the least painful of all, except for that seven-month furlough back in 2020 which, honestly, could not be helped.

The commonality among all these jobs was that none of them required me to write poetry in a particular style, or align with a particular political leaning. It was always part of my private life, and probably something many of my fellows still don’t know I participate in. Some were interested, some offered vague support without committing themselves to actually attended a reading. I used to take it a little personally, but no worries now. Poetry has become the most ostracized art of the last 50 years. What used to be common fodder for memorization in schools has been replaced by electronic media: first television, then the internet. Quality and accessibility of ideas and images improved, and we were no longer restricted to mere words, or forced to conjure images in our poor minds. It’s all handed to us now.

I am grateful in a way for all this. People who come to readings, buy books, tune in to Zoom streams mean to do so. They either have a poetic horse in the race themselves (like my Beloved), or are themselves practitioners of this ancient art. How they stumbled upon it is anyone’s guess. I blame my mother, reading from, “The Golden Book of Poetry” to us before we could read ourselves. The spell was cast. And here I am today, half a century beyond, creating my own spells. There are no restrictions among my kind. We are a tight lot. We may disperse to other endeavors in the daylight to pay the mortgage and keep the fridge stocked. But once night falls, we gather. We shuffle our papers or page thru our phones. We read the proclamations of our hearts. And we live deep, rich lives.