For Poets, A Labor Of Love (Not Money) It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that there is almost no money to be made in poetry. Some poets work as teachers, others in the corporate world. And even a Pulitzer Prize-winning former U.S. poet laureate needs a day job.

For Poets, A Labor Of Love (Not Money)

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

This summer, we're running a series of stories on how artists make a living. Today, the poet. There's almost no money to be made laboring over verses, so most poets make a living doing something else.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair profiles one poet who, by day, is a corporate executive.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Elizabeth Haukaas works for a big financial services company. More about that in a moment. But first, her poetry.

One of her poems is about her daughter who has both MS and epilepsy.

Ms. ELIZABETH HAUKAAS (Author, "Leap"; Senior Vice President, Centerline Capital Group): As any mother of a child with an illness becomes the expert, and you learn all about the drugs, the disease, everything there is. And as I was learning about the drugs for epilepsy, the sounds of them, I mean, poetry is all sound, and the sounds of them just intrigued me so much.

BLAIR: This is the beginning of her poem "The Blues."

Ms. HAUKAAS: (Reading) Dilantin, Depakote, Copaxone, Keppra. I love the small, square room where my blue-gowned daughter sits on the exam table, swinging her legs, because this week she can, which is why I also love Prednisone a little.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Haukaas earned $20 when this poem was published in The New England Review a little more than a year ago. An editor at Texas Tech University Press read it and invited Haukaas to submit a manuscript to compete for the Walt McDonald poetry book award.

Ms. HAUKAAS: In poetry, it's the world of the contest.

BLAIR: Out of 20 other manuscripts, hers won. The prize: it was turned into a book called "Leap." Elizabeth Haukaas says she'll never forget the day she got the call from the editor at Texas Tech.

Ms. HAUKAAS: And she said, but we have a couple of questions. You know, we want to ask you some things that you might change if we publish, and I said, you could publish it upside down, I don't care.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It was very thrilling.

BLAIR: Now, did you get an advance?

MS. HAUKAAS: No. Remember the part about my day job?

BLAIR: Ah yes, the day job, the only way poets who are not independently wealthy can support themselves. Haukaas says she had three kids to feed, so she needed to make as much money as possible. As director of corporate communications for Centerline Capital Group in New York, she says she makes considerably more than she would teaching but a lot less than most corporate executives.

Ms. HAUKAAS: I will say in my day job that I bring my craft of poetry to what I do. I write speeches, and I write shareholder letters, presentations to investors and so on, and I try to keep it interesting and intriguing. I mean, you have to capture the reader no matter what you're writing.

BLAIR: As a poet, Elizabeth Haukaas has no illusions about living off her craft. But what about critically acclaimed poets who have been in the national spotlight, say someone like Mark Strand, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former U.S. poet laureate?

Professor MARK STRAND (U.S. Poet Laureate; English, Columbia University): I wish I could make a living as a poet, but I make my living as a professor at Columbia University. The way I make that extra money as a poet is to give readings and to write the occasional article, very occasional, I might add, and the occasional prize, even more occasional.

BLAIR: And that's more typically how poets earn their keep. Now, you might be wondering how Elizabeth Haukaas reconciles a career in corporate finance with her poetry. She says she's learned how to compartmentalize these two worlds, but she wishes they had equal value.

Ms. HAUKAAS: I would love that. I mean, I've thought that my entire life about artists. They bring beauty into the world and help us understand the human condition, and isn't that worth as much as a mortgage-backed securities broker?

(Soundbite of laughter)

I mean, isn't it? I would think so.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Haukaas says some of her corporate colleagues buy her books and go to her readings. And one executive gave her an idea for the title of her next collection of poems: "Yield."

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And you can read more poetry from Elizabeth Haukaas and hear Mark Strand's new work in progress at

(Soundbite of music)

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