Average Salary: $35,000
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $1,500,000
You think someone's going to pay you for writing poetry? That's hysterical. You should go into stand-up comedy, it pays just as well.
Wait, you're serious? You want to know how much poets make? Yikes; well okay, but you might want to sit down for this one. If you're not able to afford furniture—and let's face it, that's fairly likely here—then anywhere on the floor is fine.
First things first: poets generally don't make any money. A fair amount of people who do this just do it to do it; they're not really in it to make cash. You'll see these folks all over town, hogging open mics and spending more time sipping coffee than actually writing any stanzas.
Many of the most successful poets these days are poetry professors, so they make their money teaching—and that cool $75,000 average puts you at the high end of your profession (source). The artist-in-residence poets might get a stipend, but usually they're not actually making an income while working.
Sure, there are poets like Maya Angelou, John Ashbery, and Billy Collins, who've been incredibly successful, but aside from a small handful, poets can't typically expect to live off of publishing royalties alone.
First-time novelists can pull in an advance of anything between a few grand and $100,000 if they've got a good agent and a solid story. Poets, on the other hand, don't usually make money—which is sort of a sticking point for most agents.
To help pad the income, there are first book prizes that publish poetry collections and dole out thousands of dollars in prize money. But once you've published your first book, you can't exactly submit to another first book prize.
Getting published in dozens of literary magazines across the country is another way to go. It might not pay the greatest, but that exposure can lead to other gigs...that also might not pay the greatest. But put a bunch of those together and you've got a semblance of a poetry career (that doesn't pay the greatest).