The Real Poop
Homer. Shakespeare. The number-lover who invented the Haiku. When you become a poet, you join an illustrious fellowship of people who actually took their parents seriously when they said, "You can be anything you want when you grow up." Maybe those parents should've added this disclaimer: "except a poet, of course."
It's not that we have anything against poets or poetry in general. Really, it's the opposite; we here at Shmoop love poetry—we even have an entire section dedicated to it.
While anyone who can put sounds together could conceivably call themselves a poet, it's not exactly the easiest career in which to actually making a living. In fact, it's so difficult to make a living that even income reporting agencies don't have a clue how much you'll make.
The typical answer is "whatever people will pay you." In that case, let's imagine people like your poetry enough to make you their state's Poet Laureate. This means you're the most important pretty-worder in your state. On average, you'll be making $33,000 a year (source).
And that's considered best in the state.
Throughout the centuries, even some of the most famous and popular poets only penned verse after regular office hours—if they had any job or income at all (we're looking at you, Whitman).
William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician; Henry David Thoreau worked for a time as a handyman on Ralph Waldo Emerson's estate; Robert Frost was a farmer before he began seeing frequent publication of his work.
It's possible to write well enough and long enough that poetry becomes your main source of income, but it usually takes years and years of thankless effort—or getting a cushy job teaching this stuff at colleges or universities.
Unlike novelists, who at least have the chance to see their stories adapted for the silver screen or rise up the New York Times Best Sellers List, poets are appreciated more in scholastic arenas than anywhere else. People may be lining up for the next Harry Potter or Star Wars spin-off, but no one's sitting in the rain waiting for Pondwater Ponderings: A Requiem for a Moment.
There are still plenty of reasons to take up poetry though, either as a career or solely as an after-hours hobby. Poetry has long been praised as one of the highest forms of human expression. We thinkest it doeseth unto itself as well.
Okay, we said we liked poetry; we never said we were any good at it.
Through poetry, writers are able to understand and express emotion in ways that other mediums simply can't replicate. Rhyming ballads and epic poems were some of the first ways that early civilizations recorded their history, recounted morality tales, and made people laugh; they were simpler times.
Even today, to be recognized as a preeminent poet in your day is one of the highest achievements a writer can aspire to—right after creating a catchy jingle and writing a movie with lots of 'splosions.
Poetry's also an extremely helpful way to release pent-up emotions and inner turmoil, especially if you don't have a punching bag handy. Poets exude emotion; the form allows a writer to express his or her deepest troubles and highest moments of ecstasy in a way that fiction doesn't quite match.
And let's face it—some people simply would rather write about their feelings all day than fix someone's toilet or file a TPS report. It certainly isn't the safest financial bet to make, but the fulfillment and peace of mind that comes from successfully putting down something as beautiful as To His Coy Mistress or consequential as The Road Not Taken is unparalleled in human endeavors.
Empires fall, statues crumble, but poetry remains. As Shakespeare put it so eloquently in his "Sonnet 18": "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
Or as we'd put it: poetry totally rules.
Again, we're not very good at this.