Musings Inspired by a Dead Poet’s Livelihood

The trajectory of poets interests me. Poetry has evolved over the centuries. But are poets better off today financially than their 19th century counterparts, for example? I don’t know the answer. There are several factors that come into play, such as opportunity, social standing, education, etc. What I hear is that poetry is the least lucrative career.

The museum visit

So, on my first visit to the Runebergs’ home, I’m attentive. As we waltz from room to room in the Runebergs’ big, lavish and art-filled home, I’m grinning with delight. Because I think I have my question, above, answered.

One of the living rooms

Soon, the guide points out that many of these valuable objects were gifts from friends and fellow artists, and also from distinguished people with money. I can’t help but wonder if there are still generous patrons who believe in poetry, today.

The Runebergs’ notable works on display

I don’t know how much Runeberg made from his poetry. But I learned besides being a poet, he was a priest. Regardless, both JL Runeberg, and his wife, Fredrika produced notable literary works.

Some of their work is in the picture above. Runeberg wrote a poem (pic 1. Maamme-laulu) that became the Finnish national anthem. Fredrika was a writer herself. She is also known as the creator of the Runeberg torte (pic 3. her recipe), and for her love of gardening.

I haven’t visited many dead poets’ homes, but those that I have suggested these poets lived normal lives. This normalcy helps (me) dispel the myth of a starving artist and romanticising of poets as tortured creative genius. You’ve probably read about famous classic poets, who were considered mad and even dangerous.

Poetry is enriching

As I snoop around the poet’s bedroom, it occurs to me (as if for the first time) that poetry makes those who believe in it rich, in ways we can’t always measure in monetary terms. For example, in my case, it’s true that poetry doesn’t pay the bills. But I dare say, poetry helps me reduce a huge chunk of what would be my bills without it in my life.

The poet’s bedroom

Poetry as business

However, I cannot ignore the business side of poetry. Why is it that poetry remains the underdog of literature and being a poet the least lucrative career, when it’s clear it is of value to our society? For example, who writes those business mission statements and advertising slogans? The business poet. Who teaches poetry at school or university? The teacher poet.

But a poet with no prefix or suffix becomes a wayward being, as people don’t comprehend what exactly such a poet does. And their poetry becomes a flight of fancy; a silliness with no great monetary reward. This is despite the robust landscape and revival of poetry.

Give people the opportunity to pay a premium for your work — otherwise they never will.”

~ Cherie Hu

Our hustle culture glorifies long working hours, but sadly not those of a poet. While society undervalues the poet’s labour, sometimes it’s poets themselves complicit in accepting the presumption about poetry. Maybe it’s because of the many rejections we receive.

Some of the poet’s writings displayed in the reception room

I’ll admit, my own insecurities often distort how I view my writing. But I’m slowly learning to show up for poetry, more so as an indie author. “Getting out of people’s wallets” is what I’m doing, for starters. I no longer assume everyone wants a cheaper option. That’s why I like the quote by above.

Questions for poets to ponder

I don’t know the answer to the question I posed, at the beginning. Instead, I have other questions for us to ponder on. Where does the sizeable chunk of your financial sustenance come from? Or does the idea of poetry and money in the same sentence make you uncomfortable? Why? Care to share!

I’m also extending the questions to writers and artists, at large. NB. I’m not asking the amount, unless you want to share it, but the source. 🙂 For example, book sales, speaking engagements, ghostwriting, etc.

Recommended reads for the reluctant poetry reader

  • Why Poetry? by Matthew Zapruder, on what poetry alone can do
  • We Are Poetry by Kym Gordon Moore, on poetry as magnetic power to create a common ground of conversations and connectedness that can bridge polarization
  • Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart, for poetic prescriptions that offer comfort, delight and inspiration.
  • Poetry Unbound edited by Pádraig Ó. Tuama, to open up your world.
  • Our Words, Our Worlds edited by Makhosazana Xaba, on the power of creativity and centrality of poetry in a changing society
Runeberg Torte postcard

PS. In Finland, February 5th is Runeberg Day, a celebration of the poet’s birthday. So, Runeberg torte is the indulgence, today. Apparently, the national poet enjoyed it with punch, every breakfast! And so, to all my Finnish readers, Hyvää Runebergin päivää!

On Moving Away From & Towards

Just as 2022 was coming to a close, I wrote: whatever is beautiful and brings you joy, pursue it! I intend to do this, myself. Hence, my word for 2023 is play. But why play? I need recreation like a fish needs water.

In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles. No mind or heart hobbles. No analyzing or explaining. No questing for logic. No promises… One is completely open to whatever drama may unfold.” Diane Ackerman

For me, playing is all about nourishing body, mind and soul. Today, I’m sharing my gentle intentions to cultivate more space and time for play.

What I’m moving away from?

  • Hustle Culture

Last year, while I was battling health challenges, worried about my loved ones’ health, processing the loss, writing and publishing a book, I was also working on a thesis project. To say I “killed the goose…” is an understatement! I’ve been revisiting my Big Why and readjusting accordingly, ever since. I’ll be leaning to the less is more approach.

  • Churning Content for the Machine

I can assure you, I’m not quitting blogging. This blog remains my most preferred way of building and nurturing genuine relationships online. However, I’m reducing the amount of content I publish here and time dedicated to blogging. So, I’ll publish posts intermittently or aiming for at least one post per month. This won’t impress search engines, that’s for sure!

  • ‘Reality Show’

For a long time, I deluded myself into thinking I was on Facebook to connect with family and friends. But these special people know where to find me, if they wish to. Finally, I’ve pulled the plug. As for Instagram, I’m proceeding with great caution.

  • One-sided Relationships

That brings me to one-sided relationships. How do you know you are in a such relationship? The list is long. But for one, you are always initiating contact. I’m quitting one-sided relationships, periodt.

What I’m moving towards?

  • Reading More Books

Isn’t that one reason we creatives blog? For art lovers to learn about our works and ultimately buy. That’s why I’m reading more books than blogs, this year. So, to members of my different communities, if you have a book out there (or upcoming) about a topic that interests me and in a genre I enjoy, it’s likely that I’ll read it.

  • Writing More Books

I’m returning to the story in my heart I’ve been trying to tell for years, without success. It’s reached a critical point; characters are causing a riot. They want to be released from the confines of my desk drawer. I know this doesn’t sound like playing, more so that fiction doesn’t come naturally to me. But believe me, I enjoy talking to my characters. 🙂 Besides, committing to this long project, among others, will help me resist shiny objects and writing for instant gratification.

  • Exploring Other Forms of Storytelling

I can write to share stories and communicate ideas. But I can also share stories using different mediums. Hence, I’m continuing to explore and develop other (visual) forms of storytelling.

Alright, I stop here. And as usual I’d like hear from you. What changes are you making to do things that bring you joy, this year? Please do tell!

PS. I took the feature image (street mural) in Knysna, South Africa. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the artist/creator of this work is.

On Going Deep in 2022: A Reflection

Happy New Year, Good People! I hope 2023 started well for you as it did for me. Before moving forward with this year’s plan, I’d like to take stock of the past year by revisiting my going deeper, not wider exercise in 2022, and also share lessons relearned.

When I settled for my word depth, last year, I did not know just how deep I’d end up going. And it was certainly not the kind of depth I had in mind. If you’re a regular reader of this blog or have read my recent collection, The Sheltering, you know those details already. At the risk of repeating myself, here are a few lessons I relearned last year:


Self-awareness has been the biggest lesson. I realised that creating space and time often to connect with myself is the greatest act of self-love. Because it means I allow myself to sit with my emotions, seek my truth or listen to answers already within me, appreciate and accept all of me, and be enough.

“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve.”

I fully agree with Brian Jacques’ quote above. But I’ll say this: even real and personal experiences can feel performative and jarring on social media. I had written a whole post about reasons I won’t grieve in public. But it needed to be more than a blog post. Anyway, I find private rituals as equally important in processing grief.

Making my art no matter what

If you are an artist, you need to make your art. That’s not an overstatement—it’s a fact; if you stop doing your creative work, your quality of life is diminished.” Beth Pickens

Some still ask what is the point of poetry. Well, I’m not here to convince you about the purpose of writing poetry. I know what it does for me. Last year, I was in overdrive dealing with a number of things that were very taxing emotionally and mentally. I leaned heavily into poetry during those desperately times. The opposite would have been a black hole. I’m not sure if I’d have been able to climb out of it without making art. By the way, the book pictured below is another great book for art makers.

Make Your Art No Matter What by Beth Pickens (image courtesy of Amazon)

Being my own support system

I’ve also learnt that when someone tells me I am strong, lucky or whatever double-edge sword word they use, they are actually saying I cannot rely on them for emotional support. But they expect that support from me. So, being my own support system has meant continuing to remove all the people and things that bring me down. I can tell you, I’m already feeling less resentful.

Social support system

Someone once said, when you are buried deep under the rubble, you don’t care about the colour of the hand that pulls you out. It turned out to be my chosen family (my friends) who offered me greatest support in my time of need. Also acquaintances whom I would have never thought of reaching out to, surprised and touched me with their generosity. This is to say, authentic friendships are important in one’s life.

Being a better listener

I’ve written before about how I pride myself on being a good listener, of both what is said and unsaid. I had recommended this book before, You’re Not listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, because I find it to be very informative. Anyway, I still fall short when it comes to active listening. There are times I could have done better but I just didn’t have the bandwidth.


Depth, itself, is a deep word. It turned out that my going deep had nothing to do with creative and professional goals, even though I did achieve some. Rather, my year of depth had everything to do with the depth of human character, reassessing relationships and personal growth.

Snowmobiling in Finnish wilderness

PS. In the next post, publishing on Sunday, 22nd Jan, I’ll share my word for 2023, what I’m moving away from and towards.