Dear Emily Post-Avant,
I am going to be a high school senior (finally!) in New Jersey, and I plan to attend Paterson Community College in 2019. I’d planned on entering the Nursing Program there, but the other day a friend showed me an email from the Academy of American Poetry [sic], announcing the exciting news that in the past five years the audience for poetry has doubled to 28 million people! http://academyofamericanpoets.cmail20.com/t/ViewEmail/y/6E6CB5874D39FDDE/A7869CD4F0D250B8F1E87EB810D8F10A
I have written poetry for a few years now and it is my first and deepest love. I can’t live without writing poems! Not to brag, but my English teachers have always told me I have a special gift, too. I know I could go the safe route and become a nurse, but you only have one short life to live, so truly live it and don’t look back (as Robert Frost memorably said). So given that poetry is now becoming more and more popular, and so fast, I am thinking of taking the leap and devoting myself full time to poetry instead of nursing. Do you think this could be a good career decision? I would appreciate your advice.
–A Young and Hopeful Poet from Paterson
Dear Young and Hopeful Poet from Paterson,
I don’t want to deflate your illusions, but please listen to me, dear. The world right now needs more nurses much more than it needs more poets. Plus, I am quite sure the average person in the nursing field is quite a bit nicer and very much more humane, as it were, than the average person in the poetry field. Dedicate yourself to helping others, not to staring at your belly button while madly stabbing others in the back, as “career” poets, these days, have become so expert at doing.
And anyway, that statistic from the Academy of American Poets is totally cooked; don’t believe it for a second. If there are 28 million readers of poetry, double what it was five years ago, that means there are 14 million new readers, right? But this Instagram sensation, Rupi Kaur, has—between her phone feed and her quite tacky bestselling books—at least 20 million readers alone. Which would mean, by my count, that the readership for poetry has dropped, for all practical purposes, by six million in the past five years. This is probably why, outside the Commercial Poetry Products flooding the poetry market, around 2800 people bought serious books of poetry in the past five years. I am not sure what the other 27.999 million “poetry readers” are reading, but just imagine what would happen to the publishing industry if they were real and they all bought a book of poetry.
As I said, please don’t drop your plans to go into nursing. The great poet of Paterson, William Carlos Williams, spent his life as a doctor tending to working class people in his lifelong city. He would tell you the same thing. Have you read Williams? Poetry is more necessary than we can know, yes, and as Williams said, people die every day for lack of what is found there (which is a greater quote than anything said by Robert Frost, by the way). You can still go into nursing and write poems. In fact, they will surely be better poems than the ones you would write if you tried to make a “career” out of poetry.
Think it through, dear. You still have time to save yourself.
–Ms. Emily Post-Avant