[If you are a poet and would like to participate in this "Poetry and Money" Series, go HERE for information.]
A 3-Question Interview, A Sample Poem, and Book List Featuring
1) You are a poet. How do you make money to survive?
I am a professor of mathematics at a large state university and have been for decades (retiring in late spring).
2) How does your choice affect your process of making your poems?
Well the math stuff is pretty demanding on time and attention, which takes time and attention away from poetry. So I tend to write things that are fragmentary or short or, more typically, a series (I tend to think of my work in terms of projects/series and not as stand-alone individual pieces) or pastiche of fragmentary or short things. I write fast; if I didn’t, nothing would get done. And while I do a lot of revision, I still wonder what my writing would have been like if I’d had the space to really sink into the work without other work demanding my attention. I have a project I want to work on after retirement which will involve a lot of research, a lot of immersion, the form isn’t clear (usually I kind of start with a form or at least format but I am expecting to experiment a lot before finding the right form for this), it will be interesting to see if I’m able to follow through with the project.
3) What would you consider to be the pros and cons of how you have earned your income?
Cons: Less time for both writing and (equally important) reading. Peripheral to the poetry community—there’s a kind of casual interplay that can be crucial to the work. I’m seldom around when it happens.
Pro: The biggest pro is freedom. I have no image to maintain. I don’t have to please anyone. Nobody has ever seen my writing vita but me (and my husband who looked over my shoulder once). If I want to radically change the way I write, if I find myself not writing for a while, if I need to write stuff I don’t like in order to move towards an inchoate attractive something whose shape I can’t quite discern— I can do that. The second pro is avoiding overthinking. There are a lot of poets who can do serious analysis without paralyzing their writing, but I’m not one of them — that’s why I left English lit in the first place, because it was killing my writing. (Which was pretty awful at that point, but I didn’t know that.)
I guess the reason I wanted to contribute to this project is to reassure people that you can indeed write seriously while making a living far away from literature/writing. Ron Silliman and Wallace Stevens are exhibits A and B (or B and A) but they are pretty intimidating. More ordinary folk can do it too.
A SAMPLE POEM
If you leave the road you die
If you don’t leave it who will talk to you
who will hold your hand and step forward
like a flag dipped
in light, a crack
in the sidewalk, the horse
(first appeared in poet’s No Face: Selected and New Poems, First Intensity Press, 2008)
SOME BOOKS BY JUDITH ROITMAN:
The Stress of Meaning (Standing Stones Press, 1997)
Diamond Notebooks (nominative press collective, 1998)
Slippage (Potes and Poets, 1999)
No Face: Selected and New Poems (First Intensity Press, 2008)
Slackline (Hank’s Loose Gravel Press, 2012)
Furnace Mountain Poems (Omerta, 2013)