If poetry makes nothing happen, it also makes very little in the way of income. Take the acclaimed poet Bernadette Mayer. Often aligned with the Language Poets, Mayer overcame entrenched sexism to establish herself as one of the most influential poets of her generation. At 73, she’s still producing work. And yet she only made about $17,000 last year. That’s hardly enough to live on, even after Mayer and her partner moved out of New York City.
Tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk talk about Universal Basic Income as a fix for increasing automation. But could poetry — culturally necessary but essentially unmarketable — provide an even more compelling argument for UBI? Some minimal allowance might deliver poets like Mayer from financial ruin. What do the rest of us lose when poets can no longer afford to pursue their life’s work?