Work vs. work

Untitled-writerOutside Academia: The Writer…


Lately, I have felt overly-occupied with my so-called day job. The work I do at the college is personally rewarding and pays my bills; I love the challenges it offers and the people with whom I work, but I am not what one would term career-driven. Even though I am employed by a university, and even though I teach (just one class a semester), in many ways–as far as scholarship, research, and poetry go–I remain “outside academia.” An interesting paradox. But if I over-extend at my office, I find less to say at my writing desk at home.

Poets Mary Oliver and Kay Ryan also spent most of their careers working at colleges without climbing the spiral stairway of academia’s ivory tower. Well-received, excellent writers–and Oliver even sells quite well for a poet–they aren’t “academics.” It is heartening to know that such poetry luminaries are, like me, not academics. I often wonder how they managed to balance teaching with writing poetry.


What I do “at work” where I earn a salary, and what I do when I “work” on poetry, seem quite separate to me, and I question whether one informs the other. I feel that being a poet does influence, though subtly, the way I approach teaching and tutoring. (It does not seem to have any influence on the way I do record-keeping, spreadsheets, or paperwork.)

By contrast, my day job at the college seems not to have much sway over my poetry; I write prose about teaching and tutoring, but my career work does not often appear as topic or substance in my poems. I notice, too, that Oliver and Ryan do not often write poems about their day jobs (both of them have retired by now–but still). In fact, I would venture that the way my day job affects my poetry is mostly as a time and energy drain.


I have challenged myself to write at least two poems a month that in some respect relate to my work with students. That prompt forces me to remember that I am not two separate beings, one at the college desk and one, pen in hand, on the back porch at home. I remain my whole self, and I place my whole self into both endeavors. I can work with that.

5 comments on “Work vs. work

  1. I’ve never been a consistent poetry reader/writer but about year ago when I started writing poetry, it improved everything in my life – as well as my work and life in general. That’s one the reasons I started businessinrhyme to share my experience. Interestingly enough I do come from academic world also, and the way I approach students now has also changed – like I have more empathy..and there is no reason as a writer to feel different. These two jobs actually complement each other. Be gentle to yourself, it will come around 🙂


  2. asthaguptaa says:

    I have a day job too and off late I find it leaving me little mental space to write.. am hoping it does not totally suck out all the (little) creativity I have! 🙂


  3. Ren Powell says:

    These thoughts have been milling around my head for so long. I was dying to know if Mary Oliver even had a day job, since I have never heard her talk about it in an interview or read a poem about it. I imagine her as a clam-collecting bohemian satisfied with poetry and found objects. And me as the direct correlation of the anti-poet – day job, house, preoccupation with trivial things. Thank you for this nudge in another, less, self-pitying direction.


    • Mary Oliver taught poetry (not creative writing, more of lit analysis or survey class) at Bennington as a sort of guest professor or glorified adjunct for quite a few years. Kay Ryan taught comp to community college students.

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