Robert Bruce says that the most difficult thing about his chosen art form is having the title poet attached to him. Yes, Robert says, he is a real-life poet, but without all the stereotypes.
If you’re turned off by poetry readings and literary journals that nobody reads, don’t worry—Robert doesn’t like them either. Instead, he writes for his own audience, a loyal and growing group of people who check in at his site once a week for a new poem.
Every Monday from his home office in Portland, Oregon, Robert publishes that poem. Here’s a short example of his work:
He sat me down
at a cafe
with a black coffee
and a legal pad
“Look Bruce, you’re 34, you’ve got to
get serious about your future.”
“OK,” I said
“There are only four foolproof ways
to create unimaginable wealth in this world…”
You can read the rest here.
I found Robert through a guest post he did over at Problogger, where he provided step-by-step instructions for artists who also write blogs. I liked his blunt advice—“If you have a fall back plan, you will, inevitably, fall back onto it” and “Though tempting, you’ll never crush your own mediocrity working only four hours a week.”
The core of the message is that art requires dedication and sacrifice.
If recognition or money are what you’re after, Robert says, there are far easier ways to obtain them. I asked Robert a few questions about his work and the connection between art and sacrifice.
How long have you been publishing your writing online, and how have you built up an audience along the way?
“I’ve been doing it since the summer of 2005. Should have started much earlier, but I’m not exactly fast on the take.
The audience was/is slow in coming, but initially a few cool folks linked me and started things off. Really brave souls, pointing to a writer of poems, I mean, come on.
And along the way, others came around, writing up my stuff, and really just taking care of business on my behalf. I’m grateful.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to worry about audience. It’s not the artist’s job. Our job is to work. And then work some more.”
Do you have a day job? If so, how does that impact your passion for writing? Do you find your other work to be a hindrance, something complementary, or something else?
“I work in an office. I think it’s probably ‘something else’, as you put it. In one sense I work around some serious folks who I steal ideas from all the time, so that’s a bonus, but the day job doesn’t drive or hinder the work as far as I can tell. It pays the bills. And many times it provides very good material to play with.
Sometimes it’s a good fantasy to think of sitting around in the bathrobe writing poems all day, but really, that would be a special kind of hell. Someone, I think Bukowski, said something about how writers start out strong and then often become The Writer.
You know, The Professional Artist that doesn’t do anything but CREATE. I don’t like that road. Writers need to go out and live, get away from the schools and the conferences and go screw everything up once in a while. Like human beings do. You have to have something to write about. The institution cannot provide that.”
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve made for your art?
“To sometimes have the title of ‘poet’ attached to my name.”
You say that you don’t care about poetry journals or the big conferences that mainstream writers go to. Why not?
“I don’t see the point. Most poetry journals never had a chance, living off the government tit. And these conferences have nothing to do with getting my work done.
They just don’t exist in my world, and I don’t care to participate.
I want poems that rip the top of my skull off.
I want poems that make me fear for my immortal soul.
I want poems that make me weep openly for the beauty of life and for it’s brevity.
For decades, we’ve relied on rockstars and actors to deliver this kind of passion into our lives.
It’s time for the poets again.
A conference might make you feel good about yourself and your circle of poet friends until the next one rolls around, but it has nothing to do with writing a poem.
I’ll be dead soon, and I’d rather spend my remaining hours putting ink on paper. That’s all.”
I’ve read your ProBlogger guest post on advice for artists who blog. Beyond that, what books or resources would you recommend for other artists?
Beyond the basics of your craft, you’re on your own Sally. Nobody can help you when you’re out there in the desert trying to dig a beautiful ditch…”
You give away your book on the site. Couldn’t you be anti-establishment and still make money by working with a publisher?
“I wouldn’t call myself anti-establishment necessarily, it’s just that the establishment has largely failed the reader. And the reader is now going elsewhere. Has been for many years.
Of course, if the right small publisher came by and we found ourselves in agreement, I’d consider it.
But realize, the average advance on a book of poems hovers around $1K. So it’s not the money, and I certainly don’t care about the so-called ‘prestige’ that comes with publishing. You know, I don’t shun it, I just don’t think about it.
I’ve got my little site, and a faithful little group of readers. If I knock one out of the park, they can pay me anytime they wish.”
One more thing—Robert has a free PDF book of his greatest hits that you can download from his site. If you enjoy it, be sure to let him know.