Poet Hopes Necessity Won’t Smother His Inventions


Serious poets accept early in their career that they will not make a living from their art. Though they may spend years studying literature and honing their skills, their career will have few monetary rewards and, typically, scant recognition.

Dan Beachy-Quick, 27, has accepted this fact, because, since age 15, poetry has been his obsession. He attended the University of Denver, where he established himself as an “extraordinary” talent, according to his former professor, Bin Ramke, who also is editor of the Denver Quarterly. Beachy-Quick then received his master’s from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop.

By the age of 20, the Iowa City resident had two poems published in the prestigious Paris Review.


His poetry also has been accepted by the Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Nimrod, Ploughshares and the Western Humanities Review. He continues to write and submit poems to literary journals and has sent a publisher a collection of poems based on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

“So, presently, I’m waiting,” he said. “I’m walking to the mailbox and being mortified about what I might find.”

To make money, Beachy-Quick teaches poetry at Grinnell College and works at the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City. Because he hopes to continue teaching, and perhaps one day become a full professor, he has applied to four doctoral programs.

“Ideally, I’d like to have as varied a professional experience as possible,” Beachy-Quick said. “I’d like to teach, work on a magazine of poetry, perhaps work in a museum with art history, and I’m hoping that those things will intersect.”

Beachy-Quick talked to Stanley Kunitz, the nation’s poet laureate, for advice about his poetry and future. Kunitz agreed to review three of Beachy-Quick’s poems. Two that he selected from Beachy-Quick’s poem collection, titled “Hariot’s Round,” described the experiences of 16th century explorer and scientist Thomas Hariot in early America. A third, called “Psalm (Galileo),” depicted Galileo’s musings over his quest to learn the truth about our heliocentric universe.

Kunitz first asked about Beachy-Quick’s inspirations and motivations.

Beachy-Quick said he took his inspiration from John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Traherne, George Herbert and Emily Dickinson. Kunitz said that as a young man he too was influenced by Donne, Traherne and Herbert. “They had a considerable influence on my work,” Kunitz said.


Beachy-Quick said he is writing poems that allow him to “see through historical figures’ eyes.” “It is oddly freeing and somewhat addictive,” he said. However, he said, lately he has been having difficulty getting his thoughts on paper.

“It’s somewhat of a challenge,” he said. “I feel almost emptied out, and I haven’t been able to write a single line of poetry for over two months.”

“Oh, that happens to all of us,” Kunitz said. “Sometimes those fallow periods are very helpful. You may not be writing now but the poems are breeding underground, and when they’re ready, you’ll write again.”

At Kunitz’s request, Beachy-Quick recited the three poems.

“There are all sorts of moments in this poem that strike me, in fact, excite me,” Kunitz said of the first one.

But Kunitz said Beachy-Quick’s poems have some challenges. Their references are oblique, and, to Kunitz, their images at times seem unconnected. Beachy-Quick should be careful in his word selection, Kunitz said. Difficult phonetic combinations--such as Beachy-Quick’s “glass shard”--can cause readers to stumble. And abstract words such as “quantity” can leave readers searching for meaning.

Kunitz wondered whether Beachy-Quick was relying too heavily upon the language and idioms of centuries past and not sufficiently personalizing his poems.


Poems shouldn’t arise only out of intellectual musings, Kunitz said; they should come from the poet’s heart.

“I was looking through the batch of poems you sent me for one that stemmed from your own experience, one that reflected the kind of person you are, the feelings that enlightened you, the experiences that stimulated you,” Kunitz said. “In other words, something that flows directly from the self.

“You raise in the ‘Galileo’ poem the question of ‘where am I?’ But I think the more important question for a young poet is ‘who am I?’ . . . I am hoping you will turn inward and work directly from your own experience and sensibility.”

As for career steps, Kunitz acknowledged that American poets have had limited options available to them.

“I think that poets in this country, in this century, in general, have had little recourse but to become academics simply out of economic necessity,” said Kunitz, adding that it is important for such university-employed poets to make sure they are able to express themselves freely in such settings.

“I’d like to think that poets can disturb the universe without fear of losing their jobs,” he said.


Some serious poets believe that the rigors of university teaching, which often include voluminous readings and critiques of others’ works, can adversely affect their ability to write well.

So they take nonacademic, often low-paying jobs so they can devote all their literary efforts to their poems.

“The bio notes on poets’ books are notorious for listing a wild array of stopgap jobs and breadwinning ways,” said Heather McHugh, a former professor of Beachy-Quick who now is Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence and Professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“My experience as a teacher of poetry for almost 30 years suggests that any job requiring one to deal with words all day long may not be the best inducement to go home and write poems at night,” she said.

For now, however, Beachy-Quick said he remains content to follow the academic career path, which would provide steady pay and relative security.

But he is aware that professorships, particularly in English literature, are extremely hard to come by.


Ramke, Beachy-Quick’s instructor at the University of Denver, said Beachy-Quick should also consider publishing jobs. “I think he would be very good at that,” Ramke said.

He added that, for all poets, there exists dichotomy between doing what they love and earning a living wage.

For some, the conflict is a lifelong struggle that causes frustration and hardship; for others, the dual existence becomes an accepted but difficult way of life.

“I think what a poet has to do is ultimately involve himself with poetry and not a career,” Ramke said. “You send your manuscript out in the same way you do your bills.”


Time for a Change

NAME: Dan Beachy-Quick

OCCUPATION: Poet, college instructor, bookstore employee

DESIRED OCCUPATION: Poet, university professor, publisher


Stanley Kunitz is the United States poet laureate. His books of poetry have earned numerous awards including a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. His latest release is “The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz” (W.W. Norton, 2000). He is founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, and Poets House in New York City. He divides his time between New York City and Provincetown


From ‘Hariot’s Round’

“I know the odds are stacked against one risking a living as a poet. The only way is through teaching, and it makes me nervous to think of poetry as a vehicle for making a salary. It’s kind of a threat to the art of it to make a living from it.”


Dan Beachy-Quick