So You Want My Job: Poet

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 22, 2012 · 26 comments

in So You Want My Job

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

There are legions of aspiring writers out there–would-be journalists, novelists, and bloggers are a dime a dozen. But I had never met someone who aspired to write verse, until I connected with Jordan Chaney. Perhaps you too never gave any thought to being a poet as a job, figuring that full-time poets died off a century ago or were reserved to those chosen to be poet laureates. But as Mr. Chaney discusses in this interview, being a poet can still be a real career in this day and age; it just takes a lot of hustle and heart.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

My name is Jordan Chaney, and I live in Kennewick, WA, right in the heart of wine country–though I was born in Alexandria, VA all the way across the map near Washington D.C. When I meet a person for the first time and they ask me what I do for a living, I tell them very confidently, “I am a poet.” I usually get a raised eyebrow or shy “ah, ok” or “hmmm, interesting.” And I don’t blame them; in my 32 years on earth I have never seen an ad in the classifieds that read: Wanted: An energetic sap that has a soft spot for metaphor & rhyme. Must have their own pen, paper, and car and be willing to travel to random locations on any given week. No 401K. No healthcare provided. A road less traveled indeed. I started pursuing life as a poet in 2003 and have been at it full-time for about a year now. Between the ages of 16 and 24, I had over 54 different jobs. I was everything from a concrete form layer to a pharmaceutical rep, and every job that I ever held had one very agonizing thing in common: a boss! I’m not the type that has a problem with authority or anything like that, it’s just that I believe I have just as much personality, creativity, and go-getter-ness in me that I decided to take a leap of faith and go after my wildest childhood dream, and that is to be who I am today: a poet with a paycheck.

2. Why did you want to become a poet? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

When I was 7 years old, my mother showed me a poem titled “Mr. H.” The poem was about a young woman who was in a poisonous and toxic relationship with a man by the name of Mr. H. Mr. H was abusive towards her. He was controlling and jealous and spent all of this young girl’s money, but no matter how evil he was to her, she could not leave him. She wouldn’t leave Mr. H even though the relationship was truly becoming deadly; this woman would do anything she could to be with him. At the end of the poem it is revealed that Mr. H is really the drug heroin and this woman is losing a battle to her addiction. I know that that is really heavy reading for a 7-year-old, but it did two very powerful things for my consciousness. 1) It illustrated a very real and scary issue that a lot of people face in our world. 2) It gave me a high understanding of metaphor as a tool for expressing myself with word. I didn’t know then that I wanted to be a poet, but 14 years later when I was living in one of the most crime and drug-infested neighborhoods in Phoenix, Arizona, I was up late writing and watching HBO, and a movie came on called Slam, and a poet by the name of Saul Williams recited a poem called “Amethyst Rocks.” The poem reminded me of “Mr. H;” it felt like the message came full circle. It gave me the chills, and I knew then at 21 years old that I wanted to save the world with my poetry.

3. Now let’s get right to the question everyone is likely wondering about: how can someone support themselves and make a living as a poet?

Two of the most important things I learned about myself after surviving 54 painful jobs is that I know how to market Me, and I am good with people. Most of all, I am a shameless self-promoter. I get out and shake a lot of hands and will perform a poem on the spot to build a relationship, and that relationship has a way of growing into a gig of some kind. I have written a book titled Double-Barreled Bible, and there is a CD that comes with it too. The money from that helps pay the bills and for business cards and so on. I am working on a second book titled Fly, and I also have a column that I contribute poetry to in a magazine called Winepress Northwest. Another way I have made income is by creating a workshop and teaching poetry and communication skills; that has been a great success. I have been invited to several places throughout the country to facilitate my workshop including colleges and prisons. It’s a grind–a lot of people don’t take what you do seriously or know how to assign value to your art. But there’s hope. There are several ways to make money as a poet–you just have to be willing to try different things, and you have to really want to make it work. I do.

4. How do you get attention and a following for your work? Some would-be full-time poets are turning to social media—things like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to promote themselves and their work, while other poets feel such methods cheapen their craft. What’s your take?

Since I am an independent artist, a lot of my “gigs” come from me getting out and meeting people. Selling what I can do and myself. I turn a lot of my contacts into real friends, and they have helped me in more ways than I can count. My networking ability is my strongest asset. My Facebook page helps me to stay connected with people I have met at colleges and other venues. Writing for Winepress Northwest has helped me reach wineries that pay to book me too. I am willing to do what it takes to sustain my life and reach my goals. I don’t feel that putting your work out there using these methods cheapens my craft. I see it as a great way to get my books into as many hands as possible.

5. How do family/friends/would-be romantic partners react when you tell them you’re pursuing a career as a full-time poet? Have people been supportive?

At first when I shared my ambitions to be a career poet with some of my old friends, the idea was immediately given a fat-lip, dragged out in the alley, and had the crap kicked out of it. I was laughed at, discouraged, and warned of how fruitless the pursuit would ultimately be. These “friends” were looking out for my best interest after all, right? Not! We disbanded a few months later, and I decided that I wouldn’t let anyone stomp out my dream ever again no matter what. 99% of the people in my life today are the most loving and supportive people I could ever ask for. When a person sets out to achieve a goal they will instantly be met with opposition. But that is where the true beginning is because if a person truly intends on making something happen in their life, their network is the secret factor. The quantity and quality of actual support in their support group will determine the likelihood of that dream manifesting. If I never understood that one very powerful thing, I would not be where I am today. That is no exaggeration. You have got to surround yourself with supportive people.

6. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is that I get to give people the best part of me: my art! When I share my poetry and my stories with people, they tell me that they are inspired to start pursuing their dreams and goals again. I love that what I have overcome and put into words has inspired so many people and has created “work” for me to the point that I am able to support my family. I put quotations around work because it often feels like play, and a quote comes to mind: “If you do what you love you will never work a day in your life.” I’m not sure who said that, but when it comes to careers, truer words were never spoken. One of my favorite poets, Buddy Wakefield, summed it up as “Live for a living.” That is the greatest and the best part of my job–that I fully get to be me. I don’t have to negotiate my self-respect or identity in the workplace if a boss or co-worker is having a bad day and wants to shove some of it my way. I saw that a lot through all the jobs that I had. People are able to cling to their jobs for so long by having the ability to bite their tongues. My job now is the total opposite. And I found that if you bite your tongue too many times, you can lose your voice and dampen your spirit. The best part of my job is that it requires me to be fully alive and loving what I do.

7. What is the worst part of your job?

The worst part of my job is that I feel as though I wear a lot of hats. I am an independent artist and that comes with a lot of skills needed to make it all work. I write creative material, perform that material, promote myself, book and negotiate gigs, draw up invoices, shop for supplies needed…it’s like running a department store by myself. There is always something that needs to be done, but I would much rather handle it on my own then to work for anyone.

8. What is the work/family/life balance like for you?

Though sometimes I get into grind mode and don’t want to be bothered by anyone, I always, always make time for my lady and my son. They are the reason why I chose this path. I want to see them happy, and I know the happier I am with life, the happier they will be in life too. A lot of parents tell their kids that they can be anything they want to be and all the while they are clinging to a job they hate. My son has a mini-recording studio and a business license of his own. He fully believes that his dream of being a R&B recording artist is fully possible, and I encourage him to be exactly what he wants to be. He has recently started coming to some of my gigs with me to earn extra money and to get experience being near stages and microphones. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that juggling both worlds wasn’t overwhelming at times. After extroverting all day long you sometimes want to go home and introvert, but your family is now excited for you to be home and ready to talk. Sometimes at the end of the day, you just want to have silence and be left alone. So making time for my family is something that I made a priority once I noticed that I felt that way.

9. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

I think the biggest misconception that people have about my job is that it is not important or truly needed or in demand. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I used to work as an employment specialist once upon a time. Part of my job was to meet with an economist once a month to study market trends for in-demand jobs per zip code. That data would help me assist my clients with what job to go after. Well, being privy to job trend market info gave me the awareness of what really is in demand in our society today. Inspiration. People are bombarded with magazine ads and commercials selling them anti-depressants–“hope in a bottle”–and these drug companies are so successful at selling pills because they know that people are willing to spend LOTS of money on hope. I am succeeding because of the same principle, but I am doing it with poetry and stories of triumph and also educating people how to express themselves the same way and grow a new tongue. What I do is definitely in demand.

10. Any other advice, tips, commentary, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

I have been successful at what I do because I understand something about grinding to make your dream come true, and I’ll sum that up in this short anecdote…

Every day in Africa when the sun comes up a gazelle knows that it must outrun the fastest lion in order to survive. And every day in Africa when the sun comes up a lion knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle in order to survive. The moral of the story is this: It doesn’t matter if you’re a lion, gazelle, or a poet: when the sun comes up you better start running.

Don’t be a dreamer be a dream Do-ER!

 

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew March 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm

That is awesome. I have so much respect for that guy to actually be able to support himself from writing verse. Most of the poetry I read is silly/funny poems like this one about spelling checkers (http://www.dailyvowelmovements.com/2010/06/little-poem-about-computer-spell.html). I wish there were more like him and even more ads like he said that say “Wanted: An energetic sap that has a soft spot for metaphor & rhyme.”
Thanks for the post.

2 Webbz March 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm

i think that if you looked at only the surface itd seem like that but you forget what made this man and what hes had to do in order to make his dream come true. I doubt many or any individuals could make it to see there dreams create fruit if they didnt bring this out of themselves. Hence this guy is a man dont get it twisted.

3 Cole Bradburn March 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm

This was a great and timely read for today, thank you Jordan.

I have been writing poetry for years, and just recently have slowly began to share it with the world. My “real job” is quite fulfilling, but doesn’t always let the artist in me contribute meaningful work to the world. This journey of sharing has been hard at times, but also brings a newfound sense of freedom.

Thank you for helping me see the possibility.

4 Mike Poole March 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I really like the “So You Want My Job” feature, but this is my favorite one to date. Rock on, Jordan. You’re a pretty cool guy. Off now to look for your book.

5 Zachariah March 22, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Awesome. I’m a wannabe writer, so that was cool to read. And I like poetry.

And that was a great ending.

6 Mr. J March 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm

great article, love the you want my job concept.
keep up the good work Mr. Cheney.

7 Bruce West March 23, 2012 at 12:23 am

Inspiring article. It serves as a good reminder to follow my dreams. Too often I focus on working hard to survive, biting my tongue, and going with the daily grind. I want to be a writer and a journalist – and yet I work hard toiling away in an ER that hardly pays my bills. It’s a recipe for self-destruction. I need to focus more on my craft. I need to live a little more.

8 TheTomCat March 23, 2012 at 9:37 am

Well, lets hear some poetry? where can I go to read this, or are there any videos?

Deff an inspiration and sounds alot like me. from 16-23 ive had 8 different jobs and that feels like shit, I cant imagine 54. but either way I have that same feeling of I gotta get out, Im bigger than this, Ive got creativity and ideas that are all being squashed at these going no where jobs.

thanks for the boost.

9 Jordan Chaney March 23, 2012 at 10:21 am

You can find some of my vids at http://www.youtube.com/thejordanchaneyshow and check out my website http://www.billowingwords.com thank you all for reading!

Follow your dream!

10 Zachary March 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

As an English/ History major, I find numerous people who are out to write poetry; they want to be the next T.S. Elliot or Robert Frost. Unfortunantly many of them give up on writing and performing poetry because it is so hard to get into it. I personally have no desire to get into it full time, I get one or two published a year and that is enough for me, but I am glad that there is one man out there who did not let daunting odds keep his poetry on the ground.

11 Zachary March 23, 2012 at 10:25 am

Also if you are interested in hack poets, check out my site: http://www.TheGrayMatterReport.blogspot.com
I would love to hear your commentary.

12 Clint Harris March 23, 2012 at 3:21 pm

This is some really good stuff. I especially liked how he markets himself and makes it a job. Writing is a job. It’s hard work. I’m glad to see he’s doing it full-time.

13 Nena March 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Simply Honest!
Thanks for the inspiration Jordan.
You give your time to so many and truly prioritize your family.
All I can say is – Keep goin! Your dreams have just taken flight ;-)

EG

14 JHJ March 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm

People often tell me that I have the best job in the world, and I do. However like all jobs, there are days that pay really well and days that don’t pay so well. As long as the days that pay well out number those that don’t I am in the right place.

15 jaklumen March 24, 2012 at 12:20 am

Someone from my home town? *falls out of chair*

Thanks for the inspiration, Jordan, and representing Kennewick and the Tri-Cities.

btw lovin your Bloomsday video right now. I’ve only done the race once, but my grandparents are in Spokane and pretty much done it most every year it’s been held. Quite the experience, all right.

16 Markv March 24, 2012 at 7:37 am

Ain’t no money in poetry,that’s what sets the poet free.I’ve had all the freedom I can stand.You got your cold dog soup and rainbow pie,is all it takes to get me by.Fool my belly till the day I die.Cold dog soup and rainbow pie.
Guy Clark

17 RMPHH March 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Truly epic.

All of our lives are stories to be told; oral tradition, published books, or films. Sometimes though we just play as a supporting cast or a mere prop, not the lead role.

Boy with school suspension due to crew cut hair.

18 Reinhard March 26, 2012 at 8:55 am

First post I’ve ever made on this site and I do it with the assumption that Mr. Chaney might read this. I’ve recently just turned 18 and have been browsing AoM for around half a year or so. I’m an aspiring poet as well. Have been doing slam poetry since sophomore year, but creative writing has been my passion since forever. This art form, while not the most well known, has such a great feel to it; it’s unique, expressive, and whether one chooses to believe it or not… The ~3 minutes a poet has on that stage is enough to change a life. It’s still growing in my neck of the woods (or jungle, since I live on an island, and no, not Hawai’i), and I’ve been apart of the scene since it first took off ~3 years ago… It grows bigger and bigger every year, it’s crazy… and for the past two years I’ve qualified for the Grand Slam (the BIG competition meant to find the six best poets out of twelve who qualify [in order to qualify you need to place in the top 3 in four qualifying bouts] for a chance to make it on the Brave New Voices team) and lost at the Grand Slam. Brave New Voices or BnV, is the SUPERbowl of youth poetry, where 500 youth from all around the world compete and share their stories with an amazing variety of people. I qualified February, and haven’t done anything since…. It may very well be my last year, and everyone I’ve competed against three years ago have aged out. I’ve done nothing and I don’t know if it’s because of uncertainty, fear, or just a lack of passion… and then just tonight, I visit this website and see your interview in the front page. It might just be the kick I need. Thanks for sharing your story man. Here’s to hoping the third time’s the charm.

19 jordan Chaney March 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Reinhard,

That is an amazing journey you have been on already!! I had a friend win the National Grand Slam a few years ago, and I know several other friends who have become career poets as well. You should email me or find me on Facebook/Twitter and stay connected. I love to see young poets and artists pursue their passion because of that “3 minutes on stage” you speak of.

Peace,
Jordan

20 Nadine Williams March 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm

This is sooooooooo incredibly INSPIRING, and just the READ I NEED TONIGHT!

21 Jordan Chaney April 3, 2012 at 2:28 am

Thanks Nadine! :D

follow me on Facebook.com/JordanChaney

22 Ash April 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Very inspiring. As an aspiring poet myself I would love it if you gave my word of the day haiku blog a look see…. http://wotdhaiku.blogspot.com/ thanks in advance!

23 Ted April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I wanted to recommend Bryan Espiritu for this series; he is the owner and designer of IdeallClothing. I have alot of respect for him for finding a way to do what he loves for a living, while keeping the integrity in himself and his craft. Thought it would be inspiring to see how he began and remained on his road to success, hopefully somebody reads this.

24 Michelle February 21, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I have seen Jordan in action both in the alternative school I work at and in our juvenile detention center; when Jordan is speaking, you can hear a pin drop! He is absolutely amazing and connects with these kids on such a level that we can see glimmers of hope in them once they have experienced Jordan. Thank you so much, Jordan, for inspiring these kids to turn away from the lives of crime, drugs, gangs and violence and learn to take the higher road to happiness and contribute to society! Can’t wait til we see you again!

25 joe October 9, 2013 at 8:13 pm

(slow, impressed clapping)
This is awesome. As an AB English student with a special interest in poetry and prose, I must say that this just made me bit happier that there is hope for me yet.

Thank you for the inspiration.
I will do my best to follow,
Too, my dreams.

26 shirley P. December 2, 2013 at 11:49 am

I have always had a passion for poetry. Since my childhood. But when I became a mother at a young age, I’ve spend most of my life supporting my family. Here and there, I would write but . I now have a stronger desire to launch Into my writing. Any advice?

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