The Atlantic

How Instagram Saved Poetry

Social media is turning an art form into an industry.
Source: Nabil Shash

Tom spent his days as a clerk, two floors below ground level in the cellars of Lloyds Bank. He worked in the foreign-transactions department from 9:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day, and in his free moments between filing and tabulating balance sheets, he wrote.

Tom was better known to the world as T. S. Eliot. By the time he started as a clerk in 1917, his most popular poem—The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—had been published to great acclaim. But even then, despite his bank salary, the man who has often been called the greatest poet of the 20th century struggled to make ends meet. He accepted money from relatives to buy underwear and pajamas, and anxiety over his finances drove him to breakdowns.

Poetry has always been an art form, but it has rarely been a career even for the most legendary poets. William Carlos Williams was a . Wallace Stevens was an . Charles Bukowski held a , including work as a dishwasher, a truck driver, a gas-station attendant, and a postal clerk. The poet’s story has long been one of a double life, split between two urgent duties: making a living and making art.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic24 min readPolitics
The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet
If Mark Sanford runs against Donald Trump, he’s doomed—for reasons that have nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
House Insurrections Are Here to Stay
There’s nothing new about a speaker managing dissent. And these fights are likely to intensify.
The Atlantic4 min readSociety
The Suffragists Who Opposed Birth Control
Editor’s Note: Read more stories in our series about women and political power. You would think suffragists, those corset-clad beacons of girl power, would support women’s right to have sex for pleasure. You’d be, for the most part, wrong. Mainstrea