Published poet Lucas Hunt shares his love of money and poetry and how he's pursued both. Find the day jobs of a poet and the unexpected way poetry can lead to philanthropy.
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
—from "Two Tramps in Mud Time," by Robert Frost
People say there’s no money in poetry, and I’ve always hated them. Money is the ultimate metaphor. If people bought more poetry, then they would understand the definition of metaphor better, and could explain it to me. The connection between money and poetry has interested me all my life.
At the very wise age of 22, I withdrew from courses at the University of Iowa to pursue a career as a poet. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, requiring no thought, and based solely on an overpowering desire to write.
My parents were so pleased by my return to the family home that they celebrated with beer every night for weeks. Unlike my less fortunate peers, the receipt of a degree in higher education was now unnecessary, and would have no effect on my future employment. I was lucky be in such a rich position. Each morning, I awoke excited to write poetry.
Some months later, back at college in Iowa City, I walked in Prairie Lights Bookstore and related my predicament to a book clerk. “If you want to be a poet, then you will need to have another job to support yourself,” she said. The saucy clerk clearly had a chip on her shoulder, but despite her attitude I determined that employment at a bookstore would do my wallet good.
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- Receive tips on keeping track of your submissions
The only problem with the bookstore was that it was dark, dirty, dusty, too cold in summer, and too hot in winter. I had to ride in an elevator full of college textbooks that gave me vertigo. If I was late, Tom the manager was offended. One morning, after this happened a few times, I thought it would be nice to show Tom the reason for my tardiness, and brought my date from the night before. “I’m the reason he is late,” she said. I sure do miss old Tom.
After several years of writing poetry and working in bookstores, I’d read quite a few books and published zero. Family and friends were truly in awe of my literary prowess, and received books as presents on Birthdays and Christmas. The situation afforded me a lot of time to write, except weekdays from 9 am to 7 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am to 8 pm. I had early mornings and late nights to myself to pay bills, shop, clean, take my car to the mechanic, my dog to the vet, cook, sleep and writing to my heart’s content.
I didn’t think it could get any better, but the situation improved when my employer at a bookstore in the Hamptons (bookstores are everywhere), said they could not pay me any more. A very good writer friend, who will remain anonymous as Simon Van Booy, suggested that I pursue a more stable financial path, by working with authors of mysteries and thrillers at a literary agency.
I checked the local newspaper, and one was hiring. After two tough interviews, and a month of reading the slush pile, I became Simon Van Booy’s agent.
We eventually sold seven books by Simon that were translated into 13 different languages. He was our top-earning new client at the literary agency. His books were finally available in American and English. Once we travelled to China for a book tour of Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Sadly, he ate my cheeseburger on the flight, but I found a mushroom, hot pepper, ginger and bacon dish that made up for it.
After seven years of apprenticeship at the literary agency, I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which I cannot locate. New York City was calling with big city plans to start my very own literary agency. I saved up ten thousand dollars by not going out to eat in the Hamptons for an entire summer, and filled my car with manuscripts and dreams of best-selling literary fiction.
Publishing may be in love with its own demise, yet I partnered with an award-winning public relations firm to co-found a brand new literary agency. First, we got our very own WeWork office with a keg of kombucha.
On the one-year anniversary of our new agency, I thought it’d be great to try and sell a book. So I called my old boss in the Hamptons, who confirmed publishing was in demise. Good luck came again in the form of a cash disbursal from my IRA account, barely taxed and penalized for early withdrawal. Now we were in business!
Everything was going well, and the only challenge was not earning money. New York City has a way of guiding you toward your destiny, and I received my big break when an electric ninja salmon, slang for e-cyclist wearing all black at night, with no lights, riding the wrong way on a one way—broke my left elbow and arm in half. Finally, I was free to focus on my writing arm and hand, and forget the other.
My business partner at the agency vocally supported my absence from the office. For the next few months I enjoyed occupational therapy, frequent prayer, and submitted my poetry to publishers. The bold, eccentric, classically educated publisher Thane & Prose replied in the affirmative. They asked for an epic project that would span years. Our agency triumphantly closed the world’s first and last five-book poetry contract.
My journey as a bookseller and agent had come to a successful end. Thane & Prose published the first and second volumes of the series Iowa (2017) and Hamptons (2019). The books are about how specific places elicit unique feelings in us. The next volume is New York (2021) followed by Paris (2023) and Rome (2025), imposing cities I will be forced to revisit and explore while on vacation.
So far, the books are selling well. My publisher sent a royalty check that both fed me AND my girlfriend for an ENTIRE evening. The books are especially popular in Dublin, Ireland, a place that knows famine well.
Luckily, several years ago, my friend Vicki called to invite me to her women’s group. She’d seen me read poetry before, and thought I’d be a good addition to her group.
“What would you like me to do? “ I asked.
“Stand on stage in front of a crowd. Women will come out wearing bras. Point to them and say a number to the crowd. If someone raises their hand, then say a higher number,” Vicki said.
“Are you asking me to auction bras off models?” I asked.
“Well, yeah hun, can you do it?” she asked.
I was reluctant to agree, but the event was a benefit for breast cancer prevention. My mother lost her best friend to the disease, and the mayor of my hometown in Iowa was a famous auctioneer, whom I assisted as a boy. So I said yes. That night, I found my other calling in life as a benefit auctioneer and fundraising consultant.
Over the years, my business has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars and awareness for non-profit organizations. Our fundraising experience adds significant and consistent value to events. We combine expert consultation with brilliant live performances. Our auctioneers have appeared on television, stage, and voice overs. We are the very best in fundraising, and have a lot of fun.
And it all goes back to poetry, and Vicki. It only takes one person to change your life forever. Poetry and money connected for me in the philanthropic spirit. That’s where people come together to share their love for common humanity. It’s when we all acknowledge the voiceless, the silenced, the oppressed and others in need of our collective support. And helping others is a job worth having.
LUCAS HUNT is the president of HUNT Auctioneers and a celebrated American poet. He graduated from World Wide College of Auctioneering, has a Benefit Auctioneer Specialist (BAS) designation from the National Auctioneer’s Association.