From the Romans to the Romantics to the radicals, poetry and commerce have usually been presented as mutually exclusive. However, from Catullus to Chaucer to Stevens this antagonism has been proven more theoretical than real. Not only are poets not separate from their environments (a significant aspect of which is economics) but are frequently in a better position to value considerations of profit and loss than many around them, as making a living from poetry is precarious at best.
Dana Gioia, currently the head of the National Endowment for the Arts, a poet and critic, was formerly an executive at RJR Nabisco. English scholar T.P. Wiseman’s 1984 reappraisal of Catullus, “Catullus and His World,” makes a convincing case for this poet — commonly thought of as the bete noir par excellence (pardon my French) of “the establishment” — as a competent, commerce-concerned man from a line of businessmen born in a place famous for its commerce.
Speaking of T.P. Wiseman, here is a note I received from him on his new book:
“I have a book coming out in November called ‘The Myths of Rome’, fully illustrated and (I hope) reader-friendly, which contains among other things a chapter on how Roman paradigms have been exploited in the modern world. It may have a resonance for American readers, not only because of Hollywood but also in view of the shift from the Founders’ virtuous republicanism to the current anxieties about problems of ’empire’.”
The book is available from both Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and the University of Exeter Press.