GRIEVANCES: Roberto Montes


compiled from the social media of Roberto Montes

What is a poem worth?

How many hours

Is fair to give

To your employer

In order to afford

One collection


I am wary of poets

Who crow about the labor of poetry

Who demand compensation

(Compensation for the loss

Of hours?

Compensation for the strain?)

I am weary of poets

In It to Win It

Yawning at the thought

That their poem


Would deserve anything less

Than a prize pool

Of entrants’ fees

One of the great strengths

Of poetry is its resistance

To valuation

The toxicity of valuation

The institutional feedback loop

Cannot be ignored

I have seen kind people forced

To make unkind decisions

Because their livelihood depends

On publishing certain work

In certain circles

So that they might accrue value

Which limits them

I have seen people share their rejections

Proudly detailing the hundreds or thousands

Of dollars spent before finally


Being chosen for an award

(These stories

I believe meant

To curry hope)

Valuation is an efficient system

If our aim is the production

Of publishable work

Not poetry

What is our aim?

What is it we mean

When we award some of us

Thousands of dollars

From the reader fees

Of others


If the goal is

To relieve poets of the distraction

Of wage labor

So that they might


Focus on their poetry

With some relief

From precarity

The current climate feels

Breathtakingly cynical

That only a few of us truly deserve

That relief

That any judicial body

(Made of those already

Deemed worthy)

Might have the authority

To determine that worth


The business of poetry survives

Because some of us

Only eat one meal a day

It survives because some of us

Have children to support

And no help

Some of us have medical bills

Most of us

Students loans that never diminish

It survives because we cannot write

From the depths of precarity

It survives because we are in need

Because we do what we must

But the business of poetry

Does not exist

To fulfill our needs

What is its aim?

Its aim

As ours

Is to go on

It does what it must

But I wonder how it might look

If poets were able to forego precarity

As easily

As the poem foregoes value

I wonder if poets

Rather than rely on compensation

For their poetry

Could rely on universal healthcare

I wonder if poets

Rather than spending $30

For the 10th time

In the hopes of later receiving $2000

And publication

Were free to seek alternative means

To share their work

No longer reliant on institutional legitimacy

To pad their CV

In the hopes of being chosen

To teach one more workshop

I wonder which would benefit poetry more

Paying for poets to attend readings

Or paying toward the cause of free education

I am wary of libertarian poetics

That the market should be given more power

To decide worth That the market

Having consumed enough marginalized poets

Could self-correct

To rectify its injustices

I am tired of writing the same damn poem

I am tired of reading the same damn poem

What is the value of our exhaustion

Where might I trade in

The significance of survival

For a moment’s rest

What is a poem worth?


Roberto Montes

Roberto Montes is the author of I DON’T KNOW DO YOU, named one of the Best Books of 2014 by NPR and a finalist for the 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry from The Publishing Triangle. His poetry has appeared in The Lambda Literary Spotlight, Guernica, PEN America Poetry Series, and elsewhere. A chapbook, GRIEVANCES, is now available from the Atlas Review TAR chapbook series.