This is an interesting discussion. I think, yes, anyone can write a poem or pursue a creative pursuit, but the time and energy that one needs to devote to becoming “great” or even good at it, not to mention pursuing it as a career, is a luxury most people don’t have, or at least unless you make some sacrifices. I come from a mostly lower middle class upbringing—my father once did payroll for company before he was replaced by a computer. Then he was an airport janitor, then a post man. My mom stayed at home and babysat random kids for extra money until I was 13, then went back to work as a telephone operator/mail room sorter when my dad was out of work. Me and my sister were among the first generation to attend college on either side of the family and we were, I suppose, supposed to be responsible things like teachers or accountants, bankers or lawyers. Instead my parents wound up with an English major/poet and a classics major/artist, both with measly paying day jobs. All my cousins went into practical things like banking, and teaching, health care services.
And yet even I am spoiled, with a pretty stable job, which while confining me there 40 hrs/week and paying me slightly less than a crack whore, I don’t take it home with me. I also had a pretty decent education thanks to scholarships, grants, and student loans. While my pre-college education leaves a lot to be desired-the Rockford Public Schools are among the worst in the country- I’ve always been pretty good at this school thing and prospered regardless, though that’s probably owed to a pretty stable home environment and a competitive streak a mile long. At one time, I had a lot of options, any of which I could have done with reasonable success. But soon it was all about books and writing. I couldn’t imagine a profession like law, teaching, or medicine, which takes up all that mental energy I could use elsewhere. Nor could I deal with mind-numbing factory work, or worse, back-breaking labor. There wouldn’t be time to write poems, to read poems, to study, let alone send it out with any success. I’d probably come home, eat dinner, and crash. The same for the full-time mom with lots of kids. I’m always impressed when I meet people who CAN be poets, in a professional sense, and have those sorts of lives. I think of my parents, before they were retired, how exhausted both were everyday coming home from work, both zoning out and napping in front of the tv . Actually my dad likes to read in front of the tv-- newspapers, magazines, history books but even that’s a sort of luxury. My mom, never much a reader was continually encouraging all of us to stop reading and get up and do something productive. (Though I have of late hooked her on reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables now that she’s a bit more idle herself…it’s a start..)
But then I also think if you really have the drive to do something, to succeed as a writer or an artist, a flaming building couldn’t stop you…let alone background or grueling job…and definitions of class are pretty fuzzy anyhow. I'd like to think I'm part of what Richard Florida termed the "creative class" but really I take home 27k a year and half goes to rent, which is probably considered poverty level. I know adjunct teaching poets who are much poorer than I am. Bartening poets who are richer. We all do what we can.