On October 11, 2013, poet, educator, & activist Sandra Simonds wrote an open letter to the Poetry Foundation asking them to “Share the Wealth” among poets in need.
Currently, the Poetry Foundation makes several such contributions each year, but given their financial stability, we would like them to seriously consider significantly increasing this commitment to assist those poets facing healthcare issues, housing insecurity, & other serious economic hardship.
Please read Sandra’s letter — included below — and sign and share the petition at change.org to show your support.
The letter was originally posted on the Best American Poetry blog.
To the Poetry Foundation:
This is an open letter asking the Poetry Foundation to make a strong financial commitment to aid poets in our communities facing financial crises and a lack of adequate healthcare.
Many poets and I are concerned about the welfare of the many poets facing unprecedented economic challenges in this unstable economy. In the last year or two, a number of poets, old and young, established and emerging, have asked for financial assistance on social media and through email for healthcare costs, rent, and even utilities. It is heartbreaking when poets you have admired for years are forced to ask for help with basic necessities. The poetry community is strong. We help each other when our members are in need, and many poets have answered those calls for assistance. We are asking you to contribute to this effort.
Currently, the organizations in place to help poets in need are few, and their funding is insufficient. I have been in contact with Lyn Hejinian, a poet on the board of the non-profit organization “Poets in Need,” which helps aid poets who are struggling financially. However, this organization has roughly $80,000 total and can only make very small individual contributions to poets, usually less than $3,000. Every bit helps, and we’re grateful to this organization’s hard work, but you have the opportunity to make a major difference.
Last year the Poetry Foundation’s income was over seven million dollars and the foundation’s total assets are well above 150 million dollars. I was disappointed to learn that the Poetry Foundation gives only around $7,500 annually to poets in need. It seems appropriate that since Mrs. Lilly’s endowment came from pharmaceuticals, the foundation would commit some portion of its vast resources to underwrite the cost of health insurance for the poets she so admired.
Perhaps the Foundation would consider inaugurating a funding opportunity to enable established organizations such as Poets in Need to broaden and deepen the range of their assistance to poets. A substantial renewable Foundation grant to such organizations would show compassion and make a meaningful difference to those poets who might otherwise be without resources.
Like you, we believe poetry has the power to change lives and transform communities. Let’s not leave behind the poets who make that transformation possible.
(I could not have composed this letter without the generous help with research of Juliana Spahr, Jenn McCreary and Taylor Brady and thank you to Sean Singer for editing.)