This comes from poet, teacher, and philosopher Sandra Simmonds, who is probably one of the best minds in contemporary poetry. Her most recent collection of poems, Mother Was a Tragic Girl, can be gotten via Small Press Distribution.
If this Open Letter prompts you into wanting to take some form of action, a petition has been started.
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, Jen McCreary and Taylor Brady and thank you to Sean Singer for editing).