To Sandra Simonds,
This is an open letter in response to your request that the Poetry Foundation make a strong financial commitment to aid poets facing financial crises and a lack of adequate healthcare.
You say in your open letter that “it is heartbreaking when poets you have admired for years are forced to ask for help with basic necessities,” and I wonder how this is any more heartbreaking than the millions of other Americans struggling financially to make ends meet. How do the struggles of everyday Americans differ, and to what degree, from those problems faced by the poetry community? As poets, we make a decision at some point or another to devote as much of our life to our craft as possible. In doing so, we must acknowledge that to identify as a poet (or artist in general) is a privilege in and of itself; one that comes at certain costs. Primarily, a life of potential financial hardship. But I ask you, Sandra, what American today does not face similar uncertainties facing their financial future?
The difference between poets and the general public is that some of us, like you, Sandra, are fortunate enough to have an audience and a platform to reach them. In today’s rocky economic climate, one governed by debt and political deficit, I do not think it is in the best interest of your audience or the poetry community to model such irresponsible behavior in asking for a financial handout from the Poetry Foundation to support the poets you hold in such romanticized esteem. Poets are people just like everyone else, Sandra. Suggesting that poets deserve compensation simply for the fact of being a poet is insulting, and furthers our reputation for being elitist and disconnected. As a community, I would hope that we had a little more gumption to solve our financial predicament rather than taking the easy route by asking the Poetry Foundation for a handout. I support poets by buying their books. Maybe we, as a community, can figure out how to get our art to a wider audience before we so hastily throw in the towel.
I find the ease with which you speak for the dead presumptuous. Ruth Lilly’s endowment may have come from pharmaceuticals, but let me remind you that she trusted the Poetry Foundation with her donation. I believe it is in the best taste to respect the wishes of the dead. And the Poetry Foundation does allocate funds to poets by way of prizes and fellowships—funds doled out and determined by the merit of work. While these prizes and fellowships are few and far between, I must apologize, Sandra, for informing you that it is a competitive marketplace, no matter what your profession. Life is unfair. Sorry.
Your approach here is lazy and misdirected. Your qualms with the current financial/healthcare system seem issues best directed to your State Representative, not the Poetry Foundation. I want to make it clear that I struggle. I do not have healthcare and I am barely able to keep up with rent, let alone feed myself and my family. I do not wish to deny any person, artist or otherwise, the opportunities to succeed financially and have access to adequate healthcare. I’m simply stating that the poetry community is not alone in our struggle for survival, and that I believe there are more creative ways to thrive other than depending on the support of the Poetry Foundation.
To Success and Health,