Sandra Simonds' open letter to the Poetry Foundation finds wide support:
Last week we posted Sandra Simonds' open letter to the Poetry Foundation in which she asked for the Foundation to make a strong financial commitment to aid poets in need. Within a few hours, poet Jenny Gropp Hess used that letter as the basis for a petition to gather support for Simond's request. Hess also created a facebook page (which received more than 1,000 "likes" within 24 hours) to keep supporters informed of the progress of the petition.
Within three days over a holiday weekend, more than 1,000 supporters signed the Hess petition, which will be delivered to the Foundation soon (the petition is now closed). Clearly Simonds' request tapped into a previously unarticulated frustration among those who have been watching the Foundation over the years since it received its historic $200 million bequest from pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly.
The Foundation has built itself a new headquarters in Chicago, built a state-of-the-art website, partnered with media outlets, and increased the number and size of its individual awards to poets. Many now wonder if the future of the Foundation holds more of the same or if the Foundation will implement programs that will help struggling poets, old and young. Simonds' letter expressed particular concern for the health-care needs of poets, noting that the Foundation allocates annually a mere $7,500 to poets in need.
Among those who signed the petition are both established and emerging poets, including Mark Doty, David Lehman, Katha Pollitt, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Shanna Compton, Jennifer L. Knox, Evie Shockley, Anselm Berrigan, Calvin Bedient, and Claudia Rankine. Many wrote moving comments.
In signing the petition, Gillian Conoley of Corte Madera, California, writes, "I know many poets who have health issues and are aging. Some have pensions, which do not cover their costs, and some have nothing at all. Barbara Guest died in a center that was not a place anyone would want to die. We should care for our poets as a community."
John Fry, of Fair Oaks, Texas, writes, "As in any community - here, a community within a larger community - we are responsible for each other, and those (be it an individual or an organization) who care about the welfare of an art should care equally about the welfare of its makers."
Several who signed expressed support for the work the Foundation has done thus far while urging it to make a more meaningful contribution to the quality of poets' lives.