Dear Poetry Foundation,

As of today, 4/26/2020, nearly 1,400 poets have signed a petition addressed to you, initiated during this National Poetry Month, by the five-person collective at speCt books.

Your belated response, on 4/25, is downright discouraging. In fact, it’s haughty evasiveness is getting pilloried by a good many, already, backchannel.

We have to ask: Have you seen the petition? Because you don’t even bother to acknowledge it…

But, of course, you have seen it.

May we suggest that responding next time with more candor and generosity could help your standing with the many hundreds of concerned poets who have signed the petition (and those still to sign)?

Because your response, which seems conveniently shunted away on your site (almost as if it’s a dodge meant to give you future cover), comes off as a kind of palace missive, broadcast by some royal court, too self-consumed to honestly address the sudden distress of its subjects.

In your “response,” you say you will continue to “assess” the situation. We do hope this is the case. Allow us, on the assumption that you will, to suggest a few things you might wish to include in such ongoing consideration:

  • Carefully read, first of all, the latest letter sent to you today by the collective at speCt books (with sixty co-signers). The questions the letter asks are being raised by many more poets than you seem to suspect. That number is growing.
  • Figure out how to convincingly share with your audience the nature of your current “financial pressures,” a phrase that frankly comes off as tone-deaf in the current situation, when unemployed poets, bookstores, and small presses are gasping for air, forty hours a week, while you pay your top two executives, alone, nearly $750,000 dollars a year in compensation, for (it’s on the tax report) 35 hours of work a week, each.
  • Relatedly, figure out how you can convince your audience that you are suffering “financial pressures” so great that you can’t redirect a modest 2% of your portfolio in the current dire emergency, when your assets have grown at least 150% since the 2002 Ruth Lilly gift and Eli Lilly stock–constituting most of your bequest–has rocketed 22% in value in the past quarter—fueled (the irony is sickening) by the COVID outbreak?
  • Assess whether the composition of your Board, which is overwhelmingly white, haut-bourgeois, and pretty much devoid of practicing poets(!), truly represents the constituency of poetry today. Assess whether this demographic/ethnic composition at the top echelons of the $250,000,000[+] Poetry Foundation might be something you want to fix. Not least in wake of fact that your first and previous President, a longtime Senior Executive of Morgan Stanley and also President Emeritus of the Poetry Society of America (poetry and finance seem intimately connected these days), had published a book written wholly in racist blackface four years before you hired him.
  • Assess, while you are at it, why you haven’t thought to publicly apologize for your dishonorable actions in persecuting a group of young poets, who in 2011 did nothing but carry out an act of peaceful civil disobedience; they called on you, even way back then, to more compassionately invest your money in inner city cultural programs where it was most urgently needed. Can you not see, now, that they were urging you to turn your institutional heart and “core mission” in a direction very different from the one that has earned you growing scorn? What a shame you did not heed their call. Instead, you tried to have them thrown in Cook County Penitentiary! Assess, then, we suggest, whether you should apologize to the world of poetry, at long last. You will be forgiven, if the apology is sincere, unlike your lame, legal-firm-vetted “response” of yesterday.
  • Assess whether all of the above might have something to do with why the great UK poet J.H. Prynne wrote (in defense of those young Chicago poets you tried to throw in the slammer) that the Poetry Foundation looks like a bank and behaves like one.
  • Finally, we’d suggest you assess, very carefully, how you will be judged in the histories of poetry to come. Should you keep chugging along the current track you’re on, it’s probably not going to be pretty.

–Dispatches