Etheridge Knight
When I was an undergraduate, serving as editor of Sonoma State University’s literary magazine, I called my favorite living poet and asked him if he could be the “featured poet” in our next annual issue.
Etheridge Knight was flattered, but also frank. “Will you pay me?” he asked. He explained that he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer, and that he “could use the money.”
The magazine paid him, though I think it was a paltry sum. I remember wondering why it was that one of the most famous poets in America was strapped for cash. I imagined that it had everything to do with his medical bills. His fortunes must be getting drained, I thought. In those neophyte years, I had naively assumed that book publication equaled money. I knew nothing of the economics of poetry.

Now, of course, I know better: poets might be well-known, but they usually aren’t wealthy. Well, maybe some are, but probably not due to the far-from-lucrative world of small-press publishing. And I have known more and more poets who have had financial difficulties, because of poor health, lack of insurance, etc.
”Poets in Need” is a non-profit organization that assists poets of significant innovation and/or publishing record, and who are in financial need due to emergency situations such as eviction, natural disaster, or health crisis.
I’m sending a small check today, in honor of Etheridge Knight and others whose work has sustained us all in ways more lasting than monetarily. I hope the readers of this blog will do the same.
Please send a tax-deductible donation to:
Poets in Need
Post Office 5411
Berkeley, CA 94705

Originally Published: June 13th, 2008

Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a...

  1. June 14, 2008
     Jonathan David Jackson

    Dear Mr. Powell,
    Thank you for posting this!

  2. June 14, 2008
     Linh Dinh

    Hi D.A.,
    Dale Smith has been trying to raise money for Tom Clark. I quote from Dale's blog:
    Tom Clark needs your help. He is stranded with no salary and no medical insurance to cover costs due to a recent stroke. He also needs funds for medications to aid in the recovery of his wife, Angelica Clark, from surgery on her hip.
    After 25 years on the faculty of the New College of California’s Poetics Program, payment on his salary and his insurance was abruptly stopped when the school came under scrutiny of federal and state auditors last fall.
    Tom Clark has been an important voice in postwar American poetry since the 1960s. For a decade he was the poetry editor for The Paris Review. His many books appeared with Black Sparrow for nearly thirty years, and his biographies of Jack Kerouac, Charles Olson, and Edward Dorn have provided essential perspectives on the lives of these New American authors. He is a passionate and devoted teacher who deserves far greater recognition for his services to American poetry communities.
    Tax deductible donations to the Clarks can now be made payable to: "Giorno Poetry Systems, " with "Tom Clark Fund" in the memo. Checks should be sent to:
    Giorno Poetry Systems
    222 Bowery
    New York, N. Y. 10012
    GPS is non-profit 501 (c) (3) foundation.

  3. June 15, 2008

    It's good that we keep remembering Etheridge. He came to Syracuse when I was a student there. A few memories, one is of his reading his poem "Ilu, the Talking Drum". Large sections of the poem read: kah-doom/kah-doom-doom/kah-doom/kah-doom-doom-doom.
    This is why readings, I suppose, have their significance (recently I heard Louise Gluck talking about how she hates giving/going to readings, and sometimes I get crotchety about them too). But you need to hear those kah-dooms, or else they don't hit you. Those lines are what I most remember.
    Also, I remember hemming and hawing around a question, until Etheridge paraphrased: "are you asking me if I think drugs enhence creativity?" And he hemmed and hawed around his answer, which was, basically, no.
    In those years I was hoping, of course, the answer would be yes.
    But I do not think Etheridge was complete aboard the wagon of conformity. Our workship with him was to be held at my apartment, and he pulled up, late, outside in a cab, and our teacher-the-famous-poet went out to speak with him. His woman-partner had been in a car crash, he said, and he had to fly home. And sped away in the cab.
    But he actually stayed in town for a while, holed up somewhere. I think the demon was female in this case.

  4. June 15, 2008

    Also, this is shocking news about Tom Clark. Every writer's nightmare.
    No, every American's nightmare. We need Universal health care now.