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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