An open letter to the Poetry Foundation regarding their COVID-19 Response Statement

April 27, 2020

Dear Poetry Foundation Board,

As you know, the poetry community has been calling for your support in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. We appreciate your attention and your response outlining your current work and objectives. We value the ways in which you have supported poets now and in the past. However, your response is insufficient. Your community is in crisis and it needs you to step up to the moment. Here are some suggestions:

  1. You do have the financial resources to make new commitments. In your statement you say, “the economic downturn is causing a significant immediate impact and unknown long-term impact to the value of our endowment.” We find this difficult to understand. As of today, April 27, the stock market is in the same approximate position as it was at the end of 2017, at which time the Poetry Foundation held ~$245 million in net assets. Furthermore, it is our understanding that your endowment is comprised “almost entirely of [Eli] Lilly stock,” which is currently sitting at an all time high due to $250 million in boosted profits from the COVID-19 crisis and is worth nearly 3x the original value when bequeathed in 2002. Based on this information, we continue to believe that the establishment of a $5 million fund is a very reasonable safeguard for the future of the poetry community. If it is too difficult for the Foundation to manage such a fund, our recommendation is to contribute $5 million to the Artist Relief Fund established by the Academy of American Poets in collaboration with other foundations and grant-makers, which we see as in the same spirit as our proposal.
  1. There must be more transparency on your financial situation and management. In order to more effectively align our requests with your abilities, it would be very helpful to understand your current financial situation, which you say is in decline. One thing we noticed in your recent 990 tax returns is that you have a history of growing your capital basis by about $4-5 million year over year. Furthermore, your expenses include high salaries for your executive staff, such as $436,292 for your president, Henry Bienen, and $287,868 for your CFO, Caren Skoulas. In a time of crisis, we’d encourage your management to see where they might sacrifice in order to help those much less fortunate than themselves. We are thinking, for example, of our friends at Small Press Distribution, City Lights, and the many other small businesses and individuals in need of the support of others right now. In order to understand your capacity to assist in the extreme health and economic hardship our community currently faces, we encourage you to become more transparent about your portfolio’s value and the Foundation’s giving activities. In your statement you say, “we are maintaining our programs, staff, and doing what we are able, which includes focusing our support close to home through the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund.” When we visited the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund website, we noticed you are represented only at the 4th tier (non-leadership) funding level, aka “Other Funders.” What percentage of your asset base is being spent on charitable activities? And how is the poetry community to have faith in your mission when your financial history demonstrates a propensity to accrue large sums of capital without reinvesting those gains? We understand wanting to support your programs in perpetuity, but your financial management appears to not align with your mission statement or good nonprofit foundation stewardship.

Again we thank you for your attention and response. Without the poets and publishers, bookstores, and community services that support them, the Poetry Foundation has no constituency to serve with its programming. We look forward to engaging with you in further dialog. We can be reached at

On behalf of the poetry community,

speCt books, Aaron Winslow, Alan Golding, Alan Ziegler, Alexander Dickow, Alexandra Tatarsky, Ammiel Alcalay, Andre Spears, Andrea Abi-Karam, Andrew Boston, Andrew Levy, Anna Gurton-Wachter, Anna Moschovakis, Anne Waldman, Anselm Berrigan, Anthony Seidmanm, Avren Keating, Barry Schwabsky, Bill Freind, Bonnie Chau, Boyd Nielson, Brandon Shimoda, Brent Armendinger, Brooks Johnson, Brian Richards, Bruce McPherson, Burt Kimmelman, Camilo Roldan, Casey McAlduff, Chad Bennett, Charles Bernstein, Chris Muravez, Chris Philpot, Chuck Godwin, Colby Gillette, Collin Schuster, Croatoan (ecumenical faction), Daniel Owen, Daniele Pantano, Danny Snelson, Dena Rash Guzman, Dennis Held, David Buuck, David A. Kirschenbaum, David Perry, David Shook, Divya Victor, Don Byrd, E.J McAdams, Elæ [Lynne DeSilva-Johnson], Elena Alexander, Eliot Katz, Elisabeth Reidy Denison, Elizabeth L. Hodges, Emily Liebowitz, Eric Lorberer, Eric Powell, erica kaufman, Gabriella Brown, Gail Aronson, George Kalamaras, George Quasha, Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel, Hawai‘i Review Arts Journal, Heller Levinson, Ish Klein, Ivy Johnson, J. Kates, James Berger, James Chapson, James T Sherry, James Sinclair, Jamie Townsend, Janaka Stucky, Jane Gregory, Jennifer Calkins, Jennifer Scappettone, Jared Schickling, Jeremy Ray Jewell, Jerrold Shiroma, Jessica Haley, Joe Napora, John Bradley, John Paul O’Connor, John Phillips, John Yau, Johnny Payne, Jon Curley, Jose-Luis Moctezuma, Joshua Weiner, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Julien Poirier, Kamden Hilliard, Kathleen Walkup, Karen Weiser, Katrina Greco, Keith Tuma, Ken Keegan, Kent Johnson, Kyle Dacuyan, Kyle Schlesinger, Lara Mimosa Montes, Lora Straub, Lota Erinne, Lloyd Wallace, Lucas Klein, LynleyShimat Lys, Madeline Gobbo, Marcella Durand, Margie Cronin, Marie Buck, Mark Francis Johnson, Mark Scroggins, Matt Mottel, Matthew Pendleton, Melissa Benham, Matvei Yankelevich, Mg Dufresne, Michael Boughn, Mike Hauser, Miriam Nichols, Nathan Tompkins, Nick Sturm, Noah Ross, Norman Finkelstein, Norman Fischer, The Operating System, Patrick Dunagan, Paul Nelson, Pepper Luboff, Peter Burghardt, Pierre Joris, Rhonda Lieberman, Richard Blevins, Rick Benjamin, Robert Andrew Perez, Román Luján, Rusty Morrison, Ryan Ruby, Salt & Cedar Letterpress, Samantha Giles, Sara Larsen, Sara Mumolo, Sara A Vander Zwaag, Sarah Riggs, Sarah Timmer Harvey, Sean Pritchard, Sharon Thesen, Soren Stockman, Sotère Torregian, Stacy Blint, Stacy Skolnik, Stalina Villarreal, Stephen M. Baraban, Stephen Paschal, Steve McCaffery, Steven Zultanski, Susan Bernofsky, Susan Schultz, Trisha Low, Turner Canty, Tyrone Williams, Val Vinokur, Will Vincent, William Heyen, William Page, Zackary Sholem Berger, Zephyr Press, Zoe Tuck

In solidarity with the 1,648 signers of the petition to the Poetry Foundation. This open letter has been delivered along with the petition’s list of signers to the media arm of the Foundation. If you’d like to endorse this open letter, you can do so by submitting your name here, or emailing directly