Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Praise of Accountants

The end of 2009 was marked in the poetry community by the death of Ruth Lilly, heiress and well-known patron of the arts. In addition to generous gifts to the fields of science and education, Lilly gave an infamously large donation to the Poetry Foundation and its well-known publication, Poetry Magazine. Unfortunately, this large gift has become a bone of contention. Many people disagree with the Foundation's use of Lilly's funds, and with chief officer John Barr's disregard for academic poets.

I remember reading Mr. Barr's article in Poetry about academia, his belief that it fosters poets who write poems about students, and his admiration of poets (William Carlos Williams, for instance) who chose other professions, which served to enrich, rather than detract from, their writing. As a former Wall Street banker become poet himself, Barr obviously draws from his own personal experience.

I am, myself, a non-teaching poet, though for purely selfish reasons: I don't like to teach. Beyond that, I have little opinion on the subject beyond "Do what works for you and your writing." You may think that Barr doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to academia, but he sure does know money better than any other poet in the room, including me. I have seen donations severely depleted and downright ruined by artistic mismanagement. Accountants, not poets, should manage funds. Ruth Lilly seemed like a savvy woman...I bet she'd agree with me.

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