The meaty heels of my palms are resting on a sleek, cold MacBook Air as I type this post. I’m not used to the keyboard yet—its new dimensions. The letters are a little closer together than on my old machine, but the keys are springy and responsive. I can type the letter “O” and an “O” will show up, without the gape-mouthed, stunned surprise I’m used to from that will-it-or-won’t-it vowel.
Where did I get a new MacBook? It was an unexpected gift from a benefactor—a patron of the arts, my own private Medici.
Recently I tossed up a throwaway social media post about my dying keyboard and finger pad, my laggy cursor, my overheated case, my spinning rainbow wheel. Instantly, I received a private message from a Facebook friend, asking what kind of computer I was looking for.
I wasn’t sure why my friend was asking me this, but I answered honestly: I wanted a simple laptop, preferably a Mac, and a small one that would be easy to carry around with me. My friend asked for my address and then sent me a link to track delivery of my very own brand new laptop, due to arrive at my home within days.
There was just one condition: I wasn’t to reveal the name of the donor. This is something the person enjoys doing from time to time—covering the needs of a literary artist, merely because the benefactor is in the position to do so. The person was quite adamant on one point: public credit or thanks were not wanted.
In return for this stunning gift, I committed myself—and still do, permanently—to passing the kindness along to artists, and specifically to writers (the benefactor, too, is a writer, and a talented one). As an adjunct college instructor, I’m not in a position to buy anyone a laptop, so I’m going to have to be creative to do justice to this amazing boon I’ve received—but I am creative, and that’s why someone chose to support my work in this way.
I’ve been brainstorming for some ways to be a better member of the literary community, and I’ve fixed on one plan above all others: starting and sustaining dialogue about writers and writing.
Regular readers will note that I’ve picked up the daily blogging practice again, and each day I post two things: an appreciation of a contemporary book of poetry and an essay on writing. This is no accident. It’s how I’m starting the process of giving back to the literary community—to share the insights I gained as an editor for a couple of decades and to begin conversations about (and, I hope, to build readers for) books of poetry.
After each book review post, I go straight to Amazon to post my appreciation there, because I think it’s really useful for writers to get reviews. I’m always asking my own readers to post a review—good, bad, or indifferent, although I hope good—to my Amazon listing for No More Milk (Sundress, 2016), because buzz is helpful for building a readership. And just imagine the conversation we could get going if more readers shared their opinions about the books they were reading. I would love to see more conversation about poetry in the culture.
There are a lot of other ways I can contribute to writers and the writing community:
- Share favorite poems on social media.
- Write book reviews for journals and magazines that publish them.
- Take advantage of local opportunities to build “offline” relationships.
- Volunteer to teach workshops for populations that could especially benefit, like homeless teens or prisoners at the correctional facility in my town.
- Offer to provide feedback for fellow writers who need it.
- Support nonprofit presses and publishers with donations, contest entry fees, and subscriptions.
- Stay observant for smaller financial needs of writers that I am able to cover.
I take away a key message from my large, unexpected gift, and that is that I’m worthy of support. My writing matters. I really want to “pay it forward” in a tangible way—to help other writers in the spirit within which I have been helped—but the support I received communicates to me that I need to keep writing as a priority. Someone thinks my voice is important; someone thinks I’ve got the stuff.
It’s not always easy to see our own worth; it feels cocky to believe that poems have their own value. But the backing of a donor forces me to confront the idea that my writing itself is a meaningful way to serve. I’m going to choose to look at it as a mission, and to keep it up—to devote the best part of myself to my work.