Poetry Needs You (I need you)

That sounds dramatic, but once, in a two-week visiting writer workshop at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Li-Young Lee (who might just be the most intense person I've ever met) leaned across the narrow table at the front of the room, then slammed both palms flat against the table and practically shouted, "I need your poetry to live!" Now that's dramatic. And I LOVED it!

At least for me, writing within an academic environment, one that is publish or perish (to use an oversued obnoxious cliche), I sometimes forgot why I was drawn to poetry in the first place. Writing and sending out work became stressful for all the wrong reasons. Li-Young Lee's passionate outburst (and other various moments of filterless candor) helped remind me why I started writing poetry in the first place -- it saved my life. Again, I know, ricockulously dramatic, but still very much true. I don't know what I would have done had it not been for literature and books, poetry in particular. It made me feel less alone, less crazy, and like all these terrible parts of my life could somehow be transformed into something beautiful on the page. Poetry helped me feel.Of course, I didn't articulate that to myself at age twelve when I began obsessively reading Edgar Allan Poe after a very close family friend committed suicide.

Or the year my sister and I became the only kids in a Catholic school who had divorced parents and I'd take the Shakespeare reader out to recess and hide between the bathroom building and a fence that separated the grade school's property from a residential street. It was soon after I began writing what I called poems.

Now, I just named two big time, white male poets as my early influences (who I still think are wonderful), but when I got older and found out about contemporary poetry, they ceased to be where I went for solice. All of a sudden I learned there were a bunch of women writing. And people of color. And writers with various gender-identification, different sexual orientation. I learned there were writers who were young and still alive. These are the writers that independent presses bring to us. On this note, I will allow my letter below to do the rest of the talking.

Dear Family, Friends, Lovers of Poetry,

As many of you may have already seen on Facebook, Twitter, or the Tupelo Press webpage, I am participating in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 poetry challenge fundraiser. The challenge is to write one poem a day for one month, and I am participating now, in March 2015.

Much like a fun-run where participants are sponsored for so many laps around a track, for the 30/30 challenge, each poet asks to be sponsored for the poems that are posted daily. Also like most fun-runs, this project is fundraising for a noble cause – money to help keep independent publishers publishing.

Unlike many large, mainstream commercial presses, independent publishers are not interested in a bottom line. They do not publish poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art for the purposes of making a profit, rather they publish to help put out into the world the sort of art and literature they believe in and feel is necessary for the public to have access to. And of particular concern is literature and art produced by writers traditionally marginalized in commercial presses: writers of color, women, and queer writers. In fact, independent literary publishers produce over 98% of poetry each year and the majority of literature in translation and works of fiction by emerging writers.


Independent literary publications create an enduring record of cultural activity, and they provide an essential alternative to the voices heard through large-scale, commercial publishing. Nearly a thousand primarily nonprofit literary magazines, presses, and online publishers can be found across the country, in every state, serving hundreds of unique audiences. Ultimately, they connect diverse communities of readers who would remain otherwise isolated from their living literary heritage. Currently, the fruits of independent literary publishing remain unknown to the larger public—the community of readers. Nonprofit literary publishers as a whole have been grossly neglected by most private foundations and positioned as marginal within the arts in general. Most independent literary publishers lack the marketing muscle of their commercial counterparts and often struggle to compete within the larger publishing arena. Nonprofit literary publishers require support to fulfill their missions: to bring exceptional literature into the hands of caring readers. Supporting the work of independent literary publishers provides readers everywhere with access to new literary voices and ensures that America’s evolving literary heritage remains diverse and vibrant.

It is for this purpose that I am willing to use my time and skill to get the word out about independent publishing and to graciously request help from you, readers I know are concerned with issues of access and marginality.

To this end, along with Tupelo Press’ donor level incentives, I have devised March 2015 30/30-specific donor level gifts. Please see below.

Thank you in advance for your time and appreciation of poetry and literature. Walt Whitman once said “To have great poets, there must be great audiences.” You are that great audience, and I aspire every day to write poetry you deserve.

In verse & gratitude,

Sarah A. Chavez

To donate, please visit the Tupelo Press 30/30 webpage: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php

Be sure to choose my name from the 30/30 writer dropdown menu and in the comments sections, state any specifics regarding your donor-level gift.

Select a level. Support independent publishing. Tupelo Press is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit company. We'll use your entire donation to support Tupelo Press and the full amount is tax-deductible.

  • Poetry Admirer Level: $5 - $34 – receive a personalized thank you card featuring one of my March’s 30/30 poems

  • Pick a Prompt Level: $35 - $70 – along with a personalized thank you card featuring a 30/30 poem of your choice, you will have the option to pick the poetry topic for one 30/30 poem. This poem will not only go up on Tupelo’s website, but will also be featured on my blog “American Mestiza,” with (or without) special personalized note explaining the prompt/idea/topic or image and my writing process for that poem

  • Poetry Enthusiast Level: $71 - $150 – along with a thank you card featuring a 30/30 poem of your choice, you will also receive a special video of the writer (me) reading any poem of your choice (preferably a 30/30 poem, but any poem is eligible). The video can be emailed or posted on the donor’s social media platform of their choice, and will be featured on the March 2015 30/30 Facebook page

  • Poetry Lover Level: $151 and up – at the end of the 30 days, the donor will receive a hand-bound bundle of all my 30/30 poems

Tupelo Press Donor Levels

  • Friends: $1-$24

  • Readers: $25-$99

  • Writers: $100-$249

  • Associates: $250-$499

  • Literati: $500-$999

  • Sponsors: $1,000-$1,499

  • Benefactors: $1,500-$2,499

  • Laureates: $2,500-$4,999Invitations to special Press readings and receptions

  • Editor's Circle: $5,000-$9,999All Laureate benefits plus acknowledgment on special donor page in a forthcoming Tupelo Press book; First edition copy of that titleSpecial giving programs:

  • Publishers' Circle: $10,000-$24,999All Benefactor benefits plus acknowledgment as a season sponsor in all Tupelo Press books published in year of gift; First edition copy of each sponsored title

  • Angels: $25,000+Extraordinary naming and publishing opportunity. Underwrite a forthcoming book of poetry from Tupelo Press

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“Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.” 

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“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.” 
― Charles Bukowski

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