Postcard Feedback

July 29, 2015
by Paul Nelson


I know what you are thinking. Don’t put any more energy into things like this, but my strong sense of justice is begging me to respond. So, after changing another dirty diaper from my 3 year old and reading her a pre-nap story of Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore (also a poet!), I figured I would take ten minutes to explain a little for those like today’s miffed commenter Diane Cammer:

0 approved

After six consecutive years, I didn’t sign up this year due to the charge – thought over $2000 for an administrative fee (assuming at least 200 participants) too much. Would have if I knew some of the money was going to promote poetry in schools, etc.

Well Diane, since 1997 SPLAB, the non-profit I founded in 1993 has facilitated hundreds of workshops mostly in the Puget Sound region, with testimonials like:

“Paul Nelson created the best lesson my students have experienced this year…” – Brian Schuessler, Eastlake High School, Sammamish, WA

“…The poets you brought to teach the workshops were inspiring and at the same time encouraging to our audience of all ages and experiences…” – Lauren Murphy, Supervising Youth Services Librarian, Pierce County Library System

“Last night was our SPLAB performance at Vashon’s new Youth Council club, the Crux. Wow! It was one of the most amazing, high-energy poetry evenings I’ve ever seen…” – Rayna Holtz, Vashon Island Library

“…Paul, I would like to congratulate you on facilitating this very successful program. The SPLAB! curriculum proved to be very effective with this group and I was truly amazed by the caliber of work produced by these students!…” – Bonnie Cline, Young Adult Librarian, Auburn Library


And I especially like what Sam Hamill said about my work in a reference or grant application letter:

“Over the past decade or so, no one has done more for poetry in the Pacific Northwest than has Paul Nelson. He has sponsored and hosted free public readings and workshops while bringing to Seattle notable poets like Wanda Coleman, Nate Mackey, Michael McClure, Brenda Hillman, George Bowering and other leading figures in the world of Organic Poetry. He is as fine an interviewer of poets as anyone working today, coming to each interview thoroughly informed but retaining great flexibility, letting the various threads intertwine. These interviews, combined with lengthy scholarship, have produced a number of remarkable essays and, ultimately, his manuscript American Prophets…”

Sam Hamill, Poet, Translator, Founder of Copper Canyon Press

Yes, the poetry festival I founded, and directed twice and helped direct in the third iteration, is volunteer work, as are my interviews and the MOOC SPLAB is creating on Innovative Cascadia Poetry in conjunction with Cascadia College, as well as a few other literary-oriented projects.

So anyone’s contribution to the fest helps with these and other projects. (More at I could give you a list if interested, but this should be enough for any reasonable person and literary supporter to make an educated decision. Remember, each postcard participant is asked for $10. So it comes down to this: is $10 worth it to you. Sorry it is not to you, Diane, and sorry you had the impression that those funds won’t be used for a director of a small non-profit organization to continue a rather serious dedication to poetry and poetics. Someday I might even have health insurance, but not likely because of all the rewards I am reaping through my poetry activism.

Still, the real reward is in the work itself. May you get half as much satisfaction in whatever it is you do to make it in our hyper-materialist culture.



Diane responded today (August 3, 2015):

The last sentence in my message said it all – I did not realize you offered free workshops. I apologize. I have promoted poetry and prose through workshops and open mics for years without compensation, as do my friends.

Wishing you a successful month of amazing poetry.


  1. Walter Lowe

    I spent two years in the Peace Corps, living off the government’s dime, so I know how wonderful it is to just skim that cream off the top (although it’s hard to do when the milk comes in those waxed cardboard containers these days). Unfortunately, where I was every cow in the country had tuberculosis, so I didn’t eat dairy during those two years.

    At the end of the two years not only had I been living the luxurious life that still has a significant memory void of popular music, movies, and other of life’s distractions from those two years, but I had amassed a tremendous fortune, for the Peace Corps had contributed $75 a month into a savings account for me! (The drawback was that I couldn’t touch it for three months because the volunteers in the past had blown the whole $1800 traveling around before returning to the US, giving the Peace Corps a bad reputation with volunteers returning destitute.)

    So Paul, we know “volunteer workers are good for nothing”; thus I applaud your clever working of this scam to squeeze all that money out of us poor struggling wannabe poets!

  2. Helen Gerhardt

    People pay hundreds of dollars for workshops that in many cases are of less benefit than this $10 plus postage and handling month long exercise in self discipline. No one goes to Starbucks and says, “my god, you are charging MONEY for this coffee!” No one says to Apple, “You’re making me pay just to send my own messages through the air!” No one yells to the gathered assembly at a religious service, shouting, “What? Your asking for donations to keep this organization going? I thought our religious leaders were fed well enough on whispers and zeal!”

    I suspect the people who place zero value on the hard work of volunteers are those who have seldom volunteered, or much less, ever volunteered to manage such a large project.

  3. Barbara Jean

    Please raise the fee to $25 next year. Or set it so people can contribute more. I will. (Hey, I just got signed on with Social Security & those years I spent working in rural libraries are really paying off now. I’m ready to rock n’ roll.)

  4. Khadija Anderson

    Clearly the commenter has never put on any form of an event or workshop. I host a yearly workshop in Joshua Tree (high desert of California) and I host a monthly reading series. Both take a LOT of time and work and I pay an honorarium out of my pocket for the monthly series and 100% of the registration for the yearly workshop goes to the teachers. I do it because I want people to have access to these poets and events.

    Because of my experience, I would say that the small fee each for the postcard project is totally justified.

    • Splabman

      Khadija, thanks for chiming in. Glad there is poetry in the desert. That part of the world is amazing. My Cousin Steve lives not far, in Canyon Lake and has a place in Phelan. Blessings, Paul

  5. Diane

    The last sentence in my message said it all – I did not realize you offered free workshops.
    I apologize.
    I have promoted poetry and prose through workshops and open mics for years without compensation, as do my friends.
    Wishing you a successful month of amazing poetry.


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