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« Tales of the Seventies: Old Johnny Herald [by Alan Ziegler] | Main | Lera Auerbach – excessive ease of aesthetic discovery [by Ilona Oltusk] »

September 07, 2015


Thank you for this.

A great response to this! Excited to get the new BAP!

Happens. Thank you for the insight and for your work on the edition.

I hope this BAP changes things. I hope this conversation changes things, Sherman.

I truly, truly do, deep down in the deepest depths of my too-privileged, too-cynical, little black, half-white, Indigenous American poet heart. And, yes, yes indeed you are, a "very powerful literary figure." Ultimately, I'm still trying, as a young writer to learn how to hold space for some of these struggles and most complicated conversations to occur instead of rushing to lambast and rage at all I still don't understand, and all the venerated forebears, you relatives, who have nourished and compelled me such in vital ways. Fuck almighty is it hard.

Also standing by my "fuck, Sherman Alexie" of early years though, a not-so-long-ago 'then', because, well, quite frankly it sounds awesome, and I know you actually love it in ways. Plus, I made buttons, and I'd hate for them to go to waste; *insert winky emoticon here*. Vulnerability, too, is power. You're a good egg, Sherman. We love you. I love you.

Swil Kanim, at a recent Seattle gathering of Native luminaries and change-makers, reminded me to say that more. Because, well, it changes things. I believe him. I'll try.

Love, Sara Marie.

Sherman's honesty keeps it clear. The line about "practicing a form of literary justice that can look like injustice from a different angle" is parallel to America's conflicted conversations about affirmative action and "reverse racism." I believe in the former--as justice in the present rebalancing the present imbalances of past injustice--and I don't believe in reverse racism, which is the complaint of us white folk who regret justice "from a different angle." (& note that Affirmative Action is not a loosening of standards--it only adds considerations of identity AFTER finding equal quality in the work itself. . . . & that's exactly what Sherman did.)

i have to admit if best american poetry wanted anything from me i would say no. i think it is pretty ideological, but the whole series has been fraught with all kinds of controversies.

mr. alexie there are a lot of very sensitive poets whose croci are sore about this.

Thank you, Mr. Alexie.

Dear Sherman,

Here is my Crocus poem, a segment from my epic tale of the life of Epicurus the philosopher. In this segment he is a young man traveling with his mother Khairestrate who is a healer.

Khairestrate caresses fevered brow
of young woman who shifts in restless sleep.
"Our soul is like sweet Krokos flower that glows
bright purple with light of half-risen sun.
We bury our soul like Krokos bulb deep
in green swelling mound of our mother world,
and there we sleep in sweet refreshing dreams
during dark night of anguish and despair,
so Mother Kthonie dismantles our sorrows
and reassembles our love from rich dreams.
Then with bright rising sun that beams soft rays
over distant hills to wake living creatures
we wake from death and rise from dreaming minds
like tender shoot from buried Krokos bulb
which opens purple petals to receive
warm rays of kissing light that revives well
our animating soul from sleep of death,
and thus we rise again, healed and refreshed.
Like Krokos bulb must be buried to bloom,
we bury souls in sleep so we may thrive."

Surazeus = Simon Seamount, WSU 1988

Dear Mr. Alexie,

Excellent, thank you!

Adrian Koesters

Learning about the guest editor each year is almost as much fun as reading the "Best" selections, and -- as if your poetry hadn't already won my heart -- your transparency is especially endearing.

Excellent response. Very honest. Also, apparently Sherman Alexie somewhat regularly writes fan mail to poets who he's never met.

My friend and poet, Angel Uriel Perales, challenged several of us to write a crocus poem, after reading your observations on judging The Best American Poetry. He read my offering and suggested I send it to you. So here it is for whatever it's worth (Untitled):

Eat crow,
Grow blossoms,
Eat a crocus shitake
Mushroom Clouds
Grow. Crow triumphant
Over Neanderthals.
They walk among us..

It's good to know, to see it in writing, that this is really how things are. The name of the book should be changed though to My (insert editor's name here) Favorite Poems of 20XX. That would be more accurate, more honest, and there'd be no controversy.

Professor poems
Are like like like like like like
Crocuses dying

It is difficult to put into words how little it matters that Michael Derrick Hudson's poem was included or would have mattered if it had not been. 16 years ago, when the anthology I edited, Will Work For Peace was coming out, I was devastated by the vitriol I got, especially from poets who didn't get in, some of which were very famous, many of which treated it as a personal attack. Many were especially upset that poets they regarded as rivals were included, some of the people that got in were offended that they were included in the same book with someone they hated, one even withdrew his poem rather than be included in the same book with his (just as famous as he was) ex wife. I had no idea how much of a shit storm editing an anthology would be before it came out, and no idea when it did come out how little all those ruffled feathers would mean later in life. I am very glad that the Sherman Alexie is one of the poets in Will Work For Peace, but like every poem in that book, I included it because of the poem, not because of the name on it. Someone in this thread said that Michael Derrick Hudson is a fucking asshole. That may be, but his level of assholedom is not a relevant factor for inclusion. T S Eliot was a fucking asshole and one of the greatest poets who ever lived. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Oh what a flower the Crocus,
Planted a garden full and it broke us,
they were eaten by a snail,
but a Benny in the mail,
would go quite a long way to stroke us.

"And, yes, like many poets, I carefully studied each year's edition of BAP and was highly critical of the aesthetic range (Okay, there had to be more than two great poems published last year written in meter and/or rhyme.), cultural and racial representation (I can't believe there are only 8 poets of color in this edition.), gender equality (What is this? The Golf Club at Augusta?), and nepotism (Did those guest editors really choose, like, sixty-six of their former students?)."

If poetry has turned to racism (judging merit by genes) and sexism (judging merit by gender), it has failed as part of what are commonly known as "The Humanities". One might as well pick up a 1942 German collection, as at the time those were ALSO picked on a similar basis.

Gender and race do not automatically create experience. Experience is a lived thing; no one knows anyone who was burned as a witch at the stake, or married off to a baron for political value. No one alive in the Western world knows what it is like to be a slave, or even to have talked to someone who was one... well, unless you actually read up on the last vestiges of the vile practice, which still continues in organized slavery rings whose primary preferred chattel are --- non-PoCs.

I'd find it VERY interesting if a former non-PoC slave were to write poetry on their experiences and be TURNED DOWN FOR HAVING THE WRONG SET OF GENES.

The crucial racial and gender experiences which made for past poetic value have been rubbed away to a nub over the last two centuries. Because seriously, are you going to write heated prose about the guy on the subway who took up two seats? I've seen someone angrily free-verse about someone crossing the street to avoid them, which hardly approaches Ella Fitzgerald's mournful cry about "the bitter crop" of "the Gallant South".

You are fifty years too late to be treating anyone's racial or gender status as something which imparts any sort of "marginalized voice" with value above and beyond that of any other human being.

I should probably clarify: last year, a major hashtag movement for modern feminists was #Manspreading, which complained of men sprawling across two or more seats on the subway.

Yes, this was treated as a big concern, along with fitness ads and the number of video games with female-only protagonists (games which allowed both genders as equal options, despite representing the majority of those games which even have a protagonist of either gender, were largely ignored).

Where is the poetry in this?

Racism is the act of judging a person, or what they do, on basis of their race. Nothing more, nothing less.

(Oh but I agree with the part where your instinct was to say no to the editorship.) 👴🏻

Mr Sherman Alexie's main focus
Was to rid his collection of crocus;
For an author's fake name
He's not really to blame;
His true magic here beats hocus pocus.


Brilliant blog Mr Alexie. You held the mirror up to nature.

Well-said. So much of the vitriol boils down to "you didn't pick me." This kind of ego-disguised-as-righteous-indignation isn't activism. It's petulance, and it takes time and energy away from making real change in the world.

And just for the record, David Lehman is an extraordinarily good man.

FYI, it was Billie Holiday who sang " Strange Fruit," not Ella Fitzgerald.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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