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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


Here's an idea, Mr. Alexie: since this claims to be the best poetry, period, and not just "best poetry by race X," you could try publishing the best poetry you received regardless of the author's race.

It's real simple. You either do that, or you're being a racist, no matter how you twist and writhe and struggle to avoid admitting it. Your call. And you'll note that the social justice warriors flooding into the comments aren't on your side here.

"It's okay when WE do it." Why does that not shock me?

"What if it had been a Chinese guy posing as a white guy...?"

Well, lots of people have been chiming in to say that's totally okay, because privilege or something.

What privilege did Hudson have? Alexie says that he privileged the unknown and non-professors.

He also privileged "people of color." Hudson didn't have that privilege.

The self-pitying notion that whites only aid whites, and so therefore POC must only aid POC is untrue. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore was honored in his own time a century ago, winning a Nobel prize. Langston Hughes might have spent his career in obscurity, if not for white poet Vachel Lindsay using his influence to promote Hughes' work. There would have been no blues revival in the 1960s if not for white field archivists busily rediscovering the bluesmen of the Twenties and Thirties. And so on. Mr. Alexie's insistence on identity politics just reinforces the impression that poetry no longer has any standards, and may be safely ignored by the wider public.

It seems to me the extraordinary thing would have been to own up to your attempt at a literary truth and reconciliation process, publish the piece, admitting you chose an obnoxiously bad poem as a consequence of your bias. Either way, the faux poem calls all of the other poems into question that were selected by the same process.

I don't follow the logic that MDH's poem calls all of the others into question. Have you ever had a poem published in a journal you admire and looked at the table of contents and discovered that the same editor who picked your poem, which you know is so good, also picked a poem by someone whose poetry you don't like in general and then you read the poem and you think it's awful and furthermore you know the poet is a jerk, and a misogynist or some other kind of hateful person? How could that editor who showed such fine judgement when picking your poem, publish a bad poem by someone else who also happens to be a creep? Does it change your opinion of the other poems that have also been published in the same issue? And isn't in condescending to readers to assume that they will dismiss an entire publication based on one entry? We readers are more sophisticated than that, aren't we? I know I am.

Hughes already had a book contract for The Weary Blues when he was "discovered" by Rachel Lindsay. Just saying...

"And he would have been vilified and ignored. And I would have been praised."

That the white guy would have been vilified for having to change his name to a more asian sounding one, in a white nation built by whites in order to get a poem published, while you would have been praised for being a racist explains a lot. Mostly unpleasant things about you, but I'm sure whites are happy to find out they shouldn't bother to submit poems to you.

It makes me equally happy to know that all the discrimination I dole out in favor of my fellow whites as an HR manager helps balance things out, if only a little.

Naive debate at so many levels. Where to begin? Such shallow ideas about, and definitions of, identity and how it intersects with the exchange of thought and ideas. Such a massive blind spot about what poetry is, who produces and profits from it. Ever heard of hip-hop, rap, spoken word even? Um, not only is that poetry as much as this BAP stuff, but it has far more in common with the broader shared human history of poetry--especially poetry created and enjoyed voluntarily, instead of produced and consumed inside the prescribed menu of the brainwashing process known as compulsory education. Care to survey or catalogue the creator and/or audience demographics, production means and ends, the content and stylistic genealogy of THAT poetry? Care to include a comparison of the impact, verve and, dare I say, value of that branch of poetry with the subject of this current storm in a teacup? Colonization? I'd say most parties to this debate have surrendered to their own colonization by the power structure that they've bought into with their academic-literary careerism. And in turn they are participating, under the masquerade of embittered rivalry, in the continuation, reinforcement and even expansion of the viral power structure they serve, not unwittingly, but perhaps witlessly. Poetry depending for its legitimacy on getting into the sanctorum of such an anthology as BAP, approved by this cliquey priesthood or that one, according to this orthodoxy or that orthodoxy, is self-enfeebled, or at least those poets are--so it's comical or just pathetic to see this debate primp itself as focused on any kind of empowerment. Poetry, poets or people who pursue empowerment by surrendering to these kinds of orthodoxies are undermining, not empowering, themselves and everyone else. What's the benefit of corralling your thoughts into poems harvested ADM-style for these purposes? A nice little job in some corner of academia? That's the antithesis of freedom of thought, or feeling. Poetry, and people, should be more free, daring and dynamic. This is just so much misdirected energy cross-dressing as righteousness, but doing bugger all to right any significant wrongs. Go write on a toilet wall, or tag a bus stop with your most urgent thought. Or go be a trade union rep for underpaid workers doing hazardous jobs. Or just extend a hand or a hug or a haiku directly to a friend or stranger who could use one. But for fuck's sake stop complaining about who gets into the country club. No poet (or self-respecting person of any other type of identity construction) should ever want to become a member of any country club that would accept him or her (and thereby turn them into an alibi while changing nothing). This shit is not what's blowing up Syria, or our own neighborhoods, but the mentality that would obsessively argue about distracting shit like this IS. Poets, my ass!

I've followed Sherman Alexie's career from its beginning. I love his work, read all of his books, and gone to hear him read for decades at various venues. And, I've done all of this knowing that if I were to mention to Alexie that I am a quarter Native American or that my grandfather was Sioux and another family member Oklahoma Cherokee that he would have wanted to punch me because he is proud to be the right percentages of Native American. He is also clear about how pissed off he is about colonialism. My being part-NA probably wouldn't make me good enough. In case minorities didn't know this, it is painful to not belong anywhere. I'm conflicted because I'm primarily of Irish and integrated Native American heritage, two groups that know all about colonialism, but that don't count by modern standards. People like me are held up as "guilty" when it comes to colonialism regardless of a lack of historic participation. I get plenty of microaggressions from pure whites and minorities. These facets of my heritage are rendered meaningless because I have a couple of relatives from England way back there and this, apparently, makes me colonial scum by person's with more solid minority backgrounds. Besides that, I look white and only lived on a reservation for a short period of time as a kid, and everyone in my family has integrated into the dominant culture. I get blamed for this even though my family was duped out of their Native American rights when I was a kid without a say in the matter. Long story short, I don't count as a minority because I'm not a card-carrying Indian, I'm an assimilated one. This means that I'm supposed to hate myself and every relative linked to colonialism, of course, I don't. I'm proud of my family because I'm human. Now, I'll leave my personal history hanging before I get attacked and told that I know nothing about pain and suffering. Like most Caucasians I've learned that compassion isn't a two-way street. I sometimes feel like I'm paying somebody else's debt, a person that died a hundred years ago. At any rate, race issues are impossible, so I give up and will just be sad about it. Alexie's essay doesn't surprise me but it is depressing to know that "special attention" will be paid to people of color regardless of merit or talent, but such policies have long been allowed. Alexie is a great writer, I still love him and his work, even if he wouldn't love me back because of my fragmented culture and assimilation. Lastly, I was horrified that 99% of the people in BAP this year are professors. I guess nobody else should bother writing. It appears that we've all wasted money on MFA's if we don't also teach. Prof's, from what I've seen, show more favoritism than any other set. I hope someday to be somebody's favored class, worthy of nepotism in some regard. I have had work published, but the gatekeepers seem to be ruining this world. I am so depressed now I feel like walking into a lake with stones in my pockets or sticking my head in an oven like Woolf or Plath. These would be acceptable deaths, white deaths, for a depressed and neglected female poet.

"Built by whites?" Are you from Scandinavia, Mike? Native Americans, Asians, African Americans ... people of color BUILT this nation. White people swindled, connived and killed to take everything NOT their due ... and to engineer a bit of aggressive revisionism, to boot. Clearly, it's still working. But it's not your fault that you're a misguided could-be adult, Mike. You have a millennia of misinformation and perversely-biased hard-wiring inside you. Sherman, at least, intended for his racial antennae to *actually* "balance things out" by giving audience to a writer who would have been summarily ignored by the likes of you. I know you don't understand this, Mike. You've been raised to think .. no BELIEVE.. that you deserve everything. You deserve to have whites dominate your payroll. You deserve to be outraged that someone could dare be outraged by your brand of thinking. You even deserve unfounded credit for building a nation that has the blood and brilliance of non-whites as its very foundation. You should checkout the bestseller "Lies My Teacher Told Me." Just in case, I dunno, you were interested in sharing an informed comment sometime. If it helps your soul, a white guy wrote it.

Because Luke, if most editors are white people, which they are, then they accept poems that they love based upon their white experience and push away other pieces which do not conform to their white aesthetics and experience of the world without ever knowing what said poet looks like. The same goes for gender etc.
a white male.


So perfect to see... the racially correct storm - that abashed the little white bird, and the academics are shorn...

and the ivory towers fell

Titus Corleone

yes, yes... Emily Dickinson

Looks like I'm going to start submitting poetry here using Asian-sounding names! Because hey, as long as I don't claim to be a fake Native American and choose a nationality that the editor won't be personally offended by, I guess they'll accept anything! Thanks, Sherman!

You DO know that Rowling's own editors asked her to go by her initials because they were afraid boys wouldn't read a girl's work, right? That it wasn't her idea, and that her editors' suggestion actually reinforces the idea of male privilege? Keep digging.

I'd bet a crisp ten-dollar bill that the moment you discovered the poem was written by a person of the wrong race is also the moment you decided it was "obnoxiously bad."

You should probably read some history. Or any history, really.

And you completely miss the spectacular racism of approving a poem only because the author was of a particular race. No wonder nobody reads poetry any more.

A white man with pen name 周怡芬? Hints at temptation as a way to attain his desires.

For the Best American poets not familiar with Mandarin:

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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"
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in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

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