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« "Why 'Nixonland' Matters" [by Joe Lehman] | Main | Great Songs of Cinema [by Elizabeth Samet] »

May 16, 2021


Thank you, Harryette and Terence. Such an exquisitely crafted poem, confronting the contradictions among cause & effect, sentiment and obstinance. The on-high voice slips from its defended spot. Beautiful photo and artwork as well!

An excellent choice, Terence, appropriate the tenor (or even the bass) of our turbulent times, our potential descent into an authoritarian police state. Many thanks to you and to Harryette Mullen.

BAM! perfectly structured and potent

Thanks, Diane. Glad you like it.

Howard---thanks for the comment.

Thank you very much for this poem, Harryette Mullen. It can be tricky these days to write about where we really are now in a way that invites the reader to recognize what we all know but don't always say. It's the rueful familiarity that's going to send me off to see more of your work.
In other words: Your poem is important to us, even when we are experiencing a particularly high volume of poetry. Please continue to write poems and we will read them at our earliest opportunity, and act accordingly.

Harryette Mullen: her wit, dart-sharp, hits the bull's eye... lampooning our rules, our excuses, our regulatory mumbo jumbo, our disclaimers, the contradictions in the ways we treat each other. Her critiques are always made with great intelligence and heart.

Thanks again Harryette for your witty, politically unravelling poem, especially important today with the tangling webs of lies. I remember talking about it when I was interviewing you for our book: Looking up Harryette Mullen (Belladonna 2011). I thought this might be of interest to others so here's a little transcript of our phone discussion in 2009 :

BH: Lorenzo writes that in “We Are Not Responsible,” you exploit the language employed by bureaucracies, corporations, to issue disclaimers and liabilities limiting self-serving lies and safety instructions. I thought it did that, but even more. Did you take this language from somewhere else?

HM: In a general way it’s about the social contract. The borrowed language in the poem runs the gamut from airline safety instructions and corporate disclaimers to the Supreme Court’s ruling against Dred Scott. This was written before 9/11, when profiling was widely accepted as necessary for security. But even before that terrorist attack, racial profiling targeted people of color as potential criminals, as in the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. We who consider ourselves to be law-abiding citizens have surrendered a lot of our freedom in order to feel safe. The poem plays back the language of authority in what seemed to me a logical movement from the rules and regulations we must obey as airline travelers to the whole system of laws derived from original documents proclaiming rights of white male property owners. What might be unnerving when I read this poem to an audience is that I keep repeating the word “we.” Instead of “us and them,” it’s “we and you,” so it’s a bit skewed when I speak in the voice of the authoritative “we” versus “you” whose rights are threatened or violated.

to Harryette our powerful wordsmith who wroughts their words into our weapons


Each line a surprise, starting with a familiar demurral, than exploding into something witty and wicked.

In this poem of incisively executed, antipodal twists and turns by Harryette Mullen, these two lines jumped out at me: "You are not presumed to be innocent if the police / have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet." I immediately flashed back to Amadou Diallo, killed on February 4, 1999, by four NYC police officers when he pulled out a wallet from his jacket in an apparent effort to prove his identity. The police fired 41 shots, 19 of which hit Diallo, who was unarmed. The incident inspired Bruce Springsteen to compose the song "American Skin (41 Shots),” as pertinent today as it was in June 2000 when I heard him perform it with the E Street Band in Madison Square Garden. It was a powerful moment of anguish and defiance. A poet as skilled, engaged, and necessary as Mullen keeps that same tendrilous flame lit. She knows historical amnesia is a choice, not a condition.

Thanks, Earle. Let it never be said that you don't leave great comments.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


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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