Essay

The Voices of Hurricane Katrina, Part I

What are the ethics of poetic appropriation?

by Abe Louise Young
Hurrican Katrina, NOAA graphicA volunteer with Alive in Truth listens to Katrina evacuee Clarice B. tell her story in September 2005, outside the Austin Convention Center. Photo: Abe Louise Young

On the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we heard from two poets who describe how primary sources from the disaster can and should be used for art. This is Part I. Read Part II: Reflections on found poetry and the creative process.

* * *

When I launched Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project in the week after Hurricane Katrina hit, my goal was to help restore authorship and narrative control to people who had been assaulted by media images of themselves as criminals. I had a vague idea that one day I might work these testimonies into a book of poetry—I had just graduated from the Michener Center for Writers with an MFA in poetry—but that notion was quickly discarded, in part because none of the narrators liked it. Rightfully, they wanted to be the authors, and they wanted their narratives published in full.

The Voices of Hurricane Katrina, Part II
By Raymond McDaniel
Reflections on found poetry and the creative process.

I’m a New Orleans native, social justice activist, and poet, and I recently found Raymond McDaniels’s book Saltwater Empire by chance. Reading through it, I found that I already knew the sentences, stories, and voices in much of this book by heart, yet I’d never heard of McDaniel. Neither had the Katrina survivors whose words he used in his long poem “Convention Centers of the New World.”

McDaniel, winner of the National Poetry Series competition, visited the website of Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project and had an unfortunate idea.

He decided to use the personal histories of six African American Katrina survivors as “found poetry”—stripped of names and context, and combined with one another—as the centerpiece poem of Saltwater Empire, without contacting the project or the survivors.

He chose the voices of five women and one man, whose oral histories are delivered in the distinctive dialects of New Orleans’s lost black neighborhoods. He changed the order of events, titled it “Convention Centers of the New World,” and published it as a 19-page, six-part poem.

Search any two lines from the “Convention Centers” poems on aliveintruth.org, and the narratives they are lifted from will appear in full. Or visit the pages for Antoinette, Rachid L., Carol Y, Joyce W, Deborah J., and Tami J., and read the stories that McDaniel copied from, in their entirety.

It’s highly unethical to use individual narratives in an anonymous and interchangeable way, especially given this context. To bring it down to concrete reality, when a person loses their loved ones, home, pets, and belongings as well as the city of their birth, control of their story may be all they have left. Ironically, this book has been praised as “a stunning . . . intercession on behalf of all occupants of the ‘Convention Centers of the New World.”

It took me three readings of Saltwater Empire to discover that McDaniel does mention a source beyond his own imagination. At the bottom of his copyright page he thanks Alive in Truth and says that his poem is “drawn from” our texts. It’s no substitute for actually contacting us, obtaining permission to use our texts, or transparently informing readers of his process.

The New Orleanians are not anonymous, but many chose not to offer their last names when we first published their testimonies online because they were afraid of retribution from military authorities. They remembered well when Governor Blanco gave orders to the National Guard to “shoot to kill” New Orleans’s citizenry who violated martial law curfews or were suspected of looting.  

I believe these people have a right to their narratives. In order to publish them, I believe that the speakers must be consulted and that they must be given the opportunity to sign off on copyright forms. By neglecting to inquire, much less make certain that his plans were acceptable to the narrators, McDaniel reenacted a familiar racist pattern, and a blind spot in American poetry publishing was revealed.

Hurricane Katrina did not happen in a vacuum, in America’s imagination, to everyone, or in general. It happened in a particular geography, a history, an economy, and a field of race and power built to render certain people powerless. When a white person takes the voices of people of color for his own uses, without permission, in the aftermath of a racially charged national disaster, it is vulture work—worse than ventriloquism.

* * *

Poetry of witness is important. Excellent poets have used oral histories as source material to bring attention to conditions of social inequality. Any reader of Carolyn Forché’s landmark anthology Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness or the work of Anna Deavere Smith knows that making documentary impressions of crisis situations is one way that poetry can, after all, actually “do something.”

Yet poetry of witness requires ethical rigor, careful editing, and ongoing stewardship of the personal stories of living people because it’s quite easy to “do something” destructive, too. The stories aren’t just stories; they are evolving life-or-death truth. People’s memories move, their stance shifts, and the stories they tell are intricately bound up with personal survival. For that reason, the primary storytellers must be involved in shaping the public presentation of the work.

Perhaps McDaniel was attempting to establish himself in the lineage of social justice–conscious poets who have successfully used verbatim texts from history as a way to bring attention to conditions of oppression.

Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” in U.S. 1 (1938) documents the Hawk’s Nest Incident, a catastrophe caused by lax safety measures that killed hundreds of miners in West Virginia. She includes excerpts from letters, interviews, and congressional testimony. Charles Reznikoff used witness statements from court cases involving black Americans, among others, in his massive Testimony (1965, 1968). Anna Deavere Smith interviews a wide range of people to create her performance texts, such as Fires in the Mirror, an examination of the 1991 crisis between Orthodox Jews and African Americans in the Crown Heights neighborhood that resulted in racial riots. Her poetically lineated monologues are titled with the narrator’s name and a potent phrase from the interview. By performing all of the characters in a one-woman show, Smith probes the great diversity of responses to civic upheaval while honoring individual lives. 

These cases differ significantly from McDaniel’s Saltwater Empire. Reznikoff spent 40 years researching and refining Testimony. Rukeyser traveled to West Virginia, conducted her own interviews, immersed herself in the mining community, and she names the source of text material in each poem. Smith collects interviews herself, informs each narrator of the ultimate destination of their words, and keeps their words, sounds, and silences intact.

McDaniel’s work seems more akin to flarf or conceptual poetry, the Internet-based poetry movements championed by Kenneth Goldsmith. Far from attempting to redress social injustice and balance history, flarf is an anarchist aesthetic that thumbs its nose at ethics. In a recent interview in Jacket magazine, Goldsmith asserts, “Any notion of history has been leveled by the Internet. Now it’s all fodder for the remix and recreation of works of art: free-floating toolboxes and strategies unmoored from context or historicity.”

But context and historicity cannot be discarded in any thoughtful engagement with the contemporary global world. It rings close to a colonialist fantasy to imagine that the advent of the Internet turns all language and imagery into Western writers’ “fodder.” Don’t we want to be done with blindly consuming the cultures of others?

I’d argue that the digital age demands greater accountability of a writer, because we have instant information about the disparity in lived experiences around the globe (and in our own communities). If anything, this historical moment delivers an awareness of our vital interdependence.

* * *

Some of the commitments we made to the people who participated in Alive in Truth are:

  • That we would assist narrators with relief services (such as filling out FEMA applications, searching for missing family members, obtaining transportation to medical appointments, and securing donations of furniture).
  • That we would record their stories if they wished, or simply listen if they preferred.
  • That we would keep their words on the Internet in a free archive.
  • That they could opt out at any time.
  • That we’d contact them each time someone requested to reprint or excerpt their oral history, and tell them who it was and how their story would be used. The decision about whether or not to grant permission would belong to the narrator.
  • That the stories would not be used for any commercial gain. 
  • That any profits accrued from distribution would go into Katrina relief and NewOrleans rebuilding funds. 

Only after offering these commitments did we feel comfortable showcasing these narratives publicly.

* * *

What McDaniel has done is reminiscent of what has happened over and over again in America because white privilege blinds people to the consequences of their actions. McDaniel may have thought he was helping the cause of Katrina survivors. According to a review by Jordan Soyka published on Bookslut.com and in The Quarterly Conversation, McDaniel says, “I wanted to write about it as a citizen, as a person who saw all those people as neighbors, as familiar faces. Human persons, not merely Victims or Others.”

By presenting the voices of black people as his original poetry, however, McDaniel has made his book not about “all those people” affected by the disaster. It’s specifically about him.

I understand how challenging and difficult these issues are because I’m white. I’ve struggled with the questions of how to be an effective ally to people of color. I’ve struggled with questions of authorship and ownership. I’ve shared power in grassroots work, anti-racist initiatives, and participatory projects for years, and the questions this work has left me with are humbling to say the least.

In "marginality as site of resistance," bell hooks writes,

I am waiting for them to stop talking about “the other,” to stop even describing how important it is to be able to speak about difference. It is not just important what we speak about but how and why we speak. Often this speech about the “other” is also a mask, an oppressive talk hiding gaps, absences, that space where our words would be if we were speaking, if there was silence, if we were there. . . . No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you as I write myself anew.

I take this to mean that a critical first step in becoming an anti-racist ally is to have beginner’s mind. It is vital to proceed without assuming we have the answers about others. One has to be willing to abandon one’s position of authority.

Outside of questions of race, when a person with economic power handles the stories of impoverished people, I believe there are some ground rules.

First, we have to obtain permissions and establish an honest relationship. Beyond that, it is useful to have an ongoing examination of who is benefiting from the project. Enlisting friends tasked with accountability assists here, as does ensuring that financial profits return to the communities that are the source of the material—in this case, Katrina relief and New Orleans rebuilding efforts.

Many people assume that simply “telling their story” benefits trauma survivors and oppressed people. And it may. Yet while storytelling may carry healing qualities, it’s a mistake to view a teller as the recipient of compassion or largesse from the dominant culture. Rather, the storytellers are the gift-givers, extending truth, trust, intimacy, and contact with their lived experience. They are our teachers. Context is everything.

Like poetry, oral history is about specificity. It’s slow and careful work wherein people define and describe their history, community, and lives in the terms, language, pacing, syntax, and frameworks they choose. Alive in Truth had volunteer therapists and social workers present during each interview session to ensure the emotional safety of the narrator should recounting become retraumatizing. At least 10 volunteers contributed to each history: narrator, interviewer, myself, photographer, transcriber, social worker, editor, proofreader, digital librarian, and programmer. Of these, the narrator is the core, the singular star. He or she dares to defy invisibility.

The resulting archive isn’t raw historical data or ambient human noise, but meaning brought across a bridge, over deep waters of difference. This work is motivated by a shared hope of justice and a prayer of thanks.

* * *

“Antoinette” is one face of Katrina who rocked the world. You might remember seeing her on television, or on the front page of many newspapers, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Antoinette is pictured praying for mercy, screaming, “Help us, please!” Her gold dreadlocks, bare feet, pretty pink flowered pants, and sobbing face were broadcast from Alaska to South Africa. She made her pain so naked, and so large. By putting her body out in front of the masses at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, shoving her way in front of the news cameras, and falling on her knees to beg, she made us see her total desperation and her exquisite humanity. She crystallized the reality of the disaster in an individual life.

I see her broadcast image as the axis, the turning point when the world kicked into reaction, out of the dumb media shock of just staring.

That photograph of Antoinette helped win Times-Picayune the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. It has been reproduced thousands of times over.

Yet Antoinette is still struggling to find her ground and to be recognized. She didn’t get a prize. Since Katrina she’s worked a number of jobs, including cashier, parking lot attendant, and cook, while supporting her children and grandchildren. She’s lived in Austin, San Antonio, and Baton Rouge, where she was shot in the leg while walking across the street. She’s had a massive heart attack. Her son was shot to death. Her rented house burned down, taking with it her newspapers and collection of photos of her moment on the world stage. Now Antoinette sees her face on the cover of coffee-table books she can’t afford to buy.

I got in touch with Antoinette to let her know about Saltwater Empire. And, true to character, she looked through the problem to a higher ground. After hearing the poems in which her voice is featured, combining the details of her childhood and her life in the C.J. Pete Projects with other people’s biographies, she said,

He used my life without giving me no credit! That hurts my heart, that’s cold-blooded! What do that little boy know about me? He never met me. But trust God, He make everything happen for a reason in the right time. People is gonna learn something from this.

She’s right. I’ve learned a lot. McDaniel will be learning. Let’s use it to spark a national conversation around race and representation, about poetry and ethics, and appropriate uses of the stories of others.

Originally Published: August 18, 2010

COMMENTS (69)

On August 18, 2010 at 11:43am Matthew wrote:
What a curious minor squabble of
identity politics, the value of oral
history, and the savored quest for
authenticity, poetry’s holy grail. I
enjoyed most how each writer gave
their I-too-am-of-the-people bona
fides.

But really, who isn’t an appropriator?

Yes, McDaniel should have been much
louder in giving props to his source
material, but Young protests too much.
Her's is clearly the more interesting
work.

But the point is that both of them built
books upon on the voices of others.

On August 18, 2010 at 11:59am Laura wrote:

I have to say that I am deeply disappointed by McDaniel's response to these accusations. Young obviously worked very hard to be responsible to people who had lost everything except their stories. McDaniel either ignored or grossly violated the terms of this sharing, which are evident on the alive in truth website. In erasing the names of the tellers from the stories, he denies the tellers the right to shape what people know, and continue to learn about New Orleans, about Katrina, and about race. What is more disturbing to me, however, is his justification, that words on the internet don't belong to anyone, and that he is some kind of friendly scavenger that uses these discards to help people. This is an excuse that reeks of privilege and entitlement: every voice he encounters, every song he hears, is fodder for the retelling of a story that is ultimately about him and him alone. Otherwise, why put only his name on the book?

On August 18, 2010 at 12:12pm Paul Morsink wrote:

I admire Abe Louise Young's work as a poet and activist, and I greatly respect her principled and considerate approach to her work with the Katrina survivors whose voices are now contained in the Alive in Truth archive she started. At the same time, I greatly respect Ray McDaniel's work as a poet and the thoughtful, disturbing, healing journeys he takes--and takes me on--in his poems. Reading Abe Louise Young's complaint and critique of Ray McDaniel's book, I find myself wondering, "But what does she think of his poems?" Do the poems, in her opinion, say or show anything true or beautiful--about suffering, solidarity, serendipity, stupidity, and survival? Anything she reads that makes her think, "Yes, me too," or "Yes, that's true," or "Yes, that needed to be said"? Or is everything between the covers of Saltwater Empire now cordoned off, for her, off-limits behind the yellow tape of a copyright crime scene? I think I would prefer to have both worlds: a world where, thanks to Abe Louise Young's selfless devotion and hard work, Antoinette and other Katrina survivors have the opportunity to tell their stories and have complete choice and control over what gets displayed on their page in the archive; and also a world where poets such as Ray McDaniel can write poems that sometimes quote and remix "found" voices and words, not to make a quick buck or to demean anyone, but with a view to crafting, for their readers, new ideas and experiences and insights. Maybe it's possible to even hope for a third world: one where Ray McDaniel will read Abe Louise Young's complaint and feel moved to contact her and the narrators whose words he used and thank them more personally than he did in print for the ways they touched his life and his creativity; one where Abe Louise Young will re-read the Acknowledgments in Ray McDaniel's book and notice that he praises the people who created Alive in Truth and urges readers to visit and support the archive; one where Abe Louise Young, Ray McDaniel, and others try at least as hard to foreground their shared values and sympathies and aspirations as they try to demarcate and police their differences.

On August 18, 2010 at 1:41pm Margo wrote:

I appreciate this article and dialogue taking place on this site. I applaud the way that Abe Louise Young worked to give voice to folks who are all too often invisible and silenced. It seems that Young approached the narratives in a respectful way, giving each author credit for their work. Unfortunately, McDaniel mined that project for his own gain. It is my opinion that true creativity whether writing, art or other medium is rooted in one's own creative fire - we might be inspired and influenced by others but taking/borrowing/stealing is just that and should not be tolerated much less celebrated.

On August 18, 2010 at 2:27pm Olga wrote:

Come on. Whose voices are "found" voices? No one is going to stumble across a Tennyson poem or a Stephen Crane story, take their names away and dare to "remix" them. The way we talk about "found" poetry implies a certain value to the texts that are found--that there is a certain level of authorship and recognition associated with certain texts that deserves the respect and the caution of requesting permission, and there are others where this precaution is not deemed necessary. The authorship of these Katrina survivors is simply not valued here. Additionally, the idea that something was "found" does give all the orginality, all the inventiveness, all the creativity to the one doing the "finding." It takes away uniqueness of the original, and implies that somehow it wasn't noteworthy on its own.

On August 18, 2010 at 3:13pm Kim wrote:

Reading the comments on both articles, I have to say that it seems that people lack a fundamental grasp of terminology. An article, an interview, seeks to give the subject voice. Young in no way sought to appropriate the interviewee as her own voice. In fact, she took steps to liberate the interviewees so that they felt ownership. Not only did McDaniel not do this, but he misrepresented the work. This is plagiarism pure and simple. (His justification for his theft is vague and abstract.) Whether or not he is willing to acknowledge it, the context of the plagiarism matters. He didn't just steal, he stole from people who had already been stepped on and abandoned. All of this brings to mind the conceit of American tourists, which is, after all, a conceit founded in empire. We white Americans, we may go wherever we please in the world. We may acquire anyone else's pain and suffering as our own. We wear it like t-shirts that we can take off and put on when it suits us.

On August 18, 2010 at 3:22pm Robin Bradford wrote:

McDaniel's book is outrageous plagarism. Can I go to any website and copy blocks of text, introduce line breaks and tweak a few bits and call it "mine?" Can I then receive national acclaim for "my" work? On top of that is the question of race and power and disaster. A writer myself, I have written about people I knew who survived Hurricane K - some of these people I considered friends. Would it be right to record what they told me and present it as mine? That's not friendship. All I can do is observe with my own eyes and heart and then report out. That's a writer's job - we're not thieves, we're reporters. If we've become proud thieves, stealing from those who have the very least to offer - then we've joined Wall Street.

On August 18, 2010 at 4:10pm A. Smyth wrote:

I think the argument here is interesting, but having read both articles, I would have to say that I do not find a major flaw in McDaniel's work. I am from South Louisiana and while my family evacuated from Katrina, our home, our memories, etc. did not. The argument of appropriation about Katrina is particularly interesting coming from many people who have not been through it. It is, in a way, a certain appropriation to decide what is best for the grief of those who lived there. In fact, Katrina and its victims have been appropriated by many, many authors. Most imagine themselves as victims, rather than actually using victim's words (something I consider a pro, not a con, for McDaniel's book). However, I have at no point (or rarely) felt animosity about these Katrina texts because the authors, even those not from the area, have made some beautiful, honest poetry about it. And these texts have been not only well done but helpful in revisiting Katrina.

On August 18, 2010 at 4:23pm Assefa Dibaba wrote:

hi folks. of this "found poetry" thing. the newly born babe knows not his parents. but parents do for they know well what they did. the child has come without his own accord, be it 'found' or legitimate. parents have some purpose to bear and to breed. name him/her after their very name sounds ritual! so much so, the texter knows well her text, but not the other way around. the texter got some purpose (religious, social or political) whatever, to text it--to poeticize or to story it! the vulture or an owl can hear it, dance to its tune and get cool. but not to grab it in the hand of the texter. now, no big fuss! just sit us under one sacred tree or a scarecrow, and howl every text and scare Katerina. peace to you all.

On August 18, 2010 at 5:30pm Tressie wrote:
I have only one question:

Why aren't the "found" voices ever white?

On August 18, 2010 at 7:00pm Ellen Dore Watson wrote:
Excuse me, Matthew (1st post), but I must correct the record. Your post ends: "the point is that both of them built
books upon on the voices of others." No. McDaniel did; Abe Louise Young did NOT. Read the piece again - and read Antionette's reaction to what happened. Would you really call that "a curious minor squabble of identity politics"??

On August 18, 2010 at 7:49pm Jonathan Skinner wrote:

Thank you for forceful, eloquent and generous statement, Abe. Yes, we need this conversation (no one is "innocent") and your clarity moves us forward.

On August 18, 2010 at 8:34pm Jennifer Howard wrote:

I've read both of these articles, and feel there is a disconnect in the two pieces. Mr. McDaniel seems to want to defend his use of original or found voices, to justify his approach. Quoting is an entirely viable behavior in any number of written genres. The problem Ms. Young presents is less about the artistic and more about the fact that he did not go to the trouble to gain permission from the individuals he quoted. Sure his readers knew where these voices came from, if they read the copyright page closely, but did any of those original voices know they'd been quoted? No. An acknowledgment means little if Mr. McDaniels didn't seek and obtain written permission from the people whose voices he used and didn't get their approval for the way in which their voices were used. How does he know that this new context really reflects these voices? I am a former long-time publisher, and the acknowledgment is no balm. In fact, it establishes that he knowingly took the material from others, making him MORE liable. What's also surprising to me is that the publisher let it go through---they are also liable for this. I'm not a lawyer, but in this case, I do know the acknowledgment informs the publisher. Copyeditors and contracts folk are trained to examine manuscript just to discover this kind of borrowing before publication and before it becomes a legal problem. About once a week, someone in my office would raise a flag about a permissions issue, and we had someone to track down and secure permission before publication. Publication stopped, and always stops for any responsible publisher, until the permissions have been obtained. This is a liability for a publisher, if it's missed. An author, at least one proud of her or his craft, would hopefully worry not so much about the considerable liability involved in ignoring an obligation to get permission, as about creating transparency of intent between the owners of those original voices and the readers who receive those voices.

On August 18, 2010 at 9:32pm Marie Buck wrote:

While I have no doubts that Antoinette has been unethically exploited by various media, Young’s invocation of Antoinette as the ultimate authority—as some sort of authentic, genuine, representative voice—carries with it its own messed-up racial politics. I haven’t read McDaniel’s book, so I won’t comment upon the way McDaniel actually uses the texts. I would like to point out that that’s important, though—appopriating or collaging texts is not inherently ethical or unethical; it depends on what actually happens in the poems. Young’s use of flarf, conceptualism, and Goldsmith here seems poorly thought-out. For one thing, flarf and conceptualism are distinct, and I don’t think of Goldsmith as championing flarf, even if he’s a fan. (And Goldsmith’s quote here seems more descriptive in tone than prescriptive in tone.) Also—the projects that Goldsmith is best known for involve him recording his own speech in Soliloquy, him recording his own body motions in Fidget, and him repackaging the New York Times in Day. The only entity he’s appropriating anything from in those projects is the New York Times—which precisely has loads of power over media narratives and people’s perceptions of the world—not a lack of power over media narratives, as in the case of Hurricane Katrina victims. If Young wants to actually make a larger claim about poetics, rather than just critique McDaniel, she should actually make the argument; this just feels like a not-very-coherent potshot.

On August 18, 2010 at 10:07pm Robin Kemp wrote:

As a native New Orleanian, poet, and journalist, I am extremely uncomfortable with some of the liberties many poets have taken post-Katrina. There is a fine line between giving voice to the voiceless and using other people's misery as a stick puppet for one's particular politics or worldview. It is crucial not only to examine one's motives for writing in these situations, but also to get very clear about your real-world relationship to the place and the people involved. I'm a diehard native who experienced Katrina largely from the bell jar of exile--a thoroughly different vantage point, but one that is all-consuming and searing. I spent ten days on the ground in Mississippi immediately following Katrina, not because I didn't want to help my city, but because that is where I was assigned to go. Even now, I must tiptoe through the PTSD landmines with some friends who remained in the city, just as they have learned to do with each other. Few people besides those in adjoining bell jars (hi, Ray) understand how my life, my home, my relationships also have been strained or ruptured. And of course, I didn't have to swim past the dead bodies. I didn't have to be one of the dead bodies. Survivor's guilt. Insomnia. Rage. Aching for who and what are lost. And yes, more than a little bit sensitive to tone-deaf, even opportunistic, interpretations of places I've known intimately since birth. It's crucial to remember that Louisiana and the Gulf Coast--not just New Orleans--were and are ravaged by the storm, by the disaster-surfers, by government incompetence, by commercial and political opportunism. These places share some extremely complex anthropological, political, and cultural histories. They are very specific places, where very specific people, most of whose names are on record, died. They do not square with the mythical, generic, stereotypical victim, nor with its twin, the stereotypical clothes-looting, handout-grubbing survivor, because neither of these figures exist in real life. Look below the filthy, diseased surface. Even those who hold their breath and open their eyes won't see more than a few inches into this mess--no matter how well they can swim. The danger for the poet, then, is to get the facts right, and not to put words in the mouths of real people who cannot speak for themselves. It's very, very dangerous territory, particularly in regard to matters of race, of poverty, of political power and the lack thereof. Any one of these issues was enormously complex before Katrina, to say nothing of the nuances complicating these issues in New Orleans in particular. I want to think that imagined voices on behalf of real people are part of the artist's toolbox. It is possible to misuse tools. I also want so much to believe that poets' motives are pure, the way that some well-meaning "volunteers" gutted historic architecture to put in drywall and prefab flooring as a way of "helping" the absent homeowner. Part of the problem, I think, may be the natural human urge to help--to offer the best we have to offer, no matter how small, in the face of catastrophe. Writers write. I myself was not able to write any poems, much less what I considered to be honest poems, for some weeks and months afterward. (I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, as are most folks with ties to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.) I wonder about the poetry-for-a-cause phenomenon, which always feels so rushed to me. Others can write good occasional poetry on demand, but I can't. To write breaking news on deadline involves a completely different set of mental processes. Poetry--that is, poetry of significance--demands time and distance, reflection and perfection, in proportion to the event in question. I'm moderating a panel on this very topic at AWP in January, so am extremely interested in hearing others' thoughts on this. I know some people will disagree; that's fine. I can only speak for myself in this. What matters most is whether we poets--especially those who are essentially tourists, however empathetic--honor those we wish to, whether we've done our due diligence, whether we respect those real people and places enough to learn as much about them as we can before we presume to tell what can only be our versions of their experiences. As a New Orleanian, albeit in exile for now, I say more than enough misinformation surrounds Hurricane Katrina and its ongoing effects.

On August 18, 2010 at 10:18pm Robin Kemp wrote:

P.S. I should clarify: (Hi, Ray Shea). Ray quit his job in Texas and moved his family home to gut other people's houses. He lost a great deal in the process. He's a great writer and an important voice in our angry aftermath. Ray puts up and doesn't shut up. He and many others like him deserve wider praise.

On August 19, 2010 at 10:12am Steve wrote:

"McDaniel’s work seems more akin to flarf..." Not to change the subject here -- I agree that appropriation in contemporary poetry often consists of white men (professors!) simply stealing other people's words in the name of Art -- the appropriation that takes place in this case is not at all the same as what takes place in flarf or conceptual writing, because in those practices, the language more often than not is *already* decontextualized, already "captured". Obviously an oral history is a very different "source" than, say, the New York Times or an internet chatroom.

On August 19, 2010 at 10:15am Remedios wrote:

Let's not mistake an actual Black person for a symbol of Black people. Antionette is not invoked as a general racial authority, but as an authority on her own biography, and a person whose face was publicly displayed during Katrina. I met her at the Austin Convention Center while I was working as a volunteer for Alive in Truth, so I am aware of her situation as an avctual person. I came from New York for two weeks to work with the Alive in Truth oral history and relief project in Austin, Texas so I am not an impartial observer. It was literally the most intense two weeks of my life. The goal was listen compassionately and without judgement, but also to assist to share resources that volunteers had access to via their own networks. Things like, if a person said they had not yet located their spouse or children, to search for their spouse on katrina missing persons lists on the web, call shelters in other states, and do the work with your own cell phone and laptop that would otherwise have taken soemone weeks of standing in line at Red Cross tables to accomplish. I was honored to be an Alive in Truth volunteer because it allowed me to enter the deranged world of that disaster relief from a volunteer standpoint but use my skills, not just fold clothes. I got to record oral histories, but also helped six evacuees get signed up for FEMA benefits online. I got to take an elderly woman to the strip mall get a new pair of glasses (which were donated for free by the optometrist once she learned that the woman was from New Orleans). To pick up a donation of a full house of furniture and help deliver it to a family with six kids who were sleeping on the floor in an empty FEMA apartment. AND record oral histories. I wondered while reading why Young did not talk about her own experiences of trauma during Katrina. It's wierd to call that "modesty" but I think it is. Or humility. Or maybe she did not want to use the "I suffered too!" fallacy that McDaniel does. The only critique I could make of the Alive in Truth experience was that it was at times disorganized, but that was not hard to grasp given that Abe Young had her parents and siblings who were evacuated to take care of at the same time, and was dealing with the fact that her family members' homes were flooded out, AND this whole project ran without any funding, but people came from all over the country to participate. So I'm not sure where people are going with claiming Young has "messed up racial politics." It's a good choice to include reactions from people who were screwed over, rather than just her own view.

On August 19, 2010 at 11:33am k. wrote:

i agree with voices robin, kim, laura, etc. and find that abe's ideas here are opening a broader accountability for us as writers and truth-seekers. as people with gifts to help develop justice as a discourse and hopefully action, i would only hope we honor the communities we serve with the best integrity possible. cultural appropriation and exploitation are dangerous artistic tourisms where artists of privilege result in glorification and in fact, have reputable gains from said works. all the while the people who have been deeply impacted and whose experiences were used are left behind still to survive prominent issues of racism, sexism, queerphobia, clasism and painful on-going systemic oppression. re: what jennifer was shared, yes what about transparency and accountability of work not just in regards to the author, but too the protocol that allowed work to go along without expressed and documented consent? such a good point.

On August 19, 2010 at 12:22pm Katie Kane wrote:

Thus always with the collaborationist scribes of empire, Saltwater or otherwise: to use the cultures and voices of those who are the "surplus value" of the colonizing economy, whether it be cultural, economic, or labor surplus that is at stake without collaboration, community involvement, or "investment return" is always problematic, regardless of whatever formal/aesthetic philosophy argument the "author" espouses. The relationship is always assymetrical. As Edward Said said of the work of Orientalist "presenting" the work of those who could not "speak for themselves," economic and technological power access made it possible: "My whole point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Oriental essence — in which I do not for a moment believe — but that it operates as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting." All of those "settings" have to be taken into account when assessing the work of "translation" from sites of marginalization to sites of power. McDaniel joins a long list of orientalizers, appropriators, and invasive translators: Edward Fitzgerald, Richard Burton, Matthew Arnold, Fenimore Cooper, and Erza Pound. He is not of the place, his work does nothing to return to NOLA or to speak with/to its inhabitants, and he fails to truly acknowledge the work of "Alive in Truth." So unfortunate, since with the right care and respect the anthology could have made a significant contribution, without that work it remains the poetic equivalent of disaster tourism.

On August 19, 2010 at 12:55pm Lisa wrote:

I think a few distinctions are important here: Abe Young is not criticizing McDaniel's use of found poetry on legal grounds. She is criticizing what she sees as his attempt at poetry of witness on ethical grounds. Young doesn't once use the word "plagiarism" because McDaniel has not plagiarized. Since Andy Warhol, appropriation for artistic means is considered fair use, as it should be. Found poetry is a necessary, vital tool for artistic expression and often for political/social commentary (and yes, many found poems use text from white poets, from commercially/politically/socially powerful sources, etc.). However, just because we can use any source text, doesn't mean that we should. Abe Young brings up very important questions about power that apply not only to found poetry but any poetry that seeks to represent or use the image/voice/story of someone with less power than the poet, including the whole body of poetry of witness. As writers we have an obligation to deeply consider the ethics of our process without relying on simplified notions of "stealing" and such. It is possible to ethically and morally use another's language word- for-word. It is possible to rely solely on our imagination in order to represent an "other" and still end up doing so in an unethical and immoral way. It seems clear to me that both Young and McDaniel have given the idea of appropriation deep thought over the course of their writing lives and I am grateful to both for sharing what brought them to such very different but important, vital approaches.

On August 19, 2010 at 3:13pm Sheera Talpaz wrote:

For someone so self-righteously interested in equitability, Abe Young's piece is wholly unjust to Ray McDaniel. In her piece, Young calls out McDaniel as a racist, an exploiter (a capitalist? poet), a fellow of white privilege, an unethical oppressor. He's practically an Ezra Pound or James Dickey. For anyone who doesn't know Ray but has read the book, this is patently absurd. And then for those of us who do personally know Ray, the generosity of his spirit, his expansive and indiscriminate sense of compassion, the YEARS of work and research he puts into each book, this article is bullshit. Absolute and utter bullshit. While Young's project seems highly significant and worthwhile, and some of her points on the appropriation of voices are (theoretically speaking) salient, that doesn't make her the authority on race relations, poetry, Hurricane Katrina, ethics, and the intersection of these notions. She doesn't get to lay the "ground rules" for Ray or anyone else on how white people (because we're all of privilege, eh?) get to talk to the poor, how white people should approach other races, or anything along those lines. The pedantry and presumption here are overwhelming: for someone who, again, so self-righteously takes issue with notions of appropriation of voices and histories of others, of taking liberties and reconstituting the experiences of others, Young doesn't even begin to do her homework on McDaniel. He wasn't privileged (and that's the most reductive way I'll put it), he's an advocate for social justice, he doesn't write poetry or anything for 'personal gain,' and he does not write in the autobiographical mode, etc. I have many other, more specific arguments I'd love to make: how Young's claim that McDaniel's long poem reduces many voices to one is a misreading of the poem; how of all the unethical and terrible events that happened post-Katrina, she chooses to make Ray's the worst of it (let's take a straw poll on that one); how emotionally manipulative Young is toward the end of her piece (after all, what sparked that comment from Antoinette? I'm sure there was no posturing there). However, none of those are as important as what follows. What's most revolting is what Young leaves out: Ray tried on several occasions to contact her, to do anything in his powers to remedy any harm he may have inflicted once it became apparent, and to apologize. He apologized to her. She doesn't mention this. How can I be clearer here? She doesn't mention that she turned away his calls and apologies and would only deal with his publisher. The truth is Young never wanted a dialogue nor a "national conversation." She wanted blood. Her very article and its one- sidedness, its absolute deafness to any sort of explanation, discussion, or even apology, is demonstrative of this fact. There is no dialogue here, and how is she, how is anyone to advance any sort of cause without dialogue, especially among willing and eager participants? Perhaps Ray's initial intentions don't matter to Young, but neither do his subsequent actions. She doesn't want to be fair, because she wants a convenient vehicle to express her outrage at something that happens when evil white people exploit others. It's not the case here: Ray cited his source, which counts as fair use, he worked in an artistic medium to try and increase awareness or at least point to the major issues at stake following Katrina, and nothing he did was unethical. Nothing he did was unethical. Despite all of this, he apologized. To my mind, there are several problems here: Young's article is unethical, hypocritical, and libelous.

On August 19, 2010 at 3:28pm Christina Pacosz wrote:
What about Coffee House, the publisher of McDaniel's book? Such a prominent literary press might have required a higher standard, like getting official permission from all involved.

On August 19, 2010 at 4:25pm Cheri Hickman wrote:

This piece is titled “The Ethics of Poetic Appropriation” and I’d like us to consider for a moment the ethics of discussing the ethics of poetic appropriation. For, as Ms. Young reminds us, “Context is everything.” Here, then, is some context: 1. Ms. Young has not spoken with Mr. McDaniel except to tell him she would not speak with him. 2. After publication, when the issue of permission was raised with his publisher, Ms. Young did not return a phone call Mr. McDaniel made to her. I leave it to her to divulge the content and spirit of his message. 3. Through his publisher, Ms. Young threatened to involve attorneys. 4. Ms. Young sent a letter to the Office of Academic Affairs at the university where Mr. McDaniel teaches, in which she formally accused him of plagiarism. 5. I am a friend of Mr. McDaniel’s and as such claim as much authority to speak about him personally, should I wish to, as Ms. Young claims when speaking about herself, organizations and people she knows from first-hand experience. All concerns about personal bias and motive rightly should pertain to us both. Keeping to the excellent path of including context and avoiding omission, I wonder that Mr. McDaniel’s acknowledgment, in full, was not quoted in this piece. Or that one very usefully edited quote is included, from one interview with Mr. McDaniel. Or that no excerpts from the book appeared, nor any engagement with the book’s concerns except a remarkably unsubstantiated, offhand, and downright silly claim that Saltwater Empire participates in the flarf tradition. (I beg you to trust me when I say it does not. Then I beg you to read the book so you can see that I’m trustworthy. I also beg you not to take on faith Ms. Young’s description of flarf’s aims nor to presume its practitioners are in lock-step about its actual aims, in theory or practice.) Instead, Ms. Young's piece makes many assertions about Mr. McDaniel’s colonialist and racist project, using as evidence details about Ms. Young’s own personal and political development, awareness, and ethics; her intimacy with the Alive in Truth project and her commitments to the Gulf Coast citizens whose stories live in the archive; the work of poets who meet her standard for non-colonialist poetry of witness; partial and hostile descriptions of McDaniel’s 19-page, interstitial poem, stating without equivocation: “It’s highly unethical to use individual narratives in an anonymous and interchangeable way, especially given this context.” We are not all in agreement about this, and disagreement is not evidence of moral ruination or unexamined colonialist aspirations. What passes for Ms. Young’s documentation towers over another person – an actual person, too – about whom only one factual detail is evident: He did not ask permission to reprint, in any form, the oral histories he read at the Alive in Truth web site. From that one fact, readers must depend on Ms. Young’s authority and experience to arrive at Mr. McDaniel’s harmful, disrespectful, ignorant imperialist and racist transgression. She can open the door, but you don’t have to get in. Here is Ms. Young’s summary of Mr. McDaniel’s acknowledgment: “At the bottom of his copyright page he thanks Alive in Truth and says that his poem is “drawn from” our texts. It’s no substitute for actually contacting us, obtaining permission to use our texts, or transparently informing readers of his process.” In fact, Mr. McDaniel’s readers are told: “I have assembled the poems by recombining several of these histories, and I offer my deepest gratitude to the interviewees and the project organizers and volunteers.” I don’t see evidence that Mr. McDaniel is hiding anything. And while it is not a substitute for contacting Alive in Truth, it’s not anywhere evident that he expects that sentence to be a substitute. But here is the vitally important question: Is the legitimate, logical conclusion of failure to obtain permission everything else that Ms. Young claims it is? Mr. McDaniel’s failure to seek permission becomes this: “By neglecting to inquire, much less make certain that his plans were acceptable to the narrators, McDaniel reenacted a familiar racist pattern.” His failure to seek permission, and the composition itself – I suppose – brings us this quote by bell hooks: “No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own.” His failure to seek permission invokes this: “ . . . [A] critical first step in becoming an anti-racist ally is to have beginner’s mind. It is vital to proceed without assuming we have the answers about others. One has to be willing to abandon one’s position of authority. When a white person takes the voices of people of color for his own uses, without permission, in the aftermath of a racially charged national disaster, it is vulture work—worse than ventriloquism.” Nineteen pages of Saltwater Empire, assembled from the stories for which he failed to seek permission, become this: “McDaniel’s work seems more akin to flarf or conceptual poetry, the Internet-based poetry movements championed by Kenneth Goldsmith. Far from attempting to redress social injustice and balance history, flarf is an anarchist aesthetic that thumbs its nose at ethics.” From the flarf charge against Mr. McDaniel, a reader is taken by the hand to this: “But context and historicity cannot be discarded in any thoughtful engagement with the contemporary global world. It rings close to a colonialist fantasy to imagine that the advent of the Internet turns all language and imagery into Western writers’ ‘fodder’.” Will you take at face value that Mr. McDaniel has made with those stories something vile, ignorant, ahistorical, self-serving, predatory, disengaged and disrespectful, impersonal, unethical, profitable, and culturally violent? And that failure to seek permissions is, in fact, evidence of the same? At every turn, paragraph after paragraph, with no other supporting details or engagement with Mr. McDaniel’s book, his own background, or his objectives – but plenty of that kind of thing about herself -- Ms. Young uses him an example of “what has happened over and over again in America because white privilege blinds people to the consequences of their actions.” In other words, Paul – lovely and wise commenter -- the world you seek, the world a few of us seek, I dare say, would need to spin in reverse for a moment. Ms. Young would have to be willing to speak with Mr. McDaniel, which she has not been. Ms. Young would have to imagine Mr. McDaniel as a person, even a person of conscience, not the embodiment of the entire history of bad faith and exploitation in these United States. I have no doubt Ms. Young feels harmed, for and with people connected to Alive in Truth -- for herself, too -- but I'm afraid I can't help but marvel at an essay that leverages ethics, intent, birds of prey, exploitation, shame, theft, power, privilege, poetry, and paternalism, with no evidence for her presumptions and no regard for the very real force of them. Ms. Young's piece is at best a hypothesis, unmolested by her own fealty to personal narrative, inquiry and dialogue, albeit accompanied by great conviction -- and not much else -- about Mr. McDaniel's purpose, motivation, political and cultural awareness, and moral understanding. Ms. Young asks, "Don’t we want to be done with blindly consuming the cultures of others?" Raise your hand if you answered, “No.” That’s what I thought. If we're making a list, I'd also like to be done with the appetite to blithely attribute ignorance, malice, and blindness to others through arguments built – and maintained -- on nothing but evidence of one’s own virtues and intentions. I would like to close where Ms. Young closed: “I’ve learned a lot. McDaniel will be learning.” Look closely: She’s already learned something; Mr. McDaniel will be learning something. I say again, she takes for granted, and wants you to take for granted, what she knows and means as compared with what Mr. McDaniel knows and means. Why would anyone do that? Why would you want to do that? Still, I’m not entirely convinced Ms. Young’s “national conversation” would include him or anyway prize his ongoing education. Here’s why: She could have been in conversation with Mr. McDaniel, but chose not to be. Instead, she depended on the language of institutional power, the law and academic reprisal. Unless punishment is the new pedagogy, I think maybe I missed something. Mind you, I’m not saying Ms. Young should not have followed her own conscience and made her own choices about how to address the matter. I’m saying, as a statement of fact, that she -- she -- chose one and not the other. Perhaps this is as good a place as any to confess that months ago I asked Mr. McDaniel to include these facts in his own essay – I think they matter -- and he refused, saying he felt they would be beside the point and unfair to Ms. Young. Commenters want an apology. For what, exactly? For not seeking permission? All right. Ms. Young, did you ever hear such an apology? Did you or would you believe it? Or accept it? Did you or would you share it with Antoinette? Would the apology need to include allegiance to every last assertion of harm, intent, predation, ignorance and exploitation? Mr. McDaniel, according to one commenter, should apologize “without defensiveness.” In a piece purporting to be about ethics, full of incredible charges, how does anyone feel ethically comfortable demanding that? I see how you might feel justified, but would you actually be justified? Now, Poetry Foundation, I’d very much like to read a piece on the purported actual subject – The Ethics of Poetic Appropriation – by Mr. McDaniel. And by Ms. Young, too, for that matter, because that wasn’t at all the real subject here.

On August 19, 2010 at 4:26pm Lisa wrote:

Dear Abe, Is it true that McDaniel tried to make amends and that you rejected his efforts? You have laid out some very detailed and specific guidelines for approaching poetry of witness and a poetry of borrowed language from those without power. I see how much of your life's work and thought has gone into creating these guidelines and how other poets will benefit from following the guidelines or at least considering the issues that the guidelines address as they seek their own unique path through this ethical jungle of language and power dynamics. But now I am curious what sort of steps you imagine activists should take when making amends and repairing missteps. We as artist activists must try our very best to be ethical and when we fall short, when we fail to see some ethical pitfall, we must be able to move past that failure into growth so that we become better activists. You feel that McDaniel has tried and failed. You have articulated that clearly and have reasonable points. What would you have him (or any other artist activist for that matter) do from here? Lisa

On August 19, 2010 at 9:25pm Cheri Hickman wrote:

Hello, Lisa -- But what would *you* have him (or anyone else, artist, activist, or my next-door neighbor) do from here? I'm pretty uncomfortable with the judge-and-jury scaffolding here, without all those nifty due process steps we'd like more justly followed, but it's still a very interesting question. Developing an ethics -- one that avoids dogma & damnation, & other signs of delighted or slighted authority -- is not & can not be Abe's exclusive province. And what would you have Abe do from here? What would Abe have Abe do here? Is there a reason she wouldn't mention or be accountable for every step she's taken *away* from engaging with Raymond, for two years now, while otherwise engaging his publisher, his employer, attorneys maybe, Alive in Truth participants, & the public? Or maybe it really is okay to skip the questions & attribute all manner of cultural crimes to her action & inaction alike? Or is Raymond, by category, impossible to harm -- & impossible to defend? Since most all histories of power feature self-justifying tales about powerlessness, I submit that each of us must work very hard to be clean about what we think is due, from whom, for what, & why we think it.

On August 20, 2010 at 7:19am George wrote:
If, as several comments here claim, McDaniel was so anxious to apologize, why did he not do so in his essay?

On August 20, 2010 at 7:54am Camille DePrang wrote:

Commenter after commenter has called for empathy, fairness, and concern for Mr. McDaniel's position. This is a classic derailer in conversations about privilege. Ms. Young's article takes Mr. McDaniel to task for damaging appropriation in a very detailed and analytical way, and then proposes ethical guidelines to assist *all* writers and activists to do better. The difficult position of a privileged person who gets called out on abusing that privilege is not the responsibility of Ms. Young or this article. Yes, privilege checks are painful. But his struggle to grow from this incident, to acknowledge the harm he inflicted, and to evolve as we all evolve in our understanding of privilege belongs to Mr. McDaniel alone. *Our* discussion should be centered on the question Ms. Young posed: "What are the ethics of poetic appropriation?"

On August 20, 2010 at 10:27am Michelle wrote:
To me, McDaniel's acknowledgement of the
Alive in Truth website is incomplete. Why
was there no effort to contact the people
who shared their stories? Are they not
authors themselves?

On August 20, 2010 at 10:53am LH wrote:

Why don't all the poets in the world contact all the people they have ever written a poem about and ask their permission. Then all the novelists in the world should contact every person they have ever even thought about and ask them... This reminds me of my mother, who once threatened to sue me if I ever wrote about her. Where does her story end and my begin, and so on?

On August 20, 2010 at 11:54am Martha wrote:

This is not complicated. We all know that using an other person's words without permission or credit is plagiarism. And most of us would agree that plagiarism is unethical. And the nod on the copyright page of McDaniel's book is not credit. The poems in question do not distinguish where McDaniel's voice and words begin and end and where the words of others begin and end. In addition to requesting permission, this distinction between the author's words and the words of others has to be made in the text for ethical writing. This is not a question about writing about someone else as LH suggests. This is a question about stealing their words and presenting them as your own by not making the required distinctions through citations and not securing the necessary permissions. The issues that keep being overlooked include: - how these original words and voices are being assumed to be benefitted by "finding" as if they did not have an author, a home, and a purpose of their own. - the use of other people's words and work without permission or clear acknowledgment in the text in a format that advances McDaniel's career and benefits him financially with none of this benefit being shared with the original authors of the words. - the assumption that McDaniel could be a better vehicle (or even an appropriate vehicle) for the telling of these stories than the project the words authors chose. These assumptions are so characteristic of privilege and evocative of the assumptions that made taking other people's land to build this country plausible. We begin with othering to create invisibility, assume we have something invaluable to offer, place ourselves front and center and take what we can make use of and consider ourselves benevolent in doing so. These words were not lost. They were not orphans. They were authored and homed in a powerful project. Someday we will learn that just because we have more access we cannot just take what serves us, build careers and names off others' work and call ourselves benevolent for providing some imagined benefit for those "less fortunate."

On August 20, 2010 at 12:33pm LH wrote:
This is extremely complicated as far as I
can see and not only about privilege or
race, or not only in any case.

This conversation has made me aware
of McDaniel's book, but also about the
oral history. I'm grateful for both. I'll
read both.
>>
On August 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm Olga
wrote:
Come on. Whose voices are "found"
voices? No one is going to stumble
across a Tennyson poem or a Stephen
Crane story, take their names away and
dare to "remix" them.

>>
Actually, yes they are. And
Shakespeare, and Sappho, and
Hemingway, and Stein, and Beckett, and
the Bible...

On August 20, 2010 at 1:06pm Cheri Hickman wrote:

Fact: Plagiarism is representing someone else's words as your own, NOT directly acknowledging that the words are, in fact, someone else's, and then pointing readers to those words in their original context. From the Acknowledgments page (the "nod," according to commenter Martha): "The text of the 'Convention Centers of the New World' poems is drawn from interviews conducted by volunteers for Alive in Truth: the New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project, which records life histories of people from New Orleans, Louisiana, and nearby areas who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. I have assembled the poems by recombining several of those histories, and I offer my deepest gratitude to the interviewees and to the project organizers and volunteers. For more information about Alive in Truth, including opportunities to donate to the organization so that it can continue to preserve the voices of the Gulf Coast, please visit their website at www.aliveintruth.org."

On August 20, 2010 at 2:43pm D'Anne Witkowski wrote:

It seems to me that McDaniel's error is in not getting permission to use stories from the Alive in Truth website. Young is, understandably, unhappy about this. However, McDaniel does acknowledge AIT in his book as the source material for his poem. He's not trying to hide anything. Whether or not one thinks McDaniel's poetic aims were realized -- or even very good in the first place -- is another matter. But even if McDaniel did egregiously thumb his nose at copyright (and I don't think he did. His poem falls under "fair use" as I understand it, whether or not Young likes how he did it), that in itself does not make him a racist. Young's attack on McDaniel is an awfully reductive way of looking at his work and does not do even her own argument justice. It is understandable that Young feels protective of the stories on AIT and the people who told them. There are many, many injustices surrounding Katrina and so many reasons to be angry. McDaniel, however, is not one of them. Not really. The issues about appropriation in Young's essay are important and there is no doubt a larger discussion to be had. But it seems that perhaps Young is too close to the source material. It's too raw, perhaps, too sacred in her estimation. While there is no doubt that these stories -- indeed, the people who have shared them -- are important, Young's criticisms of McDaniel's (fair)use of these stories contain a barely contained charge of blasphemy. It's an awfully difficult charge to prove. After all, what is considered sacred is hardly universal. And even when, say, two people find the sacred within, say, personal histories about Katrina, one man's attempt at honoring the sacred is another woman's perceived decimation of it. I do think intentions matter. And it's rather clear when you read the McDaniel poem in question that he is, however flawed it may seem to some, striving for reverence not insolence. Young's anger is, I think, misdirected in this case. Clearly her passion for social activism has led her to do urgent, brave, and important work and she will no doubt continue to do so. I do hope that she is one day able to see that the poem "Convention Centers of the New World" does not reduce McDaniel to a racist plagiarist.

On August 20, 2010 at 3:21pm Sheera Talpaz wrote:

Ms. DePrang, You write that "Commenter after commenter has called for empathy, fairness, and concern for Mr. McDaniel's position." That's simply not the mathematical case. I'll tally, if you'd like. As to your second claim on digression, how is calling for empathy a "derailer" of a conversation about privilege? That one can be empathetic AND discuss privilege is plausible and even preferable, I'd hope. Furthermore, any comments calling for empathy point to the notion that McDaniel is not as privileged as he's portrayed both in the article and comments section. If you want to have an ACTUAL dialogue on privilege and power, you have to ACTUALLY get to know the people you speak with and of. If you come to the table with the expectation that white=absolute privilege, then you don't come prepared for an honest discussion. And, to be frank, nobody here has derailed the conversation, because the "arguments" put forth are absurd and libelous to begin with. Young was to write about the ethics of appropriation; instead she chose to malign and vilify an honest, decent human being. Her words are extreme, brutal, nasty, and untruthful. They obscure the theoretical debate that should have gone on. They make no mention of incidents in which McDaniel tried to reach out -- multiple incidents -- to apologize for any hurt he'd caused, anything she found unethical about his actions. Young may be doing important work for many, but she also happens to be doing great harm to one. And as for the actual facts of the matter, Raymond McDaniel made use of testimony he found on a public website, credited the site in a paragraph expressing his gratitude, and explained his methods in that paragraph. So the campaign against him held no legal merit, and now Young has decided to make an ethical matter of it. The problem with arguing about ethics is that Young cannot speak for all poets on what is right. I'm a poet, and I don't find McDaniel's actions unethical. Were he not my friend, were he in fact my enemy, I still wouldn't find his actions unethical. Were he to create art from my own grandmother's Holocaust testimony without consulting my family, I would still not find his deeds unethical. And that YOU or anyone else finds Young's guidelines appropriate and ethical, does not make them absolute in any sense. You want to talk about privilege? Let's. We're all here privileged in some sense, for we can afford to take time from our day and write angry, absurd, accusatory comments toward one another in the name of some cause. Does anybody here actually want a cause advanced? No. There's nothing but libel and vitriol, name-calling, pseudo-debating, self- righteous propagating of the same spiel rehashed. You want to talk about ethics? What are the ethics of trying to ruin a man's career for one act for which a) there is no consensus on its ethics, b) there is full consensus on its legality, and c) the author tried to apologize and make amends for once he realized he'd incited any harm?

On August 20, 2010 at 4:20pm Lisa wrote:

Dear Cheri—I began following this conversation because I am deeply concerned about the ethics of appropriation and have considered these questions for years. Like you, I am also concerned with the ethics of confrontation. Like you, I am wary of the voice of authority as well as accusatory language based on assumptions and second hand information. Therefore, I chose the wording of my comment addressed to Abe Young so as to avoid these things. I do understand that you are worried about the reputation of your friend, so I want to reassure you that in soliciting and awarding respect to Young’s opinion I am not awarding ultimate authority to it. I have carefully read both essays as well as the comments made on both pages and I see both Young and McDaniel as artist-activists working with good intentions from a place of privilege that can create blindspots. Many of the questions you raise are important and without immediate, easy answers. The answer to your last question is, of course, “No”. While I believe in the worth and necessity of these open discussions, I am not without sadness that they, by nature and by human fault, so rarely occur without opening and reopening wounds. Lisa

On August 20, 2010 at 4:22pm Lopez wrote:

Friends, please, calm. I am sure that both Mr. McDaniel and Ms. Young can survive a debate. There is no career-ruining going on here. I don't see vilification, but a reasoned call for more attention to ethical issues. Nor is there full consensus on any of the issues (legal or ethical) which means that a discussion in a forum such as this one can only be productive. Please, if you are a personal friend of one of the authors, take a deep breath and perhaps a cold shower before plunging in to defend or attack their characters. This conversation will be very beneficial for the poetry community as a whole, but only if we keep it cordial...

On August 20, 2010 at 4:34pm Sheera Talpaz wrote:

Lopez, I'm trying to be calm. And you're right, there is and will be no career-ruining, but there has been an attempt at it. As Ms. Hickman pointed out, Young sent a letter formally accusing McDaniel of plagiarism to his employer. Is that not an explicit attempt to ruin him? Or is that part of fostering a dialogue?

On August 20, 2010 at 5:32pm Cheri Hickman wrote:

Hello, Lisa -- Truly, I see that my writing was strident, but please know I understood the spirit in which you asked the question, and I absolutely respect both the question and the spirit in which it was made. I'm sorry I failed to convey that, and I'm sorry I didn't take more care. ***** And yes, yes, these questions are incredibly important and complex. I agree that the questions aren't merely questions, that they involve and include people, histories, facts, and struggles. ***** I don't agree that Ms. Young handled Mr. McDaniel's work, background, aims, efforts, or decisions in ways that allowed for engagement or co-production. He is constructed in this piece as a bad-faith illustration of very consequential personal, cultural and ethical trespasses. ***** While I am very frustrated by that, I am not worried about Raymond's reputation. His character and his demonstrated commitments are missing in Ms. Young's piece, but they are not missing in the world. ***** I know your answer was "No," Lisa. I knew it already. I'm moved by your follow-up comment, the expansiveness & generosity you embody there -- and invite here. Thank you for that.

On August 20, 2010 at 11:01pm Assefa Dibaba wrote:

well well we are here still hooked to this loll of "poet-as-researcher and poetry/subject-as-researched". right? as i read this letter dated august 20th 1825, by a student of unc, a certain richard lewis, i came to say, ah, we humans share same sympathetic sense of presence to others. this is instinctual, inborn and universal essence of humanity that transcends any kind of temporal or spatial limit. poor lewis writes, apologetically, to his little young sister, i know you will not be displeased ...it is impossible for me to come during my vacation. ...i have returned to the university about four weeks ago, since which time i have not heard from home. i fear very much that either papa or mama or both..are sick and i do not hear...write to me long letter…to know all news. imagine this love, the red smell of it, the blue colour of it! if love can get color, let it be red...and lovers sing “my blue blue blue blown love,” composers compose "my red red red rose" in praise of their beloved! under the blue silver sky lit by waning moon light, on the land torn by a civil war only few years, but its wrath, the affection a young boy can have for his sister, if any, let it be blue. what a tender heart can bear it, what a poor good soul can fetch it! the pain of homesickness eased through painting little sister, ailing papa or mama or both, and the country, as he says "it is about this season of the year that sickness is very prevalent" still infects and eats them deep down to their bone, the wayfarers displaced by Hurricane Katrina. And, now, what is the legacy of the doom before the dooms day? only poetry and the poets to come to be bones of contest? but you imagine how simple, humble, benign, caring, loving and willing we are about the oppressed and the unrepresented, “wherever, whenever” inwardly? but how outwardly we seem loathsome, indolent, malevolent? sometime, perhaps only sometime, we/i think, we care more for others than we do for our self. only when we love? unfortunately, only sometime!

On August 21, 2010 at 1:27pm Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano wrote:

Having spent years in graduate school studying ethics and the application of this science to various scenarios, I never ran across poetry as a potential circumstance. In fact, I never ran across any scenario that applied the science of ethics to questions of privilege either. Instead, the entire program focused on law, policy and moral imperatives. Rather than insist students critique the relationship between law/policy/morality and ethics, there was an underlying assumption that these terms and their practice were unquestionably synonymous. As a queer person of color living in the occupied region known as the Southwestern United States, consideration of synonymity of these terms and practices debilitated the importance and applicability of ethics as a whole. For instance, to say that law equals ethics would mean that the presence of my family in the United States is inherently unethical given that the first to relocate here did so without legal consent from the United States government. Although born in the United States, applying this framework could deem my presence here unethical because of the manner in which I came to be born within the confines of this nationstate. Lately, conservatives have attempted to resurrect such thinking and intend to challenge the legality of birthright citizenship for those born to parents who have “illegally” or, in the case of synonymous terminology, “unethically” “entered” this country. Perhaps this argument makes sense from the simple Right/Wrong, Law = Ethics framework. Yet, if one were to turn to the very words considered synonymous with ethical matters and questioned the integrity of such words, would ethics lose their intrinsic and seemingly sacred value? Arguing against undocumented immigration makes sense only in the amnesic consciousness of a country that has legally practiced slavery, genocide, displacement and occupation from its genesis and beyond. It is because of the historically inhumane founding of this country that my family practiced the undocumented crossing of a border built to uphold the immorality of white supremacy. If morality is synonymous to ethics, the very existence of the United States is unethical. At which point, one must adjust the notion of law/policy/morality being synonymous to ethics in order to apply ethical criteria circumstantially and whimsically-adjusted to our personal and/or collective moral imperatives. It appears the thread of comments arguing for and against ethical application to “Convention Centers of the New World” are wandering the surfaces of definition. Abe Louise Young has brilliantly executed an argument that applies the rule of ethics through a lens critically examining poetic acts of privilege and racism. As someone who agrees with the assertion that anti-racism is a moral imperative, I recognize that the ethical criterion applied to this poem is based on a particular definition of morality. In a world void of context, Abe’s question of ethics in relation to the aforementioned poem could be contested through other definitions of morality. In reading Raymond McDaniel’s essay, I perceive him as a poet attempting to draw light onto the experiences of “those for whom justice has always been in short supply.” If I were to make truth of my assumption and take it a step further to consider McDaniel a poet committed to social justice ideology, I would unquestionably apply a social justice morality to the discussion of Saltwater Empire. Said notions of morality, then, would inform my ethical lens in relation to the poet’s intention and its resulting products. Because we live in a world replete with complex, layered and interwoven contexts, I concur with Abe’s asservation that McDaniel plagiarized and appropriated the stories of others. In McDaniel’s defense, the poet states: “I assumed that the records were public, that they existed to be public.” Not so simple. People of privilege enter dangerous territory when they engage in the extremely difficult and slippery act of writing about or “for” those on whom one’s own privilege is built upon. In this particular case, Abe Louise Young, a white, anti-racist, activist and poet, is putting the white poet to task. For many folks of color, this is what we understand to be one of the many critical roles white allies play in our shared efforts to dismantle and eradicate white supremacy. Any poet attempting to write in the name of justice must (yes, I said “must”) critically and harshly self-examine their intention, practice and product. Privilege is built on the most pervasive of human atrocities. As such, poetry written to evoke a just consciousness inevitably fails if it itself lacks consciousness of privilege, the history on which it is built, and the structures that sustain it. From the place of academic and literary integrity, the expropriation of others’ words without proper credit is plagiarism. From the place of social justice movements and values, the appropriation of others’ stories is an act of injustice. Let us not forget that just as the “isolated phrases, sentences and clusters of sentences” were allegedly found, so to were the land, the people, the stories and the spirits that for centuries have called home what many now call the United States of America.

On August 22, 2010 at 12:50am Sheera Talpaz wrote:

Mr. Lozano, I don't think anyone here is conflating the notions of legality with ethics or morality. It just so happens that theft is both illegal and unethical (if you ask most people and in most contexts). However, that an author credited a source in his book but did not do "enough" in some people's esteem to seek permission for his use of materials does not make his actions either illegal or unethical. This notion of theft seems heavily weighted by the idea of race relations here, but two points on this 1) the author of this piece makes several assumptions herself on McDaniel's own identity, and 2) how do we even know the survivors of Katrina who gave testimony are not white? And to further complicate the issue, if McDaniel were a minority, would Young still have a case? And if McDaniel "appropriated" the words of Goldman Sachs executives to write a found poem about the economy, would there be a case? Is this about plagiarism, racism, or racist plagiarism? To boil this thing down: he's not a racist because Young says he is. He's not a racist because of a quote by bell hooks that can't actually be applied to McDaniel's project. He's not a racist because he took words and used them without explicit permission. That makes him a person who took words and used them without explicit permission (whatever that means, since he did, indeed, cite them), and just whose permission does he need? The recent Amazon reviews of his book suggest this matter is more about Young's ego and her need to "protect" (or keep control of) the words of others than it is about any sort of indiscretion on McDaniel's part. Did his poem posit to reconstruct whole histories of specific people he'd never met, trying to "tell it better" than they could? There's nothing to suggest that's the case. Is he a famous professor who profits from recasting the stories of victims? No. Is he a poet who took someone else's words, distorted them, then called them his own? That's mighty reductive and false. What Young does is historical work, and what McDaniel does is artistic work that intersects with politics and history. What she owes and can or cannot do is very different from what he owes and can or cannot do. And for the love of all that is holy, since when does his work seek to supplant hers? Can they not coexist?

On August 22, 2010 at 3:12am TeakLipstickFiend wrote:

Whether or not Mr. McDaniel has attempted to apologise after the fact (and it should have been mentioned by Ms Young), it doesn't change the fact (which none of his defenders seem to be disputing, as far as I can see) that he took the words of other people without asking. That is privilege at work. Or laziness. How hard would it have been to ask? Or to name the people he took the words from? And I find it interesting that one of his defenders said he has tried to apologise for "any" hurt he has caused. Not "the" hurt, his/her implication being that well, maybe there was hurt, but maybe their wasn't. And LH: he did not write about these people, he took their words. And you and your mother? Well, you know your mother, don't you? Mr. McDaniel may be a lovely person, I don't know. But what he did was wrong, not artistic.

On August 22, 2010 at 3:07pm rebecca wrote:

i would encourage forgoing fair use of copyright & encourage seeking permissions from vulnerable communities. however, i wouldn't organize with people that trade in this kind of smugness, or polemic or thickly veiled character assassination. for what it's worth, i don't think you start a conversation this way. i don't think this was meant to lead to conversation. i don't see that it has.

On August 22, 2010 at 4:00pm Brant Lyon wrote:

I enjoyed the article and blog greatly, but they put too fine a point on the issue. Call it appropriation, or any other term you like to justify the breech of ethics, but theft is theft, plain and simple. That means intellectual property or any other kind of property. And for anyone who is confused as to what theft is, that means taking something that isn't yours without permission of the owner.

On August 23, 2010 at 12:20am Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano wrote:

Dear Sheera, 1) I never said people were conflating notions of legality with ethics or morality. I spoke of the assumed synonymity between ethics and law, policy and morality to pose the argument that ethics are subject to individual and/or collective ideologies, perspectives, etc, and not as clear cut as some have argued through this thread. The same would apply to your argument that theft is both illegal and unethical according to most people and contexts. Again I present the case of the United States, a country founded on theft and as a result inherently unethical, if not illegal. 2) I stand with Abe in questioning the ethical standing of this particular poem because it lives within the realm of social consciousness and as such should be subject to critical measures of social justice standards. 3) Going the route of hypothetical questions of race is a tricky road to traverse. These types of arguments are typical when attempting to avoid conversations of race or racism. Why go the route of imagining what would happen if McDaniel were a minority (an improper term, by the way)? It might be easier to imagine solutions to hypothetical people and avoid having this painful conversation about one person or persons, but I fail to see how this strategy pushes us to grow. 4) Having a hint of racial consciousness would be sufficient to know that the response would be much different if this had happened at the hands of a person of color (a proper way to call a “minority”). This does not address what happened in this specific instance. 5) I would not be engaged in this argument if the plagiarized lines had been originally authored by Goldman Sachs. Though I’m sure the courts would. 6) I’m not sure where McDaniel was called a racist in this essay. To personalize arguments of race and racism is to silence those who bring a critical race perspective to a conversation. I have no interest in arguing that McDaniel is a racist as it is unimportant and irrelevant to the essay’s intent. What is important and relevant is how the dismissal of authentic authorship takes place within a context and a country where certain people have historically and institutionally practiced the art of appropriation. 7) I’d be weary of defining what Abe does as she can clearly define so on her own. 8) My last name is Herrera y Lozano.

On August 23, 2010 at 2:46am Dan Nicola wrote:

I am very interested in this debate and the dilemmas it presents. I own a copy of Saltwater Empire and have read it cover to cover several times. I've been a fan of Ray's since Murder: A Violet came out. I found Saltwater Empire riveting and painful. The best part was the "Convention Centers" poem, because it has a concrete, visceral quality of pain and truth that the other poems (which are more abstract and floating) lack. I assumed that Ray had compiled the voices in "Convention Centers" from various different sources, news reports, radio, TV, newspaper, or interviews he took. I imagined that he talked to Katrina survivors and wove all of these things together with his own impressions, captured language, and imagination to create the epic "chorale" of many voices. And to do that, spent a lot of time swimming in the murk of Katrina. I did not read the ISBN page so I wasn't aware of the Alive in Truth project, or the existence of a separate repository of these words, with names and faces attached, all in one place. I have to admit being depressed to learn that the construction of the long poem was not as I'd thought. It was high on my "long poem" list. I admired it as a feat of aggregation, a kind of enormous act of listening that the poet performed through the tsunami of media information about Katrina, where he paid minute close attention to the feelings and sonic landscapes of individual voices and collected them from their, shall we say, exiles, on many streams of information and from diverse locations. If the collection & listening work was done by Abe Louise and others and then replicated without much variation by Raymond, and published as his work, it is very surprising, and as a reader my reaction is that of confusion and some peevish sadness. The meaning of the poem changes significantly if the poet was not the active agent of collection or assemblage. The invisible power of the poem comes through the safety that the speakers seem to feel with whomever they are speaking to, the assumed trust that allows them to discuss such private and difficult details of their odysseys. There is an interesting quality of uniformity to how the voices relate information, and the information related: childhood, housing in New Orleans, Superdome experiences, etc. I did follow the suggestion of Abe Louise's essay and visit the oral history site to plug in some random lines from the poem. It results mostly, long chunks of text from the survivor histories that evidently are included verbatim in "Convention Centers." Enjambment was added by Raymond. It does not look like he changed or added any words. He says that he chose "phrases, sentences, and clusters of sentences," but it looks more like "sentences, paragraphs, and clusters of paragraphs." I'm not sure how to feel about this. Usually I am of the mind that a poem's provenance is irrelevant, the way the biography of a poet is irrelevant in regards to the poem's speaker. But I do think this circumstance changes the poem's meaning or significance... significantly. I can understand Abe Louise's anger. I can't easily understand Ray's response. It leaves a disappointed question mark there for me. I read poets for their brutal honesty with themselves. Brutal honesty with other people comes second; not all poets are capable people when it comes to interpersonal terrain. But a poet needs to be honest with themselves, above everything else. I wonder if Ray hit a rough spot where self-honesty took a back seat so a new book could get out. I hope he can do an about-face and admit that it was a mistake. Not only apologize to the Katrina survivors, but ask for the trust of his loyal readership again. Readers are forgiving, or capable of being so, if honesty resumes as the most valuable currency.

On August 23, 2010 at 8:18am Anita Turlington wrote:

As a long-time English professor who works hard to ensure that students understand and avoid plagiarism, I am stunned that Young, who apparently has earned an MFA, does not seem to understand the concept. I have read McDaniel's work and found it deeply moving. He gave credit to his sources properly in print and has also credited Young's work at his readings. His intent certainly does not seem in any way self-aggrandizing or shifty. Young's attacks on him, however, are strident and mean-spirited. She seems to be setting out deliberately to destroy the reputation of a fellow poet. I can't help wondering whether she might be motivated by spite, paranoia, jealousy, or all three. However, she has clearly now become an oppressor of someone who did an honest day's work as a poet and thought he was doing the right thing. She needs to get over herself and stop persecuting McDaniel. Enough.

On August 23, 2010 at 10:14am Steven Fama wrote:
This article asserts, "Charles Reznikoff used witness statements from court cases involving black Americans, among others, in his massive Testimony (1965, 1968)." This is not correct. Reznikoff used facts reported in appellate court decisions, not witness statements. His use of such facts to make poems has been carefully documented and sometimes discussed, see here for example. In addition, while parts of Testimony were published in 1965 and 1968, the whole thing -- two volumes -- appeared in 1978/1979.

On August 23, 2010 at 12:25pm Sheera Talpaz wrote:

Dear Mr. Herrera y Lozano, To address your 8th point first, I apologize for not correctly addressing you. That, indeed, is my mistake. To address your first point and your need to put forth a semantic-driven argument, synonymity and conflation are similar enough for the point we were both, I believe, making. What's synonymous is more or less interchangeable, and what's conflated involves a blending of more than one thing into one identity. Either way, "conflation" or "synonymity," my point is the same: nobody is suggesting that what is legal is right, blends with what is right, or equals what is right. I'm certainly not saying ethics are clear cut, since I obviously find no ethical issue here, where you do. Furthermore, when I said "most people in most contexts," my point was that some might find theft ethically permissible in certain instances (e.g., stealing to feed a hungry family), even though it's written in the Judeo- Christian code to find it wrong. Also, on the issue of America being founded on theft -- yes, yes, indeed. But if you're so progressive in your semantics, can we at least be more progressive in our argumentation? This is rehashed stuff, and we can acknowledge it and move on. You find it particularly relevant here, but it's pretty relevant in a lot of countries where poets make use of found materials. On your 2nd point, what Young does lives within the realm of social consciousness, true. What McDaniel does is ART that lives within the realm of social consciousness. These are two different realms. On your 3rd point, going the route of the hypothetical is only tricky because it forces the arguer to acknowledge the truth behind his/her motives. It doesn't obscure the race argument, but rather brings it to the fore. The point is this isn't a race argument and shouldn't be one. And the fact that's continued to be ignored is that there is an underlying assumption of who Ray is and what power he wields and where he comes from, simply because he's a man who appears white. This strategy "pushes us to grow" because maybe, just maybe, we can re- evaluate the propositions put forth so that we can ALL be more fair and truly more progressive in our treatment of other people -- even seemingly privileged people. I don't think being socially conscious means calling all the wrong people out and crusading against them. In this particular instance, the purported idea was to talk it out and create a debate, but nothing suggests this was the motive. Nothing from the very beginning of Young's actions in dealing with McDaniel suggests she wanted a debate at all, or to reach an understanding at all. On your 4th, you don't need to call me out as having not a hint of "racial consciousness." You know NOTHING about me, except that I used the word "minority" and posed that question you deem so obvious. On the former, I see how that term could be offensive, but as someone of a marginalized group (or am I not allowed to say that either?), the term doesn't offend me. On your 5th point, of course you wouldn't. Because then, even if it were plagiarism, and plagiarism is SO bad, then someone else can take care of it. And it isn't plagiarism. If someone turned this poem in to my class with the citations, I would't call the dean or give them an F. On your 6th point, he was called a racist several times, including when it was mentioned that he "enacted familiar racist patterns," not to mention the entire overtone of this essay. People practice the "art of appropriation" in all countries, violent, thieving, and otherwise. 7) You'd be WARY of defining what Abe does. I grow WEARY of the holier-than-thou tone. See how it feels?

On August 23, 2010 at 2:08pm Kathleen wrote:

Speaking of "specifically about him", I found it odd in digesting this essay that I had to endure so many of Young's opinions protected by the unanimous 'them' and 'they' before being reminded that "It is vital to proceed without assuming we have the answers about others. One has to be willing to abandon one’s position of authority." The 'rules' for correctly abandoning authority are prescribed for those that desire to follow...but of course no authoritative posturing was involved in outlining them for this essay. I can't help but think that if Young were so firm in these beliefs, all the 'they' dancing and reminders of her project's superiority [and authenticity] wouldn't have been necessary, and the last section of this essay about Antoinette, would have been the whole of the commentary. Things being what they are, I have to wonder about how Young, whose mind was so clearly made up, primed Antoinette--- and more importantly whether all of the words that were forcibly placed in Antoinette's mouth through the 'other' 12,400 characters in this piece [to Antoinettes 211] are an accurate exansion of her feelings, or just another self-righteous opportunity for Young to advance her own legitimacy as a 'mouthpiece' and 'platform giver' for those who should be so grateful to her for they would not be heard CORRECTLY on their own. Absurd.

On August 23, 2010 at 3:04pm diagrams wrote:

Following in the vein of R. Kemp's comments, just because someone said something, it was recorded, transcribed, and published on a website, in the New York Times, the Times Picayune, or in a book of poems, does not necessarily make it the truth. What happened in the days after Katrina have become mythic images of hell on earth. As such, these images are often more myth of the human tragedy sort, than they are an accurate portrayal of events. Although these mythic images help to express or share pain, they are also useful for self-aggrandizement and for a political blame games. For people interested in understanding what happened during Katrina, there are many archives of accounts by Katrina survivors in New Orleans. None of these is more definitive, authoritative, or can claim to be more truthful than another. There are accounts by survivors at the convention center and at the super dome, of police and emergency workers, of people who stayed in their own homes and of people who left, of people who never came back and those who did return and even of those who came to New Orleans to build a new life. And it is not surprising, that there are as many different views of the disaster and recovery as there are accounts. In light of this, the holier-than-thou moralism with which Young holds up "Antoinette" is particularly off-putting. To inform future disaster preparedness and response, there has been some very good research using qualitative data of interviews from survivors. Of particular interest, may be one on the extent to which race and class difference influenced human responses to the disaster (see http://www.chssp.columbia.edu/events/documents/disasters_elliottandpais.pdf), and of pre-storm vulnerability of women and children and their post storm resilience (see http://tulane.edu/nccrow/publications.cfm). There has also been a number of excellent studies on how panic myths are perpetuated during disaster.

On August 23, 2010 at 4:13pm Brittanica M. wrote:

Poets: What *are* the limits of mimicry or salvage? What are the guidelines for what text are available or not for poetic use and republication? Certainly *all* printed work cannot be yours for the taking. Many publishers would reject a book like Saltwater Empire outright without permissions contracts from the oral histories in hand. Authors in fiction and nonfiction would be tarred and feathered for publishing something like this--for example, if a novelist presented characters from Katrina who spoke the exact words from online oral histories, they'd be drummed out in shame. But are there different guidelines in poetry (or no guidelines whatsoever)? The varying arms of literature have subtle differences is what is considered acceptable. Is poetry the one discipline that is immune from challenge, or that is freed from respecting intellectual property laws? If so, why? Does poetry claim, or deserve, an Andy Warhol-esque freedom to reproduce absolutely anything, granted by the conceptual nature of the art form? (And about the character of Abe Louise Young, which has become a focus of this thread: anyone familiar with her decade of principled work in communities of poverty would surely hesitate before calling her a "mouthpiece," or an oppressor. Most of her literary efforts and publications demonstrate the ethic she lays out here: working to change systems of structural oppression, and assisting to transport the voices of the excluded into public dialogues, without speaking for them or claiming credit for great "discoveries.") But back to the real issue these essays provoke: is poetry the sole literary art form that is granted full access to reproduce texts from any provenance, and if so, why, and how do poetry publishers justify that in the legal realm of intellectual property?

On August 23, 2010 at 4:22pm Claire St. M wrote:

Is it just me or is there a lot of context and content missing for readers? I'd feel better too if I knew how Abe Young talked with Antoinette (and with Rachid L, Carol Y, Joyce W, Deborah J, and Tami J.) about Saltwater Empire etc and how each person responded. This is how I hope I would do it: "I promised you that you had exclusive rights to your life story but that's not entirely accurate. Do you know about fair use? (Say she doesn't.) Fair use is blah blah and lets others blah blah under certain circumstances blah blah. Well Raymond McDaniel did the following blah blah and I'm really upset because it's my feeling he may have done it for/from the following reasons blah blah. I feel strongly that he should have gotten permission no matter what. I don't know more than this because I'm not accepting McDaniel's phone calls (if that is true). This is the book, these are the sections from your story and from Rachid L, Carol Y, Joyce W, Deborah J, and Tami J, this is where the author says what he did. (Maybe any or all of these questions should come up?:) Do you want to read the book or those sections? Do you want to talk about it? Do you want to talk to Raymond McDaniel? Do you want me to? What do you want to do next? Is there something you want me to do next? Here are some other options blah blah. I want to do blah blah. What do you think about that?" Personally I would also like to see Young and McDaniel come out from behind their posts and talk openly together about all these issues and their work, maybe like how it's done at http://bloggingheads.tv/.

On August 23, 2010 at 7:56pm Cheri Hickman wrote:

Hi, Brittanica -- There is not some special get-out-of-jail card for poetry or poets. Not that I know of. Appropriation, poetic or otherwise, is not immune to ethical questions or legal ones. And the aesthetic arguments have long, storied histories and have long been debated. Also, the history of this stuff is not one big "tar-and-feathering" parade. (I'm very curious about the up with crime and punishment themes.) ***** Some organizations and fields have created professional standards and/or publish best practices guides. I don't have time to pull together all this stuff, nor would my links/research necessarily be the direction you want to head, but you can research the topic for yourself or perhaps a group of similarly inclined people can combine efforts. ***** This site reviews and comments on some case law: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter9/9-c.html. ***** And this one with its focus on art and intellectual property might be another place to begin: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/martin/art_law/image_rights.htm. ***** Similar arguments/issues got above the waterline in 2007/2008 with Shepard Fairey as a locus (McDaniel is no Fairey, obviously), and this post aggregated several links that will get you to the various points of view: http://newsgrist.typepad.com/underbelly/2008/01/appropriation-d.html ***** I think this site does a pretty thorough job of setting out the basics of copyright law and the Internet: http://olex.openlogic.com/wazi/2009/internet-law-part-i-copyright-law/ *****Also, there's a lot of trouble brewing around fan fiction. This site serves as a FAQ about copyright & provides some recent case law: http://www.chillingeffects.org/fanfic/faq.cgi. ***** I hope other folks will pass along their links, too.

On August 24, 2010 at 1:58pm Remedios wrote:

I am glad that ALY wrote this piece. People of color are sick of dealing with this tired argument. White people have to do it for each other and it is actually a favor, even when it comes off as rude ... ALY was harsh but could have been harsher. On another note, RmcD's piece suggests that he blows this off as a non-issue. Until we have another essay from either or both of these writers addressing their dialog (or lack thereof) there's no point in assuming apologies, or anything beyond what is published here. It would be nice to stop the character attacks on both sides and stay on point with the subject. Is it okay to use 19 pages of someone else's work and then not bother to ask--or inform them about it after the book was published, either? ALY's piece says that she found the book in the bookstore. That's just not cool, no matter how you look at it. ..... Further, does it matter if the work you use is by Black women, and you are a white man? Is that a non-issue, or not? Feminist issue, race issue, ethics issue? (sorry for the double negative.) If Sonny writes a book to honour Grandmas Holocaust experiences, they usually share that with Grandma, maybe have a party about it, unless they are afraid Grandma will get mad. If she does get mad, c'est la vie. But if they find Grandma's journal and publish that without telling her, and put their name on the cover of the book, AND not tell her until she finds it on Amazon, Grandma probably WILL get mad.)

On August 24, 2010 at 9:40pm Liz G. wrote:

This post should come with an eggucator.

On August 24, 2010 at 10:53pm Robin Kemp wrote:

I was careful not to choose sides in the fight over whose copyright was violated, and I would be a damn fool to do so without all the facts. What I want to reiterate is that Ms. Antoinette, or any of the other folks whose stories are at issue here, own their words. New Orleans has a long and infamous history of white record label owners helping themselves to the hits of New Orleans' greatest black R&B musicians. This is not an academic debate. This is an issue which cuts extremely close to the bone. As for "cultural appropriation," I was and am extremely disturbed (no, closer to murderously enraged) whenever I run across "found" art by non-locals, cobbled together from other people's family photos or architectural details, for example. "It's just an abandoned house!" No, fool, it's someone's HOME, for which they likely own clear title, and you're trespassing. Just because the door's open doesn't mean you have the right to invite yourself in. How fortunate outsiders have been to be the finders of local people's losses. Finally, I feel sure that Ms. Antoinette and the rest of the folks whose oral histories were recorded are more than capable of finding their way to a poetry reading, a bookstore, a community event, a law office, whatever, and are also fully capable of speaking their own minds. I look forward to hearing what they have to say. To me, their situation -- the real, on-the-ground, lives, not the publishing dustup-- are getting lost in all this babble.

On August 25, 2010 at 4:25pm Cheri wrote:

Hi, Robin -- Lots to say, but I'm getting tired of hearing myself talk. However, I do think this is a distinction worth mentioning: Raymond McDaniel is not a record label. He's a poet and a teacher. And the book Saltwater *Empire* investigates histories of subjugation and strategies of survival. (It's not, say, about a failed romance, with a Hurricane Katrina interlude poem, used as some kind of hair-raising metaphor.) History lives, too, and is fastened to the poem's title: Convention Centers of *the World*. He's not, all, "Look, Mom, I made a collage! Now, let's go to Cafe Du Monde and kick it with the townies." Cough. ***** Anyway, I'm wondering if you've read this post from Ethan over at 6th or 7th?: http://6thor7th.blogspot.com/2010/02/on-white-people-stealing-black-music.html. While there's a lot (else) there, it was this bit that came to mind when reading your post: "After all, "stealing" forms of musical expression is not like stealing, say, food from a hungry person. When you steal music from someone, they still have it. The problem comes in when certain powerful white people--record station owners, say, or promoters, or whoever--decide to steal the *legitimacy*." I don't want to make direct parallels between these issues, but I am wondering if you think and would you argue that Raymond McDaniel stole legitimacy from Alive in Truth and from the people who shared their stories there? I mean, is that what you're saying?

On August 25, 2010 at 5:22pm Cheri wrote:
Correction (I swear I typed it): Convention Centers of *the New World*.

On August 26, 2010 at 12:36am Paula Mendoza-Hanna wrote:

Ms. Young’s essay appears to be a discussion of the ethics of appropriation, but what her rhetoric accomplishes is the public flogging of a conscientious poet. McDaniel is being made an example of, and Young’s words are a call to arms. Those who have not read McDaniel’s book (never mind those who know him personally) will read this essay, will read Antoinette’s voice poignantly (and pointedly) summarizing all of Ms. Young’s judgements and feel moved to moral outrage. I have read ‘Saltwater Empire’ and am grateful to know McDaniel personally. The first fact moves me to see Young’s claim—that the work of this poem is ‘re-enacting a...racist pattern’—as patently absurd. The second fact moves me to moral outrage. Now I understand a comment field in a poetry blog is, ideally, a place for measured and thoughtful intellectual exchange. Though I’ve read many questions raised by commenters here that I’d love to explore and talk about, many more demand from McDaniel an apology or ‘amends’ or ‘reparations’. To McDaniel’s own fair and thoughtful response to the matter, (fairer and more thoughtful than I’d ever be able to manage, were I ever subjected to Ms. Young’s vilification) others say it’s neither right or enough. I cannot move on to engage in issues of ethics or appropriation without first addressing that Young’s essay is a personal attack against McDaniel. It ain’t right, and I would hope that most readers have had enough of this spectacle of a public scolding. I honour and admire what impassioned Ms. Young to take on the project that is Alive in Truth. The archive is a tremendous resource and necessary. I can empathize with the role she takes as its guardian, and any feelings of protectiveness she may have over all those involved. As a reader and as a poet, I feel similarly protective: I believe that all the poems in Saltwater Empire (including the one in question, Convention Centers of the New World), the processes, craft and care behind their creation, are just as necessary.

On August 26, 2010 at 3:39pm Alan Altimont wrote:

Paula--I appreciate your even-handedness. While I have no desire to extort any further apologies from Mr. McDaniel, I do think there are both ethical and aesthetic issues worth considering, and since you bring up readers you might reread the comments of a very astute reader, Mr. Nicola, above, taking note of his disappointment in finding out how much that is powerful in "Convention Centers" is drawn verbatim from the Katrina survivors' testimonies. His discussion begs the question: is this poem really "necessary?" To or for whom? Certainly the words of the Katrina survivors are necessary to the success of the poem, but given the fact that they were already present for readers to see for themselves, how "necessary," in truth, is the poem? In his essay, Mr. McDaniel states that writing a Katrina poem seemed necessary to him because there would otherwise be a "conspicuous absence" in his manuscript. I admire his candor, but this seems to me to be a poor reason for writing a poem, only a few steps away from, say, Robert Southey penning another birthday poem because it's what his monarch expects of his poet laureate. The power of the resulting poem rests not on the poet's own experience, or on a convincing imagining of experience, but on a text that is already available to any interested reader. Mr. McDaniel uses large slippery terms like "languages" and "voices"--which I'll concede he/we may all contain within us--but what has been at issue here is his use of a specific, verbatim SCRIPT insufficiently demarcated from his own phrasing. These narratives, composed by still-living speakers, are much more concrete than abstractions like "languages" and "voices" would have us believe. Unless he's memorized them, these narratives are no more "a part" of him than any other written discourse he might encounter. Which is not to say that the speech rhythms, points of reference, and vocabulary of New Orleans African Americans may not indeed be even a treasured part of him. They may, along with many other "languages." But it's not generalized languages or voices, including snatches of remembered utterances, that make up the fabric of the poem: it is specific speeches--a script, if you will--already published, created by living speakers. If I were to presume to give Mr. McDaniel advice, it would simply be Sir Philip Sidney's: "Look in your heart and write"; or at any rate don't look in those "conspicuous absences" in your manuscript, fearing if you don't fill them in you'll be found trivial or insufficiently "necessary."

On August 27, 2010 at 12:34am Yoshi wrote:

I really don't see the vilification happening here. I don't know what's wrong with one writer critiquing another. That is Socratic. I have to ask, If she were male, would people be so upset at the strong tone of the article? (I do not know either writer as a person, or as a personality.) The conflict is good. I value a writer who will take a firm stance for or against an event or trend, and Young in this article takes a strong position. This writer seems angry, and seems to feel her ethnographic work has been compromised or misused by another, in a manner that she did not condone. She is also saying that the ethic of the work was compromised. I don't think she is accusing R. McDaniel personally of racism, but pointing out that there is a pattern in American publishing of dealing fast and sloppy with big racial matters. Basically letting people from the dominant culture bring in profits from things that rightly belong to people from the nondominant cultures. And she is claiming that this is a result of unexamined white privilege and is unearned value, and should stop. A strong point to arouse debate among Us, us and the U.S.. For example, for a hundred years many Caucasian writers sat in First Nation ceremony and then went on to publish the sacred songs as their "poetry" and be hailed as great geniuses. Of course, without asking permission or telling the First Nations people, because they knew that no one would agree to it and might want to ban them from the ceremonies in the future or even hit them with the sacred pipe. What else would have been poet McDaniel's rationale for not asking poet Young's permission for reprint of this archive except expecting "No" and not wanting to risk it? (I know, I know, this is not a perfect example for this matter. I'm mentioning it as part of the "pattern" in publishing. An even bigger pattern in rock and jazz music. Hello Elvis.) Anger is an understandable reaction, no? A. Young's points are aimed at issues larger than R. McDaniel's example. I do feel sympathy for R. McDaniel, because it must be painful to have the spotlight shine on him this way. (Who are we kidding? He'll sell books.) I also feel sympathy for A. Young. I think when a writer uses ethnographic material as the bulk of the material of his poems, he should also BE the ethnographer who did the research. Or at least include the ethnographer as a co-author, or at best include all the people who were ethno-graphed. Or BEST best of all, don't ethnograph, but publish the writing of the subjects about themselves, as their own experts, and write an introduction. (And that is what A. Young did, right?) Of course that is not always possible, especially when the ethnographers and subjects are dead, or in a different country, or their words are scattered and buried in jars. That was not the case here, it was published on the Internet and in an exhibit, as it appears from the website of histories. So it seems reasonable to suspect that R. McDaniel did not get permission because he thought someone might not agree to give it. Which will arouse anger in the Not-Agree-er. I do not mean to become a facist and make a Rule, so please do not jump on me for these "bests" scenarios. They are the bests in my own Point of View. What is the new value in the work if the writer is not also the ethnographer, and the material is easily available elsewhere? Altimont asked this earlier in the thread, a good point. I am looking forward to hearing more answers and discussion.

On August 27, 2010 at 3:40am Emily Mahan wrote:

The common assumption about contemporary poetry is that it's autobiographical, that it reveals personal truths (that is, personal truths about the poet). That the voice is synonymous with the persona of the poet her or himself. Though this is inapplicable to so much poetry--and especially much poetry of other times and places--it's not necessarily an absurd assumption, considering the abundance of this mode in contemporary American poetry. Perhaps it is in part this assumption informing Young's statement: "By presenting the voices of black people as his original poetry, however, McDaniel has made his book not about “all those people” affected by the disaster. It’s specifically about him." By that logic, any work is "about" the author, just by dint of the fact they're the author. That doesn't seem believable to begin with, but it is more particularly inapplicable to Saltwater Empire. As he explains in some detail in his essay, he is not, on the whole, an autobiographical poet, nor is Saltwater Empire autobiography, though the subject matter of that book is something McDaniel has more personal experience with than in other works. The topic of his book is a place he feels an intimate connection to, and the struggles of people who live there, something he witnessed and was immersed in for much of his life. He didn't "make it about him," as Young said, with all the concomitant implications of egocentricity and self-aggrandizement. He made it about, and for, the Gulf Coast, and the people who live there. Young feels that McDaniel did not sufficiently respect the Alive in Truth project and the people interviewed, because he did not get individual permission from those interviewed. A fair point. What McDaniel did do is to credit and thank AiT and the people interviewed, at the opening of the book: "The text of the 'Convention Centers of the New World' poems is drawn from interviews conducted by volunteers for Alive in Truth: the New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project, which records life histories of people from New Orleans, Louisiana, and nearby areas who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. I have assembled the poems by recombining several of these histories, and I offer my deepest gratitude to the interviewees and to the project organizers and volunteers. For more information about Alive in Truth, including opportunities to donate to the organization so that it can continue to preserve the voices of the Gulf Coast, please visit their website at www.aliveintruth.org." At readings, he would also credit the project, speaking of it with much warmth and respect, and directing the audience to the resource. It was always clear that McDaniel felt nothing but respect for the project and the people, that he was filled with both outrage and compassion. His intentions were always sincere and honorable. This is not even to mention the things that McDaniel has done personally--literally with his own hands, in cases--for the people of New Orleans. Or the fact that his life has hardly been privileged. Which seems to be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario. If someone does bring that up--and, too, if someone does bring up McDaniel's repeated attempts to reach out to Young (which McDaniel himself hasn't, because he chose to take the high road and write an interesting article about his poetic process, rather than some sort of point-by-point refutation of a personal attack), they're making excuses, derailing, being defensive. If no one brings it up, then it's falsely assumed he made no attempt before or after publication to contact Young and the AiT project and make amends; falsely assumed that he glibly passes off their narratives as "his own"; falsely assumed that he's some privileged outsider who doesn't actually know, care about or respect the people of New Orleans. As mentioned, Young's statement that McDaniel made no attempt to contact the project, that is simply factually false; Young did not respond, just as she has not responded to his subsequent attempts to apologize and open a dialogue with her. Instead, she has attempted lawsuits, made official accusations of plagiarism--plagiarism being something with a particular definition, which unambiguously does not apply--and portrayed him in an Internet article as some sort of colonialist vulture-thief. If she thinks that McDaniel did not do enough, by not securing individuals' permission for the use of their narrative on a public archive--again, okay, that could actually be argued, unlike the libelous accusation of plagiarism. And that could be a fruitful topic for discussion. But Young's article did not address the issue in a fruitful way. I can hardly see how she *wants* McDaniel to "learn," considering her repeated rebuffs of his attempts at dialogue, or how she wants anyone else to learn, for that matter, considering that her article was not really a treatment of theoretical and ethical issues in the construction of poetry using narrative from outside sources, but a personal attack with a few scant, token phrases acknowledging a more general issue. Young's work with AiT is admirable, as are her concern for ethics, and for the people interviewed. But McDaniel's work, too, is admirable, and full of respect and compassion for the disempowered--and even if he didn't do enough, as in Young's opinion, his work, and his motivations, are not all somehow negated, transformed into their opposite. I have much respect for Young's work as an activist, and her passion in defending the disenfranchised, but I have no interest in reading one poet's personal attack on another, and no respect for ANY argument--even those for a position I passionately agree with (though this is not at all the case here)--if that argument is full of false information and unwarranted inferences. McDaniel's article, on the other hand, was well written and thought-provoking as usual.

On August 27, 2010 at 8:37am David Fisher wrote:

There is a difference between language used to call public attention to a neglected cause or group, to persuade a lethargic multitude to acts of compassion, generosity and a will to address the sources of suffering, and language recognized by members of a community as an accurate, compelling, and memorable expression of their experiences of loss, pain, and grief. Different audiences are involved, different rationales. Beyond these, there is the question of language that communicates multiple meanings beyond the occasion that evoked the words. Some poems speak beyond the culture and time of their writing in ways that have less to do with the poet’s experience or the original audience of the poem than with the form and potential resonances of expression. It is unfortunate that the language of law (“ownership,” “rights,” “copyright”) has been used in this exchange in ways that obscures these questions: 1.To what extent does McDaniel’s poetry succeed in connecting a wider public with the impact on Hurricane Katrina? 2. Apart from Abe Young’s commentary, to what extent is McDaniel’s poetry recognized by victims of Katrina as an expression of their experience? 3. In what ways is McDaniel’s poetry likely to communicate beyond the event and cultural context that occasioned it?

On August 27, 2010 at 7:05pm Cheri wrote:

"I really don't see the vilification happening here. I don't know what's wrong with one writer critiquing another. That is Socratic. I have to ask, If she were male, would people be so upset at the strong tone of the article?" ***** Yoshi, this wasn't a critique; it was a polemic. Big -- very, very big -- difference. For the record, neither author saw or read the other's essay before publication. They aren't engaged in a debate. ALY's essay in no way makes use of the Socratic method. I'm just so very . . . dumbfounded by that statement. The Socratic method is dynamic, not static (as these pieces are). It is scrupulous, interrogative, rigorous; it rejects unquestioned positions of certainty and presumption, its own and that of others; it systematically provokes questions about its assumptions and invites the same; its single goal is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the subject at hand. It does not aim to persuade or convince, as that would be too superficial and insufficient to qualify as understanding. ***** I for one am not upset with ALY's tone. That said, I think she chose very poor and very questionable rhetorical strategies. And it's those strategies I find quarrelsome, not concerns about appropriation problematics and protocols in general or in Raymond's case specifically. (In fact, were that the real subject, really threshed, I would find it challenging and interesting.) I don't seek to defend Raymond from questions about protocols either; I do have a desire to defend Raymond (and the media-consuming public at large) against misleading arguments, mock inquiry and investigation, and inference or opinion masquerading as fact.***** If you aren't writing a polemic (or a political ad), here's how an argument or an educational essay or the prelude to a discussion would otherwise be developed (and, yes, no matter your sex or gender): The ethics of appropriation are problematic. Here's what I mean by ethics and appropriation. Here are the various camps, aesthetic arguments, ethical justifications, legal nuances, etc. Here's how the Internet has changed and complicated these issues. My position or lens is as a social-activist poet, which means I have the following values, goals, and responsibilities. Appropriation techniques that align with my values would be thus (and here, in fact, ALY does a very thorough and admirable job of providing poetry-of-witness examples that are in alignment with her values) and are preferable for the following reasons (and make the argument). I differ and part company with other appropriation approaches here and for these reasons. I believe poets who are not social-activist poets should consider the following, too. Here's the personal, aesthetic, and political context for my argument with, for example, McDaniel's failure to secure permissions. Here are the facts about it. Here is my point of view about it (as distinct from inferences or attributive biases and errors about him). Here are the questions I want to raise. Here is my proposal for a different ethics of appropriation (again, here ALY does an admirable job outlining her prescription, tho I am not personally in agreement with all of it). ***** In critical writing and analysis, arguments are supported through reason and evidence. Opinion is not evidence. Feeling is not evidence. Inference is not evidence. Attributions are not evidence. High-inference language is one of the first signs that author/reader impartiality and fairness are not goals, nor are reasoned discussion and debate. Straw-man arguments, which comprise nearly half ALY's essay (and a high percentage of the comments), do not legitimately qualify as critique, analysis, or actual argument. Why is reasoning the preferred methodology? Why do we expect fact to be distinguishable from opinion? Because reason and evidence are falsifiable, and opinion is unfalsifiable. One is productive, the other is not. Need yet more evidence of that? Just look at the comments, folks.

On August 27, 2010 at 7:09pm Alan Altimont wrote:

The I-don't-do-that-quaint-and-curious-autobiography-thing-anymore is something of a canard, Emily, don't you think? As if the only other option is to appropriate authentic voices verbatim, without permission. Memory-work, encountering real people and places and portraying them, creating convincing but fictional narratives (horrors!): need we go on about the not-autobiography possibilities? I suppose, though, these kinds of writing options don't have the same postmodern cache as copying a file of "voices." David--I'll hazard some guesses. 1. Not much, even with the boost his sales are no doubt getting with all this notoriety, sales of poetry books in this country being what they are. Even if they had been published simultaneously, could a book of poetry hope to have as many readers as an archive on the web? Such a book taps into a very astute, cultured group of readers, but that's hardly a wider public, as that phrase is usually understood. 2. I don't know. If his poetry were recognized as this by this group of potential readers one supposes he might feel somewhat vindicated. It's not likely, though, that they would have a uniformly positive response, no more than any of us respondents have. But even 100% thumbs up would not, in my opinion, delegitimize the aesthetic question I have tried to raise. 3. This of course depends upon his continuing development and success, and on, e.g., whether "Convention Centers" is someday anthologized, either in poetry collections or in books collecting literary reactions to Katrina--which it may well be. It may however be accompanied everywhere it goes with the literary equivalent of the asterisk on Barry Bonds's homerun stats. In any event, a little fame and notoriety have no bearing on the aesthetic question. As Dryden and Pope so deliciously remind us, even bad poetry finds a fan base and "immortality." "Convention Centers" is certainly not bad in the ways JD & AP had in mind, but I do still find it flawed in conception and in execution. But that's just a mistake. For me it has no bearing on the poet's previous achievements or potential. McDaniel himself is genuinely talented and should go on doing very well. I think he would do even better if he got over what I take to be an inordinate and unfulfilling romance with Bakhtin. But whose theoretical company he keeps is his business, needless to say.

On August 28, 2010 at 5:28pm K. DeLovely wrote:

Ms. Young clearly makes known her beliefs (as you can see in her article, many sentences begin with "I believe" and nowhere did I see "It is fact") of how Mr. McDaniel could have done better by the survivors of Katrina, how he had many opportunities to give them an ounce of the respect they deserve. Having been raised in the South does not come anywhere near to having experienced the horror of Katrina. Being able to google and "discover" the stories of survivors doesn't give one permission to appropriate their truth and include it in your work without permission. He could have easily sent an email to Young when he first thought of including the words that were not his own into his book. He would have learned that these particular survivors had already voiced that they did *not* want to be published in such a way--that if they were to be published, they wanted full credit for each of their words. He could have moved on from those words, reached out to other communities/survivors, and done his own work to gather words of people who wouldn't mind being published in such a way. McDaniel didn't try to contact Alive in Truth or Young until *after* he had already gone forward with publishing. Of course, once he was called out for this wrong, he then made attempt to contact Young and it is fully in her right to not want to speak to him. I wouldn't want to speak to someone who had appropriated my words/the words of those I work with, if that attempt was made only after they had gotten caught in the act. Young pointed out how various poets have gone about giving credit where it's due, putting in the hours/months/years with survivors, specifically naming sources, etc. McDaniel had endless opportunities here to do right. Instead, a vague, generalized "thanks" was given on the page of a book that hardly anyone reads--"thanks" was given to Alive in Truth, yet not any person with a name, and I think this is a big point here--that these words came from real people with real, incredibly intense feelings around those words. It is my firm belief that the least he could have done is to mention the specific names of the survivors at the beginning of the poem. Although there are many elements involved here, I think the biggest misunderstanding that some people have here is the difference between white privilege and racism. Nowhere in her article does Young call McDaniel a racist, as some people have claimed here in the comment section. It is my personal belief that it takes years of learning about, examining with a critical eye, and truly attempting to be conscious of white privilege in order to begin to understand what it means in today's society. I believe that the majority of white folks don't even realize how much the privilege of being read as white (whether consciously or not) affects their day-to-day. As a person who is most frequently read as white, sometimes read as a person of color (most frequently by people of color), and a person of many mixed bloods (many of them being European), I try to be conscious of this privilege I am automatically granted (whether consciously or not) by people who read me as white and how others who are read as people of color are not given privilege often times. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded with very diverse communities most of my life and through those experiences I've been gifted an incredible gift of the need to be aware of, educate around, and critically examine white privilege. We must address the fact that it exists and it serves those of us who are read as white. We must call each other out on how we use/abuse it. We must look back at hurtful patterns in our history, be honest about it, and attempt to not perpetuate them. I do not believe that McDaniel consciously attempted to abuse his white privilege or follow in the footsteps of white folks who have appropriated many gifts of people of color throughout history. I do not believe McDaniel was trying to be malicious or scheming. And from what was said in her article, I don't believe that Young was trying to say any of that. What I do believe is that Young was calling McDaniel out on his lack of consideration and respect to both the project of Alive in Truth and, more importantly, the real, flesh and blood, feeling people who survived Katrina and shared their stories with the folks of AiT.

On September 9, 2010 at 12:04am julie wrote:

The average Peelgrims of Ply Mouth Rock, Let's-get-away-From-Em" urban sprawlers or pub crawling Settlers of Harlem and the Lower East Side didn't necessarily intend to be "malicious or scheaming" either. White is the paper people write on, right? And writing is related to rights, right? tree ties to treaties, white or wrong. Hate Eye to hate I... given language emBossed call a ban or shake spear. tribe of coliseum goers verse us the use-u-all diatribe w/o response ability. jest defend as the right to write about (a bout in itself) So few wrongs written about right? alright... go ahead & white about the ex optic blackdrops) don't answer b lack...rights the human writes in the name of poetry take advantage of birth of a nation in blood or water shed sea seeing be d' mill litterace is built...of the power of penning vs being penned Y question ring shout the coliseum handcuffs linking past & present, so "representation is the basic form that the will to power TAKES. driving a pen black as ink whites the paper note intersect shun puddles of blod big as day side-step the issue in the name of writing dis appearance witness poetry hides. skin. paper... pushing privilege publishes stretchmarks. hysterical histories. so much blotting paper contrasts: nature of the unnatural in the form of poof! paper lies flat out. no dimension. writeGhosts (not truf)...

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Article Authors
 Abe Louise Young

Biography

Abe Louise Young is a poet, teacher and oral historian based in Austin, TX. She directed Alive in Truth: the New Orleans Disaster Oral History Project from 2005 to 2007. Her work has appeared in the Nation, New Letters, the Massachusetts Review, Bloom, and other venues. Visit www.abelouiseyoung.com to read more.

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