Follow Harriet on Twitter
Though the change has already been made on his Wikipedia Page (okay…), it was news to me when I received the press release this afternoon from Yale University Press that Carl Phillips has been named as new judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.
He’ll be the first non-white judge of a series that began in 1919. I guess they didn’t want to hold out for the century mark–and they were almost there! Pa-da pum! But seriously folks, this is incredible news and I suspect that he will continue the revitalization of a series that Louise Glück (the first non-male series judge) set in motion during her eight-year tenure.
For those of you who believe that “it’s about the work,” wake the fuck up. It’s about the vision of the judge. And if you think the judge’s gender or race doesn’t make a difference, then let’s go back to the “Wise Latina” days when Sonia Sotomayor was President Obama’s pick for a spot on the Supreme Court. We’re about to enter Round Two of that fight, by the way, as the prez starts thinking about a replacement for the latest retiree. And judges are supposed to be impartial right? They’re not suppose to bring their politics to the ring, right? Well, the truth is that no non-white judge (or person, for that matter) will ever be considered impartial or objective. We wear our politics on our skins, whether we like it or not.
Do I expect Phillips will select African American poets? No, I don’t expect it. But I sure hope so because none of the other judges ever did. Glück, by the way, selected only three females in the eight years she judged. Since the manuscripts are submitted blind, there is no way to determine the identity of the poet, even if there are markers of identity in the work. But I will argue that Phillips, who is not only black but openly gay, will bring a different sensibility to the process.
And what if he only selects white poets? Hello, are you not listening? I’m looking forward to his choices, whatever they are, because it’s his eye that will create a legacy on the series, much like all the other judges did. I can see for myself what a female judge constructed, now I’ll be curious to see what a queer African American judge will do.
Oh, Rigoberto, you’re so obsessed with race…
I know. I aspire to be the Lalo Guerrero of the poetry world. You don’t know who that is, do you? Geesh! Anyway, he was one of the Chicano community’s most cherished folk and protest singers. When he saw a diaper commercial on television that didn’t represent raza, he wrote a song in 1986 with the following stanza:
I think that I shall never see, any Chicanos on TV.
Huggies has their babies, three: black and white and Japanese.
Chicano babies also pee, but you don’t see them on TV.
And although I probably won’t be alive to witness the Yale Series of Younger Poets name a Latino poet as judge (3010 is so far away, alas…), I’m tickled brown at the moment with Sir Carl Phillips, Esquire.