Those Pesky Minority Poets
You know, in light of the recent Poetry Society of America ruckus, in which board members Walter Mosley, Rafael Campo, Elizabeth Alexander and Mary Jo Salter resigned after comments made by the now-former board president William Louis-Dreyfus (after the contentious selection of the controversial John Hollander as this year’s recipient of the Frost medal), I had to step in and say something, namely, that expressing discontent, protesting, indeed making noise, is the only way to enact change.
I’m reminded of the resignations not so long ago at the Academy of American Poets and that movement begun by Fred Viebahn’s now-famous letter addressing the fact that the Academy chancellors were mostly-white. Year after year.
The response to the concern then, as it will be today, is that those threatened by these statements will use the same old argument: “It’s about the poetry.” I wish that those who say this would really sit down and examine what they’re actually saying. I do agree that talent is color-blind, but I do know for a fact that I’m not, and neither is anyone else.
So now the statistic is out at PSA: “Since 1941, out of 38 winners of the Frost medal, only three have been nonwhite.” Because it’s all about the poetry, you see, not about who writes it, you see. Do you see?
And Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, accused the resigning board members of exercising “McCarthyism.” Wow, interesting word choice. Link to article.
If anything, I hope that with the new leadership at PSA, former New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn, there will be an effort to “see” the talents and contributions of poets in other ethnic groups.
Well, now everybody’s watching. And I hope everybody sees.
Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Michoacán, Mexico. He is the author of several poetry books, including So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), a National Poetry Series selection; Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006); Black Blossoms (2011); and Unpeopled Eden (2013), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He...