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By Annie Finch

Rita's 4th birthday, Aug 28, 1956
Rita Dove, 1956

Last week, an “open letter” from Fred Viebahn, Rita Dove’s husband and ballroom dance partner, arrived in my email box with this startling subject line: “Poetry Society of America: insensitive, clueless, or just plain racist?”

Twelve years ago, I’d seen another open letter from Fred, this one calling attention to the the fact that not a single poet of color was included among the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. The 1998 letter sparked the resignation of Carolyn Kizer and Maxine Kumin from the Board of Chancellors, and was followed soon after by the Academy’s restructuring the Board with a larger number of Chancellors.

I read Fred’s letter with interest, thinking about race, politics, power, and what has changed and hasn’t changed in the poetry world over the last dozen years. I had just come from some extended discussions about diversity at the MFA program I direct and was freshly aware of the importance of open discussion of differences and our response to them, newly reminded that a safe place is not a place where risks are not taken, but a place where honest and respectful risk-taking is safe, is treated with respect.

Because I think of the Poetry Foundation as a central forum for issues affecting poetry in the United States, a safe space where the “great audiences” Harriet herself dreamed of can be cultivated through vigorous and honest discussion, I invited Fred to come to my Harriet space as a sort of “guest blogger,” to hold a discussion of his open letter with the poetry world at large. I am turning over this blog post to Fred, first to post his open letter in its full context, and then to facilitate discussion about it.

Thank you,—Annie

Open Letter from Fred Viebahn:

Last week, while doing research for an article on the latest developments in the U.S. poetry scene (to be published in the German literary print magazine “Matrix” as well as on the immensely popular German political website www.achgut.de — I’m a regular contributor to both), I took a closer look at the Poetry Society of America’s website. Front and center was a two-part photo gallery entitled “When They Were Very Young”, featuring childhood portraits of about 30 American poets; the exhibit had been up on the website for over a month. What struck me immediately was the total lack of African-American poets — not a single one was depicted, nor was there any explanation for this omission, nor any assurance that African-American poets would be added in the future. If one were to extrapolate from the evidence presented in the PSA photo array, one might surmise that either there were no African-American poets worthy of inclusion or that African-American poets had no childhood pictures (and possibly no childhoods worth speaking of). One thing was crystal clear, however: In the PSA online vision of contemporary American poetry, African-American poets were simply invisible.

I was incensed and took immediate action by writing the following open letter to the PSA’s executive director Alice Quinn with the subject line: “Poetry Society of America: insensitive, clueless, or just plain racist?”

Dear Alice,

In researching an article about American poetry for a German publication, I just happened upon the Poetry Society of America’s online exhibit “When they were very young”, of which the Society has now published two parts showcasing childhood photos of American poets. What struck me immediately is the total lack of African-American poets among the 28 depicted! I’m not only incensed by such stunning insensitivity but dumbfounded by the Society’s obtuseness. Wasn’t the PSA embroiled in a controversy just a couple of years ago, when the Frost medal was awarded to John Hollander, a poet whose most recent claim to infamy had been a number of arrogant racist remarks? Have you learned nothing from that tawdry little episode (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/27/books/27poet.html)?

But here we go again. Watching this kind of ethnic brutishness crop up again and again over the more than thirty years I’ve been in the United States is disheartening, to say the least, especially when it involves people who pride themselves on their poetic perceptiveness. Please don’t add insult to injury by telling me there are several African-American poets on a future roster but that you haven’t gotten around to digging up their childhood photos yet. I’m sure it can’t be too difficult to find youthful pictures of prominent African American poets. For example, here’s an easy one: All you had to do is check my wife Rita Dove’s readily Google-able and accessible website, where you could have found a-plenty: http://people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/1952-1957/index.html & http://people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/1958-64/index.html. But maybe a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate doesn’t meet the standards of a Society that honors people like Mr. Hollander, who believes that “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today”?

Gazing at the assembled photos in the Poetry Society’s exhibit “When they were very young”, I am baffled and profoundly saddened. What else but plain racist is this exclusionary spectacle? Intentional or inadvertent, the message is clear: We are most certainly not living in a post-racial America.

All best,
Fred Viebahn

P.S.: I am taking the liberty of copying this e-mail to interested parties.

Alice Quinn responded the next morning, as follows:

Dear Fred,

I wish you would go to www.poetrysociety.org and on the home page beneath the photograph of James Wright, tap the link to Jill Krementz’s photo essay of the exhibit. I was thrilled at how easy it was to represent the glory of African American poetry in the 20th century and beyond in that show. That essay will give you a truer sense of the range and quality of the exhibit.

We had a beautiful oil painting of Langston Hughes, wonderful portraits of Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Robert Hayden, Countee Cullen, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lucille Clifton (our Centennial Frost Medalist), Nikki Finney, Ai, Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka, and more, including a wonderful picture of Rita dancing in your studio. I love the work of Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and we had splendid pictures by her in the show.

We put that corner of the show, Portraits of Poets in Childhood, together rather hastily and close to the opening, and I asked poets nearby to contribute–among them, Elizabeth Alexander and Cornelius Eady, and after the show was up, a number of poets who came to it, including Patricia Spear Jones, but they didn’t get to it. Cornelius suggested I track down a picture of him, but I was overwhelmed with the task of hanging the show in two days and didn’t have the time to get to the bookstore to do that. I know the representation in that
corner of the show is poor. We had a wonderful picture of Terrance Hayes, and I would love to have had more. We also hope that the show will travel to Boston in the fall, and that will give me time to reach out to more poets for portraits of themselves in childhood. I’d love that. The exhibit was a great joy for us, a splendid launch for our Centennial year, and it would be great, I agree, to have every inch of it be as wonderfully representative as most of it was.

I would appreciate your circulating my letter to those who received yours. Please do look at our site and view Jill’s photo essay. Our readers on opening night were Richard Howard, Marie Ponsot, Yusef Komunyakaa, Galway Kinnell, and Sapphire, and Jill took great pictures of them all that evening.

With warmest wishes to you and Rita,


Over the next couple of days — during which I was travelling — I received an avalanche of e-mails from friends and acquaintances, but also from numerous people who had been copied on my letter by others. Several respondents pointed me to Facebook entries where the discussion had taken on a life of its own. Except for one or two detractors, the response was overwhelmingly supportive. Upon my return home last Friday, I wrote the following to Alice Quinn:

Dear Alice,

Thank you for your response. It seems to me that you’re missing the point, however, since I was not referring to the Poetry Society of America exhibit and reading and its documentation by Jill Krementz (which, by the way, appears to be posted on a non-PSA site). I referred solely to those two showcases of poets’ childhood pictures which are prominently displayed on the PSA’s own website and show a total lack of African-American representation.

I had hoped you’d be able to rise above bunker mentality when your actions are challenged — that you would be capable of asking yourself a few hard questions and face the hard answers so you can learn from them, instead of complaining that you’ve been misunderstood and misrepresented. You and the Poetry Society might have the best intentions, and I’m sure there is neither institutional malice nor personal selfishness involved (in contrast to the Academy of American Poets scandal a dozen years ago); nevertheless, those two photo exhibits — and now your defensive response — demonstrate an ethnic insensitivity (if not blindness) that I will continue to attack wherever I notice it. I find it deeply troubling that one still has to be vigilant against such thoughtlessness.

I’m not the only one who is disappointed in your reaction, by the way. There’s been plenty of indignant headshaking going on in cyberspace over the past couple of days, and I’ve been deluged by an outpouring of supportive e-mails. [At this point I inserted a quote from a well-known white poet; since it was taken from a private letter and I wish to respect the poet’s privacy, I will refrain from repeating it verbatim in this public forum. It summarized pretty much the opinions of a number of other correspondents, who were equally taken aback that Alice Quinn didn’t seem to understand the real issue. These correspondents felt strongly that the only proper response would have been to admit to the snafu, apologize unequivocally, announce an immediate remedy and promise to be more mindful in the future.]

Over the weekend Alice Quinn posted an entry on the PSA site in which she basically admits her blunder and promises to fix it. As of today (Wednesday, February 17) however, the childhood picture exhibit remains unchanged.

What do you think? Was this just a harmless oversight, an exception, no big deal? Alice Quinn claims that she asked the one or the other black poet to contribute childhood pictures before these showcases went online; is that a valid excuse, or is it immaterial? If the poets she asked more or less haphazardly could not deliver, wouldn’t a responsible curator cultivate a bit of patience and persist in her pursuit instead of getting into hot water with a rush job, especially in the volatile area of racial sensitivities? Do good intentions count, especially when they are revealed only after a bad reality has been exposed? And last but not least, I’m curious to know if you agree with my going ahead in writing an “open” letter, or if you think I should have kept it a private nudge, trying to shame the PSA into quietly correcting the omission?

Comments (65)

  • On February 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    No comments?

    Que pasa?

    There were at least 7 comments here.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    A technical glitch made the first string of responses disappear, unfortunately. I’m reposting what I had already saved, but I fear several other posts went missing in Cyberspace.

    1. Thank you, Annie, for posting this. Frank and open discussion is a major cornerstone of progress.
    Posted By: Fred Viebahn on February 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    2.“trying to shame the PSA into quietly correcting the omission?”

    assuming that portraits of these poets: “Langston Hughes, wonderful portraits of Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Robert Hayden, Countee Cullen, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lucille Clifton (our Centennial Frost Medalist), Nikki Finney, Ai, Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka, and more, including a wonderful picture of Rita dancing in your studio. I love the work of Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and we had splendid pictures by her in the show…”

    are one in the same exhibit with the Portraits of Poets In Childhood corner, then i have no idea why you would be trying to shame anybody in public let alone calling them racists. you come off like a bully. and since this was a physical event located in a physical space, maybe you should actually visit the gallery to get a sense of how the show was physically (not web) curated.
    Posted By: John Sakkis on February 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    3. No, those portraits are not part of the childhood exhibits. They were posted by the photographer Jill Krementz, who documented the vernissage of the exhibit on Jan. 6, on a New York social website to which the Poetry Society subsequently linked. I was only referring to the exhibit, in 2 parts, of “When They were Very Young”, which have been front and center on the PSA website for the past six weeks and do not depict a single African-American poet.
    Posted By: Fred Viebahn on February 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    4. If John Sakkis had read my open letter, my response to Alice Quinn and my intro carefully, he’d have recognized that I only referred to the online exhibit, something that can be seen worldwide, not to the actual exhibit in New York City that by now has disappeared, except as documented in the Jill Krementz photos on an external website.
    John Sakkis obviously didn’t read the original entry in its entirety, or he wouldn’t have called me as “coming off like a bully” and asked me to “actually visit the gallery”.
    Posted By: Fred Viebahn on February 18, 2010 at 7:51 pm

  • On February 18, 2010 at 8:48 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    You’re going to censor comments to a post about fairness & equal representation? Interesting, in a 1984 sort of way. “War is Kind”.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    As Annie tried to explain earlier (in a post that also disappeared), a technical glitch kept my responses from being posted. When the administrators tried to fix this mishap, the whole site went down for a short time, and all the comments up to that point — including my futile attempts at responding — were swallowed into cyber abyss. Luckily I’d saved the beginning of the thread (see above) so at least I could repost it now. Censorship? Are you kidding?

  • On February 18, 2010 at 8:57 pm JA wrote:

    I don’t think the comments were censored — the post was deleted and re-posted (for some reason), so all of the comments from the previous version were lost.

    At least I suspect this is what happened. Both versions of the post showed up on my RSS feed, but when I clicked on the first one it no longer appeared on the site.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 9:19 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Clearly folks in Chicago have gone out to dinner. Maybe when they get back they’ll liquidate these comments too.

    I wish I could repeat what was lost, in several long comments by various people. The gist of my remarks what to question the value of the Adulatory Exhibit of Childhood Poet Photos – setting aside the question of equal representation : questioning the project as a whole (on the grounds of “negative capability” – let’s not worship the poets, let’s let poetry channel its messages). Rich Villar took up an opposing position (I won’t paraphrase his valid remarks).

    & then the comments disappeared. There were some earlier long explanatory comments from other people, too.


  • On February 18, 2010 at 11:45 pm Catherine Halley wrote:

    Sorry, it’s after hours and I was at the movies. Carry on.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 2:07 am Nelson wrote:

    I think it is very problematic that poets of color still come up as an afterthought when such events or exhibits are held. In addition, it is also problematic when we ourselves perpetuate the idea that race or color is an either/or proposition: white and black. What about other poets of color? Middle Eastern, South Asian, Latina/o, etc. who were not a part of this as well?

    I think it may have been best to not go public but rather approach this one-on-one, despite having to repeat the same old tired song: “We Once Were Young, Too!” Public shame is a great tool, but only when the guilty party seems totally lacking in remorse or concern.

    It does appear troublesome that time couldn’t be found or the duty couldn’t be delegated to track down a picture of Mr. Eady or other poets of color. Granted,curating such an exhibit is a lot of work, but a lot more emotional work is created when such glaring omissions occur. We seem to have to keep re-teaching and re-learning, depending on one’s perspective. Why?

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:00 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Thanks, Catherine. I hope it was a good movie!

    Note to potential contributors here: I won’t be able to watch this blog — and respond, if necessary — consistently on Friday but will, from mid-afternoon on, check occasionally.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:04 am westy wrote:

    I very much agree with Nelson. Since all the poets pictured were white (as far as I can tell), why the insistence on African-American poets? It would have been just as easy to say “poets-of color” or something equally inclusive. This comes off as “I’m looking put for my own, let a latino (for example) poet point out their absence”.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:54 am john sakkis wrote:

    hi fred,

    i guess i’m not reading this correctly then. for that i apologize. it seemed to me that in her response Alice was saying that the Childhood photos and the photos of african-american poets were from the same show (in NYC or wherever). that the PSA website stuff was merely a photo essay of that exhibit by Jill Krementz, a web documentation of a physical event.

    “I wish you would go to http://www.poetrysociety.org and on the home page beneath the photograph of James Wright, tap the link to Jill Krementz’s photo essay of the exhibit. I was thrilled at how easy it was to represent the glory of African American poetry in the 20th century and beyond in that show. That essay will give you a truer sense of the range and quality of the exhibit.”

    but i guess that’s not true? then i guess i’m wondering what Alice is talking about when she says “the glory of African-American poetry…in that show” and “the quality of the exhibit?” cause she seems to be responding to something else entirely. i wonder what exhibit she’s talking about? seems like all of this could have been avoided if you both were clear about the particular exhibit you were trying to discuss/ create controversy. alice is obviously not on the same page as you at all.


  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:10 am sassjemleon wrote:

    ja, not sure why you would think the comments weren’t censored. harriet frequently censors comment streams that don’t resemble warm fuzzies. i’ve been censored myself on this site. it’s not something i find intellectually or constitutionally endearing at all.

    now, mr viebahn, with all due respect, though i don’t know her at all, based on my reading of her very awkward yet professional response to your very public accusations, i sincerely doubt alice quinn is a racist. if the omissions in question were insensitive or clueless, then you should have given ms quinn the chance to remedy this situation in private. if you were not satisfied with her response to your keen and correct observations, then sure, let’s go ahead publicly smear this woman with a headline or two.

    in other words, if ms dove were my wife and i noticed her absence from the project in question, i would have privately back-channeled ms quinn the darling photo you’ve shown us here. if, for some reason, ms quinn did not respond positively to your suggestion for inclusion of a former poet laureate of the united states of america, then once again, i would say publicly off with her head; but you’ve got to give people a chance, particularly on the internet where things do progress at a much more rapid and less careful pace. most people really have no clue, these days, about what they are doing–and to whom. i do, however, and that’s why i’m frequently censored by myself and the warm fuzzy people.

    regardless, i do hope you get the desired result from this situation, and i hope this wasn’t just some kind of publicity stunt to attract attention to the poetry society of america. i mean, really, besides you, who are they attracting to their site?

    also, one last thought of course: i’m wondering how ms dove actually feels about the exhibit’s apparent lack of diversity?

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:30 am Peter Greene wrote:

    @Fred: Oh, darn, guess I should take copies. It’s a good reminder though…there’s many ways to spend words, and even a man of wealth has daily transaction limits (emoticon: affectless wink)
    Have a day, folks.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:50 am Michael Robbins wrote:


  • On February 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    It’s regretable that a mind is still less important than its container.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Good point, Westy and Nelson, that the question is certainly not only about African American poets.

    What’s amazing to me is that if it were a group of 30 Latino poets, or 30 Asian American poets, or 30 African American poets (or 30 women poets), it would certainly be labelled as such. But since it is a group of 30 white poets, it’s simply called “30 poets.” Only recently have I begun to feel to what extent this kind of imbalance is not just a problem for people of color, but equally or more so a problem for those who can be considered “white,” because it robs “white” people of ethnicity.

    The more I learn and think and discuss about race and racism, the more I realize how these issues affect each one of our lives no matter what color we are. And the more profoundly and viscerally fascinating I find them. I’ve blogged a bit about it here, under the title “On Not Being White: For Bobbie Burns Day”: http://annieridleycranefinch.blogspot.com/

  • On February 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    There is also a lack of diversity in styles, poetics, etc. As you say Annie, what is revealed here is the core belief that poetry is white, lyric or verse, and conventional. Otherwise it would be labeled with some other identity, or title such as “innovative” or “feminist” or “women” etc.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    John, all I was talking about was what the PSA had on its website, front and center: the childhood pictures exhibit lacking any African-American poets. The actual physical exhibit in NYC (which I didn’t see and didn’t refer to) obviously did have adult photos of Black poets; their online documentation, with those adult photos — to which Alice referred — was not posted on the PSA website but on a social site to which the PSA linked.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    I don’t believe Alice Quinn is a racist, either; but appearances count, and thoughtlessness can easily be construed as having a more sinister meaning than mere superficial sloppyness. At no point did I accuse anybody of racism in this exchange; posing my three-pronged question in the subject line was an attempt to shake the PSA out of a kind of self-satisfied smugness. I’m all for provocation (if it’s not abusive) to call attention to any deplorable state of affairs. Since these little oversights and “mistakes” are still pretty prevalent not only in society at large but specifically in the literary community, I decided to provoke a wider discussion by copying my letter mostly to literary and academic correspondents in my database — initially maybe a hundred or so people. From the reactions I received in the days following I saw that a number of these initial recipients had forwarded my open letter to their own lists, and the snowball was turning into a minor avalanche.

    Of course, detractors like to insinuate that, since I’m married to Rita Dove, I’m getting into these “fights” on Rita’s behalf. This happened when I attacked the Academy of American Poets twelve years ago for apparent racism on their board of chancellors (as Annie has already mentioned in her introduction). Nothing could be further from the truth. No doubt, I’m sensitized to blatant “white-outs” / “white-washs” because I’m married to an African-American poet (as someone who works for German media and normally writes in German, though, I usually have other issues on my plate), but Rita could care less if she’s a chancellor of the Academy (which she is now) or if her childhood photos float around on the PSA website. When I went after the Academy in 1998, Rita wasn’t even — and had never been — a member, so no-one could rightfully accuse me of being incensed that she hadn’t been named a chancellor.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Nelson, see another response of mine above which addresses the public / private question.
    I specifically addressed the total lack of African-American poets because, after all, African-Americans are by far the largest minority in the U.S. Also, the PSA online childhood exhibit did contain a couple of other minorities — a fact that a) showed how haphazardly and thoughtlessly this public display was thrown together, and b) that there was a disturbing lack of sensitivity (sensibility?) at work. Any decent curator of such an exhibit should have noticed, before tossing it in front of the public, that there was a dire deficit of balance, and corrected this before rushing it into cyberspace.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:26 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    No, they weren’t all “white”. There were just no poets of African descent.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Sleep well!

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:28 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    I’m not quite sure of the context here…

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    One of the many human flaws…

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Very good point!

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    “Censorship? Are you kidding?”

    You’re new here, Fred, I take it. There was a big brouhaha over this very issue here about a week ago.

    I give the managers of this site a lot of credit. It is big & a lot of work, I imagine. However, as a person who tries (tries!) to comment carefully here, & puts a lot into it, it can be frustrating to find one’s contributions suddenly not there, as if they never existed. In this case I have no reason to believe there was censorship; I just regret losing the tangy originals.

    As somebody who apparently cares about representation, I would think you would understand this perspective.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Yes, of course I understand that you were upset, Henry — I was, too, because I had just posted a lengthy response last night when the site crashed and dragged my words down with it. Didn’t mean to sound flippant when I addressed the censorship suspicion.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm sassjemleon wrote:

    mr viebahn, i appreciate your response–though you went a little heavy on the rita-sauce. i was hoping ms dove would speak on her own behalf. i’ve seen her do this quite effectively in the past, particularly in descibing her feelings about the diversity-challenged keillor anthology that came out a few years ago.

    in other words, i’m not questioning your motivation here; i’m concerned with your methods, the public provocation–which, to me, is why you didn’t get the response you first expected. after all, the issue of the web content can be remedied much easier than some print anthology insensitively lacking in diversity.

    it is my belief that a private, collegial letter–in an effort to help ms quinn with her oversight–may have gotten you the results and apology you are seeking, at a much faster and less embarrassing clip than what will happen now.

    ever call customer service hotline with a problem? what sort of tone do you take with them? are you angry? how do they respond to you? while i can certainly be as provocative and insulting as the next person, i have, over the years, come to believe that you get more sugar from honey than excrement, if you know what i spleen.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 5:43 pm csperez wrote:

    hi fred, actually ‘hispanics’ have outnumbered ‘african americans’ in the u.s. since 2003 (according to the u.s. census data).

  • On February 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    You may have missed my point, Mr. Viebahn.

    My comment was intended for all of you.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 6:32 pm Richard Villar wrote:

    And now: The Official Angry Latino Response. You knew it was coming.

    (just jokey jokes, people, relax.)

    Anyway, yes, as Henry says, I pointed out (paraphrasing here) that the Poetry Society of AMERICA has an obligation to be, um, slightly more representative of American letters. Is American (U.S.) poetry all white? Poets of color, young ones especially, should have some right to see themselves represented if an organization wishes to represent a concept as large as AMERICA. It’s not about the pictures, as Mr. Viebahn has pointed out time and again…it’s about what the pictures represent.

    And don’t think it wasn’t lost on me that the only Latino in the exhibit was a tongue-in-cheek non-entry by Juan Felipe Herrera. If you look it up, you’ll see it. A metaphor for invisibility, or just an unfortunate oversight? Either way, I don’t think the PSA gets it. In a big way, they really don’t get it.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm Alfred Corn wrote:

    Freedom of speech: Fred Viebahn is exercising it in his way and others in theirs. He pointed out the same problem with the Academy of American Poets a decade ago, and good changes have been made. When people censor others or themselves, we all lose. The PSA exhibit might seem too small an occasion to object to, but maybe no occasion is too small. Myself, I keep thinking that we’ve finally got there, that there really is parity for women, for citizens whose ancestors weren’t exclusively northern Europeans, for indigenous nations, for Jews, for lesbians, for gay men, and then suddenly we’re drawn up short again. Maybe this exhibition about poets as children is exactly the one to single out; we don’t want a U.S.A. where a child is suddenly made to feel that she or he somehow isn’t acceptable. When you’re little and defenseless, that hurts, and no child should ever be made to feel that way again.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 9:04 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    I couldn’t have said it better — or maybe not even as well!

  • On February 19, 2010 at 9:06 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Thank you for pointing this out!

  • On February 19, 2010 at 9:08 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Comment on what? Could you be more specific, please?

  • On February 19, 2010 at 9:11 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    OK, I stand corrected as far as statistics go…

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Alfred: Cute picture of you, by the way!

    All the childhood photos on the PSA website are cute — although I’m not sure why Henri Cole, as the only one, is also depicted at a considerably older age (with beard, no less) and Mark Strand as a high school baseball player. (Did I get that right –is it baseball?) That’s not exactly “when they were very young”. That aside, I do not object to these pictures per se, although a technically savvier person might have found a way to make them all about the same size. (I suspect that Herrera’s being so minuscule is a result of technical incompetence at the PSA.)

    Contrary to someone whose reasoned comment last night became the unfortunate victim of the site’s disappearing act glitch, I find it appropriate to show childhood pictures of poets (and adolescent pics, and pics throughout the ages); for me, it does not distract from their literary work at all, but gives me a chance to connect with them on a visceral human level. Purists might find this distracting and/or superficial. I don’t agree but would not argue over such personal preferences of approach.

    A basically good idea was very carelessly and irresponsibly executed by the PSA. It doesn’t matter if this was mishandled by Alice Quinn personally or a hapless helper — the executive director is at the helm and needs to be held accountable for an act that, for its exclusionary and insulting appearance, justified the question (question, not statement) if it was “insensitive, clueless, or just plain racist.”

    I hope the debate will continue, and a change in attitude for the better will come of it. I also hope that my worries are unfounded that the PSA and its director will simply try to play ostrich for a while, hoping the matter will blow over, and continue on their merry ways. So far at least, as of this moment, Alice Quinn has not yet made good on her promise to present a more inclusive exhibit of childhood photos on the PSA website. Circling the wagon by hiding behind the moving obituary for Lucille Clifton, which the PSA has posted, will grant relief only up to a point.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    It’s regretable
    that a fine wine
    is still less
    important than
    the cup its in…

    and that anyone
    would note the cup
    instead of the wine.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:50 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “the cup ‘it’s’ in”,
    that is.

    My point being:

    Shame on the PSA
    for such a blatant
    and insensitive

    And shame on anyone
    who would try to make
    hay with it.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 1:08 am Eric Landon wrote:

    Reading this as one who – if fate were different and dad was JFK instead of who he is – could have been running for president with Sarah in 2013; I find it intriguing to observe from a culturally remote, ‘other’ vantagepoint, what is getting written here.

    What constitutes offense, censorship, exclusion (and inclusion) in the versions of a collective poetic past (and who wins the right to write and ‘curate’ that official History), is a compelling start-point.

    But something that’s always puzzled me though, is the lack of an English-language definition and shared across-the-board understanding of what the one true meaning (if any) of the word poetry, is. There doesn’t seem to be much definitive agreement between the many thousands of people representing themselves in English as amatuer or pro- poets, on the very thing you/they/we – claim to be familiar with and seek to create.

    What is Poetry? – sina recently asked, at the bottom of a forty poetry-is thread, with defnitiions from a host of poets, most of whom were culturally co-located in (Don Share’s neologism for ‘American Poetry’) – Am Po.

    From poetry being what Vanessa Place terms – witness – through it being… a camera, a lunch box .. those plastic storage bags .. seven winter coats .. my crystal ball .. hurricane .. words you can’t use in real life .. a giant angry baby with terminal skin condition .. everything language makes you do that you hadn’t dared to imagine .. and to it being – for the purpose of what I have to say here: the Canadian poet Todd Swift’s definition ..

    .. ‘any use of language that somehow exceeds with strangeness and style’ to capture the New Thing Stephen Burt believes current in Am Po today. One that manages to portray and communicate with all the Orphic oddness and deceptive, post-noughtie state-of-union that – if we’re to believe some of the more esoteric commentators – is currently two forces behind the headlines, warring over the very future direction of, not only the US, but the six and three quarter billion ‘other’ global citizens with varying connection to the biggest and most sophsiticated economy in recorded history.

    I must confess at this point to an interest in Delphic thought and the non-mainstream manifestations that, until recently, belonged in the realms of fiction and poetry. Things only now possible theoretically, in the equations being dreamt up by people like Japanese American theoretical physicist, Dr Michio Kaku, who significantly extends the E = MC-squared reality which previously dilineated the limits of belief in our three previous generations.

    Those unfamiliar with current developments in quantum mechanics and Haku’s ‘string’ – ‘superposition’ and Entanglement theory – will be unaware how these fundamentally shift the theoretical bounds of scientific reality; and in relation to this new potential reality, poetry is but a poor and see-through affair.

    Entanglement theory extends far beyond the Milky Way proposal that our speck of humanity is somehow centre-stage in a universal order, and the most important of billions and trillions of galaxies. Now, the Big Bang itself can be contextualized as existing on the quark scale, in one of eleven dimensions Haku proved as the Higher Dimension so far above our cognizance, we might as well throw all our spare stake on humanity’s dream becoming true in the age of awakening Consciousness string theory allows us to posit, could be the next big thing, when we finally cop on we are at civilzation 0 and the Intelligence at 1 – millions of years ahead of us technologically – will not evince to a 2D thicko like us, the magic of an unseen third and, if Kaku proves correct and our 3D is ignorant to the eight other dimensions and rungs of consciousness he reckons could be scientific reality, all kinds of previously kooky hoo ha like telekinesis, esp, UFO’s, wormholes, space-time and what’s happening behind the scenes now, sheeple, then all our chat on a few faces left out or included, aint gonna cut it when the witchcraft and wizzardry its very self – makes sense


  • On February 20, 2010 at 2:19 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Damn well spoken, Eric.
    have been reading another brouha over on the wom-po site recently, regarding how persons with disabilities are seen or ignored, poetically speaking. And I come, finally, to your above thoughts. Space, time, and all that’s UN-seen– put the lie to our sand-grains, even when we know them to be politically important; even as we so need to be acceptable– to one another.

    And meanwhile, fragility is our only humanity. The bodies, all bodies — hold it. as skin holds our minds. Isn’t that wonderful? I find that so much more essential than tribes, or colors, or grains, or what kind of bodies we write it in, or right it in.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 6:09 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    This is obviously off-topic, to put it mildly.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 6:16 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    I’m sorry but you seem unwilling or incapable of posting a constructive argument.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 6:35 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    respectfully, not so “obviously,” imho, Fred. The topic appears to me to be what we focus high beam upon as a poetic community, let alone a much wider humanity.You’ve asked that it focus in one sense. I agreed that the fragility that holds our minds,and that certainly needs to be addressed, and, that might be endangered, is not framed by tribe, image or any other “identity.”

  • On February 20, 2010 at 6:58 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Thank you for your opinion, which I respect. You express, however, assumptions that don’t mesh with my motives. I’ve explained those motives, and why I don’t agree with the behind the scenes approach, ad nauseam in this blog, so I’m not going to adress the issue again. Only this much: Your customer service analogy doesn’t fit. I’m not a PSA customer who needs to kowtow to have his service fixed. And if you want close to home examples where quiet attempts at diplomacy lead (or don’t lead), check out the story about my taking on the Academy of American Poets a dozen years ago that Annie Finch referred to (and provided the link for) in her introduction — especially the parts about Toi Derricotte’s repeated, very polite and private appeals to the Academy, and W.S. Merwin’s fruitless attempts to plead with his colleagues (he was a chancellor himself at the time). Only when the drums began to drum loudly, and especially when the controversy reached decibels that rang in Academy sponsors’ ears so unpleasantly that money began to talk (by walking away), only then meaningful reforms were instituted.
    Furthermore, as an independent journalist I’m not in the “business” of whispering in people’s ears, but to hurl words into the public arena as vehemently as the situation warrants, in my opinion.
    I’m not sure what motivates you to expect my wife to chime in here. This also I’ve said before, and repeat it for the last time: I saw the problematic PSA website, I was offended, I decided to take the approach I took. It’s my story, and I’m convinced that I did the right thing.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 7:16 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    I commented on Eric Landon (as indicated by the left margin; the site will not let me squeeze my comment between his entry and yours, since yours was posted earlier).
    Going into poetics is off topic here; I’m sure there are plenty of blog entries on HARRIET where such statements are more appropriate.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 9:20 am Peter Greene wrote:

    @Fred: Try “@Eric” next time – usually best if you point your head at the one you’re taking to.

    Racism is one thing I haven’t much experience with (nor should any of us, it’s a stupid obsession on all counts – if you can’t lose the jealousy, try starting with the pride, and if you can’t do that, try the fear). Exclusionary behaviours, chimp cliquing, and the increasing absence of odour from modern discussion fora, starting with powdered wigs and voluminous robes and ending here for now – now THAT I have a solid grounding in.

    If you don’t like a Project Camelot take on your website (referring to the abovementioned Eric’s post), for Christ’s sake make it private. If you hang up a sign that says ‘coffee and poetry, no minimum charge’ and then escort all the bums who aren’t wearing collars out, what you need is a NEW SIGNMAKER. Fostering community is one thing.

    Gated communites, Fred, are another. Not off topic.


  • On February 20, 2010 at 9:46 am Eric Landon wrote:

    Hello Fred.

    The great thing about open poetry sites, is the fact that what appears here is only words we are free to ignore and scroll past. The fact you have commented at all on what I wrote, is heartening, because most people commenting here are poets, whose secret desire I imagine, is to become rich and famous through what we write and be feted by a loving public. Unfortunately this only happens, literally, for a handful of the 100,000 (is it?) amatuer and pro- English language ditty makers Ron Silliman reckons are writing with varing degrees of seriousness today.

    I agree with you that the all white poets hall of fame on the American Poetry Society website, indicates a mindset in the head of whoever’s responsible, tilted towards perpetuating an obselete and distorted picture of what makes American poetry.

    One of my favourite poets is Amiri Baraka, who I first came across seven years ago, when studying for a Writing and Drama degree on the west coast of England, in my home town of Ormskirk, Lancashire. I heard him recite two poems on a tape Robert Sheppard, the poet teaching us, brought into a third year class.

    The first poem I heard Baraka read, was a recording of Baraka reciting Black Dada Nihilismus to a live audience, in 1964, and which i thought sounded rubbish. Then I heard this live recording of Dope – from his Revolutionary Marxist period during the Carter administration – which was as viscerally powerful and gripping to my ears, as Black Dada Nihilismus was not.

    Hallelujah, wow ! wow !
    Hallelujah, Wow ! Wow !

    . everthing goan be different after we die
    we aint goan be hungry, aint goan be pain
    aint goan be sufferin, won’t go through this again
    after we die.

    Hallelujah, Hallelujah, wow ! wow !


    The 1964 Black Dada Nihilismus recording, struck me as the voice of an inarticualte man with a chip on his shoulder, but 12 or so years later, he had learnt his craft of live poetry, by plodding on, reading, writing, and non stop recital, and Dope is a tour de force damning of the whole American political system as it was then, in relation to the rampant inequality black people were subjagated by.

    . it can’t be capatilism.

    Jimmy Carter wouldn’t lie,
    you heard him at the state of union address
    swearing on Rosalynn’s face lift:

    I wouldn’t lie.

    Nixon lied.
    Haldeman lied.
    Dean lied.

    Hoover lied — Hoover sucks too, but Jimmy don’t
    Jimmy wouldn’t,
    Jimmy aint lyin.

    It must be the Devil, must be the devil,
    put your money on the plate,
    it must be the devil,
    in Heaven we’ll all be straight.

    It can’t be Rockerfella
    he gave Amis poot-booty a scholarship
    to behaviour modification university
    and Genivive almost-white works for his foundation.

    It must be niggers.
    It can’t be Mellon, he gave Winky suck-ass
    a fellowship in his bank
    put him charge of closing out mortgages

    in the low-life Pittsburgh Hill nigger section.
    It can’t be him,

    Yes sir – Yes sir – Yes sir – Yes sir – Yes sir
    yes sir – yes sir – yes sir – yes sr

    put your money in the plate
    don’t be late, don’t have to wait, all goan be in heaven after you die.


    This kink is a great interview with Baraka on Black Collegian.com, in which he tells the reader of his writing trajectory and offers his thoughts and advice on writing.

    Baraka studied philosophy and religion at Rutger’s University, Columbia University and Howard University, and left before obtaining a degree, to join the US Air Force in 1954, from which he was dishonourably discharged for violating his oath of duty, at the rank of Sergeant. This was as a result of three anonymous letters to his C.O. accusing him of being a communist – lead to the discovery of Soviet writings in his possession. In most other ‘free’ countries, theoretical reading matter like this, is not proscribed.

    However, this aside, it was in the air force he did much of his early reading, as there was nothing much else to do, and it was here he became part of an informal self-educators reading group, made up of young black men reading the classics for the first time, and talking philosophy. But the one thing I got from reading the interview, is that Baraka was very much aware of the responsibility – bestowed upon him from an early age, through his upbringing – to stand fast and remember the history of black America.

    When he was a child before the civil rights movement he recounts a story his grandmother told him as a boy, about a black youth who had had his genitals cut off and stuffed in his mouth, after being accused of raping a white woman, and he rhetorically questions why she would tell him this at such a young age, replying:

    “Sweet little old lady from Alabama…. Why would she tell you that story? …you still got it in your mind, sixty years later, you still remember that story? — “yeah, I remember it” — in detail? –“absolutely” — well that’s why she told it to you.

    I don’t know if y’all still have that in your homes, I can’t speak on that, but I know that is what we as writers have to do, continue that tradition. The only way I can see that tradition being extended is through the role and function of the writer in the community.”

    And so Baraka obviously views his work as being part of a tradition greater than himself, the one singular person, and which I take as a principle sign of his integrity as a poet.

    And his live power is a direct result of his sincerity, as he has steered his own course to a point of understanding where he is clear of his role and the historical foundations of poetry from which that role came.

    . goan get all you need, once you gone. Yes sir – I heard it on the Jeffersons,
    i heard it on the Rookies
    i swallowed it home on Roost -yes sir !

    wasn’t it nice, wasn’t Slavery nice
    wasn’t it so cool
    and all you had to do was wear derbies
    and dress and train chickens

    and buy your way free if you had a mind to.
    Must be the devil
    it wasn’t them white folks


    He argues that poetry is nothing but music and rhythm. He thinks that ‘words fly on the rhythm’ saying that the rhythm comes first, the words second. I can relate to this, as there is a pre-verbal music we can tune into, and at the rarest alignment, the words fit not because of their properties of sense and meaning, but because no other word will do. The sound is specific to such a degree only those explicit words link into that chain Shakespeare thought the mask of Caliban – sweet sounds knitted together in air which does not trouble or cause discomfort, but lulls one to sleep, rouses to action or causes us to weep.

    Akin to the three strains of Dagda’s harp: ‘suantrai’, the strain of sleep and soft lullaby music: ‘gentrai’, a happy, delightful kind of music that rouses us up to dance – and the strain of lament and sorrow, ‘goltrai’ – gol being the Irish Gaelic word, meaning – to cry..

    And once a poet has the nack and know of how to do it, the words are not laboured over but come on the fly and seem unconsciously chosen: a process of attuning our instinct by the vehicle of experience-through-practice, to leading what (if any) eloquence we may (or may not) discern, which connects or moves the inner music-world as a result of our interior world outing – in a fair semblance and accurate reflection from our pool of self-song sung sweetly flowing – from one human being to the other.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 10:44 am Peter Greene wrote:

    @All: Back to the center of this ridiculous gyre…why not f’rinstance maybe somea you profeshnal folks could assemble, polish, and deliver an add-on module for the poor involitudinary racialist error Fudds of the Poetry Society of Eagletron Land before they are consumed, I say consumed in the fire of their own folly? Damn, I’m starting to wish i had an egg to toast in the vain racialist bonfire (oo! referential enuff for ya? no? damn, that’s my highest setting…). And while you’re at it, get some Camelot folks to send a few quaalude quatrains on Nibiru (i mock but gently, for i am one of them, tho belonging to no cult or proyecto or other illusion, i do dream dreams that ring harmonies with the HAARP-heads and so the poems go, no?) – inclusion isn’t just about colour. I refer you to Sagan’s statements re: Velikovsky.

    (but all my visions are true)


  • On February 20, 2010 at 11:34 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    I guess it was just a matter of time until people would come along who’d try to crash the party by posting their unrelated musings. I’m not responding to anything that is not directly related to the topic. Reason or ruminate or rant on if you wish.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm sassjemleon wrote:

    again, mr viebahn, i appreciate your response, and i’m quite familiar with your previous and important engagement with the academy of american poets. but realize this, in this instance, i don’t think mr corn is correct about the smallness of this matter needing public attention. i certainly don’t believe children are flocking to the psa site to look for their favorite poets.

    to me, as an information professional and poet, all you’re really doing is publicly accusing ms quinn of incompetence or lying about a fairly trivial and harmless exhibition on a site that barely gets any traffic because of its poor design and lack of interactivity.

    yes, i do agree that my customer service analogy was pretty far-fetched, but perhaps not as much as you think. i don’t consider adopting a pleasant, calm, and respectful tone to achieve a worthy goal to be kowtowing. neither does my webster’s for that matter.

    and lastly, perhaps where diplomacy may not have worked 10 years ago, i would suggest that we are in a slightly different place at this point in history; and that, maybe, ms quinn would have been more apologetic and less defensive in a private and respectful discussion with her. but i can see that’s probably not really your style.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 2:45 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Wow, where do all these baseless assumptions come from? Just to clarify:
    1) This is not my website.
    2) I wouldn’t do anything “for Christ’s sake”.
    3) There is no sign to keep people out.
    4) No-one has been escorted out of here.
    5) “Gated community”? Some of the musings further below on this site a ample manifestation that anybody can simply waltz in here and try to crash the party by ruminating off-topic to their heart’s desire. No-one keeps anybody from projecting their own preconceived notions onto others or from misconstruing whatever they want, maybe deliberately in order to elicit responses they hope to be able to sink their teeth in. To mix metaphors: I won’t swallow this bait.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm Sam Hamill wrote:

    I think my friend, Al Corn, gets it just about right. But I would add that poetry is a mansion with many rooms and many faces and many voices. Poetry organizations can be inclusive or exclusive, but not both. It’s not even a matter of being sensitive; rather a matter of being representative. Throughout my lifetime of service to poetry, I’ve often noted how easily, off-handedly, African American poets, Latino poets, Native American poets, Asian American poets, Arab American poets, etc, get presented with those modifiers in front of “poet.” The only time anyone ever noted my race was when dear old Etheridge Knight observed in introducing me to a mostly Black audience that “Ol’ Sam may look like a Cracker, but he’s got a angry [epithetic for Black] in his heart.”

    Poetry is a mansion we share as we build it. We are all citizens of the world. It would be wise, as well as kind, of those who present us to the public to present us in all of our glorious diversity.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 6:41 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    This is very true, SH. Having just posted all my feminisms, and with great vigor, I would be happy with a text that included the diversity of contemporary poetry–in all of the ways in which it is diverse.

  • On February 20, 2010 at 9:13 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Dear Sam Hamill… I remember way back when, how you welcomed Joseph Brodsky, exiled citizen of the world, into the community of American poets – in the pages of APR, 25 yrs ago… back then, as I recall, you weren’t quite so magnanimous… well, we all grow & change, as time goes by…

  • On February 20, 2010 at 9:43 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Thank you, Sam, for getting the discussion back on track. BTW, I love your Etheridge Knight quote!
    Would make a wonderful epigraph for an essay or even book about you. (And an excellent epitaph; but we don’t want to look that far into an inevitable future beyond us…)

  • On February 21, 2010 at 1:08 am Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Thank you for your well-reasoned response, which I respect. At this point we have to agree to disagree.

  • On February 21, 2010 at 11:19 am Eric Landon wrote:

    Hello Fred.

    Now, however, I have had time to absorb the kerfuffle between you and Quinn and can respond to the topic in hand.

    The key to unlocking this, comes in the part of the e mail (highlighted) – where Quinn writes:

    ‘We put that corner of the show, Portraits of Poets in Childhood, together rather hastily and close to the opening, I asked poets nearby to contribute

    ‘I asked poets nearby to contribute. Nearby?

    At first I thought she meant she had asked poets who were physically nearby her in person, when she was at the exhibition launch, but on closer reading, I see that it is ambiguous.

    Does she mean she asked the poets who lived nearby the gallery, or is ‘nearby’ a personalised way of Quinn saying, ‘the poets I know who live in New York’ – ?

    We’d have to ask her, but my instinct would go with Quinn meaning the poets nearby who live in New York.

    I think what it demonstrates is that the poets Quinn knows and who populate her head, are more or less all white Fred, which is interesting. I don’t think she would have been conscious of it, but there it is.

    Now, whether this is racist or not, depends on how zealous your policing policy is.

  • On February 21, 2010 at 11:56 am Sam Hamill wrote:

    Perhaps, Mr. Gould, there’s a difference between what the Poetry Society was mounting and what is “critical evaluation” of a poet’s work. I thought then, and think now, that Brodsky’s work AS IT WAS TRANSLATED suffered in comparison to the poetry of Octavio Paz. But thank you for remembering that essay. Poetry’s a big house; room for a variety of opinion.

  • On February 21, 2010 at 3:18 pm Fred Viebahn wrote:

    Thank you for your close reading and insightful conclusions, Eric. I tend to agree with you that “nearby” was probably meant in a physical sense — which, in the online world where this is all playing out, is a rather hapless notion to begin with — a very meek excuse. Rather, had the PSA thought this through, they should have contacted a number of poets (using, for practical reasons, some kind of limiting but at least ethnically inclusive and clearly marked criteria, like major award recipients or whatever); nowadays, most if not all American poets are “nearby” via e-mail, right? And many, I surmise, either already have digitized childhood images or could scan their photos or have them scanned and e-mail them back in the blink of an eye.

    I assume you meant to say “one’s policing policy”. I don’t police anything; I just keep my eyes open. And, as I’ve said before, I didn’t accuse anybody of racism in this matter; I limited myself to pointing at an obvious problem and asking uncomfortable questions.

  • On February 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Fred Viebahn said:

    “. . .I don’t police anything; I just keep my eyes open. And, as I’ve said before, I didn’t accuse anybody of racism in this matter; I limited myself to pointing at an obvious problem and asking uncomfortable questions.”

    It’s just that I’m not particularly diplomatic, cordial or discreet.

  • On February 22, 2010 at 8:33 am billdozer wrote:

    I hope I’m not trespassing, kind Harrieteers.
    It’s worth noting racial bias wherever one finds it,
    but is this outcry an outcry if it has no echo?
    While this exchange unfolded among polite company, a shistsorm of vulgar hate speech has simultaneously struck, evolved and mutated surrounding the affair.
    2-million plus viewers have swarmed to youTube to experience a crime and take part in the bitter race dialog of the nation.
    Why do I (uninvited guest) find this relevant to your discussion?
    Because this Po thread has bookended my weekend, but the significant texts in the middle took the form of digital mash-ups, reactionary vamping, and inspired recontextualizations in the form of what kids call meme generation.
    I hesitate to speak beyond my credentials (none), as I am grateful for the free education I get lurking on Harriet. But I have cause to wonder if this is sometimes an effete schooling.
    Weren’t memes, before they were called such, the province of poetry?
    “do not go gently; give me your tired; the revolution will not be televised; listen my children….”
    When I was coming up, I could misquote Ginsberg because he was in the fabric of our living rooms. Now in my middle age, it seems that poets may be the best mimes of our gentrification,
    recontextualizing familiar gestures within boxes of their own construction,
    unheard by choice
    while the Muse has embraced the disorderly children collectively known as anonymous. Is 4-chan on the radar of the academies?
    I encourage you to discover a young woman named
    and how in the space of 3 days she has been elevated to goddess status, an icon of passive indifference in the face racial violence. This is poetry of a high order (to me). Though enshrined in images, Ms Lamps was born of language.
    Something to think about— it took centuries for the Zong Massacre to become poetry, and get it’s two reviews on Amazon, and on my wish list thanks to Harriet bloggers. The Amber Lamps meme was born in hours and will influence an international audience of snarky teens to approach race relations as a form of guerilla art for good or ill.
    I heart the living language.
    How does poetry, its stewards, transform a parochial slight into linguistic immanence?

  • On February 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    No argument there. What I recall, though (& I admit it’s been a few years) had less to do with translation per se. Your essay was rather a polemic against Brodsky’s Nobel award, and an attempt to portray him as the over-rated darling of reactionary political forces in the West.

  • On February 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm Mabool wrote:

    Dozerman, dozerman! All along a long straight stretch of two lane
    which local engineers decree must soon become a four lane
    there stands a single family home, slated to be Catted under.

    Dzoerman, dozerman! All the sights and sounds throughout the world
    and all forces of good and evil, are momentarily shut out,
    when a dozer turns on a dime.

  • On February 26, 2010 at 9:01 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Tim Wise’s website, http://www.timwise.org/,

    has a very useful article called “Another Batch of White Wine: Obama, Black Voters and the Myth of Reverse Racism”


    In it, he articulates the huge difference between two on-the-surface related ways of paying attention to race. I believe in some schools of Buddhism it would be called “the near enemy”–an idea (in this case, race-blindness) that looks like it is invoked in the name of fairness but is actually the exact opposite. here’s an excerpt:

    “In the end it really is as simple as this: for persons belonging to groups that have been consistently subordinated to view the world through the lens of their group status is both predictable and rational. It would be hard, indeed, not to do so. One’s identity as a subordinated group member shapes one’s experiences to such an extent that it will naturally come to inform how one views the world, and how one operates within it. This has been true for all subordinated groups. Even those groups whose institutional subordination has largely ended in the U.S. (like Italian or Irish Americans, or Jews) often see the society through the frame of their particular ethnic experience–and certainly did so in generations past. So naturally, for persons of color whose subordination has continued to be institutionalized, engaging in acts of racial bonding makes sense. Voting for Obama may be one such act, for at least some black voters.

    But for members of groups that have not been subordinated to “think with their skin” or their racial identity is quite a bit different, and more problematic. For dominant group members to engage in racial bonding only makes sense as a way to maintain dominance. It can’t be about “getting a piece of the pie,” since such persons already have access to it, and pieces galore; rather, it has to be about preventing others from getting theirs, from taking parts of the pie to which the dominant group had come to feel entitled. It is not to seek a place at the table, but to seek to secure the table you already have from the intrusion of others.”

    Similarly, the supposed ideal of ignoring race completely seems to mean something entirely different depending on who is invoking it.

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by Annie Finch.