Poetry News

Poetry Exercise Brings forth Racial and Anti-Gay Slurs at Prestigious Bronx High School

By Harriet Staff

This NY Times article brings to light an unfortunate situation that took place at the Horace Mann School in New York. Poets Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton were invited as guests to the school. What started as a collaborative, creative exercise soon took a turn for the worse. From the article:

The poets had set the tone for the exercise by reading a poem they had written together, which uses startling, offensive language and has in its first three lines the harshest slurs against blacks and gays. The same slurs emerged on the cards, written by students in anonymity, then read out loud by peers who picked the cards at random from a pile stacked on a desk.

The reading went on uninterrupted for 30 minutes at least, one of the poets, Denise Duhamel, recalled in an interview on Friday. According to articles published on Friday in the school’s newspaper, The Horace Mann Record, it set off a mix of disconcerted laughter, confusion and, most of all, soul-searching among teachers and the 700 students in the audience at first, and then throughout the school.

By Tuesday afternoon, David Schiller, the head of the school’s upper division, had visited many classrooms, apologizing. Dr. Schiller declined to comment, beyond providing a letter he sent to parents on Thursday, in which he took the blame for what had happened.

“It was my responsibility to ensure that the presentation to our students was fitting and appropriate. It was not,” he wrote. “I should have intervened to stop the assembly, and I did not do so.”

Ms. Duhamel, 51, a creative writing professor at Florida International University, said that she and the other poet, Maureen Seaton, also a creative writing professor in Florida, could not hear what was being read from the cards because they were seated behind the students, who faced the audience as they read the words into a microphone.

Originally Published: November 7th, 2011