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  #1  
Unread 06-17-2020, 12:20 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Default Resignations at Poetry Foundation

It's been a week, and no one has mentioned this. Anyway:

Poetry Foundation Leadership Resigns After Black Lives Matter Statement

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The Poetry Foundation announced on Wednesday that its president and board chairman are resigning, several days after an open letter signed by more than 1,800 poets and others criticized the foundation’s recent statement on the Black Lives Matter movement and called for them to be replaced.

The president, Henry Bienen, a former president of Northwestern University, resigned, effective immediately, according to a statement. The foundation’s board chairman, Willard Bunn III, a retired bank executive, will also be stepping down.

The Chicago-based foundation is one of the nation’s wealthiest literary organizations, with an endowment that exceeds $250 million. The letter, posted online over the weekend, was issued by 30 poets connected with the foundation, including Ocean Vuong, Eve L. Ewing and Danez Smith. It referred to “numerous critiques” of what it characterized as the foundation’s failures to support poets from marginalized communities, and called on it to “redistribute more of its enormous resources” to social justice and antiracism efforts.

The letter was prompted by a brief, four-sentence statement the foundation issued on June 3, expressing “solidarity with the Black community” and declaring faith in “the strength and power of poetry to uplift in times of despair.”

[...more at the New York Times link above...]
Here's the Poetry Foundation's June 3 statement.

Here's the text of the letter objecting to its vagueness, signed by about 1,800 people.
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  #2  
Unread 06-22-2020, 08:07 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Nearly 100 views and nothing, Julie. Seems that poets aren't interested in poetry. Or at least not in Poetry. Well, as is my wont I'll stick my head over the parapet and say, predictably enough, I think it seems like a bit of a sideshow. Are resignations being demanded from other US journals who also haven't read these people's minds and responded in exactly the right way? What about journals and organisations who haven't issued statements at all, are resignations being demanded from them? OK, I'm being slightly flippant, I realise the writers are all connected to Poetry in some way. So, I know about 'silence is violence'. I didn't realise 'language that is entirely supportive but insufficiently specific and/or lengthy' was also violence. Poetry's statement said "there is much work to be done, and we are committed to engaging in this work to eradicate institutional racism" and that the magazine is "committed to making this a priority" (my italics). Fairly vague, but entirely positive as a starting point, surely. Why not wait a while, at least longer than 48 hours, and see how the magazine might start to make good on this commitment before you begin issuing demands and demanding resignations? Or at least express your disappointment in the statement's platitudes and ask for something more concrete first. Also, in terms of diversity of representation, isn't Poetry, more than most places, fairly exemplary? I did a quick Google (not an extensive study admittedly) of contributors from a random issue in 2001 and a random issue in 2019. The representation of poets of colour seems to have increased massively in the last two decades. I don't really see a literary journal as having any more obligations to equality than this. The statement also said "We believe in the strength and power of poetry to uplift in times of despair, and to empower and amplify the voices of this time, this moment". This seems entirely appropriate for a poetry journal and, to me, important work in itself. I know the PF is wealthy, but from my understanding that's mainly down to one giant donation from Ruth Lilley in 2003, not from any connection to sinister establishment forces. They can do what they want with their windfall, can't they? It's their money. They're a poetry organisation, not a civil-rights charity or a branch of government. And as I said above, it seems to me that they have been pretty blameless since their cash injection in terms of inclusivity on an artistic front. This seems like another example of exactly the wrong people being targeted because those doing the targeting know that a liberal conscience and the fear of being 'woke-shamed' (I think I just made that up) is more likely to make them capitulate. I can't see what good it will do anyone. I hope every one of these 1800 signaturies have also done something productive recently beyond this easy show of outrage: joined or financially supported a left wing or anti-racism organisation, written to relevant politicians, engaged in real and worthwhile activism beyond the social media echo chamber, even been actively kind to a needy stranger maybe. I hope in all good conscience they can look at the "do more and do better" from their letter and apply it to themselves. I hope they do all these things and also vote for Joe Biden, flawed as he is and distasteful as some of them may find him, otherwise they aren't serious people and don't understand the stakes of the next four years.

It's also telling to me that the people named in the first of the list of demands

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The President must be replaced by someone with a demonstrated commitment to both the world of poetry and the project of creating a world that is just and affirming for people of color, disabled people, trans people, queer people, and immigrants.
doesn't include working class people or those from economically disadvantaged circumstances. Of course I share the vision of a just world for the people mentioned, and many will fall into the economically disadvantaged category anyway, but it seems odd to miss out the specific group that good old fashioned socialism was primarily created to help. Particularly given their later statement that they
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dream of a world in which the massive wealth hoarding that underlies the Foundation’s work would be replaced by the redistribution of every cent to those whose labor amassed those funds.
Perhaps simply being dirt-poor isn't a fashionable enough disadvantage.

Maybe I'm being needlessly cynical. The letter writers have made their point and the people resigning are hardly going to struggle financially. And maybe new people really will 'do better' somehow. Hope so.

Anyway, I hearby announce my own resignation from GT because I'm no doubt getting a reputation for being the grumpy voice of 'political correctness gone mad'. I'm sure I'm not. I voted for Jeremy Corbyn twice you know!

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 06-22-2020 at 05:01 PM.
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  #3  
Unread 06-22-2020, 08:47 AM
Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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I’d hazard a guess that the Poetry Foundation resigners were wise in that they saw that in the present hyper-explosive minefield of emotions and shoot from the hip accusations, there was no way anyone could avoid trouble except by quitting the field.
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  #4  
Unread 06-22-2020, 09:51 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
Allen said it. What Allen said.
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x
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  #5  
Unread 06-22-2020, 10:06 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
Mark: "I voted for Jeremy Corbyn twice you know!"

Never, ever reveal who you've voted for. Or what you paid for that airplane ticket. Or what that hotel room costed.
There is a new way of lying that is magic. It involves misdirection and double talk and blatant denial.

I'm kidding of course (right?). I voted for George Bush in 2004. I once got a free upgrade to first class and sat next to the Dalai Lama. I've stayed at a few hotels that clearly gave me a sense I did not belong there. They were right. (Right?)

Topic derailed. Sorry Julie.
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  #6  
Unread 06-22-2020, 12:57 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
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Originally Posted by Jim Moonan View Post
x
Allen said it. What Allen said.
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I agree. Allen said it all in a nutshell. I also like what Mark said, though it was a lot more lengthy.
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  #7  
Unread 06-22-2020, 01:28 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I also like what Mark said, though it was a lot more lengthy
Thank you Martin. Yes it was

Don't worry, I shall bore no more. It was my last hurrah. I'm definitely done here. It's exhausting.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 06-22-2020 at 01:32 PM.
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  #8  
Unread 06-22-2020, 04:04 PM
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Quincy Lehr Quincy Lehr is offline
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I ran the "I'm on Team Nobody" flag up the mast, wrote a poem, and basically cracked jokes at everyone's expense on social media, so it didn't exactly go without notice so much as it got discussed in venues besides Eratosphere.
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Unread 06-22-2020, 05:43 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Originally Posted by Mark McDonnell View Post
Nearly 100 views and nothing, Julie. Seems that poets aren't interested in poetry. Or at least not in Poetry.
Like many of those of a formalist bent at Eratosphere, I have given up on the notion that Poetry will ever have much relevance to what I do and enjoy in terms of poetry. So I wasn't too surprised that people here weren't very interested in the doings of a journal that they don't actually read much.

Also, most of the letter-writers' unhappiness seems to be with personnel decisions (which are not visible even to regular readers of Poetry), rather than with decisions about which poets they choose to publish (which are far more noticeable).

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They can do what they want with their windfall, can't they? It's their money. They're a poetry organisation, not a civil-rights charity or a branch of government.
Oh, absolutely, they can spend their money as they wish. No question.

The only question is whether they can get away with claiming solidarity when they aren't actually investing much in making the sorts of changes that the letter-signers have been pushing them to make, for some time. Talk is cheap.

Any organization that appears to want to score easy PR points by claiming solidarity with the Black community at this time, without committing to making any specific changes to address its own well-documented diversity, equity, and inclusion deficits, is bound to look a teensy bit hypocritical. See this parody (you might need to click on the image to see the whole text):

https://twitter.com/Campster/status/1267183124582215680

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It's also telling to me that the people named in the first of the list of demands doesn't include working class people or those from economically disadvantaged circumstances.
Actually, two paragraphs earlier, they did say this (bolding mine):

Quote:
Though we can’t detail everything within the space of this letter, we refer you to the numerous critiques made in regards to the Foundation’s failures to support—or even appropriately acknowledge disparities as they relate to—Black and Indigenous poets, Latinx poets, trans and queer poets, disabled poets, poets of color writ large, and artists struggling economically.
I agree that that point would have received far more emphasis if it had not been omitted from the text of the demand, though.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 06-22-2020 at 05:49 PM.
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  #10  
Unread 06-23-2020, 01:03 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Any organization that appears to want to score easy PR points by claiming solidarity with the Black community at this time, without committing to making any specific changes to address its own well-documented diversity, equity, and inclusion deficits, is bound to look a teensy bit hypocritical. See this parody
Yep, basically, neither party comes out of this looking particularly good.

And also this. (I'm not here btw. You ain't seen me. This is Stewart Lee's contribution to the discussion)

https://youtu.be/W2firijxQOo

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 06-23-2020 at 01:37 AM.
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