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  #11  
Unread 02-01-2019, 04:14 PM
Quincy Lehr's Avatar
Quincy Lehr Quincy Lehr is offline
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Mark--

Actually, yes, I do think that one should nail one's colors to the mast when dealing with what is an inherently political question--who gets to speak for what experiences? How is authority accrued and maintained? To what extent does art, particularly a boutique art such as contemporary page poetry, "speak for" broad experiences of large numbers of people? In the United States, how do discussions of "privilege" intersect with a political climate that has historically redbaited discussions of class and its centrality, and where "meritocracy" has in recent decades (read: my whole life, and I'm not especially young) supplanted notions of social justice. While I agreed with many discrete points, the Scylla/Charybdis situation the essay describes is largely avoidable if one jettisons the idealism and individualism inherent in American (and, really, Western) liberalism. The root of my complaint, which goes much further than this essay, is a lack of a sense of political economy and praxis.
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  #12  
Unread 02-02-2019, 12:50 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Oh, goody, another opportunity to post something I'll probably regret later. But I thought my musings below might be useful, even if they're a bit tangential to David's essay. And even if something I've said gets pounced upon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Artistic freedom is important. I agree that the artistic imagination should have the freedom to explore any subject or experience.

However, I can't shake the impression that many members of the majority seem more interested in defending their own (or their own group's) artistic freedom than they are about actually hearing what anyone else has to say, artistically.

I don't place David in that category, but it's certainly the elephant in the room during any discussion of freedom of expression these days. So the following are general thoughts that don't relate directly to his essay.

Yes, I sincerely believe that a talented white male poet can write a wonderfully-imagined and beautifully-crafted poem about anything, including a brown transgender woman's experience. Such a poem has a right to exist and to find an audience, and if it's excellent, I certainly want to be able to see it and enjoy it and even praise it.

But if the ONLY version of brown transgender womanhood that publishers can find room for is one filtered through a respected member of the majority--and may I note that often that respect was gained via an artistic career made possible by opportunities given mostly to majority-members, by majority-members?--that's a problem, I think.

Aren't diverse voices still being excluded, and therefore silenced, even as this (hypothetical) poem appears to be representing those? Perhaps even BECAUSE this poem appears to be representing those, so we don't need to hear any more?

I hear lots of talk these days about reverse discrimination. Probably because the most traumatic persecution that many members of majority groups ever suffer firsthand is feeling unjustly accused of insensitivity or bigotry, or told that they don't have the right to say certain things.

I think that bears repeating.

The most traumatic persecution that many members of majority groups suffer firsthand is feeling unjustly accused of insensitivity or bigotry, or told that they don't have the right to say certain things

On the "victims of injustice and misunderstandings" scale--which for minority members includes things like being fatally shot by the police when mistaken for a criminal, or being murdered by people who don't like your gender presentation--that sort of social unpleasantness doesn't register very high.

I'm sorry, but it just doesn't.

Yes, such criticisms can be very hurtful to hear, and I've certainly felt devastated when I've received them myself. But frankly, I've never feared for my life when someone has told me, "I think your privilege is showing" or "That sounds racist" or "Only a homophobe would say something like that." So even when I feel I am being unjustly attacked, I don't consider myself a victim on a par with members of minority groups.

I think the anxiety about unfair accusations of ill intent is being ramped up by the fact that many prominent white men have recently been experiencing career-ending reckonings of their attitudes toward racial minorities and prospective sexual partners. (There's a convenient example in today's news, actually.) A lot of white men I know are truly fearful that the misinterpretation of something they say or do, in the current climate of merciless justice, will subject them to a similar reckoning in the court of public opinion. So that particular worry seems to provide context for some of the passion in "freedom of expression" discussions, too.

Sorry, I wandered pretty far from David's essay, but I thought these might be useful tangents.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 02-02-2019 at 12:56 PM.
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  #13  
Unread 02-02-2019, 07:22 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Julie (and Quincy)

They are useful tangents, Julie. You've never written anything that didn't make me think. And I too know the feeling of posting something I'll probably regret. I may be feeling it in about twenty minutes, but some of us seem compelled to wrestle with this stuff don't we? The title of David's essay is instructive here: The Minefield and the Soul. We step into it to bare it.

I didn't read the essay as having a political agenda. Rather, that it took the fact of identity politics, which is a widespread and divisive cultural phenomena and unavoidable for anyone who reads the media, and used it as a jumping off point for a discussion about the slippery nature of the self and its relation to artistic expression. I read a literary essay. Maybe that makes me naive or, as Quincy suggests, it makes the essay naive.

I completely agree with you that there's something very unedifying about the sight of members of a comfortable majority making a lot of noise about reverse discrimination when they are accused, justly or not, of bigotry or of not recognising the extent of their privilege. It's an insult to victims of true discrimination and brutality.

And here's where I say the things I'll probably regret. I know, of course, it was certainly true of the past, but in the overwhelmingly liberal world of poetry and literature (the topic of David's essay) is it really the case that diverse and minority voices are being excluded or silenced? I ask this as a genuine, not a rhetorical question. I'm not an expert, and perhaps this is the case, and if it is then it's a terrible wrong. I can see that systemic inequality, racial or economic or both, excludes members of disadvantaged groups from even contemplating cracking the world of, say, classical piano (pianos and piano lessons are expensive), and that this is something that Quincy's socialist dream might do something about. I'm all for that. But it seems to me that page poetry is the most democratic of the arts: you need the desire and talent, a second hand copy of a decent poetry anthology, a pencil, and an internet connection. You don't even need the social scene or extrovert nature required for Performance or Slam. So, is the silencing happening at the level of the poetry establishment itself?

The notion of the talented white male poet writing from the brown transgender woman's experience and therefore potentially silencing the real brown transgender woman just doesn't ring true. It seems like a myth that such a thing is happening on anything like a regular basis. (Perhaps this is one way that David's essay, if read from a certain slant, could be seen as part of a privileged wave of 'protesting too much'). When I read, and actually often really enjoy, Poetry magazine online (much derided round these parts for some reason) or listen to their podcasts, I feel like I encounter quite a wealth of diversity in terms of racial, sexual and gender identity. And Poetry is as prestigious as it gets, is it not?

Googling 'identity poem controversy' brings up two main cases. Neither are of minority poets being silenced or marginalised by white poets appropriating their experience. One is of a white poet being pressured into apologising, along with the editors of The Nation magazine who published him, for writing a persona poem in the voice of a black homeless person. The other is of a white poet adopting a Chinese pseudonym in order to help get his 40 times rejected poem published, which it then fairly quickly was, ending up in Best American Poetry 2015. In neither case did the poets' whiteness help them.

I'm happy to be shown counter examples to prove my naivety at having swallowed some mainstream narrative about the crazy identitarian left. Genuinely. Because a rational left feels like the world's only hope right now. And Mary Meriam, to whom I owe more than she knows, tells me that lesbian poets more than most groups have been made to feel invisible and excluded from the conversation, and for longer. I have a hunch, even from the diversity of voices I hear in Poetry and elsewhere, that she's probably right. Of course in other countries and cultures, writing the wrong poem or blog can still get you killed.

Anyway, them's my rambling thoughts and my head over the parapet (again). I sincerely hope that the broadest diversity of voices and identities, whether real or imagined, be allowed to flourish without fear in the poetry world and beyond.
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  #14  
Unread 02-03-2019, 11:03 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi Mark,

I wonder if an essay engaging with the subject of identity politics can avoid being political. In response to the political debate around identity, identification, power, exclusion and inclusion, I can make a point about (non)-identity and the role of the poet, for sure, but is that a non-political point? Is art not part of the polis?

Quincy says he'd like the article to name its opponents. I'd like to at least see the arguments being responded to clearly laid out and contextualised. Which version of the argument is the author responding to? Does it necessarily contradict the author's views on (non)identity, imagination and reading and so on? How do I understand this claim:

"the claim that a writer creating a character is somehow appropriating the experience of other people completely misunderstands the nature of imagination and reading. The experience of a character is not your experience or my experience. It is the experience of that character."

if it's not made clear what's entailed by the original claim of appropriation?

"Is it really the case that diverse and minority voices are being excluded or silenced?". I googled and found this 2018 survey of (larger) British poetry magazines over a five-year period, which concludes that white and male poets are consistently over-represented in a number of major publications (and also on average across the publications they sampled); white male critics/reviewers are even more over-represented, and white male critics tend to review the work of white male poets at disproportionately high rates (e.g. male critics are twice as likely to review other male poets; whereas female critics tend to review in equal numbers).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark McDonnell View Post
I completely agree with you that there's something very unedifying about the sight of members of a comfortable majority making a lot of noise about reverse discrimination when they are accused, justly or not, of bigotry or of not recognising the extent of their privilege. It's an insult to victims of true discrimination and brutality.
[...]
Googling 'identity poem controversy' brings up two main cases. Neither are of minority poets being silenced or marginalised by white poets appropriating their experience. One is of a white poet being pressured into apologising, along with the editors of The Nation magazine who published him, for writing a persona poem in the voice of a black homeless person. The other is of a white poet adopting a Chinese pseudonym in order to help get his 40 times rejected poem published, which it then fairly quickly was, ending up in Best American Poetry 2015. In neither case did the poets' whiteness help them.
Is the connection I see between these two paragraphs intended? These stories relate to "reverse discrimination" and to being "accused, justly or not, of bigotry". So maybe this just tells us which two stories generated the most noise, the biggest controversy.

What would a story about "minority poets being silenced or marginalised by white poets appropriating their experience" look like? Wouldn't those affected by this largely be invisible, statistical, hypothetical even? (I do sometimes wonder if there's a poet with a Chinese background out there somewhere who might otherwise have been published in BAP-2015, but I couldn't show him or her to you).

best,

-Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 02-03-2019 at 11:17 AM. Reason: typo
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  #15  
Unread 02-03-2019, 11:28 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Interesting discussion! Matt, I do like your last paragraph in particular, since being silenced means precisely not being heard. It is seamless and leaves no trace.

Cheers,
John
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  #16  
Unread 02-03-2019, 03:09 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Hi Jim Moonan, Julie Steiner, and all the rest.

If it's well made, I don't think an essay has to automatically have targets or summon opponents into being. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" is so largely true that it doesn't need any antithesis. I think my twenty minutes are up.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 02-04-2019 at 07:59 AM.
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  #17  
Unread 02-03-2019, 03:28 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Matt,

Well, I seem to have appointed myself 'defender of Dave', don't I? Sam, Jim, Michael, Claudia: jump in any time!

Ok.

Quote:
I wonder if an essay engaging with the subject of identity politics can avoid being political...Is art not part of the polis?
No, I don't think it can, in the small 'p' definition of politics as 'The principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status' (OED) I didn't say the essay was entirely apolitical. I said (to Quincy) that I didn't think it was adversarial and obliged to 'nail its colours to a mast' and (to Julie) that I didn't think it had a 'political agenda'.

Quote:
I'd like to at least see the arguments being responded to clearly laid out and contextualised. Which version of the argument is the author responding to? Does it necessarily contradict the author's views on (non)identity, imagination and reading and so on?
I agree, actually, that the essay could be stronger on this. This survey of writers and artists on the topic of cultural appropriation reveals varied and nuanced opinions which can't be easily summarised as 'On the Left we often have writers saying they own their experience and no one else has the right to imagine experiences like theirs.'

In practice though there is less nuance, and the issue has been probably most visible in the story I referred to previously about The Nation.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...son-wee-how-to

This does strike me as more than just the kind of story that 'generates the most noise' as you put it, but one that did so for good reason. For such a prestigious magazine to bow to social media pressure and apologise for publishing a persona poem seems to set a disturbing precedent to me.

Quote:
"Is it really the case that diverse and minority voices are being excluded or silenced?". I googled and found this 2018 survey of (larger) British poetry magazines over a five-year period, which concludes that white and male poets are consistently over-represented in a number of major publications
Thanks for that. I really did want some data, rather than just a hunch. I learned

Quote:
Of the 19,993 poems in the data set, 9,185 (45.94%) were written by women and NB people.
Quote:
1,819 (9.1%) were written by poets of colour. Of these, 502 were published in a single magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation. Without it, the total drops to 1,317 (7.01%).
• At the 2011 census, 12.9% of the UK population identified as BAME.


These figures are not great, but not bad enough, I don't think, to constitute evidence of systematic exclusion or silencing. I suppose a true picture would have to also take into account the relative percentage of actual submissions by the groups quoted.

Quote:
Is the connection I see between these two paragraphs intended? These stories relate to "reverse discrimination" and to being "accused, justly or not, of bigotry".
Not sure I follow you here. Do you think I contradict myself in making these two points? But neither of the poets involved here 'made a lot of noise' about their supposed 'reverse discrimination'. Carlson Wee made a grovelling apology and what the other guy did was mercenary and tacky but proved some kind of point.

Quote:
What would a story about "minority poets being silenced or marginalised by white poets appropriating their experience" look like?
I don't know, because my point was I don't really think it's happening. The reverse of the story above I suppose: a Chinese poet writing a very 'English' poem and being rejected 40 times until they changed their name to Derek Smith?

Anyway. I enjoyed Dave's essay. It isn't the last word but I thought it thought-provoking and in good faith.

Cheers!

Edit: Hi Allen. Cross-posted.
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  #18  
Unread 02-03-2019, 04:10 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark McDonnell View Post
These figures are not great, but not bad enough, I don't think, to constitute evidence of systematic exclusion or silencing. I suppose a true picture would have to also take into account the relative percentage of actual submissions by the groups quoted.
I take it you're saying the figures aren't bad enough because they may not give a true picture. Because if they are a "true" picture -- in the sense that BAME and white poets submit poetry to major "establishment" magazines in proportion to population demographics -- they would indicate that on average a white person is something like 43% more likely to get their poem accepted than a BAME poet -- or my maths is badly off, which is also possible -- which would seem to show systematic exclusion.

But, yes, perhaps proportionally fewer BAME poets submit than white. Or perhaps more do. Perhaps fewer submit to venues that already publish fewer BAME poets, or have no BAME staff. Perhaps, if Julie is right, men are submitting more, ignoring rules, trying to wildly spread their poetic seed as widely as possibly and so, by volume of submissions, perhaps women are actually being more successful with their submissions. I don't know if any magazines keep this info on their submissions, which would require everyone submitting to fill in some sort of diversity questionnaire. Maybe the situation is better, or worse, than the stats indicate. It's hard to know. I'd be interested to know if anyone has any other data that might shed some light on the question.

By the way, when you wrote "This survey of writers and artists on the topic of cultural appropriation reveals varied and nuanced opinions which can't be easily summarised as 'On the Left we often have writers saying they own their experience and no one else has the right to imagine experiences like theirs", were you intending to link to an article. If so, I'd be interested to see it.

-Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 02-03-2019 at 08:14 PM.
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  #19  
Unread 02-03-2019, 04:30 PM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Sam, Jim, Michael, Claudia: jump in any time!

LOL, Mark.

I’m afraid I’ve thought less about identity politics issues than probably everyone else on this thread. I was responding to the wonderful quotes and thrust of David’s essay (as I read it) about what I consider to be the puzzle of the self. That's enough for me.

Last edited by Michael F; 02-03-2019 at 05:42 PM. Reason: wurdz
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  #20  
Unread 02-03-2019, 05:15 PM
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R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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Re. Quincy's comment: Has "meritocracy" in recent decades . . . supplanted notions of social justice? I would think the opposite.
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