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  #11  
Old 08-16-2018, 09:34 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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I would be considered leftist and progressive. There is a distinction between this and, for lack of a more eloquent word, SJW leftists who use progressive causes for reactionary ends (paradoxically enough).

I won’t defend Carlson-Wee’s poem, though if it were better he would have gotten away with it. The Nation’s response was the worst of all possible responses; what the magazine should have done, if it felt that it needed to do anything, was publish a few of the poems bouncing around Twitter written in response to Carlson-Wee’s poem and which were well-done. This would have allowed the reader to decide and learn for himself what was problematic with the original, and it would have given an audience to those poets who found it offensive and who were able to articulate why instead of assuming it was self-evident.

Two points of absurdity:
• The massive backlash against a leftist poet for writing a tone-deaf poem. I don’t think Carlson-Wee is racist; I think he totally misjudged and didn’t realize why what he had written was bad and embarrassing and deemed racist by some. To paraphrase Zizek talking about liberal nation-states: those on the left will be criticized by other members of the left for failing to do enough, while the people who do nothing avoid all criticism but also help no one. Carlson-Wee is not the problem.
• This happened at the same time Israel jailed a Palestinian poet because it found the poem she wrote and shared on Facebook to be offensive.

Yes, Andrew, that Persian Letters poem. I don’t think poems have to be historically accurate—they don’t have to be anything at all—but “barbarian” didn’t have the connotation then as it does now—the Greeks weren’t comparing Persians to animals, like the speaker suggests—and the Persians were the invaders and would-be conquerors of the Greek city-states, with Alexander’s later conquests revenge for what Xerxes and Darius did. The speaker calls the Greeks the brutes, but they were just defending themselves. Am I misreading the poem? Definitely possible.
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  #12  
Old 08-16-2018, 10:41 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I agree with most of what you say, Walter. Apart from your assertion that the poem is unquestionably 'tone-deaf' and 'bad and embarrassing'. Are these qualities really inherent in the poem, or is it that political squeamishness can't allow us to separate the voice of the poem (old homeless black guy) from the reality of the poet (young skinny white guy). The voice seems authentically enough rendered to me, though being English I'm no expert (I honestly thought the speaker could have been a southern 'poor white' stereotype). Can anyone honestly say that if they didn't know the identity of the poet, they would know this was written by a white person? Should that matter in a persona poem or are some identities off-limits? This is the crux of the issue isn't it? We talk a lot on the sphere about poems having 'earned' the right to address certain experiences. I'm not saying the poem is great, but for me it was the poet's 'appropriation' of the experience of being homeless, as much as his use of black vernacular, that rang my 'exploitation' alarm. But nobody seems concerned with that.

Anyway, I don't think The Nation should have done anything. Maybe not published the poem haha. But once they had – don't apologise. Don't feel an obligation to print poetic 'responses'. The offended already have an audience: Twitter. I hear it's massive. Well ok, don't The Nation have a 'letters to the Editor' section? A couple of disgruntled emails in there would have been enough.

(Nice coat btw)

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-16-2018 at 10:57 AM.
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  #13  
Old 08-16-2018, 11:19 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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I world normally agree with you in regards to voice, but in this poem, the black vernacular isn’t linguistically correct. I’m not an expert; however, I got my degree in linguistics and did take a semester of Black English that focused on the syntactic properties of that vernacular (and its history) taught by a black feminist who was going to call the course N*****! (exclamation mark included in the class name but not the asterisks) until NYU put an end to that (boy does this last sentence reads like a parody of liberal arts education). My point is I can’t defend the poem on linguistic grounds. What you say about poor white American English is good. Where are the poets working in this linguistic register?

(Thanks about the coat!)
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  #14  
Old 08-16-2018, 11:52 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Quote:
I world normally agree with you in regards to voice, but in this poem, the black vernacular isn’t linguistically correct.
John McWhorter, celebrated black professor of linguistics, doesn't seem to agree (see link on post #8).

Maybe all black people don't all talk exactly the same all the time. Maybe the old homeless guy that Carlson-Wee was channelling talks exactly like this. There's a thought...we're back to those wonderfully individual cats.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-16-2018 at 12:40 PM.
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Old 08-16-2018, 11:59 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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'IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a hap- hazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

THE AUTHOR.'

Explanatory note: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

(Edit: re the coat. You're welcome. Snazzy!)

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-16-2018 at 12:54 PM.
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  #16  
Old 08-16-2018, 12:56 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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If linguistics is a science, it shouldn't of course matter whether McWhorter is black or not, just as it shouldn't matter whether Chomsky is black or not. Or Walter, whether your NYU professor of linguistics was a black feminist or not. Folks either master the science or they don't. That is perhaps science's two-edged sword.

Cheers,
John
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  #17  
Old 08-16-2018, 01:48 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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Mark,

I'd say that a lot of the 'woke' white people weren't the first people to jump on this. Consider that Stephanie Burt published the piece. I think a number of bright and perceptive POC were the first to jump on this. I'm not going to Twitter search it, but I'd suspect people like Eve Ewing were probably at the forefront, and it made a number of people reconsider the initial reception. And I think that is valuable.

The long apology? Well, that strikes me as foolish. Walter's suggestion there is probably right on. But it wouldn't have made people happy, as the reaction to Grace Schulman's NYT opinion piece showed. A lot of the problem, to me, is that people assumed, as Walter said, that the poem is self-evidently racist/problematic/whatever; to many people, it isn't. Some of the more nuanced voices on twitter challenged Schulman's piece in interesting ways--and on her terms--but most threw up their arms and suggested that she was supporting racism by supporting the Carlson-Wee piece.

Yet Carlson-Wee isn't racist; he just wrote a mediocre poem in a dialect he may or may not understand. Walter is right again that if he pulled it off most wouldn't have cared, but he didn't. So a journal that isn't racist published a poet who isn't racist; the content of it? Well, that does get more problematic. McWhorter tries to wave his hand and pretend that Black English is treated outside the academy as it is inside it; it isn't. I have racist white family members, and they have (not in front of my recently, but when I was too young to have the courage or clout to stand up to them) descended into what amounts to black face, in poor Black English (in their own ignorance, they just assumed you could, say, throw a "be" anywhere). I knew kids my age who did it, too...and that's in the inner-city public school I went to that was majority-minority. A butchered "black-voice" is and has been used for harm. But what do you do about that when, again, the journal, the editors, and the writer are manifestly not racist? Do we spend all our attention on it when the poetry world actually has more serious injustices (see, again, Walter's point on the Palestinian poet). The answer, to me, is no, at least not in the way it was dealt with. Without Twitter, the smartest critiques that led the way would have had some primacy; instead, we got a mob.

Walter: on the Sharif poem I hadn't thought that deeply about it, perhaps because the references are all over the road (Ovid, David/Goliath) and so I merely took it as a poem less about East/West and more about what it means to be defined by someone else, and finding power in that. It doesn't strike me as shedding much interesting light on that, but I hadn't thought about it in terms of propaganda, and I feel like I'm missing something in that.
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Old 08-16-2018, 04:55 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Andrew: "Walter is right again that if he pulled it off most wouldn't have cared."
I don't think it's by any means self-evident that aesthetic quality would uniquely determine most people's reaction to this or any piece. History I think does not bear out this assumption.

Cheers,
John
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  #19  
Old 08-16-2018, 05:23 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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He wrote at a different time, but black poets still like Berryman's Dream Songs. Terrence Hayes, who admitted they were problematic, said they were an inspiration, of sorts, for his American Sonnets.
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Old 08-16-2018, 05:40 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hey Andrew,

When I made the comment about 'woke' I wasn't suggesting that white people were the first to jump on the poem. I was just pointing out the irony that 'woke' seems to be the African American vernacular expression that it's ok for white liberals to use. I know lots of black people complained too. A Google search of 'Eve Ewing Carlson Wee' proves fruitless though.

Your sudden dismissal of McWhorter (who you enthusiastically linked to remember?) as being unaware of how black English is treated in the real world 'outside the academy' seems a weak argument. Do you really think the publication, in a left-wing magazine like The Nation, of a poem whose only crime may be clumsiness is going to fuel more racism of the sort you describe from your upbringing?

Quote:
The long apology? Well, that strikes me as foolish.
I agree. Though I'd go much further than foolish. 'Craven' is about right. And worrying in the precedent it sets. Schulman points out in her piece that in her 35 years as editor (1971 - 2006) the magazine never felt the need to apologise for a poem it published. Now it has, for a poem that you acknowledge is clearly not racist.

Quote:
Yet Carlson-Wee isn't racist; he just wrote a mediocre poem in a dialect he may or may not understand. Walter is right again that if he pulled it off most wouldn't have cared.
I don't agree with this. From what I've read of the Twitter comments, most people's objections weren't that he didn't 'pull it off', they were that he dared attempt it at all. No doubt if Berryman were writing now he would get the same response. Very few of the comments were along the lines of 'black people don't talk like this'

(“I’m trying to understand the voice in this poem, it feels offensive to me and like it’s trafficking inappropriately in Black language, but is there something I’m missing?”
“Don’t use AAVE. Don’t even try it. Know your lane.”
"AAVE isn’t a costume. do better" (this to the magazine, not the poet))

Now, all of these comments were from black poets, so who am I to say they're wrong? And yet it feels wrong to me. Are they automatically right because they're black? I'm sure you wouldn't say this. Imagining oneself into another persona is a fundamental creative freedom. It can be done well or badly. If it is done with malice or mockery then it should be rightly called out. And remain unpublished. I still don't agree with Walter's suggestion that publishing the poetic 'responses' from Twitter would have been the best course of action. A poem should be published in a magazine for one reason only: because the editors think that it is of sufficient artistic merit. Not to assuage some sense of guilt or under pressure to provide some sort of balance. Again, that's what the 'Letters to the Editor' page is for. The Nation clearly decided that this poem was of sufficient artistic merit. And then, suddenly, they apologised for that decision.

Quote:
Without Twitter, the smartest critiques that led the way would have had some primacy; instead, we got a mob.
Indeed. I agree that there is a nuanced conversation to be had about this. The problem isn't the Twitter mob though, it's that The Nation capitulated to that mob. It didn't have to. It could have ignored it or, as I say, simply granted some of the more nuanced voices a right of reply on its letters page.

This, from the editors' lengthy apology, strikes me as particularly chilling coming from people supposedly versed in how poetry works.

As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received.

No no no.

Now, I know you agree that the magazine shouldn't have apologised, but we seem to disagree on whether or not that is the main issue. For me it is. Obviously it isn't as important an issue as poets being jailed for what they write, but bringing that up just seems a facile way to conduct an argument, like a parent saying 'stop moaning, there are kids starving in Africa'.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-16-2018 at 05:50 PM.
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