I've been posting to Emily Warn's recent blog on the Poetry Foundation site, regarding the presence of "indicator species" out there in the poetry universe. While I totally "get" the metaphor—that is, indicator species are those which break patterns and norms and indicate the beginnings of change in the environment—I still found the term needlessly problematic, because it assumes that certain poetries exist on the margin, waiting for their chance to mess with the biosphere. I guess there's something to the idea that Latinos and African-Americans are starting to break through the assorted American glass ceilings. But these days, I guess I'm casting my lot not so much with breaking the glass ceiling, assimilating with the "poetry universe" as it exists in the various worlds of grants, book prizes, academic recognition, or what have you....rather, I would like to see a fundamental conversation happen between poets as to why this ceiling happened in the first place, and what we can do to redefine it beyond adding additional flora and fauna to the landscape.
Ugh, okay, enough metaphor. Here's precisely what I mean.
Acentos is right now formulating a plan for building an organization for Latino/a poets, something modeled after Cave Canem. One of the poets involved with the planning brought up an excellent point, which has had me thrown for a loop for quite a while, to the point where I've had to seriously rethink some things. What she addressed, more or less, was the need for vigilance. That in building an organization designed to remedy a historical slight (the overlooking of Latino poets), it is essential not to become the very same structure you criticize by virtue of your very existence. Couple that with a new book I'm reading, entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, which argues that even the most well-meaning non-profits have become corporate caricatures of themselves, and you can see why my inner Keanu Reeves is currently muttering Whoa! to whoever will listen.
I am operating today in a world in which I'm reminded that Indiana Review did a Latino poets issue roughly a year or so ago, and that well-intentioned people and editors at the Poetry Foundation and elsewhere are now engaged with conversations with some of our best and brightest Latino and Latina literati. Poetry is currently considering poets who have never appeared in their pages. The Cave Canem retreat is next week, and African-American poets are currently winning book prizes hand over fist. And hell, Eduardo Corral is in residence over at Colgate this Fall, whilst yours truly gets to study with Rigoberto Gonzalez, Dennis Nurkse, Tayari Jones, and Jayne Anne Phillips over at Rutgers-Newark (which I'm truly getting excited for).
But I'm also operating in a world where a steaming pile of dogshit like Tony Hoagland's "The Change" is lauded by white liberals the world over as boldly stepping into the waters of race conversation. (Insert losing sound effects from "The Price is Right.") Por favor.
So then, here's the question I'm throwing out to the poetry world, or at least the world that reads this blog. Why do poets feel marginalized? Do we on the outside really want to be on the inside, or should we concern ourselves with fundamentally rethinking "inside" and "outside?" And if we burn down the clubhouse, what are we going to build in its place? All right, so those are more than one question. But I have faith in you all. Seriously, comments are totally welcome, links encouraged, talk talk talk is essential, yes?Ah, yes yes y'all. It is wonderful to be a writer, at least that never changes. Funny, and I thought my political science training was going to waste...