Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Word In Color by Pablo Miguel Martínez

click link to read whole article:

"Hollander, in a review published in The New York Times Book Review, wrote about “cultures without literatures — West African, Mexican, and Central American.” Apparently, Hollander couldn’t leave it at that. In an interview on National Public Radio, it was reported that Hollander believes “there isn’t much quality work coming from non-white poets today.” Scholar Adrienne McCormick notes that “with its focus on form and aesthetics and its long history of lyric reflection, poetry is often seen as the last bastion of a high-art sensibility. On the other hand, poetry is also a genre frequently utilized by contemporary American movements for social and political change.” The PSA’s Board President accused Mosley, Alexander, Campo, et al., of McCarthyism.

With this in mind, I pulled three relatively recent titles — anthologies of work by poets of color — off the shelf as my personal challenge to Hollander’s ignorance.

Here’s what I found: two of the three collections, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation and The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, were compiled by editors who struggled honorably with the anxiety of authenticity (Is the work Asian enough? Latina/o enough?)."


Rich said...

I dig this article a lot. This conversation needs to happen more amongst fellow Latinos...perhaps I'll post this in my own blog. Kudos to Pablo Miguel Martinez for a thoughtful response to Sir John of Hollander.

Hollander is, in many ways, a perfect ass, truly. Sadly, his attitude is not altogether different from some poets of a certain class distinction, who will always bestow honor after honor upon their own ranks. These are the people who refuse to see.

I guess the question for Latino/a poets has been, how do we counter the monolith? A more delving question, to my mind, would be, how do editors/curators, etc. do so without becoming the very same monoliths that anthologies like these seek, ostensibly, to lean against, perhaps knock over?

Bone of slight contention. There are many good reasons why Martinez finds the Ringing Ear anthology so satisfying, but for me it is not in editor Nikky Finney's willingness to move into, as Martinez calls it, "flattened identity." This implies deflation, a release of pressure...which to my ear implies a post-racialized, post-identity, non-political approach to writings by people of color. Maybe I'm wrong about that. But Nikky Finney's willingness to link Black national experience to Black writing suggests that this sort of flattening is not the aesthetic she was going for. The book is truly a meditation on "the locus of much Black history and culture, the South" (again quoting Martinez) by writers who are yes, dammit, Black, the unapologetic inheritors of an American legacy that is too often hidden. In that way, it is unapologetially political, one that sees political identity not as a touchstone or starting point for conversation, but something that has been internalized (not suppressed, mind you) and now is being exploded in creative ways, under a creative theme. The willingness on the editor's part to engage political identity in this (non-flattened) way makes for a satisfying anthology. This is a lesson, I think, for other curators and editors of color as we move forward.

For Latinos, the future of our writing is going to lean heavily on our willingness to engage creatively with our political identities. No, this does not mean we may only write about borders, mangos, families, and palm trees. But we are not poets detached from the world: we are also citizens, though we live in a country where the default image of the word "immigrant" is brown and invisible. And writers of color been invisible. This is not coincidence. Where are our themes? Where are our hidden stories? Who are the poets making the invisible visible? THAT is the true avant-garde to me, the ones who will disturb the foundations of the monolith. Fortunately, I think the examples among Latino/a writers are plentiful. Now we simply have to make them visible too.

Lee Herrick said...

Scary and sad.