Cortez in Kevlar returns!

(post soundtrack–i heard this on the radio today)

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because of all my talk-shit on this blog, i have nightmares that eric selinger (author of the essay at latino poetry review) will appear and say “some of my best friends in college were latinos and we used to get drunk and talk-poetry all night.” or that aaron baker (author of mission work) will emerge from the heart of darkness and say “as a missionary son, i’ve saved 12 indigenous souls and therefore have to right to portray these people in any way i see fit.” today, my nightmare came true.

eric selinger wrote two comments on my blog (and he also commented at javier’s blog).

here’s what he said:

Just came across your post, C– I had no idea the piece was up live yet.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Reading” would have been a damned good title–I’m sorry I didn’t think of it myself. And you can bust my matzo balls all you want; seriously, I started this piece bone ignorant, and if I ended up skin-and-bone ignorant, making a fool of myself in the process, it wouldn’t be the first time.

So–about the piece. Oy. I gather the humor fell flat. (Does it sound to you like someone joking about finding the final solution to the problem of Jewish American poetry might to me? I hadn’t thought it would, but I’m beginning to think I may be a world class idiot.) In any case, the “pick your native nation” thing was a jab at the false “inclusiveness” of anthologies that throw some Native poems in without any sense of the diversity of nations and traditions they come from, and the Kevlar–well, that was Sarah Cortez, who has an Ode to Body armor featuring the stuff.

Damn. I hate not being funny. Getting old, folks. Getting old.

Anyway, I could probably say as much about the problematic nature of the ending as anyone, but I’ll save that excoriation for my own blog, or my response at the LPR. Feel free to call me on anything you like, though, as Javier did. I actually appreciate being read & taken seriously. It doesn’t happen often.

Until then!

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his second comment:

P.S. I don’t know who sent you the angry emails about the whole Jewish thing, but it doesn’t (and didn’t) bug me at all. “Holy Hannukah”? Not offensive. Not a problem.

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what nice and thoughtful comments! if i could find magee’s initial comments to people’s repsonses to “their guys, their asian gliterring guys, are gay”, it might make an interesting comparison.

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yeah, his humor fell flat for me, tho i thank him for explaining the motives behind his attempts (perhaps i was being too humorless to appreciate the jokes).

besides the intro, the two other issues i had with the essay was the seemingly randomness of selinger’s choices of text. altho he does move from decima to corrido quite interestingly, he never provides a strong sense of historical trends of latino poetry–especially odd considering the beginning of the essay sets up a historical perspective. instead, his essay develops into a structural ‘island-hopping’ (his phrase), moving from marti to espada to v. cruz to lorna dee to urrea and others without ryhme or reason. granted, this type of nodal approach can be engaging, but i question his choices. which is to ask, why did you choose those books? did you order a barnes and noble box set of latino poetry (just kidding as the joke falls flat)? why is the selection so limited?

my final concern is the way selinger ends his essay with the sara cortez poem. i’m not saying that cortez doesnt hold her a place in a discussion of latino poetry, but ending in such a way, coupled with the conquistador motif that intros the essay, it feels as if “cortez in kevlar” climaxes in the most violent of tropes of the conquest narrative: sex with the natives. as he describes the poem, it “addresses the [gringo] reader as a prospective lover”. this reads too much like aesthetic sex tourism.

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thanks for commenting mr selinger (i want you to go to the omnidawn blog because there’s a game that rewards a twisted sense of humor–you can win free books!). i hope others will also comment. NaBlogWrMo more than half way over!

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4 thoughts on “Cortez in Kevlar returns!

  1. No time for a full response here, but I’ll swing by tomorrow or later this week and fill you in on how I chose the books & poets.

    As for ending the piece with Sarah Cortez, you’re absolutely right to see that as a return to the opening “conquistador” gesture, and I see exactly what you’re saying about the move. Read skeptically, as you do, it’s exactly what you describe: an eroticizing of the Other, in which xenophilia mixes uncomfortably with exploitation. I knew that at the time. My hope was that the particulars of that poem, “Late Night Torta,” balanced out the power relationship somewhat, even reversing them. (In the text, the prospective lover is told what to do in order to “lift” the speaker, by the close, to a position of pleasure and power–an elevation that the poem equates with the triumph of the Virgen’s “dark Indian eyes” over the Spanish Bishop, or so I saw it at the time.) Like much in the piece, that could have been improved–but we do what we can in the time that we have, and go from there.

    Also, to be perfectly honest, I wanted to end with Cortez because I liked her work so much. She’s not in Francisco’s anthology, as Maria Melendez is, so I thought my readers might not head out in search of her work without that extra emphasis. A risky, even self-indicting gesture, but I figured that the potential costs to my own reputation (Selinger, the aesthetic sex tourist, who likes poems for all the wrong reasons!) were worth the potential benefits to hers.

  2. Quick P.S., which came to me on the way home:

    By “my readers,” above, I meant “my readers in Parnassus: Poetry in Review,” where the piece first appeared. I don’t know the actual demographics, but I suspect that most are white and middle-aged, evenly divided (more or less) between male and female. If I’d written the piece for LPR, the tone and the whole “character” that I create for myself in it would have been different. (How the substance would have changed, I’m really not sure. Probably would have requested to do it as a dialogic piece, an exchange with some other, more knowledgeable reader, rather than flying solo.)

    Anyway, more soon at LPR, once I get the whole response to JH written. Hey, can I respond to you there, too? I’m thinking a lot about the whole sexual / textual tourism thing right now. Or should we keep this in the blogosphere? Let me know, and I’ll go from there. I’m happy to do it either way.

    –EMS

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