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and yes, if you are wondering why i havent continued the train of thought from a few posts down, it’s because i’ve been busy-busy with school…hopefully some reprieve soon. today was fun tho, as i got to meet with one my poetry heroines juliana spahr at her lovely home in berkeley. i ‘interviewed’ her for a project i’m working on which i will talk more about later.
what i do want to blog about today is a blogpost i just read by BILL KNOTT. a rambling post in which he bashes ron silliman’s choice of aram saroyan’s complete minimal poems as the winner of the william carlos williams award.
i’ve only been in the poetry world for a short time, but it’s quite obvious to me that everyone–from poets to editors, judges to critics, translators to reviewers–has their preferences. and yes, there’s a fine line between preferences and prejudices. to me, ron’s choice reflected his preferences and a particular reading of williams. so what.
i commented on what i found interesting about his choice here: “a writer whose work hardly gets talked about in terms of ‘ethnic’ poetry gets chosen for an award named after a writer whose work hardly gets talked about in terms of ‘ethnic’ poetry.”
what’s very strange about knott’s post is that he accuses ron of “picking a Rich White Male from a wealthy background.” he goes on to say, parenthetically: “(Parenthetically, in his desire to honor the heritage of WCW, might he not well have considered the ethnic roots of William Carlos Williams, and with that lineage in mind looked to chose one of the meritous poets of Hispanic background currently publishing their work—).”
isnt it funny how Knott italices the “carlos” as if to say hello! look at his middle name and recognize his ‘ethnic roots! hello mr knott, look at ‘aram saroyan’. oh wait, let me italicize it for you ‘aram saroyan‘. that look like a ‘white’ name to you? of course, ethnicity’s much more complicated than one’s names: saroyan is jewish / armenian. dig his pic. williams’ mother, Raquel Helene Rose Hoheb, was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico (her mother was from Matinique and her father was from Puerto Rico of Dutch ancestry ). Williams’ father, William George Williams, was an English businessman. if knott wants the winner of the prize to match up with the prize name, saroyan is not a bad choice.
another annoying thing about knott’s post is his white paternalism. apparently, he was also a judge of the williams prize at some point:
“I can hardly criticize Silliman for choosing a White Male when I myself back there in what year was it, ’77, ’78, did the same—
and nothing (it seems) has changed in the 30 years since then, has it—
I could have opted for an African-American Woman/Latina/Asian, but I voted my private devotion to [John] Logan”
yes mr. knott you had the power and oh why didnt you bestow your lamplight onto the tired, the poor, the huddled masses and wretched refuse that yearn to win poetry prizes awarded by white men. oh great father, why did you forsake us!
knott goes on, still reeling from the guilt of not having fulfilled The Liberal White Man’s Burden (i feel a Kipling spoof coming on):
“Thirty years ago I could have voted for a minority poet, a woman poet, but I didn’t, and last week Silliman could have also, but he didn’t.”
i cant help it (first stanza):
Take up the Liberal White Man’s burden–
Reject the work of ye breed–
Go find the poets of color
To serve your editors’ need;
To read in every corner,
Of common folk and exotic–
Your new-caught, ethnic flavor,
Half-devil and half-poet.