three comments

here are three comments left on this blog on different blogposts that i wanted to put into dialogue and perhaps spark further dialogue.


OK, I really like this statement you’ve excerpted here, as it is asserting the existence of the opposite of noble savage. I think the expectation placed on the ethnic writer to represent that pure indigenous experience, language, and culture stems from a denial on the part of the dominant culture that the dominant culture has displaced the “indigenous” via mission work/Christian conversion, boarding schools, destruction of the places where the “indigenous” have made their homes and a subsequent movement into city streets, etc.


Williams was a *doctor* for God’s sake..and consequently ,possessed more money than me, you, Silliam, Knott…probably combined. I don’t quite get the connection between Williams and under-represented minorities in the least. For all intents and purposes, certainly from the perspective of his time, he was a white guy like anyone else–perhaps descended from the first wave of immigrants to hit U.S. shores in the 19th century, but in no way part of any immigrant population since that time.

Ergo, any talk of the legacy of Williams vis-a-vis non-whiteness is kind of hollow. Which is not to say that because of that that the award ought to a priori go to a white guy at all. However, I’d say that Craig is correct in pointing out that from an “ethnic” perspective that Saroyan fits the Bill moreso than Williams does. Perhaps they are both (Williams and Saroytan) united in having wads of cash that most of us, white or less white or not white do not. Being immersed in penury myself, I don’t however, object to the choice of Saroyan on that basis. (In fact, I don’t object to the choice of Saroyan at all, but that is not my point here.)

My point here being that I’d say the issue of race here is irrelevant. Certainly nobody would call Saroyan canonical–his exception from said cannon having nothing to do whatsoever with race, but rather the character of the work he does. Which I’d say one would be hard pressed not to recognize its influence, however, remotely upon what has followed in poetry. Nobody had collected it in the way that UDP did previously, so thus, as an editorial effort, it is “contemporary” insofar as it hasn’t been done before. 40 years is not a huge amount of time in the scheme of things, so perhaps Saroyan wasn’t recognized 40 years, well, then why not now?–The award isn’t about specifically lauding the work of “new” or “young” poets, but rather the best book of the year by a small publisher, the criteria of which, I would say that the Saroyan book fulfills admirably.


Your post today reminds me of the Introduction that Garrett Hongo wrote for his edited volume of Asian American poetry nearly twenty years ago called _The Open Boat_. My recollection of that Introduction is that he got a lot of flack for the volume’s aesthetic diversity, for including, for example, the work of John Yau.

But I tend to be a tad optmistic on this question, based on my observations of the activities of such people like Roberto Tejada, who co-edits Mandorla (which he founded while living in Mexico City); Gabe Gomez and J Michael Martinez and their project Breach Press. And what J. Michael Rivera is doing in CO. And the fact that John Chavez is making experimental Latino poetry and this question in general the subject of his doctoral studies at Nebraska is great. Roberto Harrison in Milwaukee is also doing interesting work as an editor/publisher, in addition to his own work.

I’m also very encouraged by the fact that Carmen Jimenez Smith is on the verge of taking over the editorship of PUERTO DEL SOL at New Mexico State. This bit of news is perhaps most ground-breaking of all: how many literary journals of this scope are headed by a Latino/a? The only other one I can think of is ROGER, edited by Renee Soto, but it’s still very recent and not as nationallly recognized as PDS.

AND YET: One thing Roberto Tejada mentioned when I had the chance to speak with him at length in mid March is that it’s only been recently (if I heard him correctly) that he and others (like Rodrigo Toscano) has noticed what little visibility avant Latinos have gotten from the avant establishment. The most recent case in point was the Arizona Poetry Center’s festival/conference on innovative poetry that didn’t include any Latino/as event though it’s now clear that there are Latino/as writing from these innovative strands.



10 thoughts on “three comments

  1. oh oh! The Book of a Hundred Hands, Cole Swensen.

    I won’t jump in on the WCW award debate, though, it seems to be in capable hands.


  2. Yes, three superb comments, all round.

    Personally I’m just stunned that the question of money has even been brought up in this context. Isn’t the appropriate question in these discussions of sociological influence whether or not a given sociological facet or “category” has actually *influenced* a particular decision? That is, whether a prejudicial a priori against an individual because of class/race/gender/persuasion has led to an (unjustifiable) *empirical* result?

    But nobody, if I understand correctly, is accusing anyone here, least of all Silliman, of such an a priori bias. I think we all agree that the award was given on the basis of perceived qualities in the work, whether we each individually perceive these qualities or not.

    Race has often been an “influencing” factor in poetries’ reception. But Saroyan’s pecuniary status, seeing as it seems not to have been factored into the decision at all, is just a complete *irrelevance*. It may be relevant if it had been at all factored into the process (as race and gender so often are). Otherwise this sort of accusation only has a dissolution-effect regarding the more important criteria which are sometimes at work, and often damagingly directive, in the networks of reception within (poetic) communities.

  3. Well, we all have our biases, I think. Money does matter I think initially, but in the end I think the poems do carry the weight regardless of our opinions about aesthetics or who is doing enough for poetry, regardless of our positions of power or lack of power. As I said below, tonight I’m relieved that cronyism can’t completely silence art of any aesthetic slant. In the end the poems stand naked on the page.

  4. here’s an old post from my blog,
    as a retort to Manning above:

    Regional, racial, ethnic, gender, generational, thematic: if you look at the dozens and hundreds of anthologies of contemporary USA poetry published over the past two decades, you’ll find compilations of poems or poets gathered and linked to represent many categories of differentiation and distinction,

    with one exception. There are no anthologies based on class.

    Why is there no anthology of rich poets, poets who came from a background of wealth and privilege. Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Louise Gluck, William Matthews, Richard Howard, C.K. Williams, Russell Edson et al.

    Class is the most important influence on the lives of USAers, the significant marker which defines who each of us is. Our culture at its deepest level is founded on class, on its financial and educational inequalities. We face and interact daily with the continuities and conflicts of class. It touches and permeates us in every way, in every aspect of our public and private systems.

    But in poetry it doesn’t matter?
    —why? because Art exists in a realm separate from Life?


  5. No Bill of course art doesn’t: I said class and the pecuniary discussion may have been important here if there had been any indication that this element had been factored in to the decision-making. My words: “It may be relevant if it had been at all factored into the process . . .” You’re right to say that it often has been factored in, and so we’re right to talk about those cases: but your highlighting of class in the context of Saroyan seemed to me especially irrelevant because it seems almost entirely outside the criteria Silliman used in coming to his end axiology . . . Word.

  6. Dear Nicholas Manning:

    it’s class because of the cash:

    who paid the bills for Ugly Duck to print and produce this book——

    their website has a list of “donors” that support their efforts, and it’s quite impressive: that’s a munificent bunch of folks they’ve managed to milk for funds—

    wouldn’t you bet lots of other smallpresses would like to know the secret of whatever magic spell UDP is able to weave over those wealthy individuals and institutions—?

    but good for you and Silliman not being influenced by economic forces in your “criteria” . . . you guys are certainly holier than me,

    because at this point in my life, i take the wealth-factor into consideration and I would never vote to give a prize of any kind to a rich poet——

    I don’t read poets I know are wealthy, and i don’t think I’m missing out on much, either.

  7. nicholas is right, in relation to the WCW award, race and class are completely irrelevant factor’s in ron’s choice. i think race becomes relevant only after the fact, and only as an interesting discussion of ron’s choice.

    it might be cool to have a contest based on class. like a poor poet’s award (no entrance fee please 😉 and the possibilities are endless: a bukowski award (for alcoholic poets), the olson award (for tall poets), etc.

    and bill, this is just not true: “Class is the most important influence on the lives of USAers, the significant marker which defines who each of us is. Our culture at its deepest level is founded on class, on its financial and educational inequalities.”

    united statesean culture is built upon the intersection of class AND RACE. think about why so many of the black panther party and the revolutionary action movement were critical of western marxism.


  8. hey bill,

    we mustve been writing comments at the same time…

    i would like to know the magic spell of UDP. im sure part of it is that they do great work. i imagine another part is that they have good people working there. when i was in st petersburg, russia a few summers ago, i was lucky enough to briefly meet two ugly ducklings, matvei yankelevich and anna moschovakis (tho they are both very good looking!). anyways, they are two of the nicest, most interesting people in the poetry world. and they’ve done so much in bringing eastern euro/russian poetry to the american public that they deserve their funding, wouldnt you say? i mean, it’s one thing to work hard publishing your own work, it’s another to devote your time/resources to publish and promote the work of others.


  9. well, c, I won’t disagree with you,

    but I will repeat my call

    for a boycott ban
    ostracism of rich poets . . .

  10. “because at this point in my life, i take the wealth-factor into consideration and I would never vote to give a prize of any kind to a rich poet——

    I don’t read poets I know are wealthy, and i don’t think I’m missing out on much, either.”

    Why is it okay to be prejudiced against rich poets? Why is being rich inherently a bad thing? What do you think the rich poets are doing with their money? Donating it to GOP candidates? Writing checks to Blackwater and Halliburton to support war crimes? Jeez Louise.

    I’m sorry you’re missing out on Frederick Seidel.

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