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.