Letters to Best American Poetry


Dear David Lehman,

Because of your shameful decision to publish Michael Derrick Hudson’s poem of ethnic fraud, I will not purchase a copy of this year’s anthology. You should pulp the current version, withdraw the poem, and reprint the anthology with an apology.

p.s. If by some nepotistic miracle a future poem of mine is selected for your anthology series, I will not give you permission to re-publish it.

Dear Sherman Alexie,

I am disappointed in you. You spent so much time creating inane editorial rules that you forgot the most important rule of being an editor of color:

Do Not Allow Acts of Literary Racism to Occur on Your Watch.

The reason why we advocate for people of color in positions of editorial power is not about nepotism, it is about protecting against institutional racism, which has shaped the literary world for too long.

Institutional racism is as common as oxygen. 

In the past, you have critiqued Asa Earl Carter, Barbara Kingsolver, and mascots. While you couldn’t stop those acts, you could have stopped Hudson’s offensive “yellowface” and prevented the harm that it has caused. Instead, you were more concerned about your embarrassment. Your honesty does not hide your lack of integrity.

You state that you take the publication of Best American Poetry “very f*cking seriously.” You should have taken the golden rule of being an editor of color very f*cking seriously instead.

Dear Michael Derrick Hudson,

Shame on you. You are not entitled to publication credits. Ethnic minority identities are not submission strategies for white poets.

You have probably realized by now that you have ruined any chance of publishing under your own name. If you feel any remorse, you should publicly apologize and withdraw your poem.

If you don’t feel remorse, I imagine that you are likely coming up with new pseudonyms to use for your future, mediocre poems. Let me help. Below are some ethnic sounding pseudonyms you can use that fit your personality:

Ipu Palaʻole (Hawaiian), Juan Pendejo (Spanish), Bèn Dàn (Mandarin), Lo Dit (Vietnamese), Uso Tsuki (Japanese), Anakka Nangputa (Tagalog), Writes With Privilege (Native) 


Craig Santos Perez

Are You a Real Literary Activist? Take the Quiz!


The spirited discussion on “literary activism” has prompted me to create this easy quiz to see if you are a real literary activist! Each yes answer earns you a point.

  1. Do you write poetry that addresses political, cultural, environmental, and social justice issues?
  2. Do you write poetry that might be described as protest, documentary, decolonial, ecopoetry, subaltern, undocumented, feminist, indigenous, queer, minority, disability, or witness?
  3. Does your poetry carry an ethical dimension to raise awareness, educate, inspire, empower, dignify, or humanize?
  4. Do you write and publish articles, essays, reviews or features of other poets?
  5. Do you conduct interviews with other poets?
  6. Do you publicize and attend other poets’ literary events?
  7. Do you buy other poet’s books?
  8. Do you curate and host events for others?
  9. Do you edit publications that featuring emerging and established writers?
  10. Do you work or volunteer at a small press?
  11. Do you organize or teach local, affordable community writing workshops?
  12. Do you teach creative writing or language arts at a private or public school?
  13. Do you assign other poets’ books in your classes?
  14. Do you present/lecture on other poets’s work at conferences, symposia, or festivals?
  15. Do you encourage students to attend literary events in the community?
  16. Do you share publishing, reading, or funding opportunities with others?
  17. Do you work or volunteer at a for- or non-profit literary organization?
  18. Do you advocate for the end to racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism in a publishing or literary institution? 
  19. Do you call-out, boycott, or divest from racist writers, organizations, and “plantation publishers”?
  20. Do you attend marches, protests, or rallies?
  21. Do you sign petitions and contact your legislatures?
  22. Do you organize direct political actions?
  23. Do you sit-in, occupy, blockade, kayak, shut-down, or interrupt?
  24. Do you make poetic protest signs?
  25. Do you compose poetic slogans, mottoes, chants, or ditties?
  26. Do you write poetically-inflected political speeches?
  27. Do you organize poetry readings at activist events/rallies?
  28. Do you perform your poetry at activist events/rallies?
  29. Do you contribute your writing skills to activist pamphlets, press releases, op-eds, hand-outs, etc?
  30. Do you host activist zine workshops?
  31. Do you teach writing workshops at activist events or within social justice movements (labor unions, prisons, immigrant communities, etc).
  32. Do you extend the activist event by writing poetry about the action and publish your poem on social media, in books, or in literary journals?

Don’t worry about adding up your score: the point is not the points! The point is to realize that there are many ways to be a literary activist. Even if you don’t have much time or money to engage with activism, there are still ways to contribute—and any contribution will certainly enrich social movements and your own personal life.

Poets and creative writers are a necessary and vital component of every activist movement. Poets can inspire others to speak out and write their own truth. Poets can change minds, capture hearts, and humanize others. Poets help nurture our imaginations, which we will need for creative non-violent activism. Most importantly, poets can show us that deep down, everyone can be a poet–that we all have valuable stories and meaningful lives.

For 2016, consider attending Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2016, which is dedicated to exploring the relationship between poetry and activism.

Quiz Notes:

Read Barbara Jane Reyes’s posts on “Literary Activism and Generosity” from 2011. 

Read my post on “Poetry, Politics, and Why I am Not an Activist,” from 2010.

Read Amy King et al, “What is Literary Activism”

Read Linda Russo’s post on poets addressing ecological movements.

Read Stephen Collis’s posts on “After Burnaby Mountain” 

Read about Mark Nowak’s creative writing workshops with labor unions.

Read about a zine project in Hawaiʻi 

Lead photo from The Operating System

On Finishing My Ph.D.


In 2005, I applied to three Ph.D. programs: Stanford’s Modern Thought and Literature, UC Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness, and UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies. At the time, I was enrolled in an MFA Creative Writing program at the U of San Francisco, and teaching writing at an after school learning center. I hoped to get into a Ph.D. to give myself more post-MFA options.

Sadly, I was rejected from all three schools, which was not a good feeling. I graduated with an MFA in 2006, and continued working and submitting my poetry manuscript to publishers/contests. That year, I decided to apply one more time, but only to Berkeley. If I didn’t get in, I would move on.

To my surprise, I was accepted to the 2007 cohort and even received a fellowship. Yes, I felt like an “imposter,” not quite smart enough–more a poet than a scholar. Coursework was a struggle, but I managed to pass all the classes and the MA exam in 2009.

My first two poetry books were published in 2008 and 2010, thus sparking my double life as poet and scholar. I traveled (way too much) for performances and presentations in those years (to the point where I messed up my back). As my poetry took off, I neglected my orals/area exam reading lists.

What saved me during that time was receiving a Ford Foundation Fellowship, which supports scholars of color. This allowed me to not have to teach or work, and I was able to focus on completing my orals/areas, and my prospectus in 2011.

Even though I knew I was a long-shot,  I applied to a creative writing job in an English department at U of Hawaiʻi, Manoa in 2011. I never thought I would get the job, and I was applying to dissertation fellowships. When I actually got the job, I once again felt like an imposter in the white halls of academia. Perhaps because of that feeling, I worked very hard my first two years–so much so that i met all the minimum requirements of tenure by my third year (i applied to, and received, early tenure).

The downside: I rarely had time to work on my dissertation. I contemplated dropping out of the Ph.D. program. What good would a degree from a totally different discipline do for me now? Shouldn’t I just focus on my creative writing?

I decided not to quit because I had already put so much time into passing all the other requirements, and because I had received so much fellowship support. In 2014, I told myself that I would give it one more year: if i couldnt do it in 2015, then I would move on.

So I worked on it almost every day this year (even if only for an hour a day), either doing research or outlining or writing or revising. Things got done slowly, but it also built a steady momentum. Committing to and prioritizing the work was key. Also, I had a very supportive dissertation committee, in particular my chair, Beth Piatote, and committee member Elizabeth DeLoughrey. On a personal note, my amazing wife and family were also very supportive in giving me time to complete the work.

My dissertation includes a preface, intro, 5 chapters, and conclusion. It consists of about 90,000 words, 350 pages, 700 footnotes, and 400 sources. It is far from perfect. There is a university press that is interested in publishing it, but I will definitely have to do another draft (or two) to get it to that stage.

Itʻs a strange feeling to work on something so long and to finally have it done. It’s strange to come from a very small village of a small island and to earn a Ph.D. from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The dissertation was definitely the most challenging academic and intellectual project that I have ever undertaken, and I am very proud that I was actually able to do it. I feel much more confident now that I can be both a poet and a scholar.

For those interested, my dissertation abstract is below. If won’t be available online, but i am hoping I can get it revised and published in the next few years.

Title: Wayreading Chamorro Literature from Guam


This dissertation maps and navigates contemporary literature by indigenous Chamorro authors from the Pacific island of Guam. Because Guam has experienced more than three centuries of colonization by three different imperial nations, Chamorro language, beliefs, customs, practices, identities, and aesthetics have been suppressed, changed, and sometimes completely replaced. As a result of these colonial changes, many anthropologists and historians have claimed that authentically indigenous Chamorro culture no longer exists. Similarly, literary scholars have argued that contemporary Chamorro literature is degraded and inauthentic because it is often composed in a written form as opposed to an oral form, in English as opposed to Chamorro, and in a foreign genre (such as a novel) as opposed to an indigenous genre (such as a chant). This discourse of inauthenticity, I suggest, is based on an understanding of Chamorro culture and literature as static essences that once existed in a “pure” and “authentic” state before colonialism, modernity, and globalization.

Countering these arguments, I view Chamorro culture as a dynamic entity composed of core, enduring values, customs, and practices that are continually transformed and re-articulated within various historical contexts and political pressures. Relatedly, I contend that Chamorro literature is a dynamic phenomenon comprised of an aesthetic genealogy that has also been transformed by colonialism and re-articulated by every successive generation of Chamorro authors. To understand these complexities, I enact a literary methodology that I term “wayreading,” which involves tracking how the primary themes (the content) of Chamorro literature express the survival and vitality of Chamorro language, customs, values, and practices, as well as how the primary narrative structures (the forms) of Chamorro literature embody Chamorro aesthetics, technologies, and ecologies.

While the first chapter of this project launches into a discussion of Chamorro cultural identity and literary authenticity, the subsequent chapters focus on representations of important Chamorro cultural symbols—including land, housing, navigation, and storytelling—in a wide range of contemporary Chamorro literary expressions. In the Conclusion, I assert that Chamorro literature is a symbolic decolonial act and a pragmatic decolonial tool in ongoing decolonization, demilitarization, and sovereignty movements in Guam. This dissertation is significant because it highlights a relatively unknown indigenous literature, thus contributing to the intellectual traditions of Pacific Islander, Native American, and Global Indigenous Cultural and Literary Studies. Beyond the realm of the indigenous, this study also contributes to the fields of Hispanic, American, Post-colonial, and Comparative Ethnic Cultural and Literary Studies.

This Paradise of Fugitive Dust (2015)

[originally published at ke kaupu hehi ale, 2015]


When my wife, Brandy, became pregnant last year, I began writing a poem titled “understory.” In ecological terms, “understory” refers to plant life (shrubs, saplings, fungi, and seedlings) growing beneath the canopy of the forest.

I imagined a human understory as we read books, websites, and apps related to pregnancy and fetal development. Everything Brandy ate, breathed, heard, smelled, thought, felt, feared, and dreamed affected the embryo. In a sense, her womb housed an understory. They say amniotic fluid is ninety percent water.


We ourselves dwell within an understory. We are surrounded by dominant colonial narratives and structures, such as global capitalism, colonial nationalism, militarism, industrial food systems, media conglomerates, educational institutions, urbanism, and Western health care.

Brandy and I toured several hospitals during her pregnancy. Even though birthing centers are becoming more common, they still felt very cold and plastic. Doctor appointments often involved unnecessary tests, coercive prescriptions, and pressure to schedule a c-section.

Throughout the Pacific, indigenous healing, medicinal, and birthing customs were displaced and replaced by colonial health care practices. The establishment of hospitals was often seen (and funded) as charitable acts to civilize, sterilize, quarantine, and purify us—the diseased and dirty islanders.

A new story unfolded for us when we learned about a pregnancy class based on Hawaiian cultural values and customs, offered at a comprehensive health services provider, Kokua Kalihi Valley. The class was called Ka Lāhui o ka Pō, and included lessons, a free dinner with local ingredients, and a talk story circle. This class empowered us to explore the meaning of “birthing sovereignty.”


After 22 hours of labor, Brandy birthed our daughter, Kaikainaliʻi, on our bed, in our apartment, with the guiding hands of our doula, Grace, and our midwife, Selena. April, 2014. The hottest April in recorded history.

Honolulu Aquarium

I continued writing “understory,” week-by-week, as Kaikainaliʻi grew. We take her on stroller rides around our Mānoa neighborhood, to the park and community garden. The poem asks: When do they spray herbicides and pesticides on the sidewalks and grass? We hand feed her first solid foods. The poem asks: Are these foods genetically modified? Treated with chemicals?

Summer 2014 was the warmest in recorded history. My mom, who lives in California, calls to Facetime with Kaikainaliʻi, her only grandchild. She tells us about the historic drought, tips to ration water.

A strong fever gripped Kaikainaliʻi during that summer. We constantly take her temperature, apply cold compresses, worry. We felt so relieved when her fever broke, her small body drenched in sweat.

Outbreak of enterovirus D68 in New York, outbreak of chikungunya in the Caribbean and Tokelau, outbreak of dengue fever in China and Japan, outbreak of MERS in South Korea, outbreak of West Nile virus in Texas and California, outbreak of ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, outbreak of measles at Disneyland.

When we take Kaikainaliʻi to the pediatrician, the nurse recites the names of the vaccines, shows us the expiration dates. Kaikainaliʻi cries as the needles pierce her thighs. They say our skin is forty percent water.

As the planet warms, our bodies host fever chains of transmission. Food-borne, insect-borne, water-borne, air-borne. Kaikainaliʻi was born into this fourth era of disease.


Kaikainaliʻi cries from teething. We wipe away her tears. How many children have been killed, maimed, and traumatized during the bombing and siege of Gaza? The poem asks: How do parents wipe away tear gas? Disarm occupying armies? #freepalestine

How do parents comfort children atop trains, children escaping domestic, cartel, and state violence? What lullabies echo inside private detention centers? What songs cross the teething US-Mexico border? #unaccompanied

The poem asks: How do parents hold violence at arms length, when raising our hands up is no longer a universal sign of surrender? #blacklivesmatter

Temperatures rise / violence intensifies


“The rape of Oceania began with Guam” (Douglas Oliver, The Pacific Islands,1951: 234).

The history of sexual violence perpetuated by the U.S. military in Guam, Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, South Korea, and Okinawa (among other places) is well-documented. The history of sexual violence within the U.S. military is becoming more documented. #yesallwomen

The poem asks: How do we prevent Kaikainaliʻis body from becoming target practice? How do we protect our sacred islands from becoming live firing range complexes? #savepagat #savepagan #savetinian

The poem asks: How will we remember the names of those who have disappeared from reservations, machiladoras, villages, and schools? #mmiw #mmaw #bringbackourgirls


The first time we take Kaikainaliʻi to the beach coincides with RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific), a multinational maritime military training exercise, weapons showcase, and simulated war games that occurs biennially in the waters around Hawaiʻi.

Brandy carries Kaikainaliʻi into the ocean, holds her tightly to her chest.hanom hanom hanom.

first ocean
First Ocean

The poem asks: What will 23 nations, 48 ships, 6 submarines, hundreds of aircrafts, and thousands of soldiers take from us?

The ocean warms and acidifies. Coral reefs bleach. Fish stocks collapse. Tides rise. Islands drown. Plastic gathers. Radiation seeps. Oil spills. Drills mine sea bed. Whales, deafened by sonar, wash ashore thousands of recently spawned fish, now lifeless, litter the shorelines.

The poem asks: Is Oceania memorial or target? Monument or territory? Dead zone or eco-resort? Economic zone or mākua?

Kaikainaliʻi loves the salt water.


We recently celebrated Kaikainaliʻi’s first birthday. Many of our friends and family traveled from around the island, as well as from Maui, Utah, and California. Throughout the year, we have witnessed Kaikainaliʻi reach several milestones. First latch, first grab, first laugh, first tears, first step. We have also witnessed the effects of reaching and crossing several climate and habitability thresholds: record floods, heat waves, typhoons, extinctions, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. We have witnessed an onslaught of human violence.

Great grandparents

The poem asks: How will Kaikainaliʻiand future generationssurvive in this paradise of fugitive dust.  


I am learning to divest from all that is destroying our world, our humanity. I am learning to let go of all that we have lost and will lose.

At the same time, I am learning to fight for all that can be saved. I am learning to hold onto all that is sacred.

I am grateful to Brandy, for her strength and beauty and labor.  I am grateful to our families for loving Kaikainaliʻi, for raising us in the understory. And I am grateful to our friends (and fellow bloggers) for surrounding Kaikainaliʻi—and inspiring us—with art, poetry, activism, and music.

Sometimes I watch Kaikainaliʻi sleeping. Her breath rises and falls like the tides. Sometimes Kaikainaliʻi smiles, for a moment, in her sleep. I ask the poem: Please hold this moment for me.

I ask the poem: Please carry creation and destruction, birth and extinction, love and loss. Please carry a message for me, when I am gone, to Kaikainaliʻi: tell her that even though our stories are heavier than stones, she must carry them with her, no matter how far from home the storms take her small canoe.

Please tell her that she will always find family in our stories. She will always find shelter in our stories. She will always belong in our stories. And she will always be sacred in our stories hanom hanom hanom

kai big flower

Lip-Syncing the Poetry of Empire (2013)

[originally published at the kenyon review blog, 1/24/13 ]

It must be strange for Americans to have a President who appreciates poetry since the arc of American culture bends towards the destruction of human dignity, which is the very source of poetry.

The recent inauguration and its displays of American decadence and corporate sponsorship have once again broadcast contemporary poetry across the diminishing national attention span. As we witnessed from Obama’s last inaugural poet, Elizabeth Alexander, the poet’s task involves reaping the personal and professional benefits of national recognition, writing a cliché laden (and inauguration committee approved) poem, and performing that poem with less flair than the inaugural prayers, songs, or speeches.

Sadly, the task also involves steeling oneself against seething critiques and shameless praise from the insiders and outsiders of the poetry community.

Richard Blanco was a good choice for inaugural poet because he is a talented and thoughtful writer; I first read his work after reviewing The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (edited by Francisco Aragon, one of my the major driving forces behind for the new visibility of Latino poetry) back in 2007, and I immediately became a fan of his work. Blanco is also a good choice considering the record number of Latinos who were deported during Obama’s first term, as well as the administration’s unfulfilled promises to the gay community. Choosing a young poet also assured that Blanco was not likely to decline the invitation in protest, or to present a poem that would “rock the border”.

Why banish poets from the empire if empire can use poets towards its own ends? Use poets to wash over the empire’s crimes,use poets to feign respect for humanity, use poets to poeticize the ideology of empire. Blanco’s poem, “One Today”, is a poem of American exceptionalism and immigrant exceptionalism—of “one empire” built by many settlers on native lands. There it is, Mr. President, sitting there, for USE.

I confess that it was difficult for me to listen to “One Today”. How can you write about “fruit stands … begging our praise” without writing about NAFTA? How can you write about being rooted to “every stalk of corn” without talking about GMOs? How can you write about “routing pipes” without writing about the Keystone XL pipeline? How can you talk about “cutting sugarcane” without talking about the role of sugar and global trade in the war of 1898 between US and Spain, enlarging the US empire overseas? How can you muse about the “work of our hands” without talking about the unemployment rate? How will we head “home, always under one sky, our sky” when so many homes have been foreclosed, and so many futures, dispossessed?

The public attention that Obama has brought to poetry has led some to declare that poetry is dead. I think they are right. Poetry is dead because many Americans have sold their souls for the dream of capitalism, militarism, and colonialism—what Whitman called the “deformed democracy” of America.  Unlike some of Blanco’s other poems, his “One Today” is a perfect poem to present to zombie Americans because it is a dead poem.

For many of us whose native homelands are occupied by America, poetry is one of the few things that keeps us alive. Poetry is our defense against tyranny. It should not be the poet’s role to lip sync the rhetoric of empire. The poet’s role is to challenge and question. The poets role is to inspire others towards dismantling empire so that a truly humane form of life can emerge.

I Saw the Best Minds of my Generation Destroyed by Facebook

[originally published at the Poetry Foundation Blog, April 2012]

Once, blogging was king. My Google reader was a feast of interesting subscriptions to blogs written by poets. The Poetry Foundation was paying bloggers to write for Harriet. Comment boxes were the new salons. I was never bored; thus, I never had to conclude that I have no inner resources. And then

People stopped commenting on each other’s blogs. Threads died. Poets deleted their blogs and disappeared from public eye. Harriet shut down the comment box; later, Harriet shut down the group blogging. My Google reader grew silent. Noting this phenomenon, I wrote in 2010: “Facebook killed the blogger star.”

On New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to “Facebook everyday for an entire year.” I made this resolution because I wanted to see what Facebook was all about and why so many poet-bloggers abandoned blogging for a strange new social network.

On 1/1/11, my journey began with my first status update: “just wrote a poem titled, In a Comment of the Status. It goes, The characters of these Facebooks on the screen / Updates in a vast, news feed.” But I had no friends to like it. So I started Friending all my lost poet-blogger friends. I had subscribed to their lives for so long it was like I kind of knew them. But would Facebook feed me in the same way blogs fed me?

William Carlos Williams once wrote: “It is difficult to get the news from poems.” After my first month on Facebook, I concluded that it was difficult to get the poets from Facebook. The poet bloggers I once thought I knew were but status updates of their former selves. They were no longer espousing on the great poetic issues of our time; instead, they were posting pictures of food porn! If these were the best minds of my generation, they were destroyed by Facebook.

After another month, I learned many new recipes. I also learned many intimate details about the former poet-bloggers I friended. And by intimate, I mean TMI, as in Too Much Intimate! And sometimes these details changed the way I perceived the poet. You know, it’s like when you first learn that Ezra Pound was a fascist, or that Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company. Something breaks on the inside.

After a few more months, I liked something that someone posted (probably food porn) and I commented “Double like!” That person liked my comment. What a rush. I began liking everything, it didn’t matter what it was—I liked it and I wanted you to know I liked it. What’s more, people started liking my own intimate details—and I’ve got enough intimate details to feed the needy.

Amidst all this liking, I discovered “sharing.” If I liked something really bad, I could express this by sharing it.  I double liked sharing. I like sharing my friends’s updates with all our “unmutual friends.” And perhaps someday all my friends will be “mutual friends” with all my other friends. Imagine. My friend count grew to over a thousand. Complete poet-strangers began friending me! I couldn’t keep up with all the friend requests! I no longer felt so lonely.

One day, a Facebook-poet- “friend” I had never met in real life posted about the publication of his new book. I shared the news and bought the book. When his book arrived, I began reading it. Taking a break to check my Facebook, I saw that this Facebook-poet- “friend” posted an intimate detail about his life and suddenly the meaning of all his poems opened up before my very intense eyes.

From that moment on, I couldn’t stop checking my Facebook. I began to forget about blogging. Why waste time blogging when there are people to friend, and places to “check in.” Remember the second part of the Williams quote: “yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.” With Facebook, I would never die miserably for abundance of everything is found there. In Facebook, I could like forever.

Plus, I do actually get all my news from Facebook.

Facebooking everyday was the only resolution I kept in 2011. I felt so proud. On New Year’s Eve 2011, I resolved to Facebook my life to the fullest. Like Rilke in translation once said: “You must change your profile.”

Now, I have 2649 Facebook friends. As I type this, I have a window open to my Facebook page. Between sentences, I snack on my feed. Oh look: Don Share shared a photo of a sexy stack of Poetry magazines (April 2012). Book porn. Three people like it. I just “liked” it. I’m not going to comment “Double Like” because I don’t like it that much. Maybe if Poetry magazine published some of my poems I would like it enough to share it. They always reject my work. I hate Poetry Magazine. I wonder: if I “like” everything Don Share posts, will he publish my work?

Speaking of April 2012, real people bore me, blogs bore me, especially great group blogs, like Harriet, which bores me. I’d rather be Facebooking. Oh look: my Facebook has refreshed itself & its trail tickers away into food or books or life, leaving behind: me, blog.

America’s Third Coming

100724-N-5684M-823 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 24, 2010) The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) transits the Pacific Ocean with ships assigned to Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010 combined task force as part of a photo exercise north of Hawaii. RIMPAC, the worldÕs largest multinational maritime exercise is a biennial event which allows participating nations to work together to build trust and enhance partnerships needed to improve maritime security. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord/Released)

America’s Third Coming
after “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats

Dredging and dredging in the widening harbor;
Pilot whales are deafened by navy sonar;
Reefs fall apart; our island cannot hold;
Invasive species unleashed upon the shore,
The sewers flood Marine Corps Drive, and everywhere
The day of liberation is crowned;
The politicians lack conviction, while businessmen
Arrive with predatory investments.

Securely, America cuffs our hands;
Securely, the Third Coming will desecrate the land.
No to the military buildup! Our voices rise
As sunburnt tourists take selfies;
We stare in fear: in the waves of the Pacific
A shape with eagle body and tip of the spear,
A gaze imperial and valiant as a shield,
Is moving its slow violence, while all around us
Flock ghosts of extinct native birds.
The pivot has begun; but now we know
That a century of colonial sleep
was startled awake in a weapons cradle,
America’s war beast, its hunger come round again,
Carriers towards Guam to be berthed.

Why are White Editors so Mean? (2011)


[this is a reprint of a post from 2011, originally appeared in Jacket2]

For last year’s AWP, I was supposed to be on a panel called “Poets and Editors on Race and Inclusivity.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the conference due to back problems. Since the issue of the panel is important to me, I’ve posted the talk I was going to give below. Please feel free to share:

Good morning,

My name is Craig Santos Perez, and you may remember me from last year’s acclaimed AWP panel “American Hybrid and its Discontents,” where I presented a paper titled “Whitewashing American Hybrid Poetics.”  I asked: why would white poets want to be hybrid when hybridity theory is soooo nineties. The answer was simple: if you weren’t hybrid then you had no choice as a white poet but to become either Ron Silliman or Robert Penn Warren.

You may be asking, when did I become such an expert on White-American poetics? Well, I have a B.A. in Literature and MFA in Creative Writing from USAmerican institutions, which means that I’ve only been required to read White-American poets.

With that background, I’m delighted to be on this year’s panel, “Poets and Editors on Race and Inclusivity,” with Rich Villar (director of Acentos), Barbara Jane Reyes (editor of Doveglion), Don Share (editor of Poetry Magazine), and Dan Chiasson (Editor of the Paris Review).

For my talk today, I will not only explain to you [smile modestly to the mostly white audience], how to make the poetry publishing world more racially inclusive, but I will also reveal the root cause of this inequity.

You’re welcome.

Some people have asked me why there isn’t an equivalent organization like VIDA for racial minority poets that can provide numerical data proving racial inequity actually exists in the poetry world. Rich Villar explains it best at his blog in which he diagnoses what he terms “Table of Contents Anxiety”:

Table of Contents Anxiety arises when the first reaction to holding a new journal or anthology in your hands, before you even read one line of literature, is to flip open the Table of Contents and quickly scan it for black folks, or Latinos, or Native Americans, or anything, ANYTHING, besides the usual Smorgasboard of the Unsurprising when it comes to editors and their lists. I know I am not alone in this TOC Anxiety. I know some of you in this room suffer in silence. I know some of you in this room haven’t shut up about it since the 1970’s. However you deal with your particular anxiety, know that is it very real, and it goes to the heart of this perceived mistrust within the literary community…

So that leads me to the complex, difficult, and soul-searching question of this panel: how do we make the poetry publishing world more racially inclusive? The answer is also complex and difficult, and may seem incomprehensible to many of you, some of you may even laugh at its seeming impossibility, some may scoff at my hubris for even mentioning such a utopian dream. But I’m going to say it anyways: Publish More Writers of Color.

Gasp. Gulp.

I know, I know, you’re asking yourself how we can achieve this dream. Together, my friends, together.

First, we need to understand why so few writers of color submit to your journals. The reason is because you most likely have published very few, if any, writers of color in the past. A vicious cycle. We don’t like being the only person of color at an all white party.

So how can you make your party more attractive to those who can actually dance? 1) Have a special race issue! You know, the kind where you invite an editor of color to bring other people of color to the party. This always gets our attention because we like feeling special.

What? You’ve tried this before and it didn’t sustain long-term submissions from these special people? Hmmm…how awkward.

Okay, how about this: whenever your submission period opens, you send an email to the leaders of each racial community (as in the folks at Kundiman, AAWW, Cave Canem, Acentos, Letras Latinas, IAIA, or the many emerging editors of color) and politely ask them to circulate your submission call to our respective communities. Sustain these relationships long term and over time you will get more submissions, you will find more work that fits your journals’ aesthetic/mission, you will cause less TOC anxiety.

Of course, we can’t solve the problem completely until we get at the root of the problem.

To get at the root of the problem, let me tell you a story: a few months ago, I gave a workshop at an elementary school mostly populated by students of color. After our workshop, I showed the kids many copies of different poetry journals, including Poetry Magazine and the Paris Review. One kid, after he flipped through several Table of Contents pages, asked me:

“Professor Craig, Why are white editors so mean?”

I didn’t know how to respond, but I knew what he was feeling. I tried to soothe his anxiety:

“White editors aren’t mean, it’s just very hard for them to publish writers like us. It’s hard and often unrewarding work being an editor.”

He responded: “But you’re an editor, Professor Craig. And you’re not mean.”

It’s true.

So I reflected: is there something essential about being a white editor that makes them mean? Something inherently mean about whiteness?

Later, I reflected into a mirror: What makes editors of color, like myself, and writers of color in general, such nice people?

Have you ever noticed that even though writers of color are rarely published in mainstream journals, rarely receive major prizes or awards, rarely reviewed in major venues—and moreover all we write about are our difficult and traumatic histories, our oppressed cultures, our forgotten stories—yet we are such jolly people.

Have you ever been to an Asian-American, African-American, Latino, or Native American poetry reading? The poems are fucking depressing and people sometimes cry during the reading. Yet before and after the reading is a party! Everyone’s so happy, so friendly—there’s sometimes singing and dancing too!

Have you ever been to a Pacific Islander reading—the most underrepresented group in American poetry–? We always have a ton of food at our readings, and we spend more time talking story and laughing around the food than we do actually reading our depressing poems!

Perhaps if we can understand why writers of colors are so happy, then we can understand why white editors are so mean.

Despite everything we’ve been through, writers of color are happy for one reason, and one reason only: anthological loving. The word, “anthology,” comes from the Greek “anthos,” meaning “group hug.”

That’s right, every month a new anthology for writers of color is published: New Latino Writing, African American Nature, Queer Native American, Diasporic Pacific Islander, Asian American Women, South Asian American, Old Latino Writing, Experimental African American, Global Indigenous, Midwest Latinos, New Generations, Next Generations, Emerging Generations, etc, etc, etc.

Every time one of these anthologies is published, a historic publication gets its wings. We gather, celebrate (with lots of food), and embrace. We finally arrive. Or arrive, in a different way. Again and again.

We love the Anthology (to the point of fetish), and the anthology loves us back.

And the anthologies sell like tortillas, like frybread, like dumplings, like Spam.

Now, let’s return to our question: Why are white editors so mean? They are so mean because there has never been an anthology of White-American Poetry. Think about that: white poets have never had an anthology to call their own. They have never experienced the unconditional love of an anthology that is just for them. This sad exclusion has made them bitter and mean to the point of displacing their feelings of exclusion onto writers of color.

White-American poets, hear me: you have come a long way since your barbaric yawps and mystic circumferences. Through my education, I’ve watched you evolve over the last century and develop your craft. It’s time. You’re ready.

Today, at AWP 2011, I call upon you to submit to Manifest Destiny: The First Anthology of White-American Poetry.

Just like in the formation of other emerging literatures, the first anthology needs to be edited by a cultural outsider (me) and a cultural insider. Don Share, I invite you to co-edit this historic anthology with me!

I believe this anthology will settle upon the canon and breed other anthologies of White-American poetries and, over time, white poets and editors will feel more loved, more included, more celebrated—and thus less mean.

And they will sell, like white bread.

Now, let us anthos.

Why Are (Some) White (Conceptual) Poets So Mean?


The 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference brought together many major American poets of that era. Imagine New American Poetry: 1945-1960 come to drunken life. And just like that famed anthology, the Berkeley conference featured mostly white poets.

Note: the word “conference” comes from the Latin root, “confere,” which means “expensive group hug.”

The roster for the 2015 Berkeley Poetry Conference (commemorating the 50th anniversary) included a multicultural list of very talented poets. However, the organizers made two fatal mistakes: 1) they invited Vanessa Place and 2) they did not invite me.

Place has been performing conceptual poems that traffic in racist and racialized content related to African American experiences. A similar act by another conceptual poet, Kenneth Goldsmith, included performing the text of Michael Brownʻs autopsy.

Note: Some of my best friends are white avant-garde poets.

Many poets were hurt, annoyed, and upset by these conceptual poetic acts. An online petition emerged. Signatures gathered. Opinions penned and shared. The Mongrel Coalition updated their statuses with CAPS LOCKED. AWP disinvited Place. Participants withdrew from the Berkeley Conference. Rumors swirled about online lynch mobs, fascist jackboots, Lorca assassins, and Roque Dalton arsonists. Gringpo hysterically blogged back. Tweets and shades were thrown. Friends were unfriended.

And then—in the haze of all those lit hashtags—the Berkeley Poetry Conference was cancelled. Berkeley is, indeed, just too bizarre.

Note: The outrage over the fact that I was not invited to the original conference was not actually voiced during the melee, but I could feel it in the background, fueling the outrage.

And then my cell rang.

It was one of the surviving members of the original organizing committee. He sounded tired when he said that they are re-envisioning the conference to focus on poets of color of national reputation. Even though I consider myself a poet of anti-national reputation, I accepted the belated invitation. Merci beaucoup, Vanessa Place.

On the flight from Honolulu to Oakland, I fantasized about maximum conference drama: Place, Goldsmith, the Mongrel Coalition, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten, Cathy Park Hong, and CA Conrad in an epic food fight! Cheeseboard pizza slicing through the Maude Fife room!

I also got to wondering: Why are (some) white (avant-garde) poets so mean?

Many theories have been proposed: white blindness, white appropriation, white entitlement, white possessiveness, white minstrelsy, white theft, white guilt, white desire for authenticity, white anxiety, white violence, white fetish, white envy, white privilege, white supremacy. 

I craigsplained my theory years ago in a blog titled, “Why Are White Editors So Mean.” Simple: white poets are so mean because they have never had an anthology of their own, never felt the pure joy of anthological loving.

Poets of color know this love well; we have hundreds of FUBU anthologies. Thereʻs something special about an anthology just for you. Poems, side by side, holding hands in solidarity. You canʻt break the spine of an anthology.

Note: the word anthology comes from the greek word, “anthos,” which means “affordable group hug.”

I even offered to co-edit a future anthology of pure white poetry and poetics, tentatively titled “Manifest Destiny: The Frontier Anthology of White-American Poetry and Poetics.” This was a loving gesture. I wanted to help my BWPFs (best white poet friends), who seemed to be suffering so deeply, and who have become so marginalized.

I blame Obama. First, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco as inaugural poets. Then laureate appointees Natasha Tretheway and Juan Felipe Herrera. Obama’s liberal aesthetic affirmative action policy has trickled down: poets of color have been recipients of recent pulitzers, national book awards, NBCC awards, the Yale, the Whitman, many prestigious fellowships, grants, awards, and residencies. VONA, Cave Canem, Canto Mundo, IAIA, and Kundiman all seem to be flourishing.

Universities are even hiring a few poets of color, who are at this moment corrupting students with all kinds of FUBU anthologies! The horror! The humanities!

Note: Don’t stress too much about this because tenure flight moves just as quick as white flight.

Without a doubt, poets of color are in neo-vogue. I say “neo” because we have always been in vogue, because white American poets have always fetishized and (mis)appropriated our aesthetics and racialized subject matter. Africana, orientalism, nativism, primitivism, Pacificism, and Latinidad have all been essential components of white poetry, especially the white avant-garde.

Put another way, the white avant-garde would not exist without us. Poets of color made the white avant-garde possible. Or at least less boring. You’re welcome. 

That said, I must ask: Have we created a monster? What do we do when white avant-garde poets bite the poetic hands that they feed on?

Judging from the response, it seems like we are moving towards an aesthetic boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against mean white poets.

Several folks are already engaged in memoir projects that explore what it feels like to divest from white poetry (think about a self-help book titled, A Year Without Reading White Poetry). Other poets privately and publicly boycott certain white poets. Other poets actively seek sanctions against certain mean white poets, challenging institutions who support them.

While these tactics seem too radical to many poets, BDS movements are gaining ground and popularity in other social justice activisms. Many artists now refuse to perform in Israel. Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticant are calling for a boycott of the Dominican Republic. I have divested from eating SPAM. Petitions have become class projects. Blockadia is the new block party. Divestment is the new cool.

To march, protest, delay, disrupt, interrupt, irrupt, pop-up, hack, leak, ally, occupy, bridge, and love are trending poetic acts. 

And just as this activism has led to society reconceptualizing what “matters,” it has also led to the symbols of supremacy (such as the confederate flag) coming down. In the poetic realm, symbols of white aesthetic and literary supremacy must be taken down as well. 

The racial difference between the 1965 and the 2015 Berkeley Poetry Conferences speaks to the shifting terrain (or, perhaps more accurately, the leveling of the field) that is happening in American poetry. Sadly, there was no real drama at the 2015 conference, just days filled with talking story about and performing race, social justice, pedagogy, community, and avant-garde poetry.

While most white poets I know are anti-racist, supportive of poets of color, and committed to engaging with racialized aesthetics, some white poets continue to act out because they either 1) feel guilty for the long history of white aesthetic supremacy, or 2) feel threatened about losing that supremacy.

Yet some say the BDS movement is not enough; some say, we must forgive.

I want to forgive you, Vanessa and Kenneth, for your racially offensive and morally bereft conceptual poetry—you conceptualize not what you do. I want to forgive you, AWP, for becoming way too big and for hosting the conference in cold places. I want to forgive you, original organizers of the 2015 Berkeley Poetry Conference, for not inviting me in the first place. I want to forgive you, mean white editor, for taking advantage of poets of color in your publishing plantation. I want to forgive you, mean white editors, for forcing poets of color to include glossaries, endless notes and explanations, or cliched cover images for our books. And I even want to forgive you, mean white critics, for every time you told a poet of color that our work didn’t sound ethnic enough or sounded too ethnic or was not experimental enough. I want to forgive you, mean white poets, who have written racist representations of people of color in your poetry and/or for appropriating the aesthetics of Others without acknowledgement. I want to forgive you.

But first, let us confere.