Today, I encountered a facebook post by a former professor of mine that resonated with me. In this post, poet Thomas Sayers Ellis wrote, “White judges of poetry (no matter how learned and liberal or not they are) cannot identify true black talent. They can identify the white talent in the black poet but not the black talent in the black poet and yet they continue to select and serve the black poet less than half full versions of her/himself. Mostly this is allowed by the aesthetically-compromised [among us] of which I admit to being one of––but I am in the long walk of recovery, I hope. If this form of force feeding continues, there won’t be any black poets left. I ask you, White poets, how many black poets do you know who you think of as Black Poets––honestly––by your definition, of course?”
I cannot agree with this sentiment more. What I am finding particularly frustrating is when I notice certain peers of mine conforming their language to a certain style that is favored by the privileged, homo-hesitant, transphobic, white-minded elite … I’m seeing it increasingly in my fellow queer, brown writers and it is a real shame they are being celebrated for it.
In American poetry there is an elite that says, “yes/approve” to some and “no/disapprove” to others–which is fine (com-ma) that’s art–the problem is that what is being yes’d and approved is way more often than not, a whiteness identified in non-white bodies/ a heteronormativity identified in queer bodies / CORPORATE–THIS is what is being celebrated in the work. AND WHEN YOU ARE A PO-ET of. CO-LOR. This becomes con-fu-sing in your growth as a writ-er. am i right? yes. b/c this is what I HAVE NO CHOICE but to reconcile and navigate as a young. writer. this is my problem with ‘the wilde boys,’ this is my problem with italicizing (non)foreign dictions in a poem… privilege (and those who love it). oprah winfrey. junot diaz. sonia sanchez–do not use these people as examples of non-white thought in the mainstream. they are not. they are comfortable in the concessions they have made. actually, they are rolling in it. even, poets like, cyrus cassells, richard blanco, major jackson….when you are and have been so embraced by the academy (comma) do not think you are in any way radical.
I think I am going to refer to these non-white and/or queer writers who have attained incredible “success” at the cost of endorsing the capitalist poetry machine, the academy, and all that is traditionally white-dominated, homo-and-transphobic, “the oblivious, and the lost.”
This is one of the great sicknesses in contemporary american poetry.