About that Speech

Photo Credit: Rana Tahir; the skull candle in this photo was made by The Lone Artisan.

About that Speech

Let me start by saying, I enjoy Louise Glück’s poems. I have also, on occasion, enjoyed some poems by Blake.

“I like X too, but…” or “I say this as a fan of X’s poetry…” or “I read X in high school and loved it…” or [insert your phrasing of choice here]. For any poet or color, it’s the necessary incantation before one can make any criticism, no matter how benign, of any white poet (dead or alive).

This isn’t paranoia. All one would need to do is look through Poetry Twitter right now and see this dance being performed by poets of color. And what is the criticism currently?

It’s that maybe Glück shouldn’t have used two poems about black face uncritically in her Nobel speech about the “intimate, private voice” of poetry.

That’s literally it. I feel like of all the possible hot takes that one could make from that speech, this is ice cold. In the year 2020, “don’t use black face” should be the minimum, but this particular critique falls below even that. Just look at the work the word “uncritically” is doing in that sentence.

The easiest solution to this particular critique is that Glück could have uttered a single sentence along the lines of, “as a child I did not understand the black face in the poems, instead I…” go on from there without changing anything else in the speech. One small line acknowledging the issues of the content of the poems could have gone a long way. I could even do this with my enjoyment of Glück’s poetry: “Let me start by saying, I enjoy Louise Glück’s poems, even as I acknowledge the ableism within it.” Did that addition change anything in the rest of the content of this post? Nope. As I said, we’re not even at bare minimum.

I’m not going to debate the merit of this critique considering how obvious it is.

Instead, I am—yet again—disappointed by the reaction of Poetry Twitter on The DiscourseTM as—yet again—poets of color are attacked for voicing an, at best, lukewarm opinion.

Let’s get back to my disclaimer at the top: I have enjoyed Glück’s poetry though I am now aware of the ableism in many of her poems. In fact, the ableism of some of her poems totally escaped me and I really didn’t learn of it until she was announced as a nominee for a Nobel. It was a learning moment, and made me more aware of an area of ignorance in my reading. Additionally, it tempered my enthusiasm for her nomination to say the least. Upon reading her speech, I am now just learning this “origin story” involving black face poems that she has apparently used many times before.

As a consumer, I may not pick up another of her books again, but as a reader do I still enjoy the poems I enjoyed? Yes. Frankly it’s par for the course for any person from any underserved community. Many poets of color credit their love of poetry and their writing to poets who were racist (especially many of the old, dead, white ones). Many womxn poets credit their love of poetry to poets who were clearly sexist. These experiences have existed as long as there have been systems of inequity and artists living within those systems.

It’s almost like a large segment of people are just waking up to the fact that we can value something and critique it at the same time. But of course, instead of acknowledging this nuance, and taking some time to digest it, it is time for pitchforks and fire!

I have to ask: what exactly are you all fighting for?

Not to derail this post, but my not-very-hot-at-all take on the speech was: its not very well put together. Again, I say this as someone who likes her poetry…

Mood: Qwhite Frustrated

Currently listening to: The sound of the point whooshing over people’s heads…

Published by WritingRana

Writer. Teacher. Kundiman Poetry Fellow. RAWI member. MFA Pacific University. Choose Your Own Adventure author. (She/Her) Instagram: @readingrana Twitter: @WritingRana

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