Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Society of America Uproar + Events Today & Tomorrow

Well, the news is out. As Motoko Rich reports in yesterday's New York Times, the selection of Yale professor John Hollander to receive the Society's prestigious Frost Medal, and the aftermath involving the Society's board chairperson, has led several members of the board to resign, including the board chair himself.

First, Walter Mosley, who needs no introduction, stepped down after the board decided to name Hollander, in part, as he noted, because of the gross conservatism of the choice. (Hollander had, unfortunately, been proposed three years ago, though the award went, it appears, to Richard Howard.) This led to the board's chair, the financier, William Louis-Dreyfus, attacking Mosley in written form with accusations of "McCarthyism," for his decision, which he claimed was based on Hollander's extra-poetic racist comments over the years. After his verbal assault, Elizabeth Alexander, Rafael Campo, and Mary Jo Salter, boardmembers and three of the leading contemporary American poets, also stepped down, and Louis-Dreyfus accused them of McCarthyism.

I'll get back to the story in a moment, and while I cannot speak for any of them, I must note that Hollander is definitely on record making racially inflammatory and racist statements over the years, and one has to wonder, in concert with Walter, that given all of the poets so vital to our society and literature who are of Hollander's generation, why on earth would the poetry society waste an award on this man? Seriously, can you name one book, let alone one poem Hollander has written, or even what kinds of poems and subject matter the man focuses on? (Okay, you may recall those concrete poems that were in poetry anthologies back in the day, but when I asked this question of people back in 2001 at an event at which he was appearing and about which I'll say more below, not one person could do so, as opposed to nearly every other poet--Thylias Moss, Michael Palmer, etc., who was on stage that day.) Previous winners include Maxine Kumin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Galway Kinnell, Sonia Sanchez, Stanley Kunitz, John Ashbery, Adriennne Rich, William Stafford, Donald Hall, Denise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Sterling Brown, Robert Creeley, Robert Penn Warren, etc. I ask, is John Hollander in this category? I have two senior poetry colleagues at the university, and could name three dozen other senior poets off the top of my head who are more deserving. This selection feels almost like it was pulled straight from the pocket of a certain other Yale professor who will remain nameless (HB).

But back to the news, in reaction to the poets' resignations, Louis-Dreyfus then stepped down. As Rich reports,

Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, who runs an international commodities trading and shipping firm and dabbles in writing poetry, said he resigned partly to protest what he regarded as an “exercise of gross reactionary thinking” among the other board members who left in the wake of the award to Mr. Hollander, a retired English professor at Yale.

When Mr. Hollander was considered for the award three years ago, some members raised comments he had made in interviews, reviews and elsewhere that they felt should be examined when judging his candidacy. In one example, Mr. Hollander, writing a rave review in The New York Times Book Review of the collected poems of Jay Wright, an African-American poet, referred to “cultures without literatures — West African, Mexican and Central American.” And in an interview on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” a reporter paraphrased Mr. Hollander as contending “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.”

Other board members said they felt that such comments were not characteristic of Mr. Hollander’s views or had been misinterpreted. Mr. Louis-Dreyfus said that even if the comments were representative, they were irrelevant criteria for judging the Frost Medal, just as he would argue that Ezra Pound’s anti-Semitism should not detract from the literary appreciation of his work.

Louis-Dreyfus could have argued that among the Frost Medal's prior recipients, one can find Wallace Stevens, a remarkable and central American poet, whose racism and anti-Semitism is woven into the fabric of his poetry, but who was deserving of--well, some huge honor (he did win many of the major poetry and literary awards), though perhaps Louis-Dreyfus was unaware of the award's history or, as I've learned over the years about a number of readers, doesn't consider Stevens's work to be especially racist (cf. T. S. Eliot). One can make a case for differentiating the artist and her or his art, to a degree. Instead, he made really outrageous and insulting comments, which Elizabeth Alexander addressed directly and respectfully, noting in a written statement that:

“Mr. Louis-Dreyfus’s persistent mischaracterization of the words and intentions of PSA board members including myself surrounding the awarding of the Frost medal and subsequent private board business is disturbing. I resent his inflammatory invective and willful misstatement of events. My own life’s work is guided by and devoted to principles that are utterly anti-‘reactionary’ and counter to anything that might remotely be deemed ‘McCarthyism.’”

I applaud Mosley, Alexander, Campo, and Salter. I also noted the following on the Cave Canem list:

Just a side note: I'm not sure if anyone here remembers the "What's 'American' about American Poetry" conference some years back, at the New School University, but during one of the panels, Hollander made reactionary and racist remarks about poetry's origins, suggesting that it did not come from such things songs we hear in childhood, conversations heard in the kitchen, etc. "Our origins are not in gestures and songs," or something to that effect, as a direct counter to what Thylias Moss, I believe, had stated.

Thylias and Sonia were the primary people who challenged him (and there may have been others, so my apologies if I'm blanking), and I can't remember if they were both on the same panel as him or if Sister Sonia was on a later one and brought up his comments to repudiate them, but both were superb. This was right after 9/11 and around the time of the brouhaha surrounding the elitist structure of the former Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, which finally led to real changes in its leadership and governance. At any rate, his remarks at the conference are just one awful John Hollander moment I'll never forget.

Here's the poem I wrote, nothing special, but it contains his and others' remarks (i.e., it's a found poem), including commentary by some young hipsters there bemoaning the fact that there was nothing left to write about (in November 2001, mind you...):


We're fed up with tolerance
and writing about whores
shooting up
there are no poets of my generation
waiting for something to rebel against
on 137th Street and 7th Avenue
a brother was crossing the street said
a white silence
which is metaphysical
and a black silence
which is social and political
I am not suffering
the language of power
behind the poems
only ghosts
of Charles Bernstein
he doesn't want to engage
the book of Generation X
the Beats have already done it
coming from deconstruction and all that
French theory
when anyone appears
to strike a pose
aren't you the sister who was reading
Allen Ginsberg
I come from another context altogether
there is so much vitality there
as you can tell
from my accent and shit
but really it's about living
language poetry
to give you another example
a children's game in France
songs and gestures are not our origins
but I am a mestizo
and went to Iowa
reclaiming language
from the seat of power
two white women
just resigned
two black women
who will not be silent
aren't you the sister was reading
Allen Ginsberg
can you say something
about history and how you feel
this competition over anxieties
infects us all
or Janey, who knew
from Hurston
it's a shame the organization
sells only so many copies
(and a heated discussion ensues
because Eros is in there too)
we are waiting to rebel against
smart bombs and cynicism
poems are mere ghosts
of my generation
there's nothing left
behind the words
but fragments
Burroughs and someone else
that's new
beginning with Native Americans
amidst the white middle class
between the two silences
an accident can happen
a difference that never comes
as a work of fiction
only ghosts
are silenced
behind the poems
with heroin
and vernacular
but you are too young
to be dropping bombs on Mesopotamia
like hiphop
to be cynical of the world
you can change
hearing Judy Grahn at a women's gathering
only one poem please though
are there any studies
overthrowing Allende
erasing differences
concerning the audience
we keep coming back
to Eliot and Pound
to rebel against
the street and jazz
Africans in bondage
I think I break
behind the poems
an East Coast thing
only minstrels
and whores
are our precursors
of cynicism
don't read
Generation X
but look for me
translate my absence
into language
the words
the words
rebel against
the silent

*A Report on the "What's American about American Poetry?" Conference
at the New School: Many of these fragments are reco(r)dings of
statements by participants (panelists, attendees) at the Poetry
Society of America's conference of this title, held at the New School
University in New York, November 12-14, 2001.

Today they go to poet Sean Hill, whose poetry manuscript will be published by the University of Georgia Press. Sean's a gifted, award-winning poet, and also a member of the Cave Canem family. One of my favorite memories is of him, Reggie H. and me peering at Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts shortly after it came out, and being taken in particular with the "conceptual" poem (one of my favorites in the book), "Kansas City Monarchs," which of course was one of Jean-Michel Basquiat's touchstones.

For those in the New York area:

Today, the music of words:

YC: MiPO Reading--Harris, Girmay, Stackhouse--9/28
Friday, September 28, 2007

Heralded as one of three Chicago poets for the 21st century by WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, Duriel E. Harris is a co-founder of the Black Took Collective and Poetry Editor for Obsidian III. Drag (Elixir Press, 2003), her first book, was hailed by Black Issues Book Review as one of the best poetry volumes of the year. She is currently at work on AMNESIAC , a media art project (poetry volume, DVD, sound recording, website) funded in part by the University of California Santa Barbara Center for Black Studies Race and Technology Initiative. AMNESIAC writings appear or are forthcoming in Stone Canoe, nocturnes, The Encyclopedia Project, Mixed Blood, and The Ringing Ear. A performing poet/sound artist, Harris is a Cave Canem fellow, recent resident at The MacDowell Colony, and member of the free jazz ensemble Douglas Ewart & Inventions. She teaches English at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.

Aracelis Girmay writes poetry, fiction, & essays. Originally from Santa Ana, California, she earned degrees from Connecticut College & NYU. Girmay is a Cave Canem Fellow & former Watson Fellow. Her poems have been published in Callaloo, Bellevue Literary Review, Indiana Review, and Ploughshares , among others. Her book of poems, Teeth, will be published by Curbstone Press: summer, 2007.

Christopher Stackhouse the author of "Slip" (Corollary Press, 2005) and co-author with writer John Keene on the collaborative book "Seismosis" (1913 Press, 2006), which features Keene's text and Stackhouse's drawings. He is an editor for literary journal Fence Magazine, a Cave Canem Writer Fellow, a 2005 Fellow in Poetry New York Foundation For The Arts, and Bard College, Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, M.F.A. Writing Candidate.


766 grand street
brooklyn, ny 11211
(L to Grand,
1 block west)

And the music of music:

This Friday September 28th 2007
179 MacDougal St (@ 8th St), New York
10pm - 6am
$5 before midnight / $15 after midnight / $10 Reduced List until 1am (email
100 advanced tix good for priority admission all night for $8
King BrittKing Britt
Drawing on a deep and personal connection with the free jazz movement
of the 60’s & 70’s, KING BRITT (above left) presents an evening of cosmic and spiritual jazz on vinyl. The legendary DJ and producer behind countless remixes and the Sylk130 Collective will be delving deep into his crates for a connoisseur’s selection of the finest sounds and textures the expansive genre has to offer.

Friday’s party celebrates the release of THE COSMIC LOUNGE Vol 1 a Rapster / BBE CD collection of vintage jazz which brings together tracks from the likes of Don Cherry, Doug Carne, Eddie Henderson and Grachen Moncur III. The disc is available in stores now.

HANK SHOCKLEE (above right), sonic alchemist behind the boards of Public Enemy and countless others will join King in a very rare guest DJ appearance.

“The best Free Jazz plumbs depths that are so deep I feel like the sound approaches the infinite breadth of the Cosmos” –King Britt

For more info check:
The Cosmic Lounge
King Britt
Hank Shocklee
Music Is Love
BBE Music


GLAAD Black LGBT community Media Essentials Training
Kartina Parker - Media Strategist for Communities of African Descent, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Sat., Sept. 29; 11am FREE
Doubletree Hotel Campbell Center
8520 North Central Expressway

The Black LGBT Community needs to be ready to place their personal stories to counteract stereotypes and homophobic press coverage. Learn how to increase visibility of Black lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender personal stories in the media. This primer will teach media terminology, protocols, and interview techniques.

For more info, e-mail


  1. The only positive thing I can say about Hollander is that I have and enjoy his "Rhymes Reason" book. Otherwise you're right: don't get me started on listing Deserving Poets Of A Certain Age!

  2. Reggie, at the university for the intro poetry classes we usually use a colleague's book that's a bit more recent and comprehensive. Rhymes Reason isn't one of his own books of poetry, though, is it? I rather like his concrete poems, and have even read A Crackling of Thorns, but really--I mean, why not pick Anthony Hecht, for example, if that sort of poet is the prototype? As I said, the selection has a certain professor whose name I alluded to's prints all over it. Yet unlike said professor, Hollander appears incapable of bringing himself to acknowledge that more than one "black," let alone the hordes, is writing important and vital poetry. Is a peer or more talented and necessary. But then supremacy and mental colonization go both ways.