Saturday, May 27, 2006

My Conclusion

1) "I donÂ’t know, to choose PC as a target these days in America seems a little misguided, to put it generously." (Anonymous, Chris Chen, I think)

After reading all the posts this week and chatting with Kate and Michael about it, I have to say that I don't think the poem works. Or, more accurately, I don't think that the way "Their Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay" works is particularly useful. It was interesting to hear from Michael about the poem's relationship to Yeats, but I would have never caught that on my own, even with poem in hand. In the end, the poem still reads to me as a critique of PC, I think because despite the fact that the poem is collaged and thus stops and starts in small fits, there is a loose narrative, the narrative of a Point of View, the Point of View of a fairly cohesive white "I." The irony has the effect of an acting out, a "there I said it" followed by a smile. The voice is more engaged in floating through the stereotypes, rather thancritiquingg them.

2) "Technically, tho, I think anything that pulls language down off the Web--whatever that language is--might be thought of as a kind of documentary approach. Very different in not just technique but in intent, to great extent, than people who consciously write "out of" other voices that they have internalized."(Gary Sullivan)

In relationship to this poem at least, I couldn't disagree more. The language may be borrowed, but is cut together to become it's own thing. It's definitely a whitefish salad, rather than a goldfish in anaquariumm.

3) "i like flarf. in the end, because it is useless (and annoying) to try to legislate via poetry." (kevin.thurston)

As for flarf in general, I don't have many ideas about it, other than it is collage and I'm all for collage and the flarf I know best is Rodney's and I really like Rodney's verbal energies. That's all I can say about flarf in general.

But I don't know what you mean by legislating via poetry. What I do know is that we are all involved in an underground community because we live in a culture that doesn't value something so economically useless as poetry. And this makes me particularly protective of the community. And thus I think it important to discuss work as being in good or bad faith because it affects relationships in the community. When I heard the poem, I felt embarrassed and as a knee jerk reaction immediately scanned the room to make sure there were only white people there. There weren't. And that made me feel bad, because suddenly I worried that the community space was a space most comfortable for whites only. And I think though I feel a little silly about this reaction, mostly because it's the reaction I had as a kid when my parents were talking about race in front of people outside the family, I think it's valid in so far as poetry does not exist in a vacuum. It's a public conversation we are having, at least until we're dead. It has very much to do with how we end up relating to one another. And I think most of us write these poems, at least to some degree, in order to figure out a satisfying way of discussing the world with one another. And I find it sad, though not surprising, that the only Asian American willing to come on this blog did so anonymously at first. Meanwhile, the poem was generating tons of discussion among Asian American poets on another blog. In that sense, the poem reified the separation of poets by race: "Can one imagine “Their Glittering Guys” being read in front of a group of Asian Americans, and in that context would the poem be an example of “Yellowface” or of something else?" (Chris Chen)

OK. Over and out. And for me, hopefully, over. Thanks to everyone for their energy and thought-provoking comments.



Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

Hi! Just found your blog. I'll be back.

Here's my comment on all this, in response to K. Salem response to Tom. It's posted on my blog at

Michael Magee said...

Hi Maggie,

Thanks for hosting this discussion about my poem. There's lots I could say about your take on it though it seems you've more or less made up your mind. My approach to reading poems has always been to ask a lot of questions of many different people when I felt stumped or put off and to reevaluate as more info came in. So, it doesn't seem to me that the fact that you would never have caught the Yeats allusion on your own should really effect your reading of the poem once you've realized it's there. I mean, its not allusion I was in any way trying to hide and I wasn't using it as a sign of my own erudition, so...

More importantly, your point that "the poem reified the separation of poets by race" is simply untrue -- go have a look at the comment boxes at Kasey's Limetree blog -- over sixty comments from poets all over the identity map, none of them posting anonymously. So, though it took a week or so to materialize, if you are judging the poem on its ability to ignite a civilized multicultural discussion where many different points of view are respected and rewarded and where people are allowed to shape and change their own opinions -- well then self-evidentally the poem is an enormous success.

I am sorry you felt embarrassed at my reading and I'm a little shocked that you would have "scanned the room to make sure there were only white people there". Let me just say that I never felt a hint of embarrassment in reading the poem -- that I was well aware there were not only white people in the room, that indeed I almost never read to a room that has only white people in it and absolutely never conceive of my audience as white. I will read the poem in question or any one of my poems to anyone at any time. And I will accept whatever sort of conversation grows out of that performance.

Treating people of color, or other marginalized and/or oppresed people with kit gloves; walking the borderland of racial difference as if it were a bridge made of eggshells; -- it is at least worth contemplating whether these are themselves a kind of racism, no less damaging for their subtlty. Most disturbing for me has been the way in which I have sometimes been talked about in this thread as if my poetry community has not over the years prominently included Nate Mackey, Mytili Jaganathan, Brian Kim Stefans, Harryette Mullen, Jessica Chiu, Carl Martin, Yago Said Cura, Kasey Mohammad, Tisa Bryant, Wendy Walters, Edwin Torres, Rodrigo Toscano and any number of other poets who have had to invent themselves and their writing in the face of a racist culture. Positioning me as an insensitive white male writer who just doesn't get it erases their influence on me -- makes of it a triviality -- and likewise erases my influence on many of them. The very idea of this is deeply depressing, factually wrong and, from a political standpoint, disastrous. I realize you're probably tired of this discussion at this point but I take these things very seriously, have been thinking about them seriously for over a decade and so felt the need to respond.

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