Posts Tagged ‘racism’
September 27, 2016 | by Bryan Washington
There’s a brand of New Orleans evening that begins on a whim, dissolves into multiheaded spectacle, and explodes into something else entirely. A few nights ago I was talking politics outside of C___, this chalky bar tucked between the French Quarter’s nether regions, and the question came up, there as in everywhere else in the city: Saints game or debate? Their run times conflicted.
A buddy of mine said of course he would watch the debate. What a question, he said, what a farce. He added something else about the future of Everything.
Another friend expressed ambivalence. Six beers sat on the table between us, his words rolling across their rims. Whenever we knocked the legs the bottles tinkled along in agreement.
I was about to embarrass myself when the woman smoking quietly behind us—quite literally in the shadows—said that of course she was watching the Saints game. It wasn’t even a question. And before we could ask her why, she gave us a story.
Her name was L. She used to tend bar at C___.
She said: Read More »
July 27, 2016 | by Zinzi Clemmons
In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collection. Look inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.”
“By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.
In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »
July 25, 2016 | by Nathan Gelgud
June 23, 2016 | by Wei Tchou
How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.
I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »
June 15, 2016 | by Monica Youn
I wrote “Goldacre”—my “Twinkie” poem—in the wake of the brouhaha surrounding last year’s Best American Poetry anthology, when the white writer Michael Derrick Hudson published a poem under the name Yi-Fen Chou, sparking a media frenzy. As one of the few #ActualAsianPoets to have had a poem (“March of the Hanged Men,” first published in The Paris Review) included in the anthology, I was unwillingly sucked into the whole mess. But after my initial queasiness subsided, the controversy stirred up a familiar set of questions for me. Read More »
June 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ginsberg and Whitman have birthdays only three days apart, and it gets even weirder: they’re both American poets. The illustrator Nathan Gelgud has celebrated both of them by drawing “A Supermarket in California”: “I think of an English professor I had as a freshman … He talked about Leaves of Grass, and put so much importance on which version of the book I should read that I thought the actual title was Leaves of Grass Eighteen Fifty-Five … I heard later that the professor was arrested for having gone across the street and chucked corn dogs from the corner gas station at passing cars … Another eccentric who I think about when I think about Whitman is one of the other giants of American poetry—Whitman’s inheritor Allen Ginsberg … Ginsberg wrote ‘A Supermarket in California,’ a story about wandering into a grocery store in Berkeley, California and finding Whitman cruising the aisles, hitting on the grocery boys, and guiding Ginsberg out into the night.”
- Your favorite reality-TV star is really just a Jane Austen heroine. “Her female characters are defined by two primary qualities: their privilege and their powerlessness. Her writing focuses almost entirely on women searching for stability and status, deploying the very limited means available to them. Deprived of intellectual gratification or professional empowerment, they scheme, manipulate, and get bogged down in petty rivalries with each other. Their ultimate endgame is marriage, described by Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice as the ‘pleasantest preservation from want.’ That they do nothing of much more substantive significance (except, some of them, on rare occasions, be kind sisters or daughters) is their flaw, but also, as Austen portrays it, their fate. Isn’t it weird? It’s possible to imagine Austen, reincarnated with her bonnet and penchant for millinery, being moderately overwhelmed by the various cuts and colors of synthetic fabric worn by the contestants on The Bachelor.”
- A 1907 book of American superstitions confirms that we’ve always been a delusional people. And a morbid people, too, as these sample superstitions suggest: “If you kiss a baby’s feet, it will not live to walk on them.” “Never call a baby an angel, or it will die before the year is out.” “If a fire puffs, it is a sure sign of a neighbor’s quarreling.” “Carrying a shovel through the house—bad luck.” “If a white horse strays into your yard, one of the family will die.”
- Ever time-traveled? It’s so much fun, if you’re white. Mik Awake looks at what he calls the “bygone bigotry” that crops up in so many time-travel narratives, including, of course, Back to the Future: “Nothing flaunts white privilege quite like a time-travel story. But in those narratives, the subject of historical racism, if it’s handled at all, is often dealt with in a haphazard or obligatory way alongside other lesser concerns. Our protagonist usually has some specified mission of more pressing personal import, but nevertheless, the movies remind us, in self-defeating winks and nods, about how much progress we have made on the race stuff … Whether it’s Marty McFly in 1950s Hill Valley or Jake Epping in segregated Texas, the entire genre of American time-travel fantasy, with its chaos theory nerdery, butterfly-effect affectations, and desire to reshape the present, is irrevocably linked to the very real idea of white privilege.”
- Enough is enough. Let’s visit a volcano. John Perry went to the Masaya, in Nicaragua: “In December the neck of the chamber got blocked, but a few weeks later rock falls reopened it, exposed a boiling sea of lava. The conquistadors’ entrance to hell is visible once again. In the city, the emergency services regularly practice handling the after-effects of an eruption. Residents view the volcano with suspicion, and don’t trust the reassurances of scientists. Tourists can pay $10 to enter at night-time, peer over the crater’s edge from the adjoining car park and see the incandescent lava a couple of hundred feet below. Holding their noses against the sharp tang of sulfur, they can climb the eroded steps to Bobadilla’s cross for a better view of the hellmouth.”