The Nation magazine issues apology after backlash for publishing offensive poem from a white guy
Following reader backlash and protest, the Nation magazine has issued an apology for printing a poem by NEA Fellow Anders Carlson-Wee entitled “How-To”. The editors of the Nation’s poetry section, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Gimenez Smith, said they initially believed the poem was a “profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required to, to perform the work of marginalization.”
It was only after the continued expression of hurt, anger, and confusion from many readers that the editors were forced to consider that perhaps they read Wee’s poem using the wrong lens.
There are fundamental issues with the way that the debate of representation is playing out, especially in literary circles. What we are seeing is that representation is not enough when it comes to simple diversity of mastheads, even when a magazine claims to be leftist like the Nation does. If said representatives of marginalized communities cannot bother to interrogate whiteness and racism and ableism for the trenchant nastiness that they are, they do the literary community no good at their posts.
Much discussion and debate and criticism came to the Nation by way of social media. Award-winning poet Donte Collins, whose arresting collection Autopsy has been selected for consideration by numerous awarding bodies since its publication, posted to Twitter:
hey @thenation, you recently
published a ridiculously offensive
poem ‘how-to’ by anders carlson-wee that flattened & appropriated
identities already rendered invisible.
aave isn’t a costume. here is my
response. do better (original
poem on the left. response, right) pic.twitter.com/6LNCEG8xtg
— donte collins 🌻 (@donte_thepoet) July 24, 2018
Dana Koster argued that the issue in the Nation’s publication of Wee’s poem is an issue that is prevalent all across the literary community in a series of tweets:
I've never spoken to Anders Carlson-Wee about appropriation/exploitation because I've only met him once, but I've spoken up about issues VERY similar to this one in multiple workshops and I was always silenced for trying to curb someone's "freedom of speech" or "risk-taking"
— Dana Koster (@ChairAdventures) July 25, 2018
Poet and writer Camonghne Felix also issued criticism of a New York Times piece covering the incident that positioned poetry as “an art form starved for attention”:
hey, I’m a close reader of your work and we’ve actually worked together on a story, and I’m a fan. That said, Your article about Anderson Carlson Wee is deeply upsetting and actually more harmful than the poem itself. @jennyschuessler
— Camonghne Felix (@CAMONGHNE) August 2, 2018
Wee has also apologized via a Facebook post, which poet Lauren Yates brilliantly turned into an erasure poem:
— Lauren Yates (@yatesie_) July 24, 2018
Clearly, the larger literary community has a long way to go to ensure that the art which it esteems and places value upon is read with a critically discerning eye. How Black and other readers of color will see work must be taken into account, as opposed to only how it is seen and communicated by whiteness.