Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The War Against the Imagination (Update)

Here are some relevant excerpts from Grace Schulman's 8-6-18 New York Times Opinion piece entitled "The Nation Magazine Betrays a Poet--and Itself": 

During the 35 years that I edited poetry for The Nation magazine, we published the likes of W.S. Merwin, Pablo Neruda, May Swenson, Denise Levertov, James Merrill and Derek Walcott. They wrote on subjects as varied as lesbian passion and nuclear threats. Some poems, and some critical views, enraged our readers and drove them to drop their subscriptions.
But never did we apologize for a poem we published. We saw it as part of our job to provoke our readers — a mission we took especially seriously in serving the magazine’s absolute devotion to a free press [...].
Apparently the magazine has abandoned this storied tradition.
Last month, the magazine published a poem by Anders Carlson-Wee. The poet is white. His poem, “How-To,” draws on black vernacular.
Following a vicious backlash against the poem on social media, the poetry editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith, apologized for publishing it in the first place: “We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem ‘How-To.’ We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem,” they wrote in an apology longer than the actual poem. The poet apologized, too, saying, “I am sorry for the pain I caused” [...].
How far we have come from those idealistic, courageous days. As Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, put it, the magazine’s apology for Mr. Carlson-Wee’s work was “craven” and “looks like a letter from re-education camp.”
The broader issue here, though, is the backward and increasingly prevalent idea that the artist is somehow morally responsible for his character’s behavior or voice. Writers have always presented characters with unwholesome views; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens and Shakespeare come immediately to mind. One wonders if editors would have the courage to publish Robert Lowell’s “Words for Hart Crane” or Ezra Pound’s “Sestina: Altaforte” today.
To read Schulman's entire piece, click HERE.

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