ISSUE 10: October 2011

Poetry & Race Roundtable

Participants: Francisco Aragón, Jaswinder Bolina, Veronica Golos, Amy King,
J. Michael Martinez, Farid Matuk, Evie Shockley, Juliana Spahr, Orlando White, Timothy Yu.

Editor’s Note: My hope is that Claudia Rankine’s response at AWP (Washington, DC 2011) to Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change”—and all the “jumping off points” and responses on her website—will haunt our discussion here of what poetry and race have to do with one another. But instead of individuated responses, my goal is that a conversation will emerge here in writing, and that this exploration of poetry and race may be expanded through talking it out—however virtually—with one another in this space.

Further, I hope that we can listen, draw each other out, cite examples, and expand this conversation that it may help to evolve our thinking, our poems, our teaching, our politics, our poetics.

Claudia has also offered us the following two passages from Richard Dyer to spark us: “As long as race is something only applied to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people” (9-10). Richard Dyer

“There is no more powerful position than that of being ‘just’ human. The claim to power is the claim to speak for the commonality of humanity. Raced people can’t do that—they can only speak for their race. But non-raced people can, for they do not represent the interests of a race. The point of seeing the racing of whites is to dislodge them/us from the position of power, with all the inequities, oppression, privileges and sufferings in its train, dislodging them/us by undercutting the authority with which they/we speak and act in and on the world” (10). Richard Dyer (link here).

As a point of departure: in her talk, Claudia said, “But sometimes, I have found, you have to hazard a little insanity.” What do we “have to hazard” in our poems? What are the risks and what are the necessities for you? What are we responsible to in light of the Dyer passages above?

—Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Chicago, IL / Tucson, AZ
Summer 2011