Hey Poets: Been sold out by your publisher? …cutoff at the knees. … thrown under the bus. …hung out to dry. …betrayed. Hey, it could happen. It does happen. The Nation apologized for publishing a poem by Anders Carlson-Wee entitled How To.
I read the poem. I’m not sure if it’s blackface to attempt to assume a character. I’m not sure the writer is ableist if the character uses the word cripple. That’s beside the point. One hopes, one assumes, that the poet has already taken responsibility for the poem by writing it and submitting it for publication. Nor is it germane that the poet himself recanted. No shortage of weak knees in this story. The poet can wrestle with himself. What are the responsibilities of the publisher?
Grace Schulman is the author of seven books of poetry and was the poetry editor at The Nation from 1971 – 2006. She’s having none of it. She is in a unique position to list what The Nation could have done, should have done and has done in the past.
It would not be proper for me to comment on the aesthetic merits of Mr. Carlson-Wee’s piece. That’s the job of the magazine’s current poetry editors. But going forward, I’d recommend they follow Henry James’s example. Just as he never apologized for his negative review of Whitman, they had zero reason to regret their decision.
How-To by Anders Carlson-Wee
If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,
say you’re pregnant––nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.