Author Archives: billmohr

Eileen Aronson Ireland’s First Book of Poems

July 10, 2020

In 1972, Paul Vangelisti and John McBride decided to publish a book of poems by John Thomas, who had initially surfaced as a poet in the Venice West scene shortly after the publication of the Lawrence Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians. Thomas had originally hitchhiked to the West Coast with the intention of living in San Francisco, but the ride he caught was headed to Los Angeles, and so he decided to visit Venice. Thomas did not have a very high opinion of Lipton’s book, but fortunately he found the poets who were used as Lipton’s models of contemporary bohemian life (circa 1957-1959) to be more than worth spending time with. Thomas was primarily responsible for starting a poetry workshop in Venice, which included another recent arrival in Venice, Eileen Aronson Ireland.

Ireland became friends with several of the poets who made up the Venice West community, and went on provide the epigraph for the first poem in John Thomas’s eponymous Red Hill collection. According to Eileen Ireland, the epigraph was taken from a passage in a letter she wrote him.

“it is snail today about
4 whorls in the ice on the
Arctic floe southerly”
— Eileen Ireland

Almost a half-century later, it is Eileen’s turn to have her first book of poems published. IF SF Publishing is proud to announce the publication of SPOKEN FLARES, SUNG BEACONS: Selected Poems and Lyrics. The cover photograph of the Venice boardwalk is by poet and photographer Rod Bradley. The publisher and the author thank him for its use.

The book will be available from SPD: spdbooks.org.

The Latest Entry in the Teardrop Trailer Parade

July 8, 2020

About a year ago, our neighbors acquired a very dilapidated Teardrop trailer and set about making it inhabitable again. This model of portable camping out stopped being made well over a half-century ago, and I can assure you that the interior of this particular Teardrop needed complete refurbishing. I confess that I yearned to know of its provenance. It seemed like a master painting that had been left in a damp attic to find for itself for many winters, but was now about to glow in all its humble splendor.

Midday yesterday, Linda and I headed out to take a brief walk and got rewarded with a chance to see it, fully restored and road worthy again, just before it started rolling on its first outing in many years! Bon voyage!

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; “47”; and the Testimony of Gary Sheffield and Bob Gibson

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in July, 2009, on his own front porch for having the temerity to rebuke a system that viewed him as an always already target of suspicion provoked a brief flare-up of public attention on the ability of a police force to protect and serve all citizens equally. President Obama, who had only been in office for six months, commented that “there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.” He should have added “as well as beaten and killed” to his statement about “being stopped,” but since Professor Gates had not been physically harmed in the confrontation at his home, Obama refrained from magnifying a volatile situation. The scornful reaction by police officials to Obama’s comment, in which they refused to acknowledge the truth of racial profiling, revealed the extent to which racism is so embedded in this system as to be inextricable in its present superficies.

In contrast with the current occupant of the White House, Obama did not pile on with provocative assessments of the confrontation in Cambridge, but instead invited both Professor Gates and the police officer who arrested him to meet at the White House and engage in a public ritual of mutual mollification. As details became known, it turned out that the police officer was not at all the aggressive stereotype of a cop that it might be easy to regard him as; in fact, according to reports I have read, Professor Gates and Officer Crowley eventually achieved an amicable relationship.

The limits of reconciliation, however, are encased in centuries of relentless brutality that only rarely becomes visible to anyone other than the perpetrators and the afflicted. It is the weight of the undocumented, in all its incontrovertible encroachments on daily life, that most forestalls any appeasement of the justifiable rage that surges like a psychic tsunami through of communities of color. There is so little to protect anyone in those communities from the ravages of violent interdiction. Those who are privileged by their skin color need to begin formally recognizing the odds one faces in having even a flimsy chance of seeing justice administered when police arrogance entraps them. Think of the odds of anyone growing up and becoming a famous professional athlete, and then double, or triple, or quadruple those odds and you’ll have the abyss of American justice.

Even if one is a gifted athlete, however, the likelihood that having an unfortunate encounter with police predators might become publicized, but it is unlikely to lead to any punishment for the criminal behavior of the police. I call to your attention an infamous incident involving two major baseball players, Dwight Gooden and his nephew Gary Sheffield, who were both All-Stars multiple times in the course of their careers.

https://www.mlb.com/news/gary-sheffield-discusses-police-brutality

Imagine that this entire incident had been preserved on videotape, in the way that the Rodney King beating was recorded. Does anyone really believe that it would not be another irrefutable instance of transgressive violence by police officers for which they should have been punished? Would it not then serve to make clear that nothing whatsoever had been learned by police forces in the United States in the aftermath of the King riots? Instead, it was back to business as usual for the so-called “rogue” elements in police departments, just as professional sports serve as a way to smooth over the discomfiting legacy of racism. It’s all well and good for MLB to celebrate Jackie Robinson day by having every player wear his number on the day celebrating the integration of professional baseball in the modern era of the game, but to imagine that this provides some measure of reconciliation for the decades and decades in which the best athletes to play the game, including Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, were denied the chance to play at the highest level, is to engage in an extreme case of the social imaginary.

In a recent interview, Hall of Fame member Bob Gibson talks about an early incident in his career and how little things have truly changed. On the other, he is not a complete pessimist: “But now that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that give me hope, especially in our game. I don’t just see Black players speaking up, the way they always have. I see something deeper. I see white players listening more than they used to.”

https://www.mlb.com/news/bob-gibson-on-race-baseball

*. *. *. *

Racial justice requires the elimination of contingency, and in calling for the defunding of police departments, I would like to clarify what should be funded. The budgets for police departments need to be modified in such a way that surveillance of the police is a matter of constant record. Until this supervision is given financial priority, and the oversight remains in the hands of those whose lives are supposed to be protected by the police, then there is no hope that this travesty will ever be rectified.

The problem, of course, is that the funding for an effective system of first-responders is that there is a knee on the throat of those who wish to devote themselves to public service. The budget for the Pentagon has strangled any possibility for social reparations and economic improvement in the lives of communities of color.

Also worth reading:

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-06-20/column-nearly-50-years-later-he-hasnt-forgotten-the-ugly-racial-incident-and-neither-have-i

Paul Violi and a “Back to the Future” Pandemic Poem

July 1, 2020

It was well over 40 years ago that I first encountered the poems of Paul Violi (1944-2011). I had found his book HARMATAN in a bookstore in New York City in the fall of 1977. At that point, I was still editing and publishing my magazine, MOMENTUM, but it was becoming clear that I should focus on book production. The final issue of the magazine came out in 1978, and I didn’t have time to write a review of Violi’s book. As a substitute, I ran a full page notice at the end of the issue as a free advertisement in which I cited his book as the best book of poems I found on my trip.

Here is part of a poem by Paul Violi that seems just as effective in 2020 in letting its depth of field carry its humor as it was when he was wrote and read it to others. I can think of more than a few anthologies that would be easily improved with a substantial selection of his work.

I assume the citation of “Weehawken” in this poem is a nod toward part one of William Carlos Williams’s “January Morning,” in which “the beauties of travel” are attributed to the “strange hours we keep to see them.” The example Williams invokes is the domes of a Catholic Church in Weehawken. In a chapter (“The Virtue of History”) in Williams’s In the American Grain, Williams will examine the aftermath of the Hamilton-Burr duel, which took place in Weehawken.

Appeal to the Grammarians
by Paul Violi

We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we’re capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
…..
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn’t bounce back,
The flat tire at journey’s outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, “See, that’s why
I don’t like to eat outside.”

The “Monsurrection” 2020

June 25, 2020

On Tuesday night, I taught several classic poems and short stories in a three and a half hour period. One of them, James Baldwin’s harrowing account of a lynching, “Going to Meet the Man,” was by all accounts a challenging piece of reading on the part of the students. Indeed, it has not gotten much easier for me to read over the years. Even a half-dozen encounters with Baldwin’s story have not enabled me to get through the story without looking up from the page, as though I could somehow avert my eyes from the psychopathology that has ravaged the United States of America.

One of my students reported to that class that close to 5,000 incidents of extreme racial violence occurred between the end of Reconstruction and 1950. In my lifetime, how many more hundreds and hundreds == indeed, thousands — of egregious acts of torture and death have occurred at the hands of utter iniquity? Should anyone really be shocked that the oppressed have had it up to here, as the expression goes.

At this point, “monuments” are being torn down in a rage that unfortunately has targeted even the memory of those who themselves died in order to put a stop to the perpetuation of evil. In Wisconsin, a statue of man who was a hero in the battle against oppression has been decapitated. It needs to be said: when rage becomes indiscriminate, it’s time for those who have lost control of their emotions to begin to think of alternatives. (Those who burned the American flag in the 1960s, as I noted in the previous post, chose the wrong symbol, and should have targeted the Confederate flag.) Instead of tearing down the statue of a Civil War hero, why not build a statue of George Floyd in which one of his feet is lifted off the ground, both buoyant with a sense of justice’s triumph, but also poised to strike with its tip anyone who would dare to make him submit again.

One has no choice, it seems, but to acknowledge that a cultural insurrection is taking place, and that the targets are symbolic appears to make it all the more poignantly viable. It is an updating, it seems to me, of the burning of draft cards during the Viet Nam war. It is a monumental insurrection — a monsurrection — in which those who have been oppressed know that “Authority” has infinitely more weapons except in one area: the refusal to accept the insult of seeing the monuments of those who advocated and practiced oppression held up as being admirable, instead of carved into niches of reprehensible hypocrisy.

Let us hope that the statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg can soon be restored to a place of honor; let us not, however, forget the lesson of the infamy of its desecration: “those to whom evil is done / do evil in return.”

Burning the Confederate Flag at Dodger Stadium

June 24, 2020

Our prevaricator-in-residence at the Oval Office recently revived an old right-wing talking point about making the burning of the American flag a criminal act. But what about the flag that is most commonly associated with the Confederacy? Would he propose to make that a crime, too?

The battle flag of the Confederacy, after all, is associated with one of the heinous crimes committed at the very outset of his quest to be elected President, during the aftermath of which he referred to supporters of the symbolic insinuations of all that homicidal regalia as “very fine people.” As utterly dismaying as the impulsive police executions of African-Americans since 2008 has been (and the date is fixed there as a reminder that these executions in my opinion reflected a displaced desire on the part of these officers), the murders at a Bible-study meeting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015, still cry out for a full measure of repentance.

In looking back at the various shock tactics used by my generation in the 1960s and 1970s to drive home their objections to the racist war machine that did the biding of American foreign policy, I never supported the burning of the American flag. Among other objections, I saw such a gesture as an admission that the protest being made was simply a self-cancelling zero-sum game of rhetorical futility.

In retrospect, of course, I would support the burning of a flag: the Stars and Bars. My friends, we were burning the wrong flag. Far better that we had shown some real courage and burned Dixie’s battle flag as the inauguration of an anti-racist movement at the start of our country’s bicentennial.

Think about it. If on the first day of American Bicentennial, we had burned the Confederate Flag at each of the following College Bowl events, it would have sent a message that it was not enough to have elected a Democrat as president in the aftermath of Nixon’s betrayal of the Constitution. Fundamental change was needed in the entire system, including a total rejection of the South’s continuing belief in the legitimacy of the “Lost Cause.”

TANGERINE BOWL
Date: December 20, 1975. Location: Orlando, Florida
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

LIBERTY BOWL
Date: December 22, 1975. Location: Memphis, Tennessee
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

SUN BOWL
Date: December 26, 1975. Location: El Paso, Texas
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

The Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl
Date: December 27, 1975. Location: Houston, Texas
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

GATOR BOWL
Date: December 29, 1975. Location: Jacksonville, Florida
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

PEACH BOWL
Date: December 31, 1975. Location: Atlanta, Georgia
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

SUGAR BOWL
Date: December 31, 1975. Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

COTTON BOWL
Date: January 1, 1976. Location: Dallas, Texas
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

ORANGE BOWL
Date: January 1, 1976 Location: Miami, Florida
EVENT: Burning of the Confederate Flag

The Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona could have been tossed in for good measure, but it’s the above places and dates that would served notice that an anti-racism movement would not settle for anything less than a complete repudiation of the Confederacy’s patrimony.

It’s never too late.

With a shortened baseball season finally beginning to take shape, I have been thinking about the places that I would most enjoy seeing such a spectacle, and Dodger Stadium seems the most appropriate venue. Unfortunately, no spectators will be allowed to see the games this season, and so my fantasy of seeing someone burn the Confederate flag at Dodger Stadium will have to wait until 2021. This gives us plenty of time to consider the possible answers to the following scenarios.

Would any player attempt to reprise Rick Monday’s rescue of the United States’ flag in April, 1976, at Dodger Stadium, and grab the Confederate flag away from the protestors in 2021?

Would the supporters of BLM who burn the Confederate flag in 2021 be given the same vigorous standing ovation from the crowd at the ball game that Rick Monday received for his rescue of the American flag in 1976?

Most likely the players would simply wait for security guards to escort the protestors off the field. How long the chant — BLACK LIVES MATTER — would echo in the stadium is one gauge of how many centuries in this millennium it will take to bring about an enduring reconciliation. The shorter the chant, the deeper into this millennium the task of racial justice will remain an unfinished aspiration.

“Harmony, Not Harm” — From Las Vegas (New Mexico and Nevada) to Porter and Belfast, Maine

While the demonstrations in large urban areas are getting the most attention, it is the case that smaller towns are also contributing to the groundswell of protests the past month. Eileen Aronson Ireland, for instance, recently sent me this photograph of a sign she carried at a demonstration in Las Vegas, New Mexico, a town in the northern portion of the state with a population of around 13,000 people.

It’s one thing to see massive protests in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Las Vegas (Nevada), Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta, Nashville, Houston, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Portland, Pittsburgh, and New York. Here’s a partial list of “smaller” towns and cities whose residents have commiserated with the sorrow and anger felt by those in larger congregations:

Tulsa
Austin
Salt Lake City
Albuquerque
Birmingham
Huntsville
Anchorage
Juneau
Flagstaff
Fayetteville
Boulder
Fort Collins
Madison
Hartford
New Haven
Miami
Lihue
Pocatello
Downers Grove
Elkhart
Dubuque
Cedar Rapids
Lawrence
Topkea
Louisville
Augusta
Richmond
Ann Arbor
Kalamazoo
Lansing
Fargo

In the midst of all this, the comparatively minuscule gatherings in Las Vegas, New Mexico as well as Porter and Belfast, Maine may feel that their voices are not heard, but in this roll call at least, they are every bit as audible, and we will all be heard together in less than 140 days.

Juneteenth and Trump’s Deplorable Ignorance

June 19, 2020

I am in the midst of giving students their grades for their first mid-term paper in a compressed summer session course at CSULB, so I don’t have time to work on a photoshopped image, but if someone out there could help me out, I have a request:

Please take the recent image of Trump standing in front of the parish house of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. and photoshop it so that he is instead holding up a copy of Ralph Ellison’s JUNETEENTH. Under that image I would like to run the caption:

“Nobody had ever heard of it.” — President Trump

Counting the days until the first Tuesday in November, 2020, when we can start the process of preparing to put this blithering illiterate on trial. If he is found guilty, I would recommend confinement to an air-conditioned and well-appointed prison library for an appropriate length of time so that he can spend time acquainting himself with the great writers of American fiction and poetry, beginning with a steady diet of African-American authors.

The sooner the Supreme Court rules on Vance, the better.

https://www.lawfareblog.com/trumps-misplaced-reliance-justice-department-memoranda-protect-his-financial-records

Cathay M. Gleeson (1949-2020)

GLEESON, Kathleen (“Cathay”) Mary (1949 – 2020)

Cathay Gleeson was born in Bismarck, North Dakota on August 14, 1949. Soon after graduation from high school, she moved to Santa Monica, California, where she found work as a telephone operator for GTE, and met her life-long friend, a ballet dancer named Karen Oswald. Coming from a family of dedicated military service, she then enlisted in the U.S. Army, and was stationed in Germany, where she ran for the Army’s track team. After her honorable discharge, she returned to Santa Monica, where she worked her way up to the GTE switch-room. In May, 1984, she married William “Bill” Mohr, a poet and independent press publisher, whom she had met at Intellectuals and Liars Bookstore in Santa Monica. They separated in 1993, and she remained in their rent-controlled apartment in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica as she undertook a career as a massage therapist and became known and respected for her kind and healing hands. She retired from that work in her early sixties, and moved to Santa Rosa, where she lived in a trailer park and enjoyed taking her dog for walks. She then moved to Xenia, Ohio, where she died in May, 2020, in her home, of a heart attack.

She loved mystery books, especially by P.D. James, hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, and celebrating with her husband the World Series triumphs of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins. Along with several other poets associated with Beyond Baroque. she was a charter member of AIiB (Artists Interested in Baseball). She attended the first Women’s Marathon of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles by being at both the start of the race and then going to the stadium to applaud every runner who crossed the finish line. She had the good fortune to be in Los Angeles for the annual “Magical Mystery Tour” curated by Josine Ianco-Starrels, as well as many exhibitions at the Long Beach Museum of Art. She loved watching ballets with great dancers such as Fernando Bujones, and contemporary dance troupes such as Pilobolus, at various venues in Los Angeles, and was an important contributing voice to the editing of “Poetry Loves Poetry”: An Anthology of Los Angeles Poets (1985). She was a self-affirming feminist and a member of the WICCA movement, and active as a shop steward for the CWA. She also designed hats and sold several of her original creations. The defeat of Hillary Clinton was a moment of profound sadness for her. She looked forward to joining the massive turnout that will evict Senator Clinton’s opponent from the White House, in November, 2020.

She is survived by her older sister, Peggy, and her husband, Kenny, as well as several nephews and a niece, and their offspring. She was predeceased by two brothers, both of whom were also in the military during the Vietnam War, as well as her parents. Her remains will be interred at the Mandan Military Cemetery in North Dakota. Her remains will be interred at the Mandan Military Cemetery in North Dakota. The memories of her life will remain vivid in the lives of her two best friends; her presence lingers, as a jaunty and stalwart woman who stayed true to herself defined.

Cathay Gleeson arriving at Beyond Baroque in mid-summer, 1997, for a poetry reading by Bill Mohr

Concerning the Petition to the Poetry Foundation

Thursday, June 11, 2020

I heard about a petition concerning the Poetry Foundation’s incredibly tepid response to George Floyd’s murder from a tweet by Ron Silliman. Three days after the petition began circulating, it actually seems to have had an initial impact. I can only say that I’m flabbergasted. Since when does a list of names in and of itself impel some organization to address legitimate grievances?

The NY Times reports that the resignations demanded by the petition’s organizers have actually taken place. However, perhaps the resignation are just a case of offering some token appeasement. The demands that would have the most consequence go much further than the window dressing of administrative figures. To attain those goals, it’s quite possible that only a massive presence at the building housing the Poetry Foundation will generate the other demanded expenditures.

If you haven’t signed the petition, please consider doing so, for it will take much more support from the communities of poets across the country to make the Foundation respond to the other demands, which don’t use the word “reparations,” but that is indeed what is at stake.

Onward!

THE PETITION CAN BE FOUND AT THIS LINK:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf4u5Ns8Blz0gutuanOHF6I026Xi0dE9lT36HQtg5pDKeT5uQ/viewform

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf4u5Ns8Blz0gutuanOHF6I026Xi0dE9lT36HQtg5pDKeT5uQ/viewform

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf4u5Ns8Blz0gutuanOHF6I026Xi0dE9lT36HQtg5pDKeT5uQ/viewform

Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners
06.06.2020

To the Members of the Board and Staff of the Poetry Foundation and Poetry Magazine:

We write to you, as poets who have had associations with the Poetry Foundation as awardees, fellows, contributors, or collaborators, at a time when the centuries-long crisis of American profiteering at the expense of Black life is again made acutely visible. On June 3, 2020, the Poetry Foundation released a vague statement that you “stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism.” This non-substantive, four-sentence statement—which contained no details, action plans, or concrete commitments—was the Foundation’s sole response to the ongoing state-sanctioned murders of Black people by police and the current wave of violent state repression of those protesting these killings. For years, your constituents have been calling on the Foundation to redistribute more of its enormous resources to marginalized artists, to make concrete commitments to and change-making efforts in your local community and beyond. We find this statement to be worse than the bare minimum.

As poets, we recognize a piece of writing that meets the urgency of its time with the appropriate fire when we see it–and this is not it. It is an insult to the lives and families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other victims of the racist institution of police and white supremacy. It is an insult to the lives of your neighbors who have been targeted, brutalized, terrorized, and detained by the Chicago Police Department in the past week, including many Black youth. Given the stakes, which equate to no less than genocide against Black people, the watery vagaries of this statement are, ultimately, a violence. We demand that the Poetry Foundation and Poetry Magazine do more and do better. This is one step in a much larger global fight against racism, anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy, but it is an important step because of the space the Poetry Foundation occupies within the poetry landscape.

This is not the first time that the leadership of the Poetry Foundation has revealed itself to be woefully unfit to respond to the crises of our times. Though we can’t detail everything within the space of this letter, we refer you to the numerous critiques made in regards to the Foundation’s failures to support—or even appropriately acknowledge disparities as they relate to—Black and Indigenous poets, Latinx poets, trans and queer poets, disabled poets, poets of color writ large, and artists struggling economically. As it is clear that the Foundation’s leadership is unable to show up responsibly to the demands of this moment, we call for the immediate resignation of both President Henry Bienen and Board of Trustees Chair Willard Bunn, III.

In addition, we have the following demands.

1. The President must be replaced by someone with a demonstrated commitment to both the world of poetry and the project of creating a world that is just and affirming for people of color, disabled people, trans people, queer people, and immigrants.

2. The Board of the Poetry Foundation must write a meaningful statement that details the specific, material ways it plans to “work to eradicate institutional racism.” What are the tangible actions the Foundation will take towards supporting racial justice initiatives?

3. In addition to providing a meaningful, well-researched acknowledgment of the debt that the Foundation owes to Black poets, this statement must also include a specific acknowledgment of the harm done in recent years to Latinx poets, trans poets, disabled poets, and queer poets.

4. Ultimately, we dream of a world in which the massive wealth hoarding that underlies the Foundation’s work would be replaced by the redistribution of every cent to those whose labor amassed those funds. As we work toward that world, we thus demand a significantly greater allocation of financial resources toward work which is explicitly anti-racist in nature and, specifically, fighting to protect and enrich Black lives, in and outside of Chicago. As a group unified by urgency but diverse in our visions, we imagine a range of ways that such reallocation of funds might manifest–from much more robust local programming, to large contributions to organizations such as Assata’s Daughters, Brave Space Alliance, and Project South, to more and deeper partnerships with spaces that support artists from marginalized communities. However it looks, we demand that the redistribution of wealth toward efforts fostering social justice be significant and long-lasting.

5. As an extension on the above point, currently, the Foundation programming which engages most meaningfully with Black people and other historically marginalized populations is largely coordinated by the department of Community and Foundation Relations. This department is overtaxed and managed by a staff of two women of color. We demand a significantly greater allocation of staff and financial resources in this area. More broadly, we demand that the staff of the Foundation more adequately reflect the demographics of the city of Chicago. We believe that as long as the Foundation’s staff and leadership remain overwhelmingly White, it fundamentally limits the Foundation’s ability to ever be an organization rooted in anti-racist practice.

Until these demands are met, we will not be submitting any work to the magazine, nor will we participate in any future partnerships with the Foundation. We are invested stewards in the future of poetry, and so the onus is on us to push those with institutional capital to use it for good. We call on those poets who feel comfortable doing so to stand with us in this pledge. We acknowledge that material privileges make it such that individuals vary in their ability to make a pledge like this, and we extend love and solidarity to those poets for whom agreeing to this would create a situation of material precarity.

We recognize, for instance, that Poetry is one of the few reasonably-paying poetry journals. Ultimately, we dream of a world in which there are more sustainable ways for poets to support themselves that do not require them to engage with institutions that may not share their values. Indeed, for many of us this is a moment to reflect on the ways in which, while the awards or opportunities conferred by the Foundation may offer material benefits, they also involve forms of extraction, harm, exploitation, or even trauma. For instance, what does it mean for the Foundation to publish one’s work, to partner on various programs, or to see the Foundation use one’s likeness on promotional materials, but to feel unwelcome or unsafe in the Poetry Foundation building?

Some of us have formed long-standing relationships with members of your staff, and we are grateful for those in your midst who have served as powerful supporters and allies while they themselves have had to contend from within with the Foundation’s harms. At the same time, we are in agreement with Justin Phillip Reed, who wrote in his June 3, 2020 letter to you: “Poetry Magazine continues to be legitimized by the divergent experiments, experiences, and dissenting voices of people whose lives are made precarious by the very acts and exploits that have aggrandized the inherited positions of these trustees.” We can no longer participate in this legitimizing project.

We request an official, public response by no later than one week following receipt of this letter.

Signed,

Kaveh Akbar, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2016, Ours Poetica Consultant

Fatimah Asghar, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2017

Sumita Chakraborty, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2017

Jos Charles, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2016

Cortney Lamar Charleston, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2017

Franny Choi, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2019; VS Podcast Co-Host

Safia Elhillo, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2018

Eve L. Ewing, Poetry Incubator & Chicago Poetry Block Party co-founder

Roy G. Guzmán, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2017

Jane Huffman, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2019

Daniel Kisslinger, VS Podcast Producer

Paige Lewis, Ours Poetica Curator

Nate Marshall, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2015; Poetry Incubator & Chicago Poetry Block Party co-founder

Angel Nafis, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2016

Hieu Minh Nguyen, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2018

José Olivarez, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2019

Alison C. Rollins, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2016

Erika L. Sánchez, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2015

Sam Sax, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2018

Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2018

Danniel Schoonebeek, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2016

Safiya Sinclair, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2015

Danez Smith, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2014, VS Podcast Co-Host

Paul Tran, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2018

Ocean Vuong, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2014

Michael Wasson, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2019

Jamila Woods, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2015

Wendy Xu, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2014

Emily Jungmin Yoon, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2017

Javier Zamora, Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, 2016