Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rankine at AWP Part 3: Tony Hoagland's Email Response

After Claudia Rankine read her response to Tony Hoagland’s poem, “The Change,” she then said that she was going to read an email response from Tony Hoagland to her response to the poem.  She said that she sent him her response that she intended to read at AWP, and that he was welcome to respond.  She told the crowd that he only had two days to respond to her, and thanked him (or something to that effect) for graciously sending something along. 

The rest is just going to be from notes (mine and others’, complied) and memory.  If anyone has any recollections they would like to add, please do. 

He started off with “Dear Claudia.”  And then thanked her for inviting him to respond to her report on his poem.  I’m quite certain he used the word “report.”  And that, I think, is part of the reason why people are characterizing his response as condescending. 

Adding to that, the very next thing he wrote was to the effect that when he was invited to her class to talk about the poem, he felt that she seemed naïve regarding the subject of American racism.  He added to that that he still thinks that way.  Racism, he wrote, was ingrained in the collective experience and collective unconscious of most Americans in mostly ugly ways, stemming from various forms of guilt and fear and resentment and lack of trust.  The causes of this racism have been with us since the beginning of the country and are now written deeply into the economic and institutional framework of our society. 

Because of this large, steamroller of an issue, it seems to Hoagland foolish that the topic is only allowed to be seen through the eyes of brown skinned Americans. 

This is when he brought in the poem itself, by saying that people tend to read contemporary dramatic monologues as the voice of the poet.  There is a difference between the voice of the poem and the actual poet.  He then said that, even so, yes, he is a racist.  But he’s also many other things, including a AAA member, a homophobe, a Unitarian, and a single mother, as all are personae. 

He then defended the idea of tribes, saying that many poems by African Americans are written for African Americans, he believes.  But also, he believes that poets, who he also considers his tribe, will figure out what he means. 

He feels that, just as Rankine finds the dichotomy of the old black person and the new black person to be reductive, he also finds the counter idea of the apologetic white person to be a waste of time.  He wants his poems to alarm people, at least some of the time, and that poems should not be too careful in approaching sensitive subject matter, like race.  We all have to deal with the subject of race in America.  We can deal with it by confronting it or by running away from it.  And his conscience is clear for how he’s dealing with the issue.  His poem is not racist, he asserts.  It is, like America, racially complex. 

Addendum (2/19/11):

I've been sent a revised version of Hoagland's email with permission to post it. It can be found here:


At 2/12/2011 8:30 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

Thanks, John. This is the first place I've seen the gist of Hoagland's response--most places are just quoting the niave comment.

At 2/12/2011 8:36 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I wish I could have gotten it up sooner, but I needed time to organize the summary. Talk to people. That sort of thing.

The context is important, no matter what one thinks of his position.

At 2/12/2011 9:33 AM, Anonymous Joe Ahearn said...

Thanks for posting this, John. I have not seen Hoagland's response--and I was not at AWP--so it's valuable to get a sense of how Hoagland responded. I don't buy his response, but it's good to have this summary as part of the record.

Joe Ahearn

At 2/12/2011 9:37 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I was talking to a couple students of mine about this exchange. One white, one black (and also a player on the university tennis team). Both male.

They both saw nothing wrong with the Hoagland poem. The white student called Hoagland a genius of stirring things up. The black student said this poem fit well with what he thought most white Americans felt, and was therefore a true reflection of what he sees every day.

As for me, I consider Hoagland a master baiter.

At 2/12/2011 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ouch + very funny on that one.

- Chris

At 2/12/2011 10:51 AM, Blogger David-Glen Smith said...

Although I feel a strong empathy with Rankine and her feelings of disconnect, ironically, the whole situation does bring up the same issues which were raised with the "cleaning" of Twain's works ... or the issues of censoring W. Faulkner's novels due to his rascist characters.

Racism, xenophobia, homophobia (and anything I left out) do need to be exposed, discussed, and addressed openly...

However. I am not sure if Hoagland's approach to the issue works effectively, if that is truly his intention. Regardless of the persona's psychological standing, the poem seems more of a reactionary rant than a creative discourse on race... which for me does not make a strong poem.

I know, if the situation showed a gay man in competition with a straight-identified man, and the persona addressed the same negativity and adversity, I would be just as questioning as Rankine.

At 2/12/2011 11:10 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


My reaction to the poem itself is similar to yours. It doesn't work for me, because it doesn't make me uncomfortable in any way that implicates me. It makes me uncomfortable in a way that makes me question Hoagland's intentions.

It's less "look at our inability to see past this" than it is "what is Hoagland up to?"

Especially as it plays with that very effect of speaker / author that Hoagland brings up in the email . . . yes, it is a dramatic monologue, but even so, where does it lead when it gets to the "change" at the end? What is this change? If "we were changed," wouldn't that have some effect on our memories of the event? And if "we" were changed, in what way was the person addressed changed, as that person apparently didn't have the same "racially complex" reaction to the match that the speaker did?

The poem tosses a bunch of things into the air, and I applaud that. And I also applaud the intentions of the poem to enact a situation without overt commentary. Art is strongest when it causes something to happen without telling us to have something happen. But this poem acts like it IS making a statement at the end. It pretends it's made a statement when it hasn't. That sort of pretend closure allows people to sneak out of their association with the poem without dealing with it.

It's why an audience can laugh along with the jokes in it and feel superior to the speaker by the end. We've been changed! We are not whatever those people are that are illustrated in this poem.

What if the poem ended:

"Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone,
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged,
it was past us
and we were not going to change with it."

At 2/12/2011 12:11 PM, Blogger my name is Jason Bredle said...

I really disagree with this idea that racism is ingrained in the collective experience and unconscious of most Americans...

Maybe Hoagland's generation...maybe. It really seems at odds with us electing a minority president, though.

At 2/12/2011 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just playing Devil's advocate, but there are some rather large assertions that Rankine is making for art and the purpose of art in her reaction to the Hoagland poem. Not to defend his poem, but the idea that art needs to have -- or perhaps in this instance needs to have -- a pedagogical aspect (to tell/teach people that racist behavior is wrong), could be characterized as simplistic.

- Chris

At 2/12/2011 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of me is firmly convinced that this poem is not racist at all, and how backwards and reactionary to be offended by it.

Everything has changed, nothing has changed, the poem doesn't really say, it just raises the question dramatically, depicting dramatic personnae in a familiar and thinly veiled fictional/historical social setting.

I think it may be the sports angle that's the unspoken complication here, because with sports, for all of us, it's so often an either/or...'well, who are you rooting for, who do you want to win?' There has to be a winner, a game (innocently) forces that on us...

Sports makes for bad films and bad poems; sports is such an inherently middlebrow subject---perhaps that's why the poem's the 'inner highbrow racist' instinctively finding it taboo to explore racism in a middlebrow (sports) milieu, as if highbrows could discuss this topic in this way, but not middlebrows, and perhaps also because it depicts female sports and the black woman is 'big' which mixes in some feminism issues for good measure; there's a certain dangerous cocktail here, and also remember Claudia and Tony were colleagues, so she might have got some bad vibes from him (body language, only, who knows?) on a personal level...

Fascinating combination of elements here...kind of sad and tragic, too...

Thomas Brady

At 2/13/2011 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole idea of “permissions” really intrigues me. The MFA program I went to never really took it on—we did a bit in the class I had (taught by a well-known black male poet), but in a very PC kind of way, and a bit more in one of the theory classes I took (taught by white male) but in a more abstract way. A complex, extended conversation on the subject with ideas AND responses would be a really interesting thing, I think.

The whole Rankine-Hoagland dispute has especially been in my head since I went to a reading by a young black woman the other night. Her poems are very powerful and always invoking something—dead James Baldwin, Malcom X, the little girl characters from Toni Morrison, Icarus, the floating dead from Hurricane Katrina—and normally she has many poems, or even whole books on one set of invocations. She reads the poems well, and some of them are pretty darn good, but the whole time she was reading the only thing I kept thinking is that a white girl (me) could never get away with the same moves/risks she was taking. If I brought poems into workshop like hers, I would have been torn apart, not for racism, really, but for them being tired, over-dramatic, or cliché.

I don't think Hoagland fails, completely. He may be condescending and an asshole and that fails. But I think his thinking, and moreover, his writing, are fearless—entering the complexities of the conversations, not just revolving around them. Yes, I know authorship, the poet, matters a lot and what others “expect” out of a poet can be equally as powerful. But, in that sense, should that matter? Should we let it?


At 2/13/2011 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not just say Carl Phillips when you mean Carl Phillips?

Unfortunately, the ruckus of response this argument is generating seems to be avoiding what I see as the larger issues: what is race? what is racism?

Race, to the best of my ability to understand it, appears to be a culturally-driven/dependent notion of categorizing people based on certain criteria, usually physiognomic in nature, that has lost almost all credibility within the global scientific community. This notion is being perpetuated by an unlikely conglomerate of white supremacists and far leftists whose political ambitions are aided by votes from minority blocs whose potential for attaining the flip side of the false binary is impossible (the Irish immigrants to the US, on the other hand, did not lack this potential).

Racism, then, while lacking a firm place to stand in the shifting sands of dexterous lingual, scientific, and cultural developments, has come to be the slightly edgier, and more opprobrious, way of saying that someone notices that some people seem to have differently-complected skin. Racism no longer carries the semantically crippling concept of institutional, or systematic, oppression of certain demographics. This word, through overuse and lack of awareness of its original definition, has been watered down to the point where it is virtually synonymous with the word bias.
So? Isn't bias something that we should all alleviate from our collective attitude? Certainly, but the mileage that has been received from the word "racist" will not allow it to become fellows (on purpose) with other biases like those that involve sex/gender, sexual orientation, religious preference, etc. ad nauseum.

Hoagland may be a racist, but his poem lends no evidence to that claim. Rankine was offended the same way that I was when I got my first taste of Jayne Cortez and Sonia Sanchez. Though, I didn't see their names mentioned in her open letter.


Yes, if Hoagland's poem is any evidence of racism, which I think is a farce, then get ready to start tallying up the poets who belong beside him on this ridiculous list.

Anyone have a smoke I can bum?


At 2/14/2011 8:10 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

FWIW, my own take on all this is here. I'd post it in this thread, but it's a little long. Actually a lot long. --S.

At 2/14/2011 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting and very telling reading comments by (several presumably) or about white poets with respect to this. hoagland is a direct beneficiary of white racism and flaunts it using his power in the elite poetry world. and insane to even dream that rankine's understanding could be anything near "naive" when it comes to American racism. unfortunately, in America, only white people can enjoy not being reminded daily of racism on a daily basis.

At 2/14/2011 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are a couple bits from Seth’s post on Hoagland’s poem that seem relevant and ineresting:

I believe "The Change" to be a failed poem on at least four counts. First, as a matter of technique; second, as a matter of aesthetics; third, as a matter of rhetoric; fourth, as a matter of dignity and grace.

I also don't believe the poem -- or the poet -- to be virulently racist, as it seems to me both the poem (and, for that matter, the poet's presentation of himself throughout What Narcissism Means to Me) constitute the sincere cri de coeur of a man bewildered by not only his nation but by himself. The author of What Narcissism Means to Me presents as one not merely terrified of his dissociation from others, but ready and willing to self-indict and to be indicted by others.

If Tony Hoagland is to be blamed for lines like "Black for me is a country / more foreign than China or Vagina" -- and he deserves to be, not just on political grounds but artistic ones -- it is clear to the reader of What Narcissism Means to Me that Hoagland's principle failure here is not of his reader but of himself. The poet identifies his shortcomings with brutal perspicacity, even savaging himself for his inability to countermand his worst instincts; what he does not do is offer himself -- or, consequently, his reader -- any hope. The volume is ultimately one that drags its reader down into the same hole its author abides in, not as a means of celebrating or legitimating that spiritual abscess but because the poet (with persistent self-acknowledgment of the fact) is incapable of offering anything else to either his better self or his wider audience. Calling Hoagland -- or "The Change" -- "racist" is beside the point, largely because to do so is to fall into the same bear-trap of inhumanity in which the poet is caught. The poet is screaming, on every page of What Narcissism Means to Me, "I'm cooked; save yourself!" And surely any astute reader could figure out in short order how to do so in the most expeditious fashion -- that is, by holding Hoagland's head below the water as she (or he, or me, or we, or you) use that leverage to clamber onto shore.

- Chris

At 2/14/2011 10:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You write: "very telling reading".

I'd be interested in having your thoughts on what it's telling. Most of what you say here, I think most people would be in agrement with. Hoagland's poem is several mistakes bound together in an unfortunate mess. You seem to think (I'm trying to read our tone here)people are arguing with your point of view?

At 2/14/2011 10:33 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I'd collapse the first three of thee failures into one, and then, yes, the other one. He has a tin ear, and over plays the provocateur.

He's clever, but he's (as I said above) not implicating the audience in poems such as this one. He's more playing the "look what he just said."

At 2/14/2011 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you feel about this comment from Abramson's blog:

Most of the poets who blog under their own name and have written on this topic have more or less just recapped the situation on their blogs and then let blog commentators -- all of whom are anonymous -- do the heavy lifting.

At 2/14/2011 11:02 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Hi John,

Actually, I think (and I'm not blowing smoke here) that you've become one of the five to ten most courageous poets out there as far as blogging is concerned. I'd love to read even more of your thoughts on all this (here or elsewhere) in addition to what you've said already, but I didn't mean in any way to point toward you as an example of the trend I was talking about. Do you occasionally pull punches? Sure -- we all do -- but you do it much, much less than most.

Cheers (and I really do love this blog),


P.S. I deleted my comment because I couldn't get it to come out right -- I don't like speaking of even a hypothetical "white" experience in America because I find that notion absolutely ridiculous. In suggesting that Tony might think otherwise I worried I couldn't get my grammar right -- literally -- to make clear that I'm trying to imagine how Tony is thinking, and not necessarily terming that thinking plausible or reasonable.

At 2/14/2011 11:03 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I just (really, JUST) sent him an email about it. I haven’t read many blogs on this topic, so I don’t know specifically what he’s looking at, but, as I told him, I feel implicated in the comment. I tried not to let my views on the event color my summary of it, because I wanted to give people the experience straight. I feel that I have made my position clear in the comments, and that I’ve not given the heavy-lifting over to anonymous comments.

On the other hand, maybe I have. What I feel is my experience, and usually not predictive of the subsequent experiences of others.

At 2/14/2011 11:10 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Seth!

To be honest, I like posting YouTube videos of indie bands much more than talking about things like this. I want to be a lover, not a fighter. Or something like that.

As for the deleted comment (anyone reading this comment stream will not know what we're talking about, but Seth responded to an Anon comment and then took it down [by the way, there was nothing agressive or scandalous about his comment]), I understand. I often feel that way as well.

At 2/14/2011 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this thread. And I love your honesty.

At 2/14/2011 6:23 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

yesterday House speaker Boehner responding to an Iowa voter group (as televised on FoxNews) many of whom are asserting that Prez Obama is a (secret) Muslim whose foreign policies are shaped by his belief in Islam, Boehner says quote it's not my job to tell Americans what to think . . . what is it 40 percent of Republicans polled claim that Obama is not an "American"?

Besides this, now newly-Republican-controlled State houses across the country are enacting anti-choice abortion laws—

racism, sexism, Wall Street and the Pentagon robbing the public pocket—

I can't do anything to stop the insane trillion-dollar war machine this nation wages everyday, but I can nitpick some poem nobody's read by some poet nobody's ever heard of—

in a comparative sense, I mean. Because poets don't count. Poetry is read by nobody (statistically speaking) and poets are nobodies.

Snooky will sell more copies of her novel than Hoagland's books put together.

At 2/14/2011 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Bill... I get so aroused when you talk like this.

At 2/15/2011 3:42 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi BK,

I will continue to talk about poetry as if it matters because it matters to me.

At 2/15/2011 6:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, edgy subject, I guess, which I hear makes people reluctant to weigh in, although many seem to be weighing in, either to the subject of the poem or the response to the poem, I'm not sure what.

I generally like the poems of Tony Hoagland, like The Change, although ones of his I like more come pretty immediately to mind (A Color of the Sky, a couple from Hard Rain, some of the newer poems, etc).

Good to see it's got folks thinking. I'd recommend also a recent book of essays in this vein, No Man's Land, by Eula Biss.

I don't watch a lot of tennis anymore, sadly don't like it that much, but back when I did, I rooted for Martina mostly, Connors and Arthur Ashe on the men's side. Oh, and Ily Nastaze (or spellit) how could I forget Ily Nastaze.




At 2/15/2011 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ilie Nastase.

[Notes From] No Man's Land, Eula Biss.



At 2/15/2011 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two important things can be said about this controversy.

1. It could be said that Hoagland has "won" because people are just generally too afraid to publically support Rankine.

2.On the other hand, it's also kind of sad and troubling to see people so certain that Hoagland is racist and that his poem isn't good. The crowd that hates Hoagland/Collins poems seems to be cutting of its nose to spite its face. If their game is open-endedness and ambiguity, how can they be so sure Hoagland/Collins poems are bad? From whence do they derive their aesthetic/philosophical authority to judge in the manner to which they themselves object? And how should issues like that which Rankine raises be discussed, if not in the accessible manner poets like Hoagland utilize?

Thomas Brady

At 2/15/2011 2:21 PM, Blogger my name is Jason Bredle said...

Is it too late to get Snooky to weigh in on the Hoagland issue? If she did, maybe we could drum up an audience for ourselves.

At 2/17/2011 6:27 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

actually this might be a beneficial trend in usapo, examining poems for their ideological purity—

hopefully Rankine will go on to other poets, she should scrutinize the sociopolitical content of Foust and the other NewThingypoos . . .

At 2/17/2011 7:03 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


There is a big difference between responding to a poem's implications, speaking back to its assumptions and implications, and "examining poems for their ideological purity."

But yes, in the abstract, the sort of policing you nod toward would be a bad outcome. We must always watch out for that sort of thing, and when we see it, we must point it out for what it is.

I don't think that's the case here, however. Do you think it is?

At 2/17/2011 7:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

"the sort of policing you nod toward would be a bad outcome. We must always watch out for that sort of thing, and when we see it, we must point it out for what it is."

I don't understand what it is you're saying we must watch out for, JG,

but in any case I am in favor of policing (I think).

Perhaps poems/poets should be, must be judged for their sociopolitical content, or in many cases the lack of it (Brecht: What times are these when poems about trees are almost a crime . . .)—

At 2/17/2011 8:14 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

or as Sean Singer (echoing Brecht, I think) puts it:

The default speaker of many poems from Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams to John Ashbery and Billy Collins is that of the egocentric, androcentric white male sitting in the living room and gazing out the window and marveling—all the while being subtly superior—at the world. To pretend that race is a force majeure and beyond the scope of such poems that on the surface have no racial element is historically inaccurate. Such poems are at best acts of bullying; that is trying to control the reader’s feelings without revealing his own. At worst they are part of the ludicrous racial psychopathology that responsible writers must try to overturn.


At 2/17/2011 10:18 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

even if usapo could purge itself of racist/sexist practices,

would "social justice" ensue?

would WallSt/Pentagon/Oiligarch lay down their arms?

maybe the poets in Egypt helped to fill the streets with protest,

maybe the poets in Madison Wisconsin are holding up signs today in the public squares—

but after a decade of apolitical flarf/ellipticalism/newthingypoo (poetical equivalent of the teaparty),

it's refreshing to see poets cranking up some feminist agita from VIDA, and some grief about racism in the awp trenches—

At 2/17/2011 10:23 AM, Blogger Danish dog said...

I don't think there is any racism expressed in this poem. More like the opposite. The narrator is actually reflecting on his prejudices. Which means that the poet is encouraging the reader to do likewise. This is an enlightened, non-racist approach.

At 2/17/2011 10:24 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

At first I thought you were going a different way with this, but OK, I'll play.

I agree that it's a good thing to have an overtly politically engaged conversation around art (and in the art itself).

But I don't see the New Thing thing (whatever that is) as somehow like the Tea Party. I know it depends on who one means when they say New Thing, but poets such as Rae Armantrout (one of the ones mentioned as New Thing even though she's been publishing for 30 years) are quite overtly politically engaged. Do you have names to go with your list of styles?

At 2/17/2011 10:51 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I've yet to respond due to the inability to formulate my thoughts into something that hasn't already been said here. However, Bill's comments raise an issue which is the most interesting part of the conversation to me. The distance between author and work.

The Hoagland poem is interesting because it's particular voice speaking that does not seem to be Tony Hoagland. Regardless of whether you think the poem is racist or not, I think you can separate the two. Or you would be able to if Tony hadn't made the comment about it being a "white person's poem." That comment definitely weakens his argument that the speaker of a poem is not always the author, which is a position I agree with. The obvious question to ask is this: if you're not the speaker of this poem, then how do you know what audience that voice is trying to reach? I'm unable to answer this question.

However, the notion that poems should be policed based on the presence/absence of socio-political content is absurd. It's absurd because it encourages writing only one type of poetry.

Poetry, the art of language, should be judged on the attention it brings the materiality of words, there use/misuse, and their limits. Sometimes, it is political. Sometimes it's funny. Other times it's emotional, or purely cerebral. The point is, it's an elastic art form that has no use for anything that might reduce the scope of its ability to include.

I'd like to think that a good poem is good no matter who wrote or what it's about.

At 2/17/2011 11:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I wish so much sometimes that we all lived on the same street so that we could go sit somewhere and talk about this.

These are the fundamental questions that are the base of art and living. One's attitudes, beliefs, desires, etc., and how they create how you see the world. The one question is does one render that vision well and the next question is if that's a decent (in social terms) vision.

I want people to be good people and I want art to participate in people being good people. I doubt Hoagland, the real Hoagland, is even remotely racist. But what types of behavior does the poem allow for? Can the poem be read as condoning racism? Yes. Can this poem be read as anti-racist? Yes. That is part of what Hoagland likes to do, he likes to stir things up. In general I think this tendency hurts his poetry, as To Stir Things Up becomes an end in itself.

At 2/17/2011 12:40 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

sorry i haven't read Armantrout, of whom you say:

poets such as Rae Armantrout (one of the ones mentioned as New Thing even though she's been publishing for 30 years) are quite overtly politically engaged.

I know that many of Brecht's poems are "quite overtly politically engaged", and Neruda's, Parra's (the Penguin Book of Socialist Verse has many others)

but I haven't seen any Armantrout poems that could be described as that—

maybe you could please reprint some of her "overtly politically engaged" poems for those of us who don't know her work? (or direct me to online examples)—

(I don't have access to a large public library and can't afford to buy all the books I'd like since i retired and am living on an SS budget, soon to be shrunk by my pals in the Repubfascist Party)

I was lumping them together flarfellipticalnewthingy, not picking on the poor thingypoos—

At 2/17/2011 1:21 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

here are a couple of my posts re the newthingy, which go into further detail than i can muster here:

. . .

you'll recall that it was my doubts about the reactionaryness of this Neo-Objectivism that caused Silliman to shut his comments down—


At 2/17/2011 1:55 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I have a few questions for you Bill, but let me begin with a story:

I grew up in rural New Hampshire in walking distance of five or six farms (and in driving distance of dozens more). These are some of the hardest working people I've ever met. So, when I read "The Red Wheelbarrow", I don't hear WCW talking, I hear these farmers talking, or rather, I see what they're seeing. Farm Implements, chicken coops, stormy New England weather. They acknowledge they need help to get this work done and fear they won't be able to if for some reason these tools give out.

Nowhere in this poem do I find the "egotistical, androcentric default speaker" you alluded to in your earlier post. Nor do I find WCW demanding worship. Actually, this poem functions closer to haiku than most verse written in the west.

I also disagree with your analysis of Duchamp's "Fountain". I don't read that sculpture in the sense of "anything looked at significantly is significant" (though I do think that is the case). Rather, it seems to be a statement about what capitalism has done to the notion of individuality in regards to any creative endeavor. Taken in this way, it becomes a precursor to Pop Art, a movement that cites Duchamp as an influence.

At 2/17/2011 2:26 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Nowhere in this poem do I find the "egotistical, androcentric default speaker" you alluded to in your earlier post.

that's Sean Singer, FAJ, not me.

you call WCW's wheelbarrow haiku: ha, read my post immediately prior to the new thingy one, in which I quote a Japanese critic expressing disapproval of the haiku— argue with him, not me— argue with Singer——

as for Duchamp, he doesn't interest me,

I'm only interested in the poets—Ciardi, Bishop, et al—

At 2/17/2011 2:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yes, I agree the object cannot be denuded of its context. I will go that far. And I also agree that Amy King (to use a name you use) is doing good work (I've mentioned it here on this blog as well).

I don't know Massey's work well enough to comment on it, but I do see that you're playing pretty loose with the tendency in general. The New Thing you're seeming to talk about here I believe is the one Burt was talking about in BR awhile back. It's his conception, not anyone else's. So yes, there are always going to be poets writing in some style that don't do it well, but there are always going to be others who do. At least I think I believe that. It seems true to me right now.

Anyway, all this is to say that you have points, but you also are over-reaching when you claim things for a lot of writers that you haven't read, as you claim not to have read Rae Armantrout, for instance.

At 2/17/2011 2:46 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Just to add:

Your critique of imagism is the same one that Wallace Stevens made way back then. So yes, that idea's been around (which doesn't diminsh it, by the way).

All images are not equal.

At 2/17/2011 2:54 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


1) I don't actually call "The Red Wheelbarrow" haiku.

2) It seems kind of silly to bring quotations into the conversation and when they're questioned, refer me to the original speaker. Granted, Singer and I both live in the same city and it wouldn't be very hard to track him down for this conversation, I'm talking to you, not him.

2.5) Why direct me to your post about haiku if you have no interest in discussing it?

3) Disinterest is a form of interest.

At 2/17/2011 4:26 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

ouch, i'm being pincered here—

JG, please I ask again if you would be kind enough to direct me to those Armantrout poems which you say are "overtly politically engaged"—— as I admit, I've only read a few of her poems online and have failed to appreciate them. . . please give me the titles of some of her "overtly politically engaged" poems and I'll try to find and read them online——or tell me the name of one of her books with OPE poems in it, and i'll try to find a cheap copy at amazon——

Fuzz, you said quote re the WCW: "this poem functions closer to haiku than most verse written in the west."
So I thought maybe that Japanese critic's words about haiku might be of interest to you, if you hadn't already read them——as for discussing his doubts re haiku, I wouldn't know where to start—
And: you don't have to go over to Singer's house to argue with him, just go to his blog and leave a comment——why argue secondhand with me——I think his viewpoint validates mine (to the extent that I have a viewpoint), but I may be wrong——in any case, maybe he would understand your number 4 that not being interested is being interested, because I don't, sorry,
it's too subtle for me . . .


At 2/18/2011 4:59 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Comment streams certainly do wander around, don't they? This started out as my summary of Tony Hoagland's email to Claudia Rankine, and now it's gotten to a place where I'm being asked to show textual evidence of Rae Armantrout's political engagement.

I'm in the midst of a very busy time at work, so I don't (just now) have the time to go through her books to find the best examples, but even so, I'm not really wanting to. There is plenty of her work online to get a feel for her style and viewpoint, and you have said you really don't care for it. I feel any further pointing would simply give you another opportunity to disagree that there's anythign political or valuable in her work.

Her style is gestural, elliptical, and it jumps tones and scenes. An aesthetic such as that is always going to have an open quality.

Poems such as "Soft Money" or "Win" have political content, and cultural critique, but one could also say they don't go far enough, that they simply nod at the scenery.

So, in answer to your question, go get any of her books, whatever's at the library, or can be ordered. Money Shot is the newest one. I'd say start with, perhaps, Next Life. But it doesnt' really matter. Whichever one you shoose you'll think whatever you already think about her work and political engagement.

At 2/18/2011 8:04 PM, Blogger iff said...

Tony when chiming in on his perception of Rankine's naivety wasn't an act of disqualifying her perspective on the basis of privileging one racial point of view over the other, but of a benign or malignant belief in the role race plays in day to day life, not simply within the literary:

...naive not to believe that it permeates the psychic
collective consciousness and unconsciousness of most Americans in ways that are
mostly ugly.

Although a large majority of the reaction has been constructive, the ugly currents are awash within this discussion (john, your moderation is wonderful), and it seems it requires careful steering in order not to run aground with high tide coming. Rather, the idea of simply idling the motor and admiring our idyllic social harmony on a smooth sea registers as absurd. The problem with a theoretical view informing poetry too much, is that the view is too removed, isolating the onlooker from what is actually experienced. We cannot be afraid of the danger of being too close, either.

"I'm an American ; this tarnished software will not be rectified by good intentions, or even good behavior."

This isn't Tony's business to sort out, its ours.

At 2/19/2011 6:04 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yes, that's the "mostly ugly" bit! It looks like, then, you have the email itself? Is there anything about my summary that you feel should be corrected or added to?

If Tony Hoagland is OK with it, I'd be happy to have you post the whole thing. The thing itself is always better than a summary, as there's always an editorial aspect to summary.

I understand Hoagland's artistic stance, and have sympathy for it. I think that's the location of the fundamental difficulty between Hoagland and Rankine. Hoagland is dealing with race abstractly and Rankine is dealing with it at the "I." In many ways they're both right.

At 2/19/2011 12:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've been sent Hoagland's email with permission to post.

At 2/20/2011 3:19 PM, Blogger poetperson said...

I think you can sum up Tony Hoagland's response to Claudia Rankine's piece in the way he describes it. He thanks Ms. Rankine for her "report".

It's similar to how one shouldn't legitimize Mr. Gallaher's AWP Part 3 as a serious effort at anything. For god's sakes, he couldn't spell Claudia Rankine's name correctly in the first sentence. I have yet to see him misspell Tony Hoagland.

At 2/20/2011 3:40 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Thank you for the catch Poetperson. I've now fixed it. To be honest, I've made several typing errors in posts. I hate it when that happens.

Your reading of Hoaglund's "report" comment is similar to mine. It sounds condescending.

What I don't understand is your hostility to me personally about this. From what I've seen of your comments, you and I are reading this exchange in similar ways.

At 2/20/2011 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JG, this PoetPerson is just here to bait you, you know. He she or it is just as anonymous as I am.

PP is just trying to peepee on you and you're taking the bait.

Maybe your comment earlier about Hoagland being a "master-baiter" made PP feel like trying for the title?

At 2/20/2011 4:48 PM, Blogger poetperson said...

Dear Anonymous,

Please explain to me why you spend your time trying to understand TH's motivations while all the time questioning CR's.

What's your point?

Why would your knee jerk reaction to the difference in the two TH responses be to question CR's motivations and accuse her of falsifying or misrepresenting his response?

If you knew either one of the poet's in question, or if you asked either one of them or if you were at AWP or if you paid any sort of attention to what was actually said at AWP you might report differently. But actually, it wouldn't make a difference would it?

It's easy to see your motivations even if you can't.

You are ironically a poster child for Tony's poem. Following your thread it is easy to see you are defending one of your own. Defending your tribe against the angry black women. I am confident you have never met either Tony or Claudia. Or if you have it would have been to get a book signed.

At 2/21/2011 7:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've been sent a transcript of the Hoagland email that Claudia Rankine read at AWP.

It can be found here:

PoetPerson, I will say again what I said under the other post. You are misreading that anonymous comment. That person (who also emailed me, so I know what she was thinking) thought that I was insinuating that Rankine edited the email she read. She, like you, was very upset that I would think such a thing. I assured her both in the comment stream and in a response email that I was not intending to make that insinuation. I was simply stating that the two were different. I was absolutely certain then, and now, that Rankine would do, and did, no such thing. I really can't figure out a way to be more clear with you.

I've email the person who made the comment. Perhaps, if she comments again, she can somehow convince you of her intentions behind asking the question. But I really feel this is sufficient.

At 3/07/2011 5:12 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/07/2011 5:13 PM, Anonymous Irina Dykhne said...

I feel that Hoagland’s response is more problematic than his poem. The poem, as a work of art, does not need to be constrained to the viewpoints of his poet. Hoagland’s response, however, was curt, quite hostile, and as has already been mentioned condescending. In calling Rankine’s view of racism “naïve” he makes a personal attack. He adds that as a white male he should not be excluded from a conversation about racism. But by making a personal attack he is isolating himself from a conversation about broader issues and making it about a petty frustration he feels with Rankine. In light of these comments and his belittlement of Rankine’s frustration, the alleged purpose of his poem as well as his sensitivity to “racial complexities” seem unconvincing.


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