Poetry is meant for more

I’m reeling. I read in The New York Times that The Nation apologized for publishing a poem because of social media backlash. The editors apologized—as did the poet—for using language identified as black vernacular because the poet is white.

Okay. I get the whole black face thing. I agree that no one should ever attempt to use language or cultural appropriation to make fun of another race. However, this poem (“How-To” by Anders Carlson-Wee) had a certain beauty to it and was not, in my opinion, intended to outrage anyone. But if it was…so what?

You think Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn with its anti-slavery views without intending to outrage his fellow Southerners? Do you think it would have been as effective if Mr. Twain had not used black vernacular? And yes, I know in today’s world old Huck has become somewhat despised among some literary snobs, but I still—and always will—love that book.

But poetry! Poetry is meant for more than being politically correct. Poetry is meant to entice and outrage. Poetry is meant to make you think about things a different way. Why the hell do you think it’s so difficult to understand? Why do you think your English professors could spend an entire class period on a ten-line poem? Because poetry is different. And it’s off limits to political correctness.

To those who think Mr. Carlson-Wee had no right to appropriate black language, I say this: He has poetic license. He’s a talented writer who sees the world a different way. He’s white but, for this poem at least, he spoke for another race because that was what his muse whispered to him. Who are you to say he was wrong?

By the way, I had a whole other post planned for today extolling the virtues of this cover for Dickens Magic. Because I seriously can’t stop looking at it. Many, many thanks to Farah Evers Designs for the fantastic work on it!

dickens-magic

Six Days to Becoming Magic and I feel bad for Laura Ingalls Wilder

In six days my new book Becoming Magic will be unleashed upon the world. I’m calling it “a new kind of romance” because I think it’s time my genre addresses the #metoo movement and accepts that, in the past, our books have been part of the problem—and can now be part of the solution.

Just yesterday, the Association of Library Services to Children played a key role in a cautionary tale for all authors who don’t pay attention to changing times. They removed the name of one of America’s great pioneer women authors from an award. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award because Wilder’s famous Little House series contains a number of racist (by today’s standards) references to Native Americans and black people.

Understand, first and foremost, that I get it. I read these books as a child and never thought twice about “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” or the reference to blackface. I’m reading them again with my daughter and am extremely grateful that she has a good, analytical head on her eleven-year-old shoulders. She knows those statements are wrong. She didn’t understand the blackface and “darkie” reference until I explained them, and then she knew they were wrong, too. We talked about how times and people’s perceptions change and evolve, and while Wilder may not have thought twice about writing those passages, they are considered wrong now.

She got it.

With all that said, I feel for Wilder. Her writing accurately reflected the social attitudes of her time. And now it is a victim of today’s more evolved social sensibility. Wilder even apologized for some of her writing during her lifetime and lived to see one passage changed from saying “no people, only Indians” to “no settlers, only Indians”, which shows she actually at least partially got it, too. I’m glad to know that.

I hope the removal of Wilder’s name from the award does not mean her books will someday be removed from library shelves. Read with the correct context, these books are invaluable to understanding and remembering our history and the history of our literature. Along with Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, these books form a map to remind us of where we’ve been so we don’t go back there.

And, Laura Ingalls Wilder, rest assured I get it, too. Writing of any genre may reflect the current time and sensibility, but eventually those times and sensibilities—and sensitivities—will change.