Mairead & Susan don't seem to understand that my proposal is quite modest,
- in the Swiftian sense.
But first let's get one thing straight. Of course, there are myriads of
young non-white writers out there in the UK, following the slow implosion of
the empire. Many of them are brilliant. (Hari Kunzru) A few are are dire.
(B Zephaniah) More and more of them are getting published. The language is
changing, the times they are a changing and the "non-white poets" are
mapping all this. Great. I applaud. Honestly.
But there are several sub-texts in my suggestions for filling in the grant
1) The assumptions of Arts Bureaucrats that a person's ethnicity is the most
important thing about them. Many non-white writers find that there's a whole
baggage of expectations foisted on them by well-meaning liberals. They
become spokespersons, even icons, for the whole group, like it or not. Cf
Harold Cruse, "Crisis of the Negro Intellectual". I bet if you had a young
poet of colour in Hereford writing in the style of Charles Bernstein, they'd
say he was "unrepresentative of the community". Thye'd want him to be B
Zephaniah ( see above)
2)The assumptions of ABs that what matters most in a poetry funding
The business plan
The marketing plan
The notion of a target audience in a particular demographic.
They also like things to be "accessible" to the "community". Populism is
good, difficult work is "elitist" and very bad.
My proposal was designed to press all those buttons. Susan may think it's
preposterous, but these attitudes underlie a lot of the cultural activity in
the UK, both by those giving out the bread and those seeking it.
3) The increasing emphasis on the writer's lifestyle as unique selling
point for the brand. Barthes may have written about the death of the
author, but increasingly for Mr & Mrs Consumer the author's life and
iconography are everything, the text is a fashion accessory.
"racist?" Sure. In 1979, I was fronting bands in Rock Against Racism
gigs, dodging the NF skinheads' gobbing and bottles. Also spent almost a
decade working in inner city mixed race schools, fifty four languages. My
ace student last year (media) was LOndon Hindu girl(blind) , made
brilliant little radio doc about female Sikh rapper in Birmingham. She
didn't think I was racist, just crazy...
> From: mairead byrne <[log in to unmask]>
> Reply-To: mairead byrne <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2005 23:51:39 -0400
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: "ethnic" writers
> Dear All,
> There definitely is a cultural divide here. I have not contributed
> thus far, on the ground that I don't know much about the scene in
> British poetry, being Irish and based in the U.S. I'm based in the
> U.S. because I wanted cultural diversity in poetry; that's why I came
> here: because there were multiple strong traditions; I was especially
> interested in Afro-American poetry, and increasingly, history too.
> America just seemed rich in poetry to me, an English speaker, and
> Ireland thin. My understanding hasn't really changed. England is
> something else again, and I'm not qualified to talk about it. In the
> context I'm in, I would receive Geraldine's annoyance as a bit
> baffling, and Paul's identikit proposal as quite racist. I don't know
> the English situation though. As there are people of many
> nationalities on the list, I'm probably not alone in my ignorance.
> I'm listening: but the way the education is being delivered is
> certainly unfamiliar and off-putting.
> There is little or no funding for arts organizations/poetry publishing
> in the U.S. There is very little funding for the arts at all. I
> think I would see the scenario of "you can have some money but we want
> you to publish some young poets who aren't white" as a good
> opportunity. Or else I might say: "time to call it a day." I don't
> necessarily see the outrage, but that is probably because there is
> little or no funding for poetry here.
> I'd be interested to know what the Irish poets on the list think, as
> funding in Ireland probably relates more to funding in England than
> funding in the US does. How people express themselves about race is
> country-specific too. Hence my finding Geraldine's and Paul's
> approaches hard to take.
> It's good that the focus is on British & Irish poetry; that's the
> purpose of the list. But the membership not being homogeneous, there
> isn't necessarily an ease of audience. For me, it's good to hear
> Susan's challenging voice; by and large I relate to what she says.
> On 8/21/05, Susan Webster Schultz <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> I confess that I haven't been following this or any thread well, of
>> late; I was away much of the summer
>> from my perch in the mid-pacific. While the notion that funders can
>> demand certain kinds of poetry is
>> disturbing (if hardly, I imagine, unheard of), I'm finding these latest
>> posts disturbing, to put it mildly.
>> Yes, Geraldine, I think that your experience of the marginalization of
>> women's poetry is instructive,
>> not because women were always a majority, hence unfairly unpublished,
>> but because there are so many
>> wonderful writers of color who still do not find it easy to be
>> published. The most recent description
>> of a hypothetical publishable poet by Paul Green is preposterous! To
>> make your "argument" this way is to close
>> yourself off to the truth that there are terrific poets out there who
>> fulfill the criteria of non-white a
>> nd excellent poets. I spend much of my life these days publishing
>> non-white excellent poets
>> (let us call them nwe's for short). I'm perpetually blown away by the
>> excellence of these nwe's.
>> Please check out the website:
>> for more details. But don't stop there! Salt has diversified its list,
>> now publishing indigenous work. I wonder
>> at the necessity of separating such poets off into their own series, but
>> nonetheless, it's a good step forward.
>> American poetry publishers like Atelos, like Apogee, like Coffee House,
>> are presenting lists that don't exclude
>> and don't make noise about not excluding, either. They simply publish
>> good books.
>> So let's cut the crap. It reminds me of the Time magazine cover the
>> other year. Time came up with a computer
>> generated mixed race face to show what the "face of America" would be in
>> coming decades. Someone wrote in
>> and said, why the computer mock-up when you can come to Hawai`i where
>> everyone looks like that? Well,
>> everyone writes poetry these days, and a hell of a lot of it's good. If
>> you want to complain about funding policies,
>> go ahead. But don't do so in ways that suggest you think the only good
>> poets to fund are white. Or that non-white
>> poets have to be "made up."
>> aloha, Susan