Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poetry Blues: Helen v. Rita, Part 2

The western tradition of the critic is derived from the Greeks, where he was judge at dramatic festivals. Dr. Habib Rafey posits that the poet's position became the"master of truth."The critics position is to judge the truth teller. Robert Frost, like many poets then and now, had critics and difficulty placating them. After garnering magazine rejections, Frost stated,"Twenty years ago, I gave some of these people of chance. I wish I were rich and independent enough to tell them to go to Hell." Ezra Pound also had his personal odds with editors of  poetry anthologies. Langston Hughes and James Baldwin were often at odds over how to narrate the African American experience. There was also elite man v. common man conflict as well in what constituted acceptable poetry. Thanks to Jewish publisher Louis Untermeyer, the poetry anthology started to include the works of Irish, Jewish, and black poets. Poetry was historically not inclusive; it was carefully crafted from a pantheon of privilege. James Joseph Scheurich, who examined anti racist scholarship, as a white male, asserted, "We (whites in the academy) lose sight of how much we and more importantly, our intellectual productions(books, articles, presentations, symposia)are,at least to a significant extent, enacted by our race, gender, and class." Rita Dove has earned the academic and humanistic right to lift the literacy veil with second sightedness in the Dubois tradition. Helen Vendler has earned the privilege in the literary criticism tradition because this is what she does  skillfully and professionally. Is Helen racist? Toure wrote about his first encounter with Dr. Vendler in Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness.  Toure was one of twenty young writers selected for a two- month writer's retreat.  During the retreat the professors became nervous because the 'brilliant and brusque' Dr. Vendler was visiting.According to Toure, one morning while the two were on the veranda, Helen Vendler asked him, "How did you get here?" Toure saw this as an example of micro aggression-the subtle, stunning, often automatic, sometimes non-verbal( and verbal) exchanges that are put downs of Blacks by Whites. Helen Vendler has written an essay about Rita Dove and described Dove's writing as a wonderful piece of prosodic mortise and tenon work. However, Vendler may lack of emotional capacity to understand the what she calls the "stock-in-trade of mediocre protest writing that appear regularly in the African American literature." Vendler coined the term, "poems of victimization." Columbia professor Patricia Williams posits that with the African American experience there is, "a kind of defensiveness that has to be negotiated and I don't think that is victim hood." The poet is the master of truth. Each artists has his or her own truth. My truth is that of an African American female born and reared in Chicago. Another truth may be that of a White male born and reared in Tuscaloosa. And an additional truth may be that of a woman born and reared in Egypt. Our opinions, likings, and art will be influenced by our lived, ethnic, and cultural experiences. The critic can examine literary devices, rhythm, rhyme and emotional appeal, but life experiences are very personal to who we are. It may be Amiri Baraka, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, or Adrienne Rich. Truth is truth, but truth is also relative. The danger to the truth teller is the gatekeeper who thinks he or she is the expert on what truth is tell able.

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