Poetry & Race Roundtable        (page 16)

Francisco Aragón: Although we were gently encouraged, I believe, to move beyond Hoagland/Rankine, I want to thank Timothy for his incisive analysis. Although I can only speak for myself and can’t claim to have read exhaustively on the responses to Hoagland/Rankine, I’d venture to say this is among the best things about it.

I also appreciate being provided the link to the Hass poem. I went back and read it, and feel compelled to add more to what I said earlier. But before I do, I want to quote Juliana again, if only to remind myself that I wasn’t alone in thinking about this subject of how writers represent race in their work.

Juliana writes:

“[W]hat are moments when representations of race […] feel wrong; what are the moments they feel right?”

And she writes, in referring to one of the “rules” she has set for herself:

“One is that I try to avoid in my work, and complain about it when I see it in other’s work, the moment where the white writer only mentions the race of people who are not white.”

Here is the Robert Hass passage, parts of which I have bolded:

“Once, when they made love in the middle of the night and it was very sweet, they decided they were hungry, so they got up, got dressed, and drove downtown to an all-night donut shop. Chicano kids lounged outside, a few drunks, and one black man selling dope. Just at the entrance there was an old woman in a thin floral print dress. She was barefoot. Her face was covered with sores and dry peeling skin. The sores looked like raisins and her skin was the dry yellow of a parchment lampshade ravaged by light and tossed away.

Where to begin? First, I was relieved to see that what I remembered was mostly right: “Chicano kids” (and not “the Chicanos”), though it was “an all-night donut shop” and not a convenience or liquor store. And yet there are “a few drunks” and, startlingly (at least to me), “one black man selling dope.” So, it’s actually, in my mind, worse than I remember it:

          “Chicano kids, a few drunks, and one black man selling dope.”

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