Poetry & Race Roundtable        (page 17)

Francisco Aragón (continued): One thing that jumped out at me at this re-reading is that I did not remember the “black man.” So it confirms this notion that, as readers, we bring what we bring to a text. If I were African American, would the needling phrase have been “one black man selling dope” instead of “Chicano kids”?

I’m wondering, Juliana, if Hass’ depiction of race in this passage would be something you might “complain” about? I ask since you have introduced this idea of certain representations of race feeling wrong.

What’s also interesting to note is how the speaker of the poem depicts the “old woman.” The speaker has her, first of all, with clothes on (floral print dress), and the language deployed on her behalf is much more rich and nuanced than the language assigned the people of color.

Is it safe to assume that she is white? And if we mostly assume she is, what can we say about Hass’ treatment and depiction of race in this passage?

What I bring to this table is how this poem has made me feel, over the years, just as Rankine ventured to approximate how Hoagland’s “The Changes” made her feel.

What does it say that both of these authors are established white male poets—both, I would guess, with significantly different personalities and reputations?

According to Timothy, if I understood him correctly, someone like Robert Hass was Tony Hoagland’s intended ideal reader. That, at this moment, and after reading Timothy’s contribution here, sounds reasonable to me.

—Francisco Aragón

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