Poetry & Race Roundtable        (page 18)

J. Michael Martinez: I had written up a longish piece dealing with the initial question, however, I want to develop a dialogue with what has been stated so I’ve revised a bit to respond.

One of the issues coming up, addressed directly by Veronica Golos and Tim Yu, is Hoagland’s rhetorical maneuver to “pluralize” himself.

Golos: Hogland minimizes the serious considerations of racist and sexist by including them with the labels of Diet Pepsi drinker and Triple A member. It is the classic dodge, the diminution of the serious into the ironic and the mundane, the so-called humorous.

This is the classic dodge. Moreover, the benign pluralism of this dodge advocates an erasure of social specificity: it erases and distorts the specificity of the claimed subjectivities. Being a racist is way different than being sexist. Listing them as if they equivalent is another method to veil the particularities of these individual acts of oppression and the responsibilities one has in relation to them. On the flip side, this logic extends to how race is often represented in academia and beyond: to list minorities as if our historical experiences were equivalent to each other. For example, the racism and social-political oppression I’ve experienced as a Colorado Chicano is vastly different than the experience of a Boricua living in/near Manhattan. The quaint pluralism—equaling all “minority” and/or other subjectivities—diminishes and veils the US citizen’s very real particular socio-political histories and responsibilities.

This reminds of me something writer, artist, performer Guillermo Gomez-Pena stated in an interview:

"I believe in multiple identities. Depending on the context I am Chicano, Mexican, Latin American, or American in the wider sense of the term. The Mexican Other and the Chicano Other constantly fight to appropriate me or reject me. But I think my work might be useful to both sides because I’m an interpreter. An intercultural interpreter."
“Columbus at the Checkpoint: Guillermo Gomez-Pena Rediscovers ‘America.’” The Village Voice.

It is damn complex. Guillermo succinctly notes this above and Farid eloquently notes the complexity of plural subjectivities in his response. I empathize with anyone who writes from such inbetweenness, borderland consciousness or state of mestizaje. I think it is often convenient to ignore these complexities and uncritically essentialize subjectivities. I feel, right or wrong, these complexities got to be kept in mind when interpreting literatures. Poetries are not written or read out of some ideological vacuum (let alone any US American poetries). Poetry is written/read to and out of specific socio-economic and geo-political centers. Furthermore, poetries (of whatever aesthetic inclination) create a particular historical memory (as an artifact of our time) and, thus, a particular political consciousness. To some degree, I am what I eat. What Tim noted about the construction of “Americanness” in Hoagland’s poem could be asked about all poems written in the US: how does this poem construct and/or communicate a subjectivity of US citizenship? i.e. who gets to claim citizenship? I think Francisco points to this when he wrote, “our most prominent national poetry publication (a monthly) reviewed a grand total of 0 books by Latino/a poets between the years 2003 to 2010!” I think who and what gets published or reviewed is one of many ways to generate conceptions of citizenship.

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