'Staying in Your Lane,' Poetic Voice, and Political Correctness


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Thread: 'Staying in Your Lane,' Poetic Voice, and Political Correctness

  1. #1
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    'Staying in Your Lane,' Poetic Voice, and Political Correctness

    A controversy brews. Over the last few days, poetry magazine The Nation has made the mainstream press because of its editors' response to its readers' response to a poem. The poem, written by Anders Carlson-Wee, focuses on issues of homelessness, the disabled, and the ways in which we treat one another. The controversy stems from the fact that the poem is written in what is called African American Vernacular English (AAVE) but the poet is white, and also because the poem uses the word "crippled," which is considered an ableist word. After publishing the poem, many readers complained, so the editors issued an apology, the poet apologized, and, essentially, a trigger warning was added to the poem (posted below).

    This might be the most publicity poetry has gotten in some time. It's not exactly good press, though. Those on one side argue that the editors were essentially bullied into apologizing, and by doing so they betrayed their role as editor and compromised the magazine's artistic reputation. Those on the other side argue that the poem should not have been published because its approach is racially insensitive and does not take historical context into consideration.

    I found this controversy interesting as it intersects art and politics. There are a few issues here I think might spur an interesting discussion:

    1. Were the editors right or wrong in issuing an apology?
    2. Should the editors have even published the poem in the first place? Does an editor have a responsibility to weigh the possible controversy a work of art might cause? Or does the editor only have the responsibility to publish what they believe is good, important poetry?
    3. In regard to artistic voice, does an artist have a responsibility to "stay in their lane"? Or is any voice available to the artist, provided they use the voice correctly (as argued in the Atlantic article linked below)?
    4. Is there a balance an artist should try to find between speaking freely in their art and being conscious of political correctness (I know that is a loaded term, but I can't think of any other term to describe the behavior of consciously avoiding possibly offensive language)? Seeing as how art is designed to bring about powerful emotion and thought (positive or negative) and also express the artist's feelings and thoughts, what is the artist's responsibility here?
    5. There are perhaps many other issues at play here. What do you think?

    It should go without saying, but it's not: As you discuss this issue, please be purposeful and precise in your approach. Resorting to ad hominem attacks with people you disagree with will not be tolerated, so watch your "SJW snowflake" and "MAGA racist hat" comments. This issue is nuanced, and there are good points to be made on both sides.

    Below is the original poem and some additional reading I've found interesting on the topic. Please be advised that the poem has been described as being ablest and insensitive, so if you click on the first link below, you do so knowing. If you find some more interesting commentary, please feel free to post it:

    https://www.thenation.com/article/how-to/
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/01/a...n-apology.html
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/06/o...nion&smtyp=cur
    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/who-gets-to-use-black-english/566867
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  2. #2
    Political correctness is an issue I notice every day, it is a source of great amazement to me as well.

    I am an amalgamation of 'minorities', and as such there should be a lot I could feel offended about.
    I am not white (contrary to what my name suggests )
    I am crippled
    I am gay
    I am almost mute
    I have Tourette's Syndrome
    I have number of other issues.

    However, I feel everything should be out in the open, and open to discussion. Words, even words that can hit hard, are only words. I don't feel offended by people who use language others see as offensive. I even think it's painful to notice that poems, poets are forced to apologize. They should be praised instead, and protected by their publishers.

    Because by writing about it, there is an opening for thought and discussion. Oppression always has had an adverse result. Putting a ban on controversial books has not put an end to the neo-nazi movement.

    People often think I am a muslim (while I am not), simply by looking at me, we all have first gut reactions. The challenge here is to step out of it, remove that restrictive box, and start thinking independently.

  3. #3
    I know Squalid Glass asked a bunch of lucid and well-considered questions, and so to recognise that sensible approach, I'm not going to answer any of them. However, I will throw in my tuppence worth.

    My writing offends people, and I'm okay with that. People offend me, and I'm okay with that. However, the day that writers - creators of thoughts and feelings and emotional roller-coasters of the mind - start giving a fuck about the rules and regulations laid down by the easily offended, that's the day I'll put down my pen (or keyboard). There are very few freedoms left to mankind. Literature, whether that be poetry, prose or reportage, can transcend all boundaries. We can love and hate, kill and cure, build and destroy, supply hope and supply fear, sooth or aggravate, fight or fuck; we can do it all without anyone getting hurt. But a poet gets fucked over for using the word 'cripple'? That's an abomination.

    Anyone, and I mean anyone, who calls themselves a writer and who condones this utterly pretentious nonsense is dead inside. And I mean dead. And I mean inside. Words don't kill people. They don't harm people. Dey don't do nothin' (and he got slammed for writing like that, because it is apparently 'blackface' talk, whatever the fuck that is).

    Before people say, 'well, he apologised,' I don't care. He shouldn't have. As writers, we walk a precarious line between loving and loathing. Veer too much to one side, and your words become puff, useless, worthless, pointless shit.

    I'd rather die than ever change my words because some pontificating twat found them offensive.

    P.S. I am prone to bad language, but if anyone wonders why I'm effing and jeffing a bit more than usual on this, it's because I am fucking livid. And if I have offended thee, pluck your fucking eyes out!

    And relax...

  4. #4
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    Pete, your passion is tangible. I appreciate it. Just to dive deeper, I wonder about another aspect of this: one of the issues people have brought up about this work is the issue of intent vs social/historical context. Clearly the poet was attempting to view a situation outside his lane with empathy, but because of historical context, some found his appropriation of African-American vernacular misguided. Do you think an artist has a responsibility to recognize the issues in the world at large related to their chosen approach, or is it more the artist’s responsibility to express themselves in whatever way they choose, social context be damned?
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  5. #5
    Wait, we're NOT supposed to use literature and art to empathize with others? Pen names and ghost writers aren't a thing? Damn, screw those culturally appropriating translators!
    You can never hate something so thoroughly as that which destroys what you love, and who is more guilty of this crime than the stranger who was once a lover?

  6. #6
    I could get all mardy about the speech being described as 'African American Vernacular.' I'm an anglo-saxon white male that comes from the UK. For the first two decades (at least) of my life the term 'African American' wasn't used, even in America. However, I knew plenty of people that spoke in that way. Londoners, from London, in London. White working class blokes, long before Gansta rap was born, back when the Beatles were risque. Who the fuck are the bleeding hearts to tell me that speech using simplistic linguistics is now owned by a cultural clique on the other side of the pond? Is zippedee-doo-dah an African American owned phrase, and if so, why? Alliteration is a linguistic tradition. No one owns it over another person (or creed or colour).

    So, here's my answer, sort of. I can only write what I write with my intentions in mind. I can't legislate for readers who will dig deep to find something that offends them. I can't legislate for people who wrongly read between the lines. I can't legislate for people who are determined to ride the 'fuck me, how offended am I?' gravy train as far as it will go. Their offended state is their concern. If I, as a writer, believe that what I write is not intended to hurt, humiliate or degrade other people who don't set out to hurt, humiliate or degrade others, I don't give a flying fuck how offended they are. That's their issue.

    However, I will not refrain from writing what I believe is a good story (or poem) if I believe it offers an insight into the real world, even if I know some people will play the 'I'm offended' card. Fuck them; they're nothing to me.

  7. #7
    Empathy -- yes; mockery -- no. If it's "fun" or "style" it's not empathy -- it's superficial, without understanding or even an attempt at such.

    As for political correctness ... I live in Texas and this is my view. Your mileage (of course) may vary.
    "What ever happened to common courtesy?"
    "You renamed it 'political correctness' and said it was a bad thing."
    Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.
    Robert G. Allen

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by astroannie View Post
    Empathy -- yes; mockery -- no.
    That is a whole other debate!

    Mockery of the weak, those unable to defend themselves, those unable to defend themselves: wrong, totally fucking wrong.

    Mockery of those empowered and who dictate terms for the underlings, or who have the ways and means to defend themselves: that's kind of all I write.

    I vote mockery!

  9. #9
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    That would be satire, which can be a tool for the marginalized and oppressed.

    To the issue of language, I think the Atlantic article I quoted above does a good job addressing the issue.

    Pete, I tend to see your side of this issue more clearly, but I do take pause at one thing you said, which is that if I intend not to hurt or offend an innocent person, then I am not doing anything hurtful or offensive. I think this is a bit narrow. We can often cause harm where we did not set out to. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write what we want. I just think it’s a point worth being aware of.

    After all, once your art is set upon the world, it’s no longer yours. It’s the world’s.
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  10. #10
    1. I believe they were right to issue an apology but at the same time the artist made his creation, and it's unavoidable that it is part of an identity that is ingrained since we are born. 2. Yes, they had every right. The government has the responsibility of promoting culture. Freedom of the press is something that has allowed this to exist. What I think is that they should give more minority voices a chance. It rings true that the population that gets published the most by far and gets its recognition is bound to be the majority. People live different lives and have different identities and the most specific we can get is a person's likes and dislikes and pet peeves. No one is born the same, not even a twin. I, therefore, would say he has every single right to write since we live in this sort of world (Erick Erickson a professor who had tenured at Harvard came up with the identity theory). Politics have gone out of the window many times. Art can be a nuanced expression and not every art form will appeal to a political agenda or even politicians. Can it influence people? Yes, it can? Maybe some of the greatest people on earth were thinking not in art. As a virtue art has been said to be difficult to measure its influence. Except for some school programs like Japan (maybe the only one), books are required to be read every week. One book for every week during the school year. Art is associated with creativity and is a school tool, and is what we probably want to become. It has our values I argue and this is what we identify with. If it is with movies with Stephen King's novels, there'll be a poster on the wall for the Shawshank Redemption which my brother had in his room.

    Values take shape with stories and from the earliest time since legends and fables. To have a command over the language and influence something the person needs to be a good citizen since childbirth raised in a good school system and environment.

    3. The artist has every right to try to get away with art.

    Morality is important and a way to reason issues. The more bookish you are the more aware you are of ignorance and it makes you a good mind reader.

    In my reasoning, I say the government is to blame and not the artist.
    4.
    The artist can say what they want, but will probably not be viewed as an artist if they break the rules and offend the reader's emotions. I think this balance is something we want but cannot have. We value freedom just as much as we value creative expression. A celebrity has no responsibility for what they do. They are bounded by the law. They are artists too.

    5. Yes, I think this is a lack of government powers to fix the world morally. Look at what they are doing in Japan. It is admirable. The Japanese people are typically polite too when their culture is studied by anthropologists.

    I think it is a hit and a miss to make assumptions and this is just me. I don't intend to debate this post. It's just an opinion. Where I am coming from I know people have their own reasons for believing.

    I believe art creates sublimation which has been mentioned in psychology. Not to mention it could send messages that are good. The good versus evil struggle is what art should try to do. But it suffers from commercialization. I want every well intending artist to succeed. I want to read positive morals and interesting stories.

    There are no policing powers for artists. The audience votes with their wallets. (sorry for the joke, I am trying to make a serious comment and response)
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; August 8th, 2018 at 12:24 AM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

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