During our MFA residency at the University of Tampa, a student asked about the value about speaking up against perceived inappropriate acts or inequalities in the writing world, versus protecting your particular holding. I pointed out that unless you have the courage to speak up, you aren't creating an opportunity for people to share your perception of a situation or offer their own experiences. You aren't creating a space for allying. Though you might be playing it "smart" by being diplomatic, you'll always feel slightly alone.
I have mixed feelings about circulating anonymous comments. I'm frustrated by being given a narrative out of context that conflates actions of concern with prejudicial judgments. So that's why I haven't linked to the VIDA "Report from the Field" that has been on many poets' minds this week. There's a possibility that the manner in which testimonies are gathered means that their circulation sparks a really important conversation--but then, ultimately, limits it.
That doesn't mean that I doubt the veracity of these testimonies.
Thomas Sayers Ellis is a brilliant poet and performer. I think he can be a warm, affable presence--perhaps "when he wants to be" is a necessary disclaimer there, so be it. He can be kind and generous. I appreciate what he has done for DC's artistic culture, particularly its poetics and the documentation of Go-go. I respect that he took Flat Langston and ran with it.
And: I believe these testimonies.
If my praise of TSE, in any context, ever meant that you felt you couldn't tell me about something that he said or did that made you feel vulnerable, I am so sorry. I wish we could have had that conversation.
Social media such as Facebook is, at the end of the day, an entertainment medium. You can use it; I sure do; but don't mistake anything that happens in this space as lasting consequence or judgment. What matters is what happens in the real world of a passion and profession so many of us share. The optimist in me hopes that the relative quiet on this issue in social media is because people are pursuing conversations in other poetry communities. I refuse to believe it's because people are just hoping this goes away. Don't dishonor these women who spoke up by dismissing them.
In my real life, here's the thing: I don't get to teach The Maverick Room or Skin, Inc., anymore. Dammit. Those are really good poems. I don't get to suggest him for teaching opportunities anymore. I won't agree to be on panels with him anymore. That makes me sad. But I'd rather be sad than complicit in the psychological abuse of others.
Support these women whose names I do not know yet. I hope, some day, we've created a space where they feel they can introduce themselves. As more than anything having to do with TSE, as more than victims, I want to hear about them as poets. Which is what they came to this community to be.
Support Jen Fitzgerald and Noemi Press. From Jen's blog post: "They understand, as I do, that when it comes to literature, there is more at stake than book sales." I cannot imagine how difficult that decision to alter the process on a forthcoming book must have been.
Support the Spring 2016 students at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, because when we sign up for a workshop with a visiting writer, we assume we're entering a healthy and neutral space.
I'm pretty sure that if Thomas Sayers Ellis sees this, he won't be wanting my support. He'll be angry. That's fair. But I don't think anyone's actions can be cast in such a revealing light without the realization--especially within someone as smart and insightful as he can be--that something needs to change. Something is gravely wrong. I want him to get support for that, wherever it needs to come from.
I am an eminently flawed human. Most poets are. Thomas and many others have managed to witness a few of my lesser moments, I'm sure. But I'm here, I'm listening. I'm here, on and off the screen.
Reports from the Field: Statements Against Silence - VIDA
My Statement March 7, 2016 - Jen Fitzgerald
For My Daughters - Fred Joiner
On Solidarity: You Cannot Stand with the Group If You Do Not Stand with the Individual - Meghann Plunkett