Mary Anne Mohanraj

An Ongoing, Erratic Diary

10 April 1997, 12:00 AM
 
  Well, yesterday was a bummer of a day. I suppose I should brace for this sort of thing, but it's definitely worse when you know the people involved rather than getting it in e-mail from strangers. I'm babbling, and you guys have no idea what I'm talking about. Back-up.

So I wrote this poem, a couple weeks ago. Read the poem first, so you have an unbiased idea of what's going on.

Not Another.

the great revolutionary poet stands
before us, armored in sheets of paper
yellowed pages ripped from Webster's, Brittanica,
lists of long words with large meanings.

hey, boy.
you know something?
you wouldn't know revolution if it bit you on the ass.

tear off that paper armor.
stand naked before us, balls retracted in fear.
stand naked and shivering and desperate
and speak of revolution.
I'll stand naked with you --
stretch marks, bruises and all.

*****
M.A. Mohanraj
March 19, 1997

Okay, so I don't know what your reaction to it is so far. I meant it as a sort of challenge to all poets who call themselves revolutionary yet who use (IMHO) lofty language and rhetoric. I guess I think revolutionaries should be out there, down and dirty with the people, terrified and showing their terror yet standing there anyway, speaking from the heart. You can agree with that or not as you choose, and you can say I said that effectively or not as you choose. Looking back at the poem, I think I could have said it a lot more effectively, and I'm not sure it's entirel y true anymore. But that's beside the point.

There are about fifteen people in my poetry class. Of those, ten liked it. Great, although they probably should have pointed out some weaknesses. The five remaining all noted that some of the language could be read as racist or sexist. ('boy' as racist, and 'balls retracted' as sexist). I agree with the first, and disagree with the second, and in both cases and glad to have that pointed out to me -- I need to know if people will be reading my work that way.

Of those five, two used their crits to launch pretty vicious (again, IMHO) personal attacks on me. Their crits were somewhat based on the fact that the poem had been inspired by a poet who had read for us the week before, an educated black man, a self-described 'revolutionary poet'. He had been the springboard for the poem, but I hadn't intended it to be a crit of him personally -- rather of the whole category of poets who do what he did. They took it as a racist, sexist, personal attack. The poet's name is Will Alexander, in case you're inclined to go find samples of his work.

So I got really upset yesterday. Broke down, cried in class, felt attacked and assaulted and that I was in a 'not safe' critiquing environment. Probably over-reacted some. It might help you decide if you read what they said:

[this section has been deleted, by request of the people involved. See entry 4/17/97 for full explanation].

So, why am I ranting to you guys about this? Well, partly so you can judge the poem for yourselves, and if you do find the language racist and sexist, go ahead and let me know -- that's a valid critique. I rather agree, looking back, that 'boy' is probably too loaded a term, though I didn't have that in mind when I wrote the piece. Although what does 'too loaded' mean? - a subject for another debate entirely.

I put all this up more to give you a sense of what a writer deals with at times. I think their comments were way out of line and inappropriate for an academic critique. Maybe you disagree with me. But considering the whole thing wrecked my day, it seemed disingenuous not to write about it here - to pretend it didn't happen.

 

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