PC or 21st Century?


Jennifer Marie Bartlett

I have had a fascinating and enlightening dialog with an editor and Disability Activist that ended up with the publication of my (slightly) edited love poem for 2016 in a e-journal that puts me in the company of some very inventive writers. 

I rarely submit my poems for publication. If a friend asks, I’ll send some recent work. And I usually have something to send, which is one of the gifts of not spending a lot of time on submissions. The most recent example, aside from a pile of unpublished American Sentences, is the series written after all of Joanne Kyger’s poems in her latest book On Time. I started writing poems taking off from poems in that book, a tone, a trope, content, format &c. and it was not until a few poems in that the title After On Time occurred to me, a title I love.

I have never met Jennifer Marie Bartlett, but have appreciated her Facebook posts and donated money to her Larry Eigner project. She is Co-Editor of Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and she put a call out for poems to be published in a journal called Hineni. The first thing I did was look up Hineni, which Wikipedia says:

The word ‘Hineni’ means ‘Here I am’ in a spiritual sense, which is what Abraham says and means to God to indicate his readiness when he is called on in Genesis 22:1 (הִנֵּֽנִי‎ hinnênî).[2]

The next thing I did was send an email message to Jennifer asking about guidelines. She said no guidelines, just send poems. I sent one and here is a record of the correspondence, which I am publishing with Jennifer’s permission:

Paul Nelson <splabman@gmail.com>
Attachments 12/20/16

to rejennifer
Jennifer,

My one poem submission is attached. It is from my project After On Time, poems written after Joanne Kyger’s poems in her last book On Time.

Enjoy and best wishes for 2017.

Attachments area

reJennifer Bartlett
12/25/16

to me
Hi Paul,

Thank you so much for the poem. I would love to publish it with one caveat, that you change the word “moron” to something else. Let me know what you think. Best, Jennifer

Paul Nelson <splabman@gmail.com>
12/26/16

to reJennifer
Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for your conditional acceptance of the poem. I understand your issue. The trouble is that the word morons is the tern Gene Wilder actually used in Blazing Saddles and it seems critical to quote him directly. Perhaps putting that word also in italics? What do you think?

reJennifer Bartlett
12/26/16

to me
HI Paul,

I read it carefully. Funny, I just watched Blazing Saddles yesterday. I see that you put the first part of the quote in italics but not the second part. If you want to leave off the word “moron’ and just say racists, that would be fine. Let me know. Do you need more of an explanation of my reasoning? Jennifer

Paul Nelson <splabman@gmail.com>
12/27/16

to reJennifer
Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for your care with this and no, an explanation is not necessary.

Were we to italicize the phrase “racist morons” and put a note at the end of the poem that it is a direct quote from Gene Wilder from Blazing Saddles, would that satisfy your concerns? I think the parallels between that time (fictionalized but with a lot of truth) and our own Trump era have a lot in common, but I bow to your decision to withhold publication if those suggested tweaks are found to be inadequate with no hard feelings on my end.

Wishing you good health and much happiness and prosperity in the coming year.

Sincerely,

Paul

reJennifer Bartlett
12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to me
Hi Paul,

Thank you for the nice email, and thank you for being so kind.

I decided not to publish the poem. I am, by no means a politically correct person, but I think ableist language has been in circulation for too long and too vastly. It’s pretty constant. As an editor, I don’t mean to censor people, but i do want to put forth work that completely reconfigures American’s perceptions of, say, “morons.” And I guess that includes quotes from other people.

I think your attachment to that like is interesting. I am a very diligent poem who writes sparcely, so I understand what it is like to be attached to a word, but if an editor– or anyone pointed out that they word was a signifier of constant prejudice, I would change it. It is also interesting that you are comfortable using ‘moron” but not “n*&&#r” which was also used throughout the film, and a good metaphor for events today, but just goes to say people are educated not to be racist, but ableism is acceptable.
I AM disappointed, it’s a great poem!

Happy New Year. Jennifer

Paul Nelson <splabman@gmail.com>
Attachments12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to reJennifer
Jennifer,

This has been an interesting process, this sending you a poem and the dialog that has ensued. And you are right. It’s telling that “n*&&#r” is a no-go and “moron” is ok. It’s a double standard, so may I change it to “fools” and not italicize it and see if it meets your standards?

Attached if so, grateful for the exchange and for the kind care you take with your work.

Sincerely,

Paul

P.S. Best to you in 2017.

Attachments area

reJennifer Bartlett
12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to me
Paul,

Hell yes! I’d love to take it. Thank you for the dialog. I’ll let you know when the magazine is up which will hopefully be the !st. Happy New Years. J

Paul Nelson <splabman@gmail.com>
12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to reJennifer
Jennifer,

You are very kind and patient to go through all these hoops I erected and still come out in favor of including the poem. Thank you.

reJennifer Bartlett
12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to me
Actually, YOU are the nice one. Strange thing, people hold tight to these views and consistently fight me on them.

Paul Nelson <splabman@gmail.com>
12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to reJennifer
I looked up “morons” and it is linked to the eugenics movement. No thank you on THAT association. I’m not too old to learn and not too closed to admit when I missed it.

reJennifer Bartlett
12/28/16 (13 days ago)

to me
Just wow!

And it is the case where I did have the sense in the back of my mind that I was running into Political Correctness and Identity Poetics, two things I loathe. But this case was neither. Yes, Jennifer stands up for the rights of disabled people and her pointing out the word “moron” was offensive was news to me, but when I was open enough to consider it and found this out, on, again Wikipedia:

Moron is a term once used in psychology to denote mild intellectual disability.[1] The term was closely tied with the American eugenics movement.[2]Once the term became popularized, it fell out of use by the psychological community, as it was used more commonly as an insult than as a psychological term. It is similar to imbecile and idiot.

And follow the Eugenics link, which I did not have to do to reconsider my position and find:

During the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century, eugenics was considered a method of preserving and improving the dominant groups in the population; it is now generally associated with racist and nativist elements as the movement was to some extent a reaction to a change in emigration from Europe rather than scientific genetics.[10]

Well, the word “fools” was used and the poem was published on Hinemi. Later, I would see a Cornel West editorial slamming the Obama administration and the state the world is in these days. The best quote from the piece was the last line of this telling paragraph:

The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our “post-integrity” and “post-truth” world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.

And while there were poems by people with disabilities, I did not see any that came across as preachy, or maudlin. I enjoyed the Steinian insistence of Lisa Forrest, the creative non-fiction of Kenny Fries, who is pictured in a photo that has become relatively famous (and echoes the above dialog) as well as Rae Rose’s stunning How to Earn a Fruit Basket. Oh, and there is my love poem to the year 2016 too. There are some poems that are not as strong as these few examples I’ve mentioned, but here is a case of an editor with an agenda and an open mind and, as it should be, the negative capability wins. Thank you Jennifer Marie Bartlett for your good work. Continued success.

About Splabman

SPLAB and Cascadia Poetry Festival founder Paul E Nelson wrote American Sentences (Apprentice House, 2015), Organic Poetry (VDM Verlag, Germany, 2008), a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, Washington, A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, 2010) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (Lumme, Brazil, 2013). Founder of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, in 26 years of radio he interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, Wanda Coleman, Brenda Hillman, George Bowering, Joanne Kyger, Jerome Rothenberg & others, including many Cascadia poets. He lives in Seattle and writes at least one American Sentence every day. http://www.PaulENelson.com. Co-Editor of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, he is in year five of a twenty year Cascadia Bioregional Cultural Investigation. www.CascadiaPoetryFestival.org (Oct 12-15, 2017, Tacoma, WA)
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