Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rita Dove Addresses "Racist Selectivity"

In the June 2004 issue of Poetry magazine, Rita Dove sent a letter to the editor to express her disappointment with Garrison Keillor's anthology Good Poems, which had previously received positive reviews.

"Let me point out that in Keillor's entire book," wrote Dove, "all two hundred and ninety-four poems of it, I could find only three Black poets—all of them dead, no less, and the one woman actually a blues singer."

Dove's closing paragraph was especially powerful:
I've been at the "business" of poetry for some time; I know that I'm considered more of a "non-militant" writer. As I get older, however, my patience wears thinner; I've grown weary of having to point out what should be obvious to anyone with sense and sensibility. I resent the complacent, singleminded arrogance of myopic "men of letters," whose curious brand of good will perpetuates racist selectivity. I resent their transparent, self-serving attacks on concepts such as multiculturalism and feminism that have propelled our society towards a truer democracy. I resent the presumption that their majority in numbers absolves them from paying attention to fair representation, leaving it up to those who have been "marginalized" to take note, tally the figures, and mount the protest. (What a waste of energy, emotion, enterprise! No wonder Ralph Ellison's invisible man gave up and went underground.) Well, my mama didn't raise a bean counter. I have better things to do—like trying to sit down and write a good poem, for example.

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