After the Ballad.

So the rage fueled thing I wrote about the Paris Review the other day has grown some wings. Mentioned in a Huffpo article by Annie Finch.

I am a tad overwhelmed. I’m very tired of clearing messages (fifteen er twenty today) telling me how racist I am and what a shitty poet etc etc. The best though was the accusation that I am bullying the Paris Review.

Because obviously a relatively unknown Black writer from Seattle has the power to bully the Paris Review.

Okay so here’s the thing and I want this to be absolutely clear because I think some folks have got it twisted.

I don’t actually give a hot shit about Seidel’s work. After I read the piece on PR I read some of his other work and frankly it is just not my jam. I don’t give a shit.

The thing I care about is the usual response to Black people’s pain. White people running us over to make their own pain the focal point. I care about a publication I have read for most of my life when I have been able to, doing the same shit again.

My hope that a highly visible publication would take the opportunity to say to everyone these are the voices we need right now has just been dashed. No fuck that. My hopes that the mainstream literary community would step up in a time of such great need has been shit on, set on fire and tossed.

This was a chance for an organization to say loudly and without qualification, Black Voices Matter right now and we are here for it.

Now is the moment.

Now is not the time to make White voices the voices. That is how everything is all the time. Literature is now and has been the outlet for every White opinion ever about everything.

And yet, people keep telling me that those are the voices to be given primacy right now.

Because that’s how it always is.

I’m tired. I’m tired of hearing that if we damn loud ass Negroes want to be heard to do it ourselves. And when we do that, White people run in to make sure they get their piece. Or when we have the audacity to hint that maybe we know a little something something about an issue, we’re “reverse racists” and oppressing the White Voice.

This is me and I am fucking exhausted.


Portrait of the author right now.
Portrait of the author right now. 

Why at this point in time, in 2014 when so many White people want to claim to be anti-racist is it so goddamn hard to admit that sometimes, their voices are not the ones that need to be heard?

That maybe Black Lives Matter is a.) something being said, because clearly culturally America doesn’t believe it and b.) such a controversial thought, that Black people specifically matter.

And before anyone busts in here with that “all people” bullshit let me shut it down.

If you would not walk into a Breast cancer awareness event saying, ALL CANCERS. If you would not walk into a stranger’s funeral and say, BUT I KNOW DEAD PEOPLE TOO, shut the fuck up and work it the fuck out. If you cannot abide the idea that Black people need and want to make it clear that we matter, you have some racist shit to deal with and I am not here for that.

Moving on.

We live in the fucking future. It is 2014. Even a publication as old as the Paris Review knows this. They have a social media person I’ve followed them (I have unfollowed).

It took me approximately two minutes on google to find over a thousand amazing poems written by Black people young and old, known and unknown. THOUSANDS.

And they chose Seidel.

I took to facebook and searched the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut.


How is it that while working my dayjob, writing a fiction piece and eating I could find current amazing poetry by Black people that could fill forty five Paris Reviews and they picked an old White Man.

That is what this is about.

It’s not about the quality of the poem. He can write whatever he wants to.

It is about the gatekeepers of the literary canon in this case the Paris Review isn’t coming through.

It is about how disgusting it is to me that organizations that wield power in the lit world in a real big way, didn’t do shit.

This happens over and over again.

Don’t get it twisted.

I don’t care about how that crusty ass old man writes his poems or what he writes about.

I don’t care if EVERYONE writes about Ferguson.

I care about representation and the missed opportunity to show that that Black lives and Black voices matter.

Understand that White folks you can write a million poems about Ferguson, Eric Garner, lynching, racism whatever. Just remember that when you prioritize your own voices over the voices of those of us living this shit, you are upholding White Supremacy and taking the easy way out of owning your own racism.

And we see you.

We. See. You.

For those of you who want to see what Black poets are saying I’ll make it easy for you. Check out this tumblr project and listen to every single poem.


8 thoughts on “After the Ballad.

  1. Hello Shannon,

    I wanted to explain my comment to your last post.

    I understand that you see me as a ‘white voice’. There’s nothing I can do about that. I am a white voice. Well, not to American whites. I’m a jew voice to them, so not a white voice, but to you, I get it: I’m a white voice.

    I wanted to reply to your post. I wanted very much to say I agree with you that “Now is not the time to make White voices the voices. That is how everything is all the time. Literature is now and has been the outlet for every White opinion ever about everything.”

    But then… would my comment just be proof of another white person making their voice heard? So perhaps I should shut up and say nothing?

    But… if I say nothing, perhaps Shannon will think no one read the post – there are no comments on it yet – or that they disagreed with the post, and didn’t want to say so for fear of looking racist.

    I cannot change my skin colour, or the privilege that comes along with the one I have. Yes, the literary world is not only almost wholly white, but it hides its racism beneath tokenism, and a disconnected form of sophistry that is evil. The same sickness that constructed a system in which a grand jury can come to a decision to not indict in the case of Michael Brown or Eric Garner or the thousands of cases that don’t even make it into the news and become names we know or fodder for the media.

    But… if I keep quiet, if I just let you have your say. If I privilege your Black voice and keep mine mute, then it will appear that I believe this is a Black problem only, a Black pain only. And that is not right, either. Because it is humanity’s issue and humanity’s pain. Because it is evil and wrong and immoral and unethical for me to step aside and say ‘not my problem’.

    I don’t think you’re a racist, Shannon. I think you are absolutely and justifiably enraged. And if you are in a place where you have to feel that it’s an ‘us against them’ thing, and you need to place me on the side of the ‘them’, I can accept that.

    But I have a right to tell you that I’m not ‘them’. I refuse to be ‘them’ and they are as alien to me as they are to you.

    (you’re absolutely welcome to delete this comment. But I did feel compelled to leave it.)

  2. Pingback: Better Poems for Ferguson | The Poetic License

  3. poetesque

    I hear you. I’ve linked both your posts in my post about the responses from poets of color. But let me know if you don’t want them there. (I don’t seem to be in control of this pingback situation, however…) Peace to you.

  4. Sushil Suresh

    go Shannon go. I am personally happy that I stumbled on your piece on the internet and didn’t read it in the Paris Review or any other White literary magazine. Please maintain your independence, fierceness and your powerful writing style and ability. Imagine if your piece had appeared in the Paris Review or the Times Literary Supplement or the New York Times Book Review? Your tremendous piece on those pages, in those magazines? What a terrible shame it would’ve been if those idiots had managed to get you on their pages.
    I surely would not have come across your piece then as I wouldn’t have gone to the literary establishment looking for anything of real substance and value. I remember reading the TLS articles on the killing of Diallo some years ago. I can only remember how unconvinced and how unmoved I was by the TLS articles that pretended to be shocked and dismayed at the killing of Diallo. I told my boss at the time that the article in the TLS was a piece of shit, and not long after that he found a way to get rid of me.

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