In which I shout out a number of poets

Thomas Whyte has this great interview series in which artists are given an opportunity to respond to up to five questions. These responses are posted over at Poetry Mini Interviews and only one response per week is posted. Here’s my first response.


I’m not erasing myself OR I’m already black and blacked out

This social media black-out of women happened last year for women in India. The article posted here shares some competing thoughts about it.

When I was an early twenties student in Chattanooga, I participated in the very first National Day of Silence, 1996. I thought it was pretty exciting. Because I was in my early 20s and I hadn’t really thought, deeply, about what it means for LBGTQIA voices to be self-silenced, to be unheard, to be, basically, in the same position the voices had always been in: the background. Yes, LGBTQIA students spoke in class; I spoke in class, frequently, yet, my “status” as queer was never discussed/seen. I was simply a student who was speaking. Not speaking invalidated my existence, but in my early 20s, I didn’t know that. I do recall feeling strangely strangled, however, and feeling more devoted to the cause than to myself. My sense of loyalty radically erasing my individuality.

I found power in the national walk-out of women last year, particularly as so many institutions of higher learning, including the one where I teach, a women’s college, punished women for not showing up to work on that day. You see, there’s something to be said about not showing up to labor, the deep significance of not providing service to those who have oppressed, suppressed, repressed us and who will continue to do so, unless they are forced to face the reality of a day without women. I wondered, however, how many women walked out of their domestic labor lives.

This blacking out of an image on social media fails, for me, significantly, in the way that the National Day of Silence fails, for me, significantly. I’d love to see more campaigns that advocate for women, queer people (LGBTQIA), people of color, differently abled people, financially poor people, to rise in collective power instead of being collectively erased. We do, after all, live in a world in which women already feel invalidated, so much so that we invalidate women we see as less powerful than us. Searching desperately for any modicum of power, of visibility.

Of course, you will do you and I’m not asking you to not do you. But there are enough of these calls to be invisible in my inbox, calls by White women, for a woman of color to be invisible, that I feel compelled to explain why my visibility is the most threatening, most dangerous, most vital reality in many a White life.

& thank you to Allyson Kapin for this reminder of the recent call to action.

Thursday Poems: there is no flash by Metta Sáma

Inside Voice

Thursday has rolled around again, and as I frantically searched for a new poem to share with you all, I came across this one. I’ve never heard of Metta Sáma which, having now read some of her work, is strange to me because she is very much in the wheelhouse of the poets I enjoy – very Beat-esque.

Her form is very scattered, which I very much enjoy, because it infuses every word coupling with intense meaning, creating a kind of delirious map of words and ideas:

the eyes            fine tuned            perhaps

consciously       a first time offense

to focus on    cliché                              heaven

Do you see what I mean? It’s scattered but finely mapped. Careful, yet careless in its explosion. She explores the…

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The JanTerm Experience: “30 Days to Create”

Ashlyn NelsonI didn’t really know what I was getting into with this class, “30 Days to Create.” I didn’t like the sound of the other experimental Jan Term classes available to me, so I picked this one on a whim, having done so little research that I wasn’t even sure what I would be “creating” until much later. When I went in to class on the first day, it turned out that, in fact, I would be creating a book. Or 40,000-plus words towards one.

This was a daunting but not unpleasant surprise. On my first day, however, I found it very difficult to wring the required number of words out of my brain. Pumping out an essay on the Cold War is one thing, writing dialogue for imaginary characters is quite another. But now, as days in the class have passed, and as I have found myself sitting somewhere every…

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Searching for the Right Home for Right Now: That MFA Life

Recently, I received one of what will be dozens of emails from program coordinators asking me to share information about their super stellar one-of-a-kind MFA programs with current BA students. This year, I decided to write them back, and ask them to answer a few questions before I hit that “forward” button. These are questions that many MFA students want to ask, are likely afraid to ask, didn’t think to ask, wish they had asked, and questions that program administrators can reflect on and respond to, preferably on their program’s website, to offer students a comprehensive gaze into their program. These questions are not a call-out, they are not shaming any program. They are questions from one administrator (and several generous collaborators!) to another.


Please do share widely with MFA program directors. And directors: please avoid “yes” or “no” when responding to these questions. Take time to actually engage with the questions. The health of your program truly depends on your ability to reflect and engage with these questions.

(If you have additional questions, please post them in the “Comments” section and I’ll add them to the list!)


Do you have tenure-track POC faculty in the MFA program?


Do you have tenure-track LGBTQIA faculty in the MFA program?


What is the campus climate in regards to transgender students?


What is the campus climate in regards to students of color?


Are workshops productive, safe spaces for POC students? Are faculty well-read in POC literature and able to work with students who are writing from different worldviews? Do MFA reading lists/syllabi and featured readings include POC and LGBTQIA+ writers?


Are workshops productive, safe spaces for students who are LBTQIA? Are faculty well-read in LGBTQIA literature and able to work with students who are working through queer lenses?


What is the mediation/conflict resolution process when a student experiences discrimination and biases, from an advisor, peer or professor?


How are flexibility/extensions decided upon if a student suddenly faces financial hardship, family crisis or life tragedy? How is the student supported to navigate these circumstances while not having to quit school/ be pushed out?


What kinds of accommodations do you offer for students who are differently abled, and how accepting are the program’s faculty and staff about implementing these accommodations? Do faculty receive annual ADA training?


How does the college support unauthorized immigrants? How does the college support refugee populations?”


Do you admit and support middle-aged and senior students? What kind of support systems do you and/or your university have in place for single parents and/or working parents?


Does *every* TAship come with tuition remission and insurance benefits? Does the health insurance include Rx for chronic illness? And dental? What mental health services are covered under the health insurance, and what additional mental health services are offered on campus?


Is there attention to and support for addiction resistance/recovery efforts on campus? What’s the climate like…–frank discussion of problems or denial?


Is the schedule flexible enough that individuals who work have class times to choose from that meet their needs?


“If you don’t understand white supremacy/racism, everything else you understand will only serve to confuse you.”

If June is a typical travel month for me, July is a typical month of reflections. I’m thinking, now, about that standard white person & their standard comeback when they feel accosted by a person of color’s real life experiences with racism. It goes something like this: “That’s a very generalized, broad view & not all white people are like that.” or “This isn’t a fair representation of white people” or “A few bad apples don’t actually spoil the bunch!” The former is pretty much what a white woman typed to me, recently, a stranger, someone who I may or may not have chatted with in this thread or that in a regional FB group. She’d read my post about a common experience I’d had at artist retreats, an experience fueled by race, an experience that I’d heard other POCs talk about, and an experience that other POCs validated in response to the post. The woman said I had “displayed hatred” and was “the racist in these circumstances”*.

“Every white is not a racist,” she said.

To unpack that statement, one would need to lay out the history of race, the formation of white supremacy, the history of capitalism, the history of imperialism, the history of globalism, the history of patriarchy and so much more. And for that information, one need go no further than the library/bookstore/college. You see, a fairly common form of deflection is reversal: “I’m not the racist, you’re the racist!” And it’s often here, that the Old Stall is its most effective. Pushed into a corner, POC start pulling out articles, books, podcasts, beseeching white people to read, to listen, to learn, to please please please just get informed. But what happens to the initial conversation, the one in which the POC laid bare the racist attacks they’d endured?


It’s amusing, isn’t it, how whitefolks will defend racist stereotypes (“stereotypes are based in some kind of reality!”) and simultaneously deny being racially biased? Think, for example, of the hashtag Blue Lives Matter nonsense, a simultaneous act of denying racial profiling while also suggesting that the cop in question feared for their life (of, often, unarmed citizens).

I’m always amused that I don’t see white people rushing to be the first to proclaim “Not All Black People” or “Not all Muslim People” or “Not all Mexican People” etc. What better way to exemplify that one actually believes “Not All {insert racial/religious/ethnic adjective} People”?

Part of the problem in the U.S., I imagine, has to do with the notion of “universal” experiences. This is not simply a problem of the high school essay (to find the theme), but one of everyday, lived experiences. What do our individual experiences mean to those who are not us? What is the universal lesson that we have to offer? For whitefolks, racism is not something that happens to them, it is something that they create; so, to hear stories of individuals being accosted by racists is to excise the white person from the picture. Or rather, to excise them as the quintessential good guy.

POC are often told that a racist attack is “unusual” or “not the norm” or “I can’t believe that happened!” or “I don’t know what to say”. These comments are a way to not only dismiss and diminish the incidents, but to acknowledge that they themselves are not subjected to racist attacks. And while many white people may encounter POC who have prejudices or biases against white people, prejudice and bias is not the same as racism.

Last year, Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers co-wrote an article on the increase in the number of white people who think they are subjected to racism, or what Sommers & Norton are careful to refer to as anti-white bias. As this crash course in implicit bias makes clear, understanding the differences between prejudice, bias, stereotypes and discrimination is crucial in actually getting to the roots of racism.

Shaking off white people’s ignorance and stupidity is not easy to do, although I wish it were. But it’s a sticky, stinky invisible substance, like spit in the wind or worse, like those parasites that bore into the skin and uses your body to throw parties and leave the beer cans in your organs. We have all kinds of language, now, to help us explain why it’s hard to shake off racism and racist attitudes, terms like microaggression and gaslighting. We have studies about racism as post-traumatic stress. POC carry these encounters with us. We are, in a way, the epitome of The Bag Lady (Erykah Badu‘s version). And while I, personally, often forget the names or faces of those who have harmed me, I never forget the situations, the words, the energy, the tone and mood. I never forget that people whose ancestors corrupted this country through the annihilation of its original peoples and the enslavement of peoples brought over from other places are the very people who are now pointing their very crooked fingers into the faces of POC and calling us “racists”.

Ever wonder if they call white people racists? Because I surely do.

As always, I encourage you to share your experiences, in the comments box and/or in your own blog posts/essays.


*The thread of that exchange is here:

(White woman who doesn’t know me): I was reading your fb page (trying to figure out if you were close by). I do hope that you have some really positive experiences here in NC. Every person in the south is not the same. Every white is not a racist. Your statements are very bold and broad. I would suggest you consider to never lump every race, nationality, religion or color into one “adjective”. Our foster children deserve our very best. God bless.


Metta Sáma
Metta Sáma Huh? This post is about respite. If you want to chat in a different thread about the hundreds of essays I and others have written on the workings of racism in the U. S. & across the globe, feel free to start a new post.


Kathryn Stinson Harris
(White woman who doesn’t know me): Writing about racism and bold statements about whites and hating the south do not sound like any Foster parent I know.


Metta Sáma
Metta Sáma As I said, Kathryn, start a new post, to talk about your hashtag Not All White People angst. This post is for respite.


Kathryn Stinson Harris
(White woman who doesn’t know me): No thanks Metta. You have already displayed your hatred, which has no place in fostering. If you hate the south – move. Everyone is not the same. You are the racist in these circumstances. No foster child should be raised by someone with such a level of hatred. It’s wrong.