July 2nd, 2007


They have the heights.

My last year of college, I took a class taught by my advisor Ken McClane called "Contemporary African-American Poetry." It was by far the best course I took at Cornell, not only because it was a relief to finally get to read poets of color, but because we were allowed--nay, encouraged--to evaluate their writing on its face instead of being told we must love/respect/revere it simply by dint of the fact that it was being taught in a university.

Ken decided halfway through the semester to pull a fast one on us, though, handing out a copy of Harold Bloom's introduction to the 10th anniversary Best of the Best American Poetry anthology, an essay called "They have the numbers; we, the heights", a nauseating tirade in which he whines about the inclusion of writing by women, people of color, queers in university curricula and explains why he has ignored in its entirety the 1996 edition of that anthology, edited by Adrienne Rich. Here's a fun excerpt:
That 1996 anthology is one of the provocations for this essay, since it seems to me a monumental representation of the enemies of the aesthetic who are in the act of overwhelming us. It is of a badness not to be believed, because it follows the criteria now operative: what matters most are the race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, and political purpose of the would-be poet.
I was, how you say, incensed, and for my final paper for that class, I wrote the essay pasted below. (If you bother to wade through it--it's long--do be gentle, as I wrote it nearly a decade ago--good lord.)

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