Kirk Nesset’s poem, “One Place Is as Good as the Next” was published in POETRY Magazine’s “Practice of Freedom” issue owing to white, male, upper crusty privilege. He took a spot that belonged to someone else.
I am both a poet and a proud member of the working-class. My father was a union USPS postal worker, Worldway LAX. As a child, I was taught if you work hard and play by the rules, then the odds will work out in your favor. I think they call that meritocracy.
Meritocracy is a sham under neoliberalism. The chances of you moving anywhere but sideways is low compared to many industrialized countries, and if you’re Black your path is almost always downwards.
Despite what studies show, meritocracy is still very much encouraged by the amplification of the glass ceiling narrative and the hypervisibility of the exceptional Black woman.
The propagation of the lie is continued in all fields, including academia which is inclusive of creative writing and literary submissions by contests, fellowships, and tenure. To achieve these prizes and positions -—there is supposedly a rubric; a set of criteria that you must meet for entry and acceptance. Every single opportunity that I have ever received in my life is owed to this idea. Never in my life has anyone ever handed me or given me a phone call for an opportunity.
As a Black woman with food, shelter, and dental, there is a general held belief that I should not worry about anything more than living and dying. Possibly as a “minority,” I do not understand. Even enlightened social champions proclaim this weltanschauung.
Let’s return to POETRY Magazines, “Black History” yet “Not Black History,” Prison Issue. It was named the “Practice of Freedom” that was de-raced for some reason— yet it wasn’t.
POETRY Magazine should be acting with noblesse oblige, great patrons with their endowment of over quarter billion dollars. Instead, they are acting as rakes, cads, and selfish debaucherists by supporting Kirk. How many chances should a sex offender get after they have hurt children?
Kirk had the benefits of privilege, his class, his race, and his gender and he was allowed to push some of the most disenfranchised members of society out the way, because his privilege allowed him to have the right kind of friends.
Of course, how could I, a working-class Black woman from Los Angeles, understand the more significant issues? As Arendt said, “I’m not the best judge.”
I don’t even have an exceptional path. I am an alumna of a small Catholic women’s college in Los Angeles, where my roommates and friends were first-generation college students who spoke Spanglish and Ebonics. I also do not have some horrific backstory, the preferred costume of the depraved white person posing as Black or Latino to entertain the privilege’s unimgination with a modern pathologized minstrel show, so they can then thieve opportunities.
Kirk has published under the pseudonym Damon Macias Moreno because he understands the rules —from deep inside.
I reached out to POETRY Magazine to ask them what the process was to narrow down the submissions. They directed me to a post that stated:
It is quite possible, my working-class accent was too thick, as I clearly didn’t type a question regarding convictions (my working-class accent is apparently so strong that even my emails give me away), so I explained that was not my question. I again asked them was there no respect for craft? Were there no criteria other than getting your work in first? With thousands of submissions, there was no rubric? I would expect, regardless of a person’s social standing, there would be some kind of criteria in regards to craft. How was the poetry assessed and I asked the following questions directly for a second time:
- What was the rubric for narrowing down the submissions?
- What was the rubric for insertion into the February 2021 POETRY Magazine Issue?
- Also, are the point values for the submissions available?
- Is the scoring sheet available?
I received no response. One is only to assume there was none, and that is how privilege works.
Privilege works in the dark. Privilege works by only certain people knowing the rules and knowing the game, and usually, those people are wealthy and white, or the dogsbodies of the wealthy and white.
I’m going to assert that in absence of evidence, there was no rubric for “Practice in Freedom.” There were no criteria, the watchdog in “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” didn’t bark. The rubric was as real as “Not me” in a “Family Circus” cartoon and about as funny. Just randomly picking pets and friends out of a hat for a throwaway “very special” issue. In the typical disrespectful manner that the well-bred and high-tuitioned have for the unwashed masses. So into rules and standards and hard work for everyone, except when it applies to them and their projects.
I wonder what Black, Chicano, or Puerto Rican writer did they lie to and say their work wasn’t good enough to be included in the “Practice of Freedom” issue.
We had many amazing submissions and while we would love to say that everyone is a winner, today Mr. Jackson we must, unfortunately….but thank you for your submission, it’s been an honor for us to read your work. We recommend that you submit again, next year.
The issue is this; POETRY Magazine has so much money that they don’t even have to do the faux meritocracy. It is about who you know, who you are, and who you were born as, but they could at least have some honor— and not act in a manner which appears to be lying through omission.
But they are generous, do not forget it. You can be in a special issue on prisons or purple people, but remember, even that issue will leave plenty of room for the privileged and their pets.
Can you bark like a dog? Can you hop on one foot? Can you fetch? Can you eat your own shit? Can I film you?
Poetry is for the privileged, possibly something I should not concern myself with, my job apparently is to prove that I am an entertaining extra-talented Black human or a tragic pet. It is not my place to critique the wisdom of the Poetry Gods.