A few people have asked to read the short statement I made at the AWP Cave Canem reading in Portland back in March. This statement is in response to the aftermath of the outing of Thomas Sayers Ellis as a habitual abuser and predator within the poetry community—and more specifically as it relates to young Black women poets. Here it is, posted below. (With some edits, I wrote it on my cellphone the night before.)
This taking to task, shedding of light might appear to be “railroading” as I have heard what happened to one of us be named, because we cannot imagine, do not wish to imagine or accept that there is an abuser among us. We believe in community so we say, “You, the survivor, are separating us.” Abusers cannot be (as in should not and therefore cannot have been) one of us. We say, “This person accused of being an abuser is one of us.” Excision is the real sin—it is the terror of not belonging that drives this response. To be disowned within by the harm this man has caused puts us in crisis. So, we must remove the accusation.
Accusation is the rupture seen, the rupture felt, the rupture experienced firsthand. We cannot imagine that it is anything but an excision, but a rupture, because an abuser cannot be one of us, cannot be me. This is a lie. We are so imperfect.
The rupture, the real rupture happened in the dark, stowed away for our plausible deniability. That rupture distracted if not outright silenced a young poet’s voice and we never noticed. I deign to say we never cared. I think we want to be understood as a community who cares. If one were to ask us right out if we cared we would be shocked at the gall of the question. Of course we care—but we never noticed.
It never seemed odd to us that the air sucked out of the room when his name was said—when he entered it. We mistook what was menacing for magnetism. We fixated on him and didn’t notice who was choking, who was gasping for air. We never reflected on the overrepresentation of women in our workshops and the underrepresentation of them on our bookshelves, our readings, prize panels and recipients of those prizes, the national stage. When we listened to what we called, “women’s poetry” we never thought of what could be written if that writer didn’t have to, return always, beautifully, and fearlessly, but constantly to the site of their terror.
What could she have written instead of that poem that gutted us beautifully and with her splayed flesh on the page? What could she have written otherwise? We never noticed. We never thought to imagine.
What ever happened to...?
You seen her?
She sure could write a poem.
Imagine a world where that beautiful language could be used for the intentionally frivolous. For anything else but the site of our unseeing.