Poetry Society of America Rocked By Scandal

Posted on September 27, 2007

The poetry world has been rocked by scandal, according to The New York Times. The Times says there have been a series of resignations as well as accusations of "McCarthyism, conservatism and simple bad management." A lot of the discussion has centered around whether or not the Frost Medal should be awarded to John Hollander because of comments he made.
Last Friday, William Louis-Dreyfus, who had been president of the board for the last six years, officially stepped down and quit the board, becoming the fifth person on the 19-member board to resign this year. This spring Walter Mosley, the novelist, resigned, and he was later joined by Elizabeth Alexander, a poet and professor of African-American and American studies at Yale University; Rafael Campo, a poet and professor at Harvard Medical School; and Mary Jo Salter, a poet and a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, who runs an international commodities trading and shipping firm and dabbles in writing poetry, said he resigned partly to protest what he regarded as an "exercise of gross reactionary thinking" among the other board members who left in the wake of the award to Mr. Hollander, a retired English professor at Yale.
So what did John Hollander say that was so disturbing that has directors of Poetry Society of America resigning in droves?
In one example, Mr. Hollander, writing a rave review in The New York Times Book Review of the collected poems of Jay Wright, an African-American poet, referred to "cultures without literatures -- West African, Mexican and Central American." And in an interview on National Public Radios "All Things Considered," a reporter paraphrased Mr. Hollander as contending "there isn't much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today."

Other board members said they felt that such comments were not characteristic of Mr. Hollander's views or had been misinterpreted. Mr. Louis-Dreyfus said that even if the comments were representative, they were irrelevant criteria for judging the Frost Medal, just as he would argue that Ezra Pound's anti-Semitism should not detract from the literary appreciation of his work.
It is unclear whether Mr. Hollander was misquoted on NPR or not -- the Times couldn't reach him for a comment before deadline. Walter Mosely resigned from the board of directors over the issue, and although he didn't say so it appears clear to us that he believes that Hollander's comments are racist.

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