On Beauty, Excess, and the Limits of Identity Politics in Lambda and Beyond

by on May.26, 2012

Trans poet/rapper Mykki Blanco reacting to all the brouhaha.

If you haven’t been following the queer poetry blogosphere the past couple of days, a provocative conversation has arisen about beauty, style, race, and privilege in contemporary American poetry.  Over at Lambda, a piece by Jameson Fitzpatrick has come under fire for championing the self-presentation of NYC poet Alex Dimitrov, the organizer of a much-talked about poetry salon called Wilde Boys.  Fitzpatrick’s article is itself in response to a comment made by Eduardo C. Corral about his feelings of exclusion in the queer NYC poetry scene.  Here’s Corral followed by Fitzpatrick’s take:

“The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider…I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in.”

Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.

As many on the comments thread and other blogs point out, Fitzpatrick’s argument overlooks the role of race, class, and other power dynamics rampant not just in queer poetry circles but the LGBTQ community at large.  By contrasting Dimitrov’s emphasis on aesthetics with Corral’s words, the article fails to account for the politics behind ‘beauty’, a concept all-too-often synonymous among gay men with being white, thin/muscular, affluent, and stylish.  As Corral, a Latino poet, says in his interview, “One young man told me, ‘You don’t look like the rest of us.'”

As a queer, light-skinned Latino poet, I have many feelings about this discussion not because I’m familiar with either Dimitrov’s or Corral’s work (I’ve only read a few poems by each) but because the rhetoric on both sides of the debate seems worth questioning.  While I think Fitzpatrick’s article is problematic, I wonder if much of the dissenting response isn’t guilty of its own brand of normativity and policing about what queer writing is and does.   Several commentators criticize Fitzpatrick and Dimitrov’s interest in “being beautiful” while “writing beautiful poems” as superficial, immature, and individualistic.  Beauty, as their line of argument suggests, should be contained; it’s not meant to exceed the act of writing, which itself should only engage beauty in a measured and cautious way.  C. Dale Young, for example, offers the following on his blog:

Someone once tried to convince me you could only see the beautiful if you had seen the grotesque, but I disagree. I believe to see beauty one must also see the ordinary out of the corner of one’s eye. So, in the drafting, the getting the poem down, I do not think of beauty. But in revision I do, and at that point I am also keenly aware that to have beauty one must also have the ordinary. If a poem is filled with nothing but the beautiful, it becomes a kind of grotesque. In the end, I strive not for beauty but for elegance, remembering that elegance arises from simplicity and not from the beautiful. Reliance on the beautiful, reliance on detail, gives rise not to elegance but to the baroque, something which if taken to the extreme is grotesque.

I understand Young’s idea of beauty to be ultimately about balance.  For him, beauty should be an afterthought as opposed to an obsession, it should be ordinary as opposed to sublime, it should aim for elegance and not the baroque or grotesque.  As in so much rhetoric about art and poetry, beauty therefore verges on the tasteless taboo of kitsch.  Here I can’t help but think of countless queer writers who are interested precisely in excess, the low-brow, the sublime, the baroque, and/or the grotesque, not to mention the inseparability of art and life.  I wonder, What Would Saint Genet Say about Young’s distinctions?  And what about hugely influential artists and writers of color such as Samuel Delaney, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Frida Kahlo, and Basquiat, all of whom use excess in their work as a response to both heteronormative and whitewashed notions of the beautiful?

If Young’s benchmark of elegance sadly marginalizes these artists, so does Fitzpatrick’s failure to place aesthetic standards in a political context.  I don’t think Young and Fitzpatrick are alone in this.  One need only look as far as the Lambda review of Lonely Christopher’s The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse to see how the kind of excessive writing I’m talking about gets policed even in gay writing circles.  The question on my mind, then, is where do such predominant “queer” filters leave Montevidayans and other contemporary writers with which I feel affinity?  What about the exclusion of Genet’s and Sor Juana’s children?  Why do I get more out of the excessive beauty of writers who identify as neither queer nor Latino (Alice Notley, Kim Hyesoon, and Peter Richards, to name just three) than work that is typically celebrated within those identity categories?

These questions also came to me while reading Rigoberto González’s Harriet post on Letras Latinas and other efforts to increase the visibility of Latino writing:

Some writers may reject this path toward publication and mentorship, and that’s fine, just don’t expect any love back. These are already crowded houses anyway, and yet, there’s always a will to make room for one more. But only those who thrive within them know the importance of keeping an old tradition–of coming together in the spirit of shared experience–alive. It’s a very cold and expansive landscape out there, and communities like these, publishing series and retreats like these, make the journey into the professional and artistic world a little less daunting and, frankly, a little less white and straight–believe me, the queer factor in all of these organizations is palpable.

For a young writer like me, who can publish in marginal journals in line with my tastes but not LGBTQ-only publications, and who writes about being an immigrant more with the mutating impulse of Bhanu Kapil than the identity-carving narratives of most diasporic writers, it is in fact ‘a very cold and expansive landscape out there.’  Only the issue is not, as González suggests, that I reject the expected avenues for publication and mentorship.  Instead, those avenues have consistently rejected me.  Many of us poets on the margins, younger and older alike, have learned not to ‘expect any love back’ from the very people we might have once thought would at least recognize, if not share, the literary traditions from which we draw.

The point I want to stress is that this is as much a political and ethical issue as it is an aesthetic issue.  Too often, I think, efforts to highlight the presence of poets who don’t fit the identitarian norm fall prey to the biases of American literary culture at large.  These biases are themselves normative because they enforce an aesthetics of good taste.  As an unexamined tendency, the rejection of excess seems especially pernicious in the context of Lambda and other queer writing communities.  In theory and praxis, from Foucault and Butler to ACT UP and Claude Cahun, queerness has always been about defiant exploration rather than obedience to prescription.  I think I speak for many of us on the literary and social margins, whether queer or otherwise, when I say that to be there is already a position ‘in bad taste.’  Otherness is, by definition, that which exceeds conventional notions of beauty and the body, that which breeds monsters instead of models, or better yet, monstrous models.  What my writing and art-making asks of me is an expression of this monstrosity as what I feel it to be, that is, hardly a state of peace, grace, stability, or austerity.

22 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes Göransson

    Great post Lucas. I probably came late to this controversy but I read Eduardo’s interview first, and I have to say that I immediately had two reactions which are similar to your take here: 1) wow racist and 2) not another attack on “hipsters,” attacks that tend to function as a limit-critique/policing of beauty – as your apt quote from Young suggests: Don’t be too obsessed by Beatuy, that’s irresponsible.

    Though in the end the #2 doesn’t seem to apply that much to the Wilde Boys since they seem (from what I can tell from very superficial This engagement with this controversy) to engageTHi in a pretty middle-of-the-road kind of way with beauty; and in fact it’s, as you suggest, that middle-of-the-road-ness that makes them liable to racism. Though I should say that I don’t know too much about them and know nothing about their poetry.

    I think it’s important to note that beauty is political. And that Genet (since you refer to him as the saint of excessive aesthetics) was deeply politically committed (he lived with palestinian refugees for years, he traveled with and supported the black panthers in the US). For Genet, it seems to me it’s exactly the excess of art that wounds us, shatters us, ruins our conventional “selves” and opens us up to radical politics. (Connecting back to my post about Bersani the other day:http://montevidayo.com/?p=2847).

    I find the Young quote just to be at the heart of a lot of the normative aesthetics in US poetry, which continually defines art as irresponsible and excessive (which is correct, which is why I love art), something that needs to the tempered by “the everyday” and “normal.” With “craft.” This to me suggests a normative aesthetics of “mastery” (of “art” and identity), as opposed to excessive art.

    The Latino issue is really interesting. I’ve been involved in many discussion about latina/o literature which have completely baffled me. For example, it seems to be a pervasive idea that in order to be a true “latino poet” one needs to write a kind of narrative poetry of experience, and cannot be in any way experimental (ie I’ve been told Sandy Florian is not Latina b/c she doesn’t write explicitly about “the latina experience” even though she’s of Puerto Rican descent); and I’ve been told that “Latino” poetry does not include Latin American poets (ie, I was told that Zurita wasn’t a Latino poet b/c he is Chilean, not American). I think Craig Santos Perez has written about this matter. Perhaps he can give some insight into the matter. I think it’s an interesting debate to have (outside of the Wilde Boys/Eduardo debate) and it seems to have relevance to all kinds of issues of minority culture issues.

    Johannes

  2. ana bozicevic

    Hi Lucas, thank you for this. A conversation on the exciting and reward-free path of writing outside of established outsider narratives (queer and / or national, raced etc) is so very welcome. La guerre c’est nous, and that’s beauty.

  3. Daniel Tiffany

    Elaine Scarry offers an interesting way of thinking about excessive beauty as being somehow ordinary, which raises lively questions about queer subjectivity and mass culture. She says that beauty always–not just sometimes–calls into being “replications” of itself, which can turn into a “contagion of imitation.” Chains of replications of beauty–like, say, Rihanna’s hair color–extend to “all the pockets of the world”–to infinity, to excess.

    One thing this suggests (though Scarry shows no interest in beauty’s relation to mass culture or queer identity) is that beauty has some kind of structural affinity with the reproducibility of mass culture. But the process of replication also foregrounds the principle of mimeticism, which may suggest a queering of mass culture.

    If the reproducibility of kitsch–not camp–can be seen as emblematic of excessive beauty, then kitsch marks, one could say, a historical moment in which the reproducibility of beauty–its queerness–becomes its most salient feature.

  4. Seth Oelbaum

    Everyone should be beautiful. I think to be a beauty you need courage, power, style, and theatricality. Tyrants are beautiful. So is Candy Darling.

    I first read about the Wilde poetry in the New York Times. I like the idea of a bunch of cute boys reading poetry. But why did they invite Jorie Graham? Is Jorie Graham gay?

    I don’t share Lucas’s concern about the government of gay poetry. There does seem to be lots of restrained poetry along the lines of “wah, I have AIDS,” or “yay, I have a boyfriend who I can write confessional poetry about like a heterosexual.” But there’s also amazing messy poetry like Julian Brolaski. I think there’s plenty of room for all the boys.

    Lucas, your affiliation with this blog gives a powerful base in which to voice your ideas. You’re not exactly on the margins.

    Something that has been bothering me for quite some time does have to do with all this…. Why did Ashbery translate Rimbaud’s Illuminations? As Lydia Davis said in the NYTBR, Illuminations is his least playful work. Its poems are nowhere near as violent, sharp, and murderous are his earlier ones. Sometimes I think Illuminations are lauded so much simply because they’re the most presentable. He’s not stabbing people. It’s safer. It’s not as excessive.

  5. Ken Chen

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been following this madly and I think I might draw the cultural map slightly different. The ones trying to restrict beauty aren’t the critics of Wilde Boys–as in some sort of rote Culture War template–it’s the Wilde Boys themselves, who have seemed to argue on behalf of a rather naive and conservative conception of beauty. They specifically talk about beauty using metaphors of culling and containment on Facebook. At best, they’re erotica (the beauty that reifies preexisting norms), if Montevidayo is porn. They’re beauty as voluptuous-middlebrow-Italian-crossover-Oscar-winner, if Montevidayo is John Waters and The Color of Pomegranate.

    Second, beauty is undoubtedly political and racialized in a way that can’t help but be conservative, since most poets answers to the question “What is beautiful?” ends up being circular (aesthetic, art, lyric, etc.) and inevitably referring to past standards of excepted, pre-commodified beauty. As we all know, the flaneur is the spy of capitalism.

    Finally, I think it’s easy to assume that ethnic poetry is opposed to avant-garde poetry, but this doesn’t need to be the case. On the one hand, the Black Audio Film Collective was more appreciated by Chris Marker than by the UK Black community and Cha wasn’t really recognized by the Asian American lit world in her lifetime. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case right now, in a world where Bhanu is blogging for the Poetry Foundation. In the case of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, we’ve probably had more writers in the Mei-Me, John Yau, Cathy Hong, Tao Lin, Shanxing Wang, Ronaldo Wilson, etc., line than what you would normally recognize as mainstream. Ronaldo’s done more with us and Kundiman than he has with Wilde Boys.

    A few more substantive points on avant-garde vs ethnicity: 1) It’s arguable that, for a number of reasons, the ethnic canon is incentivized to be avant-garde (e.g., Dictee, Woman Warrior, Rushdie, Karen Yamashita); 2) Even the emphasis towards narrative could suggest the possibility for a type of neo-primitivism that might be up the alley of most Montevidayo peeps.

    Whoops–got to head out. More later maybe.

  6. Lucas de Lima

    Seth, I think you have a very skewed perspective of the poetry landscape if you think my association with Montevidayo means I’m not marginal. Also I don’t think the AIDS joke is funny. The trauma of AIDS is one of the things I think my generation of “beautiful” gay men forget.

    Ken, I’ll respond more in a few hours cuz I have to head out myself, but I try to say in my post that I think both sides are restricting beauty. Neither one wants the pornography of this blog.

    Ok, to be continued…

  7. Kate Z.

    “Otherness is, by definition, that which exceeds conventional notions of beauty and the body, that which breeds monsters instead of models, or better yet, monstrous models. What my writing and art-making asks of me is an expression of this monstrosity as what I feel it to be, that is, hardly a state of peace, grace, stability, or austerity.” – I love this. Copying it down now.

  8. Jenny Z.

    My monstrous spirit thanks you excessively & effusively for this post.

  9. John Bloomberg-Rissman

    As someone neither queer nor beautiful nor immigrant nor .. (just an old jewboy from Chicago / LA entering his 60s), as I read all this I keep thinking back to Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” As long as there is a center, as long as there is power, as long as there is normativity, these kinds of horrid problems won’t go away. I say horrid because they involve people in a bad kind of pain.

  10. Seth Oelbaum

    I think there’s different kinds of margins. There’s the “aesthetic” margin. This is why Montevidayo is wonderful. Many of the ideas expressed on this forum demonstrate the breathtaking art of NOT being a homo-hetero human with agency. But there’s also the quantitative margin. The numerical measurement whereby it’s determined what there’s more and less of. Based on my interactions with poets and readers Montevidayo has considerable influence. It’s important. Since your an ambassador for Montevidayo, you, too, aren’t without a base to launch your critiques.

    The majority-minority language is frustrating. What is so great about the majority? When I think of the majority images of Barack Obama, GLADD, and Thomas L. Friedman pop into my head. None of these pictures are exciting and compelling. Do you want to be a part of normative LGBTQ (whatever their silly acronym is) publications? Do you think it publishes fine poetry? There seems to be better words one can use when speaking about art, like cuteness, violence, and pretty girls. These terms allow for discussions NOT centered around normative America imperialism and their very un-glamorous concept of life.

    My line about AIDS was not a joke. Your use of “trauma” is at odds with many in the gay community who are presently out chasing bugs and giving gifts. AIDS as a “trauma” reinforces the majority’s power. What is so traumatizing about death and dying? Is it because a human life is lost or because there’s one less consumer? Moreover, why is trauma a bad thing? The trauma of AIDS, as DA Powell has shown, makes for intriguing poetry.

  11. Kim

    Interesting post and discussion. That article strike me as tediously defensive and prescriptive. I don’t understand why and how beauty could possibly be threatened by that ‘attitude’ unless the view of beauty was already limited and fragile and in need of a quarantine. A certain kind of beauty.

    I don’t much like groups, and though being an immigrant, have no idea what that means nor any interest in shaping a kind of identity around it. How dull to choose one and besides throw it a party? If anything, the concept of immigrant seems absurd, so maybe it interests me as being absurd. It probably comes at a price though, if you don’t groom a certain voice, I mean.

  12. Lucas de Lima

    Ken, yes, beauty as a term is rarely framed in politics, which is why I think this discussion gives us all an opportunity to press this point. Where I see myself diverging from the Lambda dissenters is that I think beauty is political when you talk about not just bodies but also art. As for ethnic writing and the a-g, maybe you’re referring to Marjorie Perloff’s comment from way back. I purposefully didn’t use the term “avant-garde” here because it seems that a lot of work that’s considered a-g is actually very much about notions of high art/good taste as opposed to excess (Johannes has written many times about this). And yes, it’s great that writers like Bhanu and Ronaldo are embraced in certain venues, but as you point out, in others their kind of writing remains unwelcome.

    Seth, perhaps where you and I differ is that I’m interested in intervening in normativity. It’s not enough for me to be in oases like MV. I don’t even know where to start with your dismissal of AIDS as trauma. Do you really think most people get HIV by bug-chasing? And why is that not in itself symptomatic of trauma? Do you get that trauma, too, is deeply rooted in political circumstances? You need to do a lot of reading and get back to me some other day. Start with Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives.

  13. Adam Atkinson

    Lucas, I wholeheartedly agree that much of the critique of the Fitzpatrick article was misguided in its attempt to contain the concepts of “beauty” and “writing talent,” when that was one of the significant flaws in Fitzpatrick’s response in the first place. I also concur that resistance to a real investigation of the concept of beauty (again exhibited both by Fitzpatrick and his critics) can and does manifest itself in ways that are conservative and homophobic. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose, given how, in the larger LGBTQ community, pro-gay-rights arguments can often be just as normative as the anti-gay ones.

    And your vulnerable honesty (“Many of us poets on the margins, younger and older alike, have learned not to ‘expect any love back’ from the very people we might have once thought would at least recognize, if not share, the literary traditions from which we draw.”) is much needed and appreciated. It speaks both to what Corral seems to have felt when he first critiqued NYC queer poets (though not Dimitrov or the Wilde Boys by name) and the bewildered, if well-meaning, sentiments from Dimitrov in the aftermath of all this.

    Seth, your understanding of what puts someone on the margins seems pretty reductive. The center (and its periphery) is not a neatly-drawn zone. Is Corral necessarily *not* marginal, in any way, because he was selected by the Yale Younger Poets Series? Did Pepper LaBeija suddenly constitute the center when Jennie Livingston gave her “Paris is Burning” as a pulpit from which to speak/perform? Aside from the crassness of your comments on AIDS and AIDS-informed poetry (which may actually include some of the ‘messy poetry’ you prefer in ways you haven’t recognized), your assessment that gay poetry includes ‘restrained’ work actually reinforces the point Lucas made that conservatism is found in many corners, even marginalized ones. Lucas recommends Wojnarowicz, but I’d start by rereading this very post for the points of agreement you seem to be (willfully?) overlooking.

  14. Adam Atkinson

    PS: I’m aware that it was PEPPER who gave JENNIE ‘Paris is Burning,’ but you know what I mean!

  15. Seth Oelbaum

    Dear Lucas,

    Sorry, I was a bit flustered when I composed that previous AID paragraph. I want to clarify what I mean.

    The “trauma” of AIDS stems from the idea that the individual human subject is valuable. The supposed horribleness of the diseases is that the human subject is destroyed. I am not interested in human bodies. I am not concerned with AIDS or those who’ve contracted it via sex. Tim Dean and Leo Bersani are wrong. As Baby Alexander writes in his Bambi Muse essay, “Baby Alexander Likes Art Staunchly”: “Sex can’t destroy the person because the person has to be there to have sex.”
    Sex needs concrete human bodies to engage with. Gay culture’s preoccupation with sex is concomitant with its obsession with corporeality. I want to get far away from the human body and the ideology (American-English colonialism) that locates power around the individual person.

    My ideas correspond to Xuela in Autobiography Of My Mother. She refuses any sort of positive identification. She doesn’t want to be anything because that would only continue the constrained colonial project. A happy life, for Xuela, would prove that the colonizers were right — that they do know the best way to be. Gay people have been and continue to support the invalid superiority of normative American culture. They want to have sex. They want to get married. They want to lavish their bodies with pleasure and companionship. I want a world where the limelight is directed away from corporeal pursuits.

    Though I disagree with Dean’s barebacking book. I do agree with the thesis of his Beyond Sexuality. Art can extinguish the human body. Here’s what Baby Alexander says about watching Disney’s artistic masterpiece, Cinderella:

    When Baby Alexander watches Cinderella, his body doesn’t have to move. It sits still. Cinderella needs almost nothing of Baby Alexander’s body. The Disney princess only requires his eyes and ears. Baby Alexander’s eyes and ears become Cinderella’s. He sees what she does, like the cute mice. He hears what she hears, like the brutish cat. Cinderella moves so Baby Alexander doesn’t have to. Cinderella is Baby Alexander. Art is the way you blow up flesh, not sex.

    Art supplants the human body. It makes it disappear.
    Art combats normative power since normative modes of governance can’t control a human body that does not exist. America needs an “I.” AIDS, to recap, brings the focus back on the human body. Gays want an “I” too.

    Also, Lucas, I’m not sure your division between mainstream gay poetry and marginalized gay poetry is sustainable. Both DA Powell and David Trinidad enjoy lots of recognition. I like Powell’s representation of AIDS. It relocates the AIDS trauma to movies and porcelain Lana Turners. Trinidad composes villanelles about Chatty Cathy dolls and pantoums on about the machinations on the Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? set. These two poets like “lowbrow” and “kitsch” and they have prospered. Trinidad has just released a selected poems. Powell’s books have been reviewed in Entertainment Weekly. I think the queer poetry circles are a lot bigger than you make them out to be, Lucas.

  16. Lucas de Lima

    As a virus through which bodies infect one another, AIDS itself demonstrates that the body is not reducible to the individual. The body is everything else–including human and nonhuman bodies and ecologies (the chimp that supposedly developed HIV, the alligator blood that destroys it). Art does not supplant the human body but intensifies its contiguity with everything else. So does AIDS, which is not about the “I” but the “we,” including the dead who speak through us.

    I like DA Powell’s work a lot and spent quite a bit of time with him when he visited my MFA program. But neither his work nor Trinidad’s speaks to the level of excess I’m talking about, which is actually all about foregrounding the body in the way that a poet liek Ronaldo Wilson does. I don’t think you’ll be seeing his name in EW anytime soon.

  17. Lucas de Lima

    Adam and others, thank you for elaborating! There’s so much more to say about this issue, you’re giving me much food for thought.

  18. Andy Rojas

    “If Young’s benchmark of elegance sadly marginalizes these artists, so does Fitzpatrick’s failure to place aesthetic standards in a political context.”

    can one express a point of view without marginalizing others?

    and is your critique not a marginalization?

    in a life of finite time and resources, is to chose the same as to marginalize other possible choices?

    everything is political, of course. I would add everything is a marginalization.

  19. Lucas de Lima

    Andy, as the Lambda controversy demonstrated in the first place, there is always a hierarchy. And the hierarchy of American poetry is a particularly suffocating and oppressive one. So, no, precisely because everything is political, not everything is a marginalization. Just as certain bodies are privileged over others, so are certain aesthetics. And this hierarchy has real, material implications. How can I marginalize Mark Doty when he’s the one judging and winning prizes, teaching students, influencing other poets, publishing in major presses and journals, making quite a nice living off his work, etc. His aesthetics are given disproportionate attention over mine and other poets I have more in common with.

  20. Andy Rojas

    I speak of action, not effect.

    in my discourse, I can marginalize anyone. of course, in the greater scheme of things, what effect my aesthetic judgment has is a wholly different issue.

    this is something I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve tried to encourage students with all styles of poetry for years. but ultimately, my aesthetic judgment privileges some student’s work over others. I’ve never been able to figure out (yet) how to encourage those I am most fond of without marginalizing the others.

    and thank you for this discussion

  21. Lucas de Lima

    Not sure how helpful this is for teaching, but I think it’s important to be upfront about one’s tastes and declare one’s aesthetic. “Poetry” magazine obviously does not represent all of poetry, but it still claims to. Similarly, almost all of the job candidates for a recent hire at my MFA program claimed to be steeped in a variety of traditions, when clearly they weren’t. They were mostly very much about the narrow canon of American poetry.

    At the same time I think it’s also key to read widely and be open to new aesthetics. Johannes makes a great point in his post today that older American poets just want to be tastemakers and have their writing style constantly reinforced by younger poets. As if there were nothing new under the sun. Risk-taking and individuality are not things American poetry values, which is all the more reason to encourage both in the classroom.

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