Poets in The New York Daily News Article Respond: CAMILLE RANKINE

by on Jan.03, 2014

[I asked the women featured in the New York Daily News article if I could interview them about the public response to the article. I asked them each the same set of five questions. Some of the women preferred to answer specific questions; others chose to write their own essays. I’ll be posting their responses here serially over the next 24 hours.]

 

CAMILLE RANKINE

1) What was your approach to presenting yourself in the photo? And was it actualized?

I was just trying to look like myself. And I think I was reasonably successful.

 

3) Do you consciously cultivate a public image that refracts, troubles, or adds to your poetry in some way?

I’ve worked in and around poetry in some capacity for a few years now – I worked Cave Canem Foundation previously, and am now at Manhattanville College’s MFA Program, plus I serve on The Poetry Project board and co-chair the Poetry Committee for the Brooklyn Book Festival – so when I think of a public image, I think of it mostly in the context my work for those organizations, and I try to keep it professional. I tend to be a cautious person, and I often think ahead to all the possible consequences of my actions, so I’m careful about how I present myself and what I say in a public sphere, because I don’t want anything to come back and haunt me or any organization I represent. Other than that, I don’t give much thought to cultivating an image. I’m mostly just trying not to embarrass myself.

 

4) What have been your thoughts and feelings around the uproar over the article?

Frankly, I anticipated there would be some grumblings over this before the article even came out. And once I saw the photos, I guessed what would follow. But I wasn’t paying much attention to the internet when it was published, because I was home with my family for the holidays and there was much food to be eaten and many movies to be watched and general fun to be had by all, so I missed whatever nuance there may have been to the conversation. Is the issue with what the poets are wearing? If so, I’m fairly sure all these women left their homes with those outfits on because that’s what they wanted to wear that day, and weren’t necessarily even aware that they’d be photographed—this was true in my case. So if someone wants to take a photo of you while you are wearing the clothes you happen to have on at that moment, what’s the problem there, exactly? Or are people upset that some of these women are in positions that appear possibly to be sexy or have looks on their faces that are suggestive of possible sexiness? If so, I know that these women are all adults and most likely in full possession of their faculties, and I hope they have chosen facial expressions and/or positions that they are comfortable with, as I did in my own photo. And if that is in fact the case, then isn’t it kind of their business how sexy they want to appear in a photo? Or is the concern that these women were selected because they are all reasonably attractive? Perhaps there could be an argument made on that front, but that argument also minimizes these women’s accomplishments as poets, which we can all learn about for ourselves through the bios and excerpts from their work that were printed alongside the photos.

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