Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Anders Carlson Wee’s Lousy Poem “How To...”
....If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,
say you’re pregnant—nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.
Here’s what I wrote someone:
....Flaccid: …soft, loose, unpleasant…
What “It’s about,”say the last two lines, is the virtual invisibility of the homeless to the non-homeless, to anyone with a roof over their head that they pay for. To the non-homeless, says the poem, the homeless function as virtual ciphers, signposts to the self identity of the non-homeless, signposts to who they are simply by contrast. Save for that prompt to identity, the homeless are as nothing to the passers-by-quickly who might drop a nickel or two down to them. The distinction’s flaccidity, how anemic it is, lies in the grossness of the generalization that doesn’t even begin to contemplate the possibility of diverse responses amongst “they.” Lack of even the beginning of nuance and, so, complexity, the lumping of everyone else as the castigated “they,” make this drivel facile.
And the generalization is more than that: it includes a shallow rendering of the complexity of emotions aroused by the homeless in those who pay them little heed and little money for their begging. I can immediately imagine a range of emotions in that heedlessness, even as it might be disgust. Disgust is aroused by what is perceived as violently foul, an assault on the senses. Heedlessness can be a way of accommodating disgust, forcing it into the clothes of uncaring. But that’s the opposite of near invisibility. Regardless, none of the massive number of other modes of response are even hinted at in the generalization. Not that Wee owes anyone a textbook of response, but to bury all that potential complexity, not to get to just even a hint of it, in the banality of “It’s about who they believe they is” is thin, lame and soft headed. It’s a platitude and, worse, it likes to think of itself as the key insight the drivel leads up to. So, another ground for flaccidity.
And then, there’s sheer incoherence: why all the advice as to exaggeration? By the last two lines, the exaggeration won’t matter. For the passers by, the homeless in all their iterations are mere signposts by contrast to “they’s” identity. And, if you take a minute to think about it, there is the incoherent implication that among the homeless, no one has aids, is pregnant, has legs splayed, is crippled and so on as the litany in the drivel proceeds. If the actuality of all those conditions doesn’t make the homeless more visible than they are in all of their own complex, deeply troubled humanity, how will the exaggerated pretense of those conditions? This thematic incoherence makes the advice, meant as shock and awe rejoinder to basic heedlessness, useless, a mere futile gesture, which is just about what this drivel adds up to. Which is an irony indeed, but an unintended one. So, really, the gratuitous mimicking of black vernacular aside, this drivel is totally politically correct in driving a banal distinction between the homeless and “they,” in deflating all nuance and complexity, in denying that there’s anything more to be said for the passers by-quickly and in wanting to shock them out of their self obsessive indifference. Irony lies in the flaccidity that undermines it all.
As for the mimicked black vernacular, there is no point to it: it’s a gratuitous effect. And if there is a point, what could it conceivably be? Could it be that in the black street sensibility, whatever that might be, manifest in black street idiom, there is a superior apprehension of these matters, an insight that whites can’t even pretend to? Were the answer to lie along that line, then the outraged would be doubly wrong in citing cultural appropriation to protest this drivel. For surely cultural appropriation is acceptable if it mocks the appropriator, specifically privileged and powerful white appropriators. In any event there are countless flaws if the answer does lie along this line. If it doesn’t, then I’m hard put to see its reason for being, which is to say, it’s but a gratuitous effect.
So to be clear I’m with Mac Donald in being 100% anti the outrage and in thinking Wee’s apology pathetic. But this flaccid drivel parading as a poem is lousy....