Poetry Magazine wants you to believe

 CW: Child Sex Abuse.

Here we are again, friends. Poetry Magazine, the publication that--by virtue of sitting on millions of dollars--sets the tone for our field, has made another egregious editorial decision and the community is rent in its wake. 

Poetry Magazine asks us to believe that the editorial team is not acting in bad faith. 

Poetry Magazine asks us to believe the editors didn't understand including KN would have been harmful in any issue, but especially harmful in an issue that centers incarcerated/formerly incarcerated voices. 

They're asking us to believe their defense ("People in prison have been sentenced and are serving/have served those sentences; it is not our role to further judge or punish them as a result of their criminal convictions. As editors, our role is to read poems & facilitate conversations around contemporary poetry.") is offered in good faith and isn't an attempt to push a false equivalency narrative that lets them back away from commitments made at the height of BLM's coverage this summer.

Poetry Magazine is asking us to believe that because the nature of publishing poetry is inherently subjective, there can be no objective boundaries.

They're asking us to believe that editors at small presses and mags don't make this distinction regularly, with far less time, resources, or experience than an organization like the Poetry Foundation has at its disposal.

Poetry Magazine is asking us to believe they did not act in bad faith when they included Nesset in this issue instead of holding his poem for a different issue if they believed in it so much. They want us to see the impact of platforming a documented, convicted, and self-professed child abuser as unforeseeable and even irrelevant. 

They are asking us to believe that the editorial team didn't understand including Nesset in this issue would, at the very least, center him while overshadowing the other work in the issue.

Poetry Magazine is asking us to believe that nothing was learned two years ago when the work of Rita Dove, Faylita Hicks, Karisma Price, Ashanti Anderson, and others were overshadowed by a 30-page screed

nothing was learned two years before that when the black sun shrouded work by Tiana Clark and Faylita Hicks and Justice Ameer; they're asking us not to see a pattern, or at least, not to talk about the pattern.

They're asking us to hold space for all of the above to be true while maintaining they deserve to be the standard-bearer of our industry. 

The worst thing the editorial team at Poetry Magazine is asking us to believe is that giving a voice to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated writers necessitates also platforming sexual preditors. It's a backhanded middle finger to being coerced into inclusion. 

This strategy--providing an opportunity for change but creating harmful and dangerous circumstances around it, has a long history.

Poetry Magazine is asking us to believe that they're not invested in the status quo while engineering toxicity and harm into their efforts at change.

They want us to believe that if we want it bad enough, this is the price of admission, that if we want to be successful poets and serious editors, we must accept our institutions putting fascists, racists, and pedophiles on our playing field. 

Because the "all sides" approach has worked so well in public discourse.

The editorial team is asking us to play dumb, and if the last four years have taught us anything at all, it's that dumb people sitting on piles of cash shouldn't be in charge of anything.

In this issue, Dr. Joshua Bennett, a voice I admire, writes "I speak in the language of debt and repair, captivity and abolition, here, because I believe that these are the true stakes of the matter at hand." 

I have to wonder what the Nesset has restored when he writes about "having no teeth but eating meat no matter what."

Dr. Bennet continues, "Our struggle against the prison state must also be waged at the level of the aesthetic, and it is my sense that the poetry produced by the world’s captive is an absolutely critical space in which to engage in that struggle."

I agree. And for that reason, I have to ask, as Poetry Magazine's editors should have:

who really is the "world's captive" in this situation: the wealthy, educated, white man who was sentenced to 76 months in prison for possessing half a million images of child pornography, 

or the children whose abuse is captured in the images Mr. Nesset stored and distributed on the internet, where nothing ever dies?


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