On Shakespeare’s Bigotry: An Open Letter

On Tuesday, 13 June 2017, I opened up the Buffalo News to find a perplexing letter to the editor. Someone named Gerhard Falk was calling for an end to the “literary correctness” that kept Shakespeare on our bookshelves and in our syllabi. Gerhard Falk wanted us to “ignore Shakespeare.”

This was absurd. You cannot, of course, “ignore” a force and a legacy that has shaped our culture, shaped our language, and shaped our understanding of ourselves. On top of that, Falk’s charge was a silly, tired one, something high school English teachers address as a prelude to a discussion of historical context and the importance of an author’s intentions to the value of a work of literature: namely, that Shakespeare is bigoted, and specifically anti-Semitic.

Gerhard Falk, I discovered, is a long-time Buffalo State sociology professor, and a survivor of the Holocaust.  The full text of his letter is below:

Recently I read “Hitler” by Joachim Fest. Evidently Adolf Hitler considered “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare his favorite play because it maligns the Jewish people in the most disgusting manner, thereby undoubtedly contributing to the mass murder of the European Jews.

The recent bombings in London and several other such atrocities in England and in the United States demonstrate that there is enough hatred in the world so that we need not teach our children by means of Shakespeare’s bigotry that religious hate is legitimate.

After I read “The Merchant of Venice,” I read all of his plays and discovered that his 16th century works are so remote from present day interests that it is unfortunate that “literary correctness” requires us all to pretend that Shakespeare was anything better than an antiquated bore.

There is some great literature in this world that is far more supportive of our democratic values than Shakespeare’s hate-mongering. Surely our English teachers know that and would do all of us a favor if they had the courage to ignore Shakespeare in favor of all the great American literature that our children evidently never see.

Gerhard understands the power of bigotry in a way that I never will. Still, he was wrong about Shakespeare, and wrong about the value of literature generally. I had to turn this letter to the editor into a conversation. I spent a Sunday afternoon drafting the following in longhand, and posted it to Gerhard’s address.

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[The Brother 2014]: Organizing Isolation excerpt in The Buffalo News

This past Sunday the Buffalo News poetry curator R.D. Pohl published [The Brother October 2014], an excerpt from my collection Organizing Isolation: Half-Lives of Love at Long Distance.

 

To order a copy of the book from Linoleum Press, click here.

Peach Mag Editor Reviews Organizing Isolation in The Public

Peach Mag editor Rachelle Toarmino reviewed Organizing Isolation in this week’s Public. Rachelle was the first person to see any drafts of these poems – it was Rachelle who suggested I reach out to Joel Brenden of Linoleum press to collaborate – and so it’s fitting that she should be the first voice to comment on the whole collection.

She liked it, I think.

The collection is a portrait of ultimates—love, religion, presence, absence—formed from the fragments of letters and postcards previously sent to Ryan by his loved ones. The resulting poems feed new life into moments whose hunger has long since abated. In a poem entitled “The Sister [September 2015],” Ryan collages text that reads, “I have no ideas / none significant or strange. / And living alone at the end causes me such unfunny anxiety. / I’ve never heard anyone shuffle like god / but I’m glad we are continuing.” The careful manipulation of the text speaks to the magical way we sometimes manipulate memories, given enough estrangement, in an attempt at what Ryan sharply terms “organizing isolation.”

Rachelle also noted Joel’s extraordinary book-artistry.

True to form, Brenden adds stunning craftsmanship to Ryan’s vision and produced an art object that plays with themes of organizing and the intimacy of handwritten letters.

Pick up a copy of The Public this week to see the review in print.

Organizing Isolation launched, on sale now from Linoleum Press

Last Friday night, the CEPA Studio Loft hosted the launch party for my debut poetry collection, Organizing Isolation: Half-Lives of Love at Long Distance.

Getting the #spot ready for tomorrow! Meet me @ 7pm right here.

A post shared by Aidan Ryan (@aidanlyaeus) on Apr 27, 2017 at 3:12pm PDT

The space was decorated with glossy prints of some of the poems from the book (as well as a taxidermied fox and a two-headed pigeon). My dear friends Noah Falck, Alana Kelley, and Gerry Crinnin read from their own work before I cracked open OI and read these poems to an audience for the first time.

About the Book

Organizing Isolation began with an initial act of theft. Emboldened, I embarked on a stealing spree that carried me from September 2016 through January 2017, a feat possible only, I think, because I was “lightly employed” as an adjunct professor at Canisius College during those months. Continue reading

Organizing Isolation on Peach, and Other Poetry #Wins This Week

been a week full of poetry #wins.

  1. Me on Peach.
  2. Babble at Geneseo.
  3. Dave Eggers at Bable.
  4. Toni Morrison on her way to Buffalo.
  5. Eve Wilson on AFROPUNK.
  6. Prince on Foundlings.

This isn’t in chronological order, nor is it in order of importance. But this post started as a way to share the poems from my new book that Peach Mag featured today. The Peach patrol picked three poems from ORGANIZING ISOLATION to post. They’re an interesting cross-section of what you’d find in the book — page poems, voice poems, and poems that don’t really qualify as poems.

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