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.

Continue reading

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

One editor’s tips for writers submitting to journals, lit mags, and zines

There are “rules” for sending your work to literary magazines, and they don’t usually appear in submission guidelines.

Foundlings Vol. 3 will be out in just about two months. We’re very excited about this, but we can’t share any information about the contents just yet. Submissions closed at the end of March, and we’ve been reviewing them since then. It’s a humbling thing to see an inbox full of so much stirring work from so many writers, friends and strangers both, and a difficult task to pick just a few poems to include in each volume of the magazine. Being an editor, or any kind of curator, forces you to examine your own gut reactions to writing, and to articulate your artistic beliefs and preferences to yourself, to the other editors who share in this work, and eventually to the writers who’ve submitted. (At least, we try — more on that further down.)

I don’t submit my own work to magazines as often as I used to (and some day soon I hope to explain why), but I still devote a lot of postage every year to SASEs. My file of rejections — digital and physical — continues to swell steadily, at a greater annual rate of growth than any of my financial investments.

Now, though, a full year and a half since the other Foundlings editors and I decided to start our project, and after three rounds of submissions, I’m starting to think like an editor. I’ve begun to recognize the most common sins hopeful writers commit during the submissions process. And, lest you misunderstand me, I’m not about to dish on unsavory side of the Foundlings Gmail inbox. We do see some faux pas; some writers make us uncomfortable, and some are unpardonably swinish and rude. But the vast majority are awesome.

This isn’t about our submissions. Instead, I think, the act of editing now three volumes of poetry, and all the ways that’s drawn me into sharing more and more pints and conversations with other writers and editors, have made me more aware of the peccadilloes and travesties writers so frequently commit in their pursuit of publication. For most of the rules below, I could provide a counterexample from my own catalog of bad habits and regrets.

So, read on for a few tips all hopeful writers would do well to remember when submitting their work to lit mags and zines.

1. Be the Wayne Gretzky of letters. Or at least the Happy Gilmore.

While many have debated both the attribution and the mathematical accuracy of The Great One’s famous assertion that “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” even the most cynical cannot deflect this slapshot of an aphorism. I’ve heard many writers explain why they haven’t submitted to such-and-such a magazine, and their reasons are usually pretty similar: “I don’t know if they’ll like me,” or “I’m not sure if I’m ready yet,” or “They only publish people with MFAs/cool names.”

Image result for gilmore girls gifs

All of these things might be true. Editors might not like you. You might not be ready yet. And entire magazine staffs might have really idiotic and lame conscious or unconscious biases. But you should probably submit anyway. Take that shot.

In most cases, the excuses I’ve listed above are code for “I’m not a serious writer.” So, maybe you aren’t. That doesn’t mean you’ll never be a serious writer. The change could come when you decide that you have to be great, that you are great, and that other people will love you for it. Not all the people who feel that way are, great, of course. But the people who feel that way are more likely to keep writing and keep submitting until they do write good work; more likely to submit that good work; and more likely to see their good work in print.

There are only two reasons that should ever stop you from licking that stamp. One, don’t submit if you know in the blue flame of your writerly heart that you’d be mortified to see some flawed or unfinished work in print. For the second reason, keep reading.

Continue reading

“Speak, poet”: Buffalo News highlights new poets in the city’s scene

The Buffalo News Gusto cover last week featured an arresting image: facing out of the page, a man in a black leather jacket, head bent to a slim volume in his right hand, left hand rising and cupping as if around a palmed bird or baseball, lips curled to push out a poem.

This is News photographer Mark Mulville’s shot of Justin Karcher, on the night of the launch party, at Alley Cat, of his latest release, the chapbook When Severed Ears Sing You Songs, from Cringeworthy Poets Collective Press.

This night brought together several of the key players, collectives, presses, and movements Lizz Schumer covered in her excellent Gusto feature “Speak, poet,” on the vibrancy of the Buffalo poetry scene, and on the young people keeping the city’s rich poetic traditions alive and fresh.

Go on — read the article.

Oh, right: and that’s me pictured above, again thanks to Mark Mulville. Schumer was kind enough to include a shout-out to Foundlings, and mentioned the upcoming release party for my collection Organizing Isolation (Linoleum Press).