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.

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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“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).

Babble Presents: Ben Brindise and Rotten Kid

Last week I got to review Ben Brindise’s new chapbook, Rotten Kid, in The Public. The book, out from Syracuse-based Ghost City Press, contains a fresh mix of fiction and poetry, focusing mostly on memory, the process of finding a voice, and an exploration of a voice’s limitations.

Ben asked me to serve at MC for the night – a great honor, as I got to introduce the poets Eve Williams Wilson, Ten Thousand, Tom Dreitlein, Sam Ferrante, Megan Kemple, and Justin Karcher. I had the most fun introducing Ben, though. In honor of his serious slam chops, I decided to do some “spoken word” of my own.

Earlier in the evening I read two of my poems. The first was an old one, “On Tuesday nights I watch the news on her set,” from Foundlings Vol. One. I read this because of my friend Brian Castner’s important piece in yesterday’s New York Times, “Still Fighting, and Dying, in the Forever War.” Then I read “At the funeral of an atheist I didn’t know,” the poem that Janet McNally selected to win this year’s Just Buffalo Member’s Writing Competition. You can watch them below: