I do not hate Anne Carson. She was reading with Nick Flynn at Bowery poetry, which I hadn't been to since way back when, back when it was still the bowery and not the New Bowery, a post-CBGBs, post-poverty world of martini bars and public speakeasies, where poverty only shows up as upworthy posts on your iphone. The New Bowery's poetry club is similarly decked in all sorts of faux riche trappings: fake marble, a mirrored bar, inappropriate chandeliers, and the line to get in was equal parts pretentious and smelly, probably from riding all the way in from williamsburg on a collapsable bike (what are those called again?).
Inside was a sea of white people. The only hispanic I could make out happened to work there. I ended up sitting way in the back, next to the bar where the world's slowest bartender seemed determined to deprive me of even the smallest bit of joy. We took a seat next to two Asians in a de facto minority enclave and waited and watched. Near us was a group of two white people who kept talking while Anne Carson read, a group of three white people who kept talking while Anne Carson read, and this bafflingly awful white girl in a tiny black hat, black stockings and a cape(!?) who drifted between the two groups of white people and kept talking while Anne Carson read. I'm not a violent man but yes I am a violent man when it comes to my thoughts regarding the white people who talk while I'm trying to listen to Anne Carson.
An unannounced opening act played a lovely bit of cello but was, sadly, also white.
I am really starting to see them, that is white people, as an invading force. Which isn't entirely fair. Not that they're not invaders, but if they are invaders then so am I. But David, you say, surely you knew what you were getting into. You went to go see a Canadian poet, on a Sunday, in the New Bowery. Reading with Nick Flynn, whose memoirs I am not familiar with but whose poetry was full of so many random quotes and allusions --- casabianca, Memento, Neil Diamond --- that it felt like his brain was randomly flipping through radio stations, all of which were NPR. Surely you knew. If you went to a hip hop club in the Bronx, or a bachata night in Jamaica, you wouldn't be surprized at the ethnic makeup. Yes, I wouldn't be surprised, because hip hop and bachata are all celebrations of culture. Which means that a poetry reading today, in New York, has become a celebration of white culture.
I do not consider poetry to be a celebration of white culture. I can say that and still want to hear Anne Carson read.
And it's not that I'm against gentrification in and of itself. Bringing money into a city does lots of good, and sometimes it's a good that passes to everyone, even as the not-moneyed are pushed further and further away from the centers of power, money, and culture. Bringing money into a city attracts culture-makers, making it possible for someone like me, barely employed, who doesn't drive, to do things like see Anne Carson read for the third time, and to see things like plays on the cheap whenever I feel like it. But when the readings and plays I go see are full of white people, on stage and off, I have to wonder who this culture is for, and if I am really invited to it.
I'm of course not one to advocate promoting minority culture-makers merely because they are minorities. Neither am I for the tokenism of black and hispanic writers invited on stage (have you seen Yusef Komunyakaa these days? Those sad eyes. A few years back a companion asked him outright at a Q&A what he thought about race and poetry these days, and his answer was calm and noncomittal, but his eyes said "Don't you see all the white people here? Who you think pays my rent?"). It is that I do not feel welcome in a place which is supposed to be open for all.
This has nothing to do with Anne Carson, who read a new(?!) lovely long poem called Essay on the Soul.
During the Q&A afterwards no one was asking any interesting questions so she told a Canadian joke. "Where do otters come from? Otter space."