Sunday, August 19, 2007

For crying out loud, shouldn't poetry be above stereotyping?

Recently, at the National Poetry Out Loud contest, Amanda Fernandez won with her recitations of three poems. Fernandez, representing the District of Columbia as a graduate of Duke Ellington High School, recited Wilfred Owen's masterful anti-war poem "Dulce et Decorem Est," Sterling Brown's "celebration of rural black culture" "Ma Rainey" and Anne Sexton's "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward." Fernandez was happy to win but unhappy that the media focused entirely on the 2nd poem, ignoring issues of war or womanhood to typecast her as the poet of race.

In her article in the Washington Post, Fernandez says:
Even though all three poems I recited had something important to say, the media reduced me from the complex person I am to a one-dimensional figure by repeatedly discussing my reading of just one -- the poem about race.
She continues:
Why weren't they interested in my political views about young men and women dying in war, as expressed in the first poem? Why didn't they see me as a woman -- not a black woman, but a woman -- as reflected in the third poem about the tough choices that women face?

Everyone overlooked those two poems. I've become known solely for the poem about race.

The power of poetry to evoke emotion and share the human condition should be exactly opposed to perpetuating stereotypes. Fernandez's powerful editorial reveals her sadness as well as her anger at the reaction.

Photo shows 2007 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Amanda Fernandez with John Barr and Dana Gioia.

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