Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I recently attended the 2020 AWP conference in San Antonio, Texas, a gathering of writers trying to get rid of their White Privilege, as well as other privileges, or else to help others do it.  Unfortunately, the threat of coronavirus meant that half of the 600 consciousness-raising panels were cancelled, such as the Fat Poets and Neuro-diversity panels, as well most Latinx, Filipinx, and Queer panels, leaving them without delegates.  Other than those staffing the Afro-futurist Android Fiction session, what remained were white people drifting through the ghostly Imperial China-like halls, in search of redemption.  That reminded me a lot of the 80s, when AWP still held interviews in hotel rooms and you could see nervous Caucasians, all looking exactly alike, checking their watches by the elevator.  The one bright spot was the keynote address.  Helena María Viramontes gave an excited, upset speech, emphasizing the need for acting diversely, by repeatedly and approvingly quoting Flannery O’Connor in a stern voice.  I couldn’t understand much of it, but luckily, she was preceded by two indigenous dancers clad in red, shaking gourds, while their sister read forcefully a petition to return them land, such as the site of the convention and the Riverwalk.  Then the whitest person I have ever seen–even her waist-length hair was white–came to the podium wearing a well-accessorized poncho, and read a long, rambling poem telling us to honor our ancestors.  After Viramontes was done quoting “Mystery and Manners” by Miss Flannery O’Connor, the half-empty auditorium, consisting mostly of impassioned white women, rose to their feet and offered thunderous applause lasting about five times as long as a lunar eclipse.  Emily, I want to do the right thing and lose my White Privilege and all the other privileges.  But I’m getting a lot of mixed signals and am not sure which side of the fence to stand on, since all of the diverse people stayed home.   Can you help me?

–Scratching My Head but Not Touching My Face in San Antonio


 Dear Scratching My Head but Not Touching My Face in San Antonio,

Don’t you just hate it that you can’t touch your face anymore? Touching my face has long been a serious hobby of mine. Just before I opened your email, I had my index finger deep back in the upper left side of my mouth, trying to get something unstuck between my molars, when I realized I hadn’t washed my hands since coming back from the Safeway a couple hours before, where I’d pushed a cart around for half an hour. And this is the state of Washington, mind you.

I must ask: How are you feeling? Isn’t it just like poetry and poets to be in the arrière-guard of things, just when the Real is staring at you like a U.S. President wearing a mask with a ten-foot- long bird beak? To hold a massive conference when a pandemic has just been declared and only a week before even March Madness and the MLB is called off? Way to go, AWP! Even the WWF knows when to shut things down so their peeps don’t get sick and die. When your 2020 attendees start to test positive, AWP administrators, and they will, I hope a huge class-action lawsuit is brought against you and your institutional kind for endangerment of the public health and good: “The People of the United States vs. the ‘Look at My Butt’ Board of Directors of the AWP.” May you be cancelled forever.

Alright, sorry to get carried away, Scratching My Head, I’m calm now. So that is a real thigh-slapper, you know, Helena María Viramontes earnestly quoting Miss Flannery O’Connor about “acting diversely.” When anyone who knows anything about Flannery O’Connor knows that she was an outright racist behind closed doors, a cynical foe of the civil rights movement, even, as her embarrassing correspondence with Maryat Lee glaringly shows. And then all the impassioned white women trying to get rid of their white guilt giving her and honky Flannery (and the indigenous dancers, who my guess is were feeling a bit like Natives trotted out at the last Wild West show in 1920) a standing ovation. And what’s with the elaborate poncho donned by this Snow Queen White Priestess casting the benediction spells and charms? Did no one raise a plucked eyebrow about that? Isn’t that what privileged guilty white people like to call “colonialist appropriation”? Isn’t that like, say (horrors!), white-person dreadlocks? Or a white-person poem in the Nation in (gasp!) the voice of a homeless person who might be of color? Or writing a white-person poem in the New Yorker about (shame!) legendary NYC Chinese restaurants? Isn’t stuff like that a big No-no that only noxious racist types do?

Or maybe all those white women in that half-filed auditorium were just so terrified they were going to contract Covid-19 that they just didn’t notice. Maybe the indigenous dancers got them too excited and in the ecstatic shedding of their white guilt the Juan Valdez poncho seemed perfectly authentic, even on a ghost-white White medium evoking “ancestors.” The list of which, at least in such AWP circles, these days, would need to be vetted by committee.

As to your question, Scratching My Head (and hey, doesn’t that sound like an awesome Native American name for the village poet), about not being sure which side of the “fence” to stand on:

Well, here’s what I would say. Fake fences make opportunist neighbors. Gather your family and comrades, get poetic weapons, and head for the hills, ready to die. Carry out guerrilla attacks on settler forts like the AWP, the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, the NEA, and all the Big Prize exclusive clubs in existence. They are all State, Corporate, and Academic occupiers of the native land of poetry.

Even as you are weakened by the virus they gave you, gather your secret forces on the night of a lunar eclipse. Raid their bases and burn them to the ground.

–Emily Post-Avant