July 30, 2018

Controversy mounts surrounding the publication of a poem in The Nation


On July 5th, The Nation published a poem titled “How-To” by Anders Carlson-Wee. The magazine’s editors apparently thought there was no telling the reaction and impact of this poem would have on readers. The poem, deemed racist and ableist, has garnered tremendous attention. Randa Jarrar, English professor at California State University–Fresno, responded with a demand that white editors resign. “It’s time to STEP DOWN and hand over the positions of power. We don’t have to wait for them to fuck up. The fact that they hold these positions is fuck up enough.” Katherine Timpf of the National Review reacted to Jarrar’s claim, stating “the worthiness of a particular person to have an editing position should not depend on the color of that person’s skin. It should depend on how well he or she does the job.” The Nation’s poetry editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith have since issued a statement, which you can read below:

Editor’s note: On July 24, 2018, The Nation and its poetry editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith, made this statement about the poem below, which contains disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities:

As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem “How-To.”  We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back.  Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.

We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.


Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.