Can the Neo-Colonialist Writers Shut Up? Thank You in Advance – Eunsong Kim

every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay (the city’s proper British name)
If we deny our white happiness, resist our class satisfactions,
we lessen the importance of their brown deprivation!
We must risk white delight. We can do without pleasures…?
but not white delight. Not imperial enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our white gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this neocolonial world. To make injustice the only
measure of our white attention is to praise the dark Devil!
If the locomotive of the white Lord runs us capitalists down,
we should give thanks that their ends had magnitude????
We in the global north must admit there will be elevator music despite everything!!!!!
We will stand at the prow again (again!) of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island we will invade: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés one naked light burning (eyeroll).
To hear the faint sound of oars in the manufactured silence as a rowboat in Greece, in my private home…
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of non-white sorrow that are to come!??!!!!???!


There has been little critical discussion of “A Brief for a Defense”; only some indulgent articles and idolatry of Gilbert’s work (It is Elizabeth Gilbert’s favorite poem, surprise!). No post colonial, critical race, and/or feminist scholars have bothered to even side eye his books – probably because they have better and more pressing concerns to deal with, and truly amazing things to write about.

BUT this is often the problem with canon making which, as Toni Morrison has argued, is a matter of “national defense.” The world of poetry is so small, irrelevant, and still mostly filled with dedicated, energized, privileged white producers. Case in point: “A Brief for a Defense.” If this poem is as beloved as it appears to be (the eulogies, the gushing blogs, the countless inclusions), through the energy of the white poetry community and in the absence of visible protest, Gilbert’s language will continue to be anthologized, publicized, and maybe eventually canonized. So here is my protest.

4 Did you follow Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff’s attack of Rita Dove’s 20th Century American Poetry? Whiteness must prevail!

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Eunsong Kim is a writer, researcher and educator mostly residing in San Diego. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in: Minnesota Review, Iowa Review, Seattle Review, Tinfish, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, The Margins and others. Feel free to tweet her @clepsydras. For more:

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