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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Separating the Art from the Artist... or can we?

A New York Times article [Poetry Prize Sets Off Resignations at Society] details a controversy that has grown within the Poetry Society of America, but it seems to me it has raised even larger questions for the world of arts and literature, questions which I have not formulated a view as of yet.

The issue within the PSA centers around an award, the Frost Medal, which has been awarded to the poet John Hollander. The worthiness of Hollander's poetry itself is not in question, but a statement made by Hollander referring to referred to West African, Mexican and Central American as “cultures without literatures," and an interviewer on NPR who had paraphrased him as saying, “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.”

Should such remarks be taken into consideration by the PSA or any organization seeking to honor a poet, writer or artist of any kind? Or, should the artistic work they produce be the soul basis for such recognition? The Hollander incident is of course not an isolated incident of controversy among poets. Ezra Pound for example is widely know for his anti-Semitism. Should that fact detract from the literary appreciation of his work? Can we appreciate great works of art and literature without bestowing accolades and honors upon the artists themselves?

No, I still don't have and answer to these questions, and I am sure this is not likely to be the last time this issue arises.

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