Feb '03 [Home]

Reader Responses to Review of "Poetry Is News,"
a 2/3 event at Poetry Project at St. Marks

. . .
[The editors invited balanced reaction from responsible authors to independent contributor Alyssa Lappen's condemnation of "Poetry Is News," a Poetry Project event she attended on 2/3, for its call to transform literary events into pro-Arab forums.]

To: The Editors
From: Esther Cameron, Madison, WI
Date: February 11, 2003

Alyssa Lappen's report on "Poetry Is News:  Operation Counter-Intelligence" reminded me of a recent experience of my own with the organizers of the "Not In Our Name" protest against war in Iraq, which I also oppose. I attended an anti-war meeting organized by NION on January 28, only to find that the organizers took the occasion to slip in anti-Israel statements. The strongest anti-Israel language was omitted when the NION statement was read on stage, but not, of course, from the version that was available for signing in the lobby. I wrote to a number of people about this dishonesty, and heard other stories of trickery and even intimidation, aimed at "piggy-backing" anti-Israel sentiments onto the anti-war protest. These things should be deeply disturbing to anyone of genuine conscience.

As Ms. Lappen says, it is time for those opposed to anti-Semitism and the scapegoating of Israel to make their voices heard. Human rights and freedom have more than one enemy these days; and no movement to preserve human rights and freedom stands a chance unless it at least starts out with some minimum standards of honesty and justice. And artists in particular should realize that we need to overcome the culture of mass appeal and knee-jerk response, and to rebuild a culture of thoughtfulness, critical distinctions, and responsibility.

Esther Cameron, Ph.D., J.D.

/ . /

February 12
To the Editors:

It is not unusal that poets have dealt with political subjects in their poetry. This, however, is very different from allowing a poetry event to be used as a political vehicle to foster hate and further the goals of those elements that continue to set up barriers to a meaningful dialogue thereby undermining any chance for peaceful resolutions. When one side can say they are completely right and the other side is completely wrong, there is no more room for compromise or détente.

I refer to a recent event in which Prof. Alcalay and others used what should have been a venue for creative expression as a soapbox for disseminating hate, misinformation, and, in plain English, a bunch of lies.

It is reprehensible that you would help to promote this type of behavior. I would hope that you would take sides with those of us seeking a true peace based on truth and equity for all; perhaps this is an ideal, but if we do not strive for our ideals we will, by default, sink to our barbarism.

David Alkalay
The Genesis Society

Editors' Response:

Mr. Alkalay:
With all due respect, did you
read the article? It presents your view exactly. We've invited opposing views to try to achieve balance, but the seminal article espouses your sentiments.

February 12

I've received an e-mail from Alyssa Lappen explaining how you have tried to help in this situation. I'm happy to hear that truth and integrity are still with us; it often gets frustrating in our time in history to find in what little regard these qualities are held.

Please excuse my assumption that you were supportive of the actions taken at that poetry event, and accept my thanks and support in a battle that may seem trivial in the light of current world events, yet is just one more front on which we meet the enemy - hatred, bias, lies, violence.

Peace and blessings

Rene David Alkalay

/ . /

February 16
To the Editors:

I want to express my gratitude to you for publishing Alyssa A. Lappen's unsettling but essential report of the blatant antisemitism, masquerading as antizionism, that revealed itself at the St. Marks Poetry Project reading recently. Sadly, this new-age riff on scapegoating Jews for the sins of the world has insinuated itself into both academic and cultural arenas, particularly in the last year. This anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias is affecting the ability of Jewish artists and writers to create, publish, and exhibit, and is having a significant impact on the freedom of Israeli scholars to conduct research and teach. A careful review of the news emanating from European and American campuses; a close look at the newsletters and conference programs being released by cultural organizations; and careful scrutiny of on- and off-line exhibits, journals, and websites will confirm that this bias against Israel and Israelis—and against Jewish writing that presents Israel in a favorable light—is already cause for alarm and threatens to become ubiquitous.

After publishing my anthology, Blood to Remember:  American Poets on the Holocaust (Texas Tech, 1991), I thought I was living in a post-Holocaust universe, a place and a time in which Jews would never again be isolated as pariahs and in which the Jewish people would never again be held accountable and abused for the failings of national economies—or morals. I see now that I was naive, and I pray that ethical and compassionate members of the university and arts communities will step forward and say no to this new form of Jew-baiting and hatred that undermines all of our work as artists, writers, teachers, and human beings.

Again, I am grateful to the editors at Big City Lit for including Ms. Lappen's painfully accurate and disturbing account in your February issue.

Dr. Charles Fishman
Director — Distinguished Speakers Program
Farmingdale State University