'The Nation' Apologizes for Publishing Poem With 'Disparaging and Ableist' Language

Anders Carlson-Wee
July 31, 2018

The Nation posted a lengthy apology to its readers after it published a poem that was criticized on social media for being "ableist" and racist.

On July 5, the left-leaning magazine ran a poem titled "How-To" written by Anders Carlson-Wee. Written in either African-American vernacular (according to its detractors) or a Southern dialect (according to supporters), the poem takes the voice of a homeless individual giving advice on how to receive help from unkind and hypocritical strangers.

"Don’t say homeless, they know/ you is," the poem reads. "What they don’t know is what opens/ a wallet, what stops em from counting/ what they drop. If you’re young say younger./ Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t/ flaunt it."

But the poem came under fire on social media weeks later, from critics calling the poem inappropriate and offensive appropriation.

In response, The Nation poetry editors Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith posted an editor's note on the poem, which they said "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," they wrote.

"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," the explained. "We can no longer read the poem in that way."

Carlson-Wee likewise apologized on Twitter, but his apology was still attacked by those insisting he was using offensive language.

Carlson-Wee then deleted his Twitter account.