The Poetry Project

To Our Readers: We Have Been Listening

Roberto Montes

To Our Readers: We Have Been Listening
“To our readers: we have been listening.”

Constitutes the entirety of POETRY

Magazine’s editorial statement in response to concerns

That a poet they published in their November 2018 issue

Toby Martinez de las Rivas

May be a fascist

Using his work and status

To push and glamorize fascist politics


The concision of their response

Against the backdrop

Of Toby Martinez de las Rivas’s 1,894-word statement

Published by POETRY Magazine themselves

Shortly after


To this day

To flood me with such a ferocity of shame

It is as if I


Were responsible

If you were unaware

There were concerns

POETRY Magazine published a poet

Who might actively be promulgating a fascist politics

We would have no choice

But to forgive you

The discussion

Clipped and careful

To be kept to Twitter

Was soon buried

And moved beyond

The serious question of whether

Toby Martinez de las Rivas espouses fascist politics

Is beyond the scope(1) of this grievance

It cannot be addressed until we unpack

How the situation was allowed to be framed

The undeniable danger caused by POETRY’s

Editorial response

To concerns within the community

It is possible that the Editors felt they were

Unequipped to speak to such claims

(Though it would be unclear why they would not

Seek those who might then be more equipped

Or else offer to moderate a discussion)

It is possible that the Editors felt there was no basis

To the claims

(Though it is unclear why they would not then

Simply state so)

It is possible that the Editors were not concerned

By the content of the claims

But by their clamor

(A fear that their Institutional power

Would be weakened ––

If we make a statement on this

We will have to answer for every call

To accountability in perpetuity)

It is possible that the Editors feel that

Poetry is not transformative enough

To warrant any sort of response

(A fascist poem is merely a poem

After all––

More decorative throw pillow

Than political possibility)

The reason the editorial board chose to refrain from comment

Is something we can only speculate on

(The eroding factor among

The community of such speculation

Being only one of the deleterious effects

Of silence)

Let us circle back then to something

We can speak to

The charge of propagating

Fascist politics is a serious one

Especially in a time where far-right extremism and violence is on the rise

(Though it should be noted that Martinez de las Rivas’s career appears

To have suffered little

From the accusation

The Paris Review published him in their Winter issue the following month

To little outrage I have discovered

Even among those who shared the issue with Martinez de las Rivas)

The seriousness of the charge is completely undermined by the unseriousness of POETRY Magazine’s response

The seriousness of what a poem can do

What poetry is

Is completely undermined by the unseriousness of POETRY Magazine’s response

As a planet

Not by choice but sheer enormity

Curves the fabric of space around it

By refusing to address the concerns in good faith

They recontextualized the situation as a matter

Of mere disagreement²

Between two parties

The possibility of poetry

As mere craft(3)

And when they chose to publish Martinez de las Rivas’s statement

They legitimized

Without daring to declare it plainly

The assertion that concerns about fascist politics

Is explained by textual misinterpretation(4)

For the journal of the most prestigious poetry institution

In the United States to

Validate that dismissal by refusing to contextualize it

Was a real danger⁵

And a torrential shame

Not because I believe that prestige lends institutions

Moral authority or political sense

But because the ripple effect is greater

And subtler

And because the repercussions are few

The precarity of poets in the United States

Means that it is easier to let things go

Than to potentially alienate yourself

From an institution that could offer you the opportunity

To devote yourself to poetry

Without having to work long and enervating hours at another job

The fear that builds

In the wake

Is paralyzing

The shame of wondering still

If it is worth forgoing a possibility toward

The few vestiges of stability available



Of all the speculation we might hold regarding the Editors’ decision

To refrain from response

One seems likeliest

They knew we would after time drop the matter entirely

Poets do not have the resources to spare

Of all the ways the business of poetry warps

Our priorities

That we would allow it to so recklessly

And uncritically engage with the actual real

Threat of fascist politics

Feels among the lowest


Even after so much time


It is the duty of our community

To reset the conversation

And untether it from the binds left

In the wake of the Editors’ silence

In fact POETRY

Magazine could choose to facilitate that unbinding

They could choose to issue an official explanation

For why they chose not to respond

To the original concerns

By refraining from comment

By stonewalling community


Regardless of their intentions

Normalize fascist rhetorical strategies

And embolden white supremacists and fascists

Who are also



For what our community will bear


(1) The original call for concern-––occasioned by Toby Martinez de las Rivas’s nomination for the 2018 Forward Prize––can still be found on Dave Coates’s blog.

(2) The consequences of such a thing can be illustrated by the morbid dialectic of this Twitter exchange.The moderating view––it is a matter of mere misinterpretation––actually softens the view that there is a homosexual conspiracy to undermine heterosexuals: it is mere reaching.

(3) A position easily echoed and used to uncritically place Martinez de las Rivas as de facto victim before a discussion can even take place.

(4) If this argument seems familiar it’s because it is:

(5) One example of a white supremacist seizing the vacuum of context to propagandize.

#258 — Spring/Summer 2019