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My Letter to Poets & Writers Magazine

Here is the original, unedited full text (including paragraph breaks and a final sentence) of a letter that Poets & Writers has now posted online.

Dear Poets & Writers:

At the outset of “Dear President: A Message for the Next Commander in Chief From Fifty American Poets and Writers” (September/October 2016), you declared:

It turns out something pretty great happens when you ask writers to convey, without a lot of political grandstanding, what is most important to them. The contours of some of America’s biggest issues—education, health care, gun violence, racism, immigration, and the environment among them—start to come into sharper focus, the collective discourse rises above the rhetoric of political pundits, and the pomp and circumstance of the political process falls away, so that we are left with a discussion of real problems, real concerns, and, if not solutions, then at least some honest ideas that may inspire action of real, lasting value.

Unfortunately, among many fine contributions that may indeed meet those high ideals, your feature includes some that represent “political grandstanding” at its worst; they evoke an anti-Israelist “collective discourse” composed of the precisely the sort of distressingly familiar rhetoric that you claim the feature to be “rising above.” Far from “sharpening focus” or offering “honest ideas,” these paragraphs present what might most charitably be described as incomplete and highly arguable accounts of a longstanding conflict.

What is inarguable, however, is that statements you chose to include—in particular, those from Ru Freeman, Emily Raboteau, and Naomi Shihab Nye—omit even the slightest sense of the matter’s complexity and history. (To its credit, a fourth statement to address this subject, Tom Spanbauer’s, at least suggests that Palestinian Arabs bear some responsibility for the ongoing difficulties.)

That among all of the world’s nations and national groups your feature singles out for excoriation, more than once, only the planet’s sole Jewish state is distressing enough. That you’ve chosen to preface such anti-Israelist polemics with your laudatory introduction—rather than a more conventional statement clarifying that your contributors’ opinions are only their own—is profoundly disturbing to this longtime subscriber and past contributor. I expect better from Poets & Writers.

Erika Dreifus
New York, NY

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11 Responses »

  1. I wasn’t aware of this situation. It’s admirable that you spoke up about it (so eloquently). Thank you.

  2. Erika, I had read the issue of P&W and felt diminished and worried, but I didn’t take action. The idea of getting involved in a polemic with writers was daunting. Thank you for speaking up!

  3. Erika,
    I wrote my response quickly (the phone rang, etc) and I don’t think it really expresses what I’d like to say. Could you not use it and instead use this one:

    “It’s disturbing that while listing injustices none of these writers thought to mention the anti-Semitism hidden behind so much of the anti-Israel rhetoric in contemporary discourse. I can understand if P&W set no conditions on contributions to this article, but once so many anti-Israel comments arrived, were there really no writers who could offer a balance in perspective? As always, thank you for speaking up.”

  4. Attagirl, Erika. Well said. Somebody needs to stand up to those horrible BDS’rs and you’ve done a bang up job. Best wishes for a wonderful new year.

  5. Well said!!! Good for you. Best wishes for a wonderful new year.

  6. I didn’t know about this. Well said!

  7. Good for you, Erika.The anti-Israeli bias, all over, is frightening.I’m not sure what’s going on, but a look at our history, my grandparents,my mother, etc, etc, should and must be a part of any analysis.I don’t have the time or know enough, but you keep on and try to give us the facts.I have to stand up against anti Semitism all the time.It’s a mode.FG

  8. Hats off to you, Erika! You inspired me to finally write my own letter to P&W, and I am happy to report it’s in the mail. It took me this long to formulate it because I still find going through that Dear President article deeply upsetting. The anti-Israel bias is bad enough, but how uninformed and uncaring are these people whom P&W calls “our most thoughtful and articulate citizens.” Really? No mention of the devastation in Syria and the plight of its people? No mention of Christians being executed by ISIS? Or Hong Kong book sellers being abducted by the Chinese government? Black Lives Matter in the U.S. but who cares about 300 Nigerian school girls abducted by Boko Haram two years ago? It’s more important worry about plastic bags in the ocean! Many of these “most thoughtful and articulate citizens” also have no respect for their fellow citizens or the political process in this country since they already speak of “Madame President.”

    Sorry to get worked up again, but I’m glad I got my act together and told P&W why I cancelled my subscription. I want to read a writer’s magazine, not a bullhorn of the BDS-soaked Progressive Left.

    • O Annette, I stand with you. Your words here brought me chills. Thank you for addressing the Christians. Thank you for standing apart! It takes courage to stand in that space, sometimes alone, but never for long!

  9. Yes, Erika! Right on! Thank you for addressing the lack of diversity that this industry so pridefully exalts itself to represent, for such a time as this. I stand with Israel and am not ashamed. As a Christian conservative, I too observe the lack of equity in the literary world. Add on the POC factor and that even goes deeper. It’s a fight, it seems, to be authentic, to represent oneself and one’s work without the fear of reprisal and getting pigeonholed as all the colorful terms people in my community are called, especially in this political climate. Appreciate you Erika, for your courage and sincerity! Press on!

  10. While I’m pleased that Erika’s letter was published, unlike Erika I do not expect better from Poets & Writers. The editors and the board have made plain who they are and what they think. Nobody should be the least surprised to see further hate-and-lies-filled Israel-bashing in the publication’s pages.

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