Myth is often presented as some long gone mode of fantasizing explanations for the inexplicable and dismissed as meaningless, especially when confronted with another imaginary mode of explanation called “ideology.” But myth is everywhere — the eruption of deep, formative energetic patterns of coherencing, meaning coming into and going out of focus, leaving us with hints of rich significance flowing through our relations. That significance has haunted human beings from the moment they became human beings, probably even before. We are creatures of meaning. That can be disastrous when meaning is taken as subject to representation. Far too often we witness the brutality of those who know what the Meaning is and are willing to use whatever means necessary to make sure everyone else accepts their representation.  But being a creature of meaning also names the possibility of poetry, of unnaming, naming, and unnaming, the possibility of living within an unfolding entanglement with the fairy dance of meaning, finding it everywhere without being able to pin it down. We live in its spectral annunciations and guide ourselves by its perennial flickering signs.

Nor is myth something from the museum of anthropology. It circulates through our lives, often in the guise of “contemporary events.” We call it mythory. Take for instance, the Carlson-Wee/Nation Affair, an event that was the subject of a recent response by Dispatches’ own manners maven, Ms. Emily Post-Avant. The event began when the Nation’s poetry editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Gimenez Smith, published with many flourishes a poem by someone named Anders Carlson-Wee. Who, you may ask, is that? It would be difficult to do better than Aldon Nielsen’s description in a recent essay, “White Mischief Redux: “AC-W™ was, at least until his current moment of distress, one of the best turned out, most successful product placements of America’s regnant creative writing manufactury.” He had been published in all the right places and noticed by all the right people, and so in a very real sense, he Belonged in The Nation and they, the Gatekeepers, knew that, and so there he was.

The problem was – well, there were several, beginning with the fact the poem wasn’t very good (some might say it barely qualified as a poem at all—tin ear and all that) and proceeding through several serious violations of the current unwritten but well-understood Code of Acceptability for Wholesome Writing. What was he thinking writing a poem in Black English advising homeless people how to con passers-by? The howls of rage were deafening as the event proliferated into a massive clusterfuck amplified when the editors, fearing for their professional poetry lives, turned on Wee, denounced the poem, and cut him loose.

Was this a mythic event? Well, it certainly has the elements – hubris, betrayal, cowardice, a loud chorus demanding justice for a fallen hero. But is it a deep formative, energetic pattern of coherencing, to hang ourselves on own own petard?

Sure, why not. Whatever you want to call it, it provokes multiple responses, each one a narratives of an Ur event that not only locates it in a field of sense, but also extends that sense to encompass the tellers’ sense of their own meaning. It informs the contemporary discourse on poetry. The event involves significant currents of thinking about poetry entangled in unfolding antagonisms over determinations of meaning. Much like myth. Aldon Nielsen’s essay surveys those currents. Nielsen is a rigorous and principled thinker. His address to AC-W’s poem chronicles a process of coming to terms with it in a meticulous analysis of the poem’s workings. Not surprisingly, given that his own work focusses on race and its implications in USAmerican culture, he finds race at the heart of the poem, and the arguments and conversations circulating around it. His analysis is critical of the responses to the controversy (including Dispatches’ response) arguing that they ignored – or at least did not raise in a significant way – or even rejected – race as a central issue. As he says, the responses “seem incapable of grappling significantly with the workings of race in the poem and its reception.”

We are not quite sure what this grappling involves since most of the anger at the poem focused either on the current concerns with what is called “appropriation of voice” or defenses of the writer’s right to imagine any voice they choose. A couple of questions come to mind in response to Nielsen’s assertion of what the story means (none of the above): “No, what this controversy surfaces is the sad fact that America’s poetry communities remain riven by race.” Perhaps Dispatches is guilty of cynicism, but our first thought was, isn’t everything in USAmerica riven by race? It’s true, people weren’t saying that about this event, even as the rivening proceeded. But it’s difficult to imagine what he has in mind as the outcome. It’s also a bit hard to see how he connects the dots between his analysis of the poem and this somewhat vague and overdetermined conclusion. And, beyond that, what the significance is? Is he saying – he seems to be saying – that there is only one way to understand this story, and he’ll tell us what it is: the poetry community is riven by race, which is, we agree, a terrible thing.

But like all good myths, this Awe-ful story of self-deception, hubris, betrayal, moral cowardice, and public condemnation surely resonates on multiple frequencies. This was no simple event. To use race to divert attention from the institutional corruption that fed the hubris and the betrayal is curious, to say the least. In the course of his exegesis, Dispatches comes under some criticism as a purveyor of misleading accusations for finding significance in the evident corruption of star editors grooming star poets to be in star magazines while receiving accolades and awards that confirm the excellent good taste of the star editors for publishing the star poet in the first place. Nielsen criticizes us for emphasizing this observation because it doesn’t say anything about riven with race. But does that disqualify it as a significant aspect of the event?

Dispatches welcomes criticism and always looks forward to engaging its critics. In this case, we are happy to concede Nielsen’s points about a community riven by race and the role of race in the poem. We depart from his thinking, however, in his insistence that this is the only significance to the event, that it is purely sociological, that this is the only way to think about it. As an event informed by myth, its complex implications resonate in multiple dimensions and are irreducible to a simple statement, as if there is only one true representation. And within its mythic dimensions, it includes some of the most complex issues we face in a postmodern world of shifting, unsettled social imaginary significations: gender, race, identity, the institutionalization of poetry under the aegis of appointed Gatekeepers, and the very nature and integrity of poetry and it particular modes of knowledge.