Jul 22, 2015
“I Arrived at the Revolution Via Poetry”: An Interview with the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo
The best way to introduce the Mongrel Coalition against Gringpo is not to. They do it best themselves. From “The Gold Star Awards,” a poem / message / award show that appeared on the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, this past April:
GOLD STAR FOR READING ONE BOOK BY A BLACK POET AND POSTING ABOUT IT ONE TIME ON FACEBOOK GOLD STAR
GOLD STAR FOR FEELING “MOVED” BY CLAUDIA RANKINE’S CITIZEN BUT BEING MOVED TO DO NOTHING IN AN ACTUALITY THAT MIGHT IMPACT YOU. GOLD STAR!
GOLD STAR FOR IDENTIFYING YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE BUT REFUSING TO GIVE IT UP–INABILITY TO CONCEIVE OF LIFE WITHOUT WHITE PRIVILEGE POLICE SMILES. IDENTIFICATION WITHOUT ABOLITION EQUALS MINUS TWO STARS. MOVED TO GOLD STAR RESERVE!
GOLD STAR FOR GOOD POLITICS WELL-SAID. YEY! GOLD STAR! JUST KIDDING NO GOLD STAR FOR LITERACY AND RHETORICAL SKILLS. HAR HAR!
GOLD STAR FOR READING THAT ONE BLACK WRITER IN HIGH SCHOOL MAYA ANGELOU TONI MORRISON OR RALPH ELLISON WHICH ONE WAS IT????
GOLD STAR FOR BELIEVING TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS THE NOVEL ON CIVIL RIGHTS AND MASTURBATING TO THE FANTASY OF WHITE SAVIOR ATTICUS FINCH
GOLD STAR FOR NEVER CHALLENGING YOUR RACIST PARENTS AND RELATIVES DUE TO FEARS OF GETTING FINANCIALLY CUT OFF SO YOU CAN’T GO TO ART OR MFA SKOOL AND/OR GOLD STAR FOR USING YOUR RACIST GRANDPARENTS AS EXAMPLES OF WHY POCS SHOULD SELF POLICE TONE
GOLD STAR FOR IDENTIFYING YOUR WHITE CIS HETERO PRIVILEGE. MINUS ALL THE STARS FOR NOT SELF-ABOLISHING. GO AWAY! YEY!
GOLD STAR FOR THE UNIVERSAL LOVE OF THE UNIVERSAL AKA THE SOUL OF WHITE FOLK
“To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition,” writes poet Cathy Park Hong in her November 2014 essay, “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde.” The piece proved especially prescient (though it already described a pre-existing and longstanding reality), when the following spring American poetry became embroiled in heated conversations about race and representation. First, conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith read aloud a poem called “The Body of Michael Brown,” which, like much of Goldsmith’s work, took a pre-existing text and remixed it. In this case, the remixed text was the autopsy report of Michael Brown, and the poem ended on an out-of-context (and so entirely deliberate) line: “The remaining male genitalia system is unremarkable.” Second, over two thousand people signed a petition asking the Association of Writers & Writing Programs to remove Vanessa Place—who has for years been tweeting excerpts of the poisonously racist novel, Gone with the Wind, on a personal Twitter account that featured Hattie McDaniel in her role as Mammy as her profile picture and a racist caricature of a black woman as her background—from the 2016 Los Angeles Conference Subcommittee, a group which decides what panels are accepted to present at the upcoming writers conference.
Active in both of these conversations—much of which haven taken place in online literary spaces (Twitter, Facebook)—has been the Mongrel Coalition against Gringpo (MCAG). (Gringpo, to do some white-splaining, is a play on the portmanteau of Conpo, or conceptual poetry: a subgenre that, like conceptual art, privileges the thought behind a work over the physical reality of the work itself. Gringpo names the whiteness/gringo-ness that is the core of this kind of poetry.) MCAG’s goals, among others, are to “dismantle white supremacy,” “kill patriarchy,” “end homonationalist imperialist politics,” and “live.”
Theirs is far from the only voice in these conversations or the only one representing this set of viewpoints. (After all, over 2,000 people found issue with Vanessa Place’s position of authority within the AWP conference planning.) But their words, electrifying and pugnacious, have reverberated. Nearly every discussion of Place’s removal from the AWP subcommittee mentions the MCAG in particular, and many descriptions of the group are tinged with a kind of hysteria (especially in pieces by white writers), which liken the group to ideological shock troops enforcing a hegemony more restrictive, and so worse, than the crappy (heteropatriarchal and white supremacist) set up we have already.
Or put more simply, many considerations of the MCAG support the bankrupt notion that it is worse to be called a racist then to do racist things. “Racism is a serious charge,” white academic Kim Calder writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books, wagging a finger at those who would call Vanessa Place’s work racist. Calder admits that Place “has disseminated racist material,” but also argues that it doesn’t mean “she is racist.” This kind of hair splitting comes from a false division (much loved by floundering white people) between racist intent and racist acts. With this framework in place, Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith can broadcast (and profit from!) all kinds of racist language and imagery that actually hurt people of color, but because they don’t mean it in that way, because they aren’t racist on the inside, then their acts—though tangibly destructive—are free from the “serious charge” of racism. With this framework in place, white people can do just about anything they want (and frankly they can anyway) because they can say at the end of the day: “I’m not a racist.”
Ultimately, it’s hard for me to think of many things more racist—which is to say, hurtful to people of color in a way specific to their race—than the dissemination of racist material. There are other and better ways of interrogating how race operates in this country. If you, as a white artist, are creating works that cause further pain to people of color, you are just straight up doing it wrong. Instead of challenging the system, you have reaffirmed it.
WHAT DO U CALL SOME1 THAT CLAIMS EXEMPTION FROM RESPONSIBILITY CUZ ART?
— Mongrel Coalition (@AgainstGringpo) July 2, 2015
WP, STICK TO WHAT U KNOW: ANTHROPOLOGIE, HUMMINGBIRD BONES, VINTAGE DRESSES, HOMESTEADING, GENTRIFYING BROOKLYN, BARN WEDDINGS LOL
— Mongrel Coalition (@AgainstGringpo) June 20, 2015
The MCAG does this—calling people out—better than anyone I know. They are smart and brave and funny and forthright. They are persistent, they are loud as fuck, they fight. In this light, it’s less surprising so many white people fear them.
In her piece, Calder quotes art historian Claire Bishop: “without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order — a total suppression of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy.” She sees in the recent outcries against these two conceptual poets this “authoritarian order,” but, puzzling, the authorities are not the white artists creating art that cavalierly hurts people of color, art that reaffirms a status quo has been carefully maintained since before this country was born—but the very voices who challenge them. “The Mongrel Coalition’s tactics seem to fit well with the notion of this ‘imposed consensus,’” she writes. “The left, too, has its authoritarian orders.”
Again, Cathy Park Hong’s essay answers this charge months before Calder made it. “Oddly,” Hong writes in Lana Turner, in the eyes of many white academics and artists “the hegemony has become the nameless hordes of ‘African Americans, other minorities, and post-colonials’ while ‘us,’ those victimized students who are searching for endangered ‘true’ literature (read as ‘white’) are the outliers.” This repositioning of any marginalized voice as the “real” power is Oppression 101. Even the MCAG, in a June 16 Facebook post, confessed to how “exhausting” they found having “to defend our protest.”
I spoke with the MCAG via email about the work they do and how they do it. What they had to say is pretty spectacular.
1. Who is the MCAG?
We refuse to bear names. In your search for names you will find all our refusals, nameless skewed answers to the wrong questions. We’ve waited like volcanos inside literatures obliterated by the center. We erupt for the wrong god, flow in the wrong garb, flail for the wrong orb. Armed only with mongrel prayers, we wrest ourselves out of your lies and miseducation.
We rage within and outside of multiple histories but find common ground in an invisibility that precedes our first encounters. Invisibility is not the impossibility of visibilization. It’s optical warfare—a way of becoming visible on our terms.
2. How many make up the Coalition?
547: approximate # of people killed by the U.S. police since January 1
1898: the year the U.S. buys some prime farmable real-estate in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines for 20 million dollars
505: the combined age of the Charleston church shooting victims
600: families, mostly mothers and children, currently held in immigrant detention centers
2000: Black churches burned down since 1995
2 million: The number of people deported under Obama’s tenure
14: the number of transwomen murdered since January 1
670: number of people executed in Iran in 2011
20,000: signatures gathered to keep Reyhaneh Jabbari from being executed
13: years Abu Zubaydah has been detained
17: the number of times Serena Williams has beaten Maria Sharapova
3. How was the MCAG formed? When was it formed? Tell me about your history!
Duplicates who bypass state intervention, blessed by the hurricane. An English garden interrupted our path until we proved too cunning, too damaged for linearity.
The shards of a bottle, edges smoothed by the ocean. Glass swaddled by Yemayá and Mami Wata. Trash before the water and glistening wreckage after the storm.
4. Where are you located? Do you meet up in person? How do you communicate with each other?
Twenty-six of us meet in person and recognize each other only with a wink. We covertly enter the same whited-out barfyawnzone and pretend we haven’t checked out another mongrel. We recognize a mongrel we’ve never met, a potential mean girl, a comrade in rage in a hopeless place. According to some, we use drone technology; according to others, we have a franquist army and communicate via armed repression; according to a few others, we communicate verbally in sparking hide-outs amid the crevices.
Mongrels growl in a common language. Sometimes it’s more like parthenogenesis, mini mongrel clones. We howl across mediums, blasting all the gold we touch into glitch raving mongrel docs!!!!
5. What about poetry is important to you? As a group? As individuals?
Yo llegué a la revolución por vía de la poesía.
Tú podrás llegar (si lo deseas, si sientes que lo necesitas) a la
poesía por la vía de la revolución. Tienes por lo tanto una ventaja.
Pero recuerda, si es que alguna vez hubiese un motivo especial
para que te alegre mi compañía en la lucha, que en algo hay que
agradecérselo también a la poesía.
– Roque Dalton
I arrived at the revolution via poetry.
You can arrive (if you so desire, if you feel the need) at
poetry via the revolution. You therefore have an advantage.
But remember, if you ever find any special reason
to take pleasure in my company during the revolutionary struggle,
to some extent you’d also have to thank poetry.
– Roque Dalton
6. How do you define gringpo? How do you define mongrel?
mongrelsploitation: the reproduction of pleasure that results from the commodification of the radical potentia guadendi nonconsensually extracted from MCAG documents and shine. usually enacted by white conceptualists who have zero imagination.
gringpo: a gringo poetry jawn, or gringo popo. an enlightened daddy. an objectifier. a reason-ridden, discoursed-out, cautiously entitled, “post-naive,” appropriation-ready, let’s consider, high-art peddling, son of a sun-metaphor, irony-induced, snarkpedant. an eternally grateful, diversity-obsessed, multiculturally-driven, executive ceo on the board of the poetry inc. foundation for the illumination of the globe. un pendejo que se creo que tiene palabras doradas porque ha comprado dientes de oro. a straight-time enforcer. a white hustler, hustling rip-off originals, poc products bought and resold for $$$$$$$.
mongrelization: theft in love, history 2, history 3, history 0, holding your kin speaking to her in your language; jigsawed lingering interstitial identifications; myth-taking changería of getting to change hands, destroying tools dismantling their name towards decolonization.
mongrel: a cannibal bent on eating the ice-wormy hearts of gringpos under the post-mercury retrograde full moon
7. What makes you excited about the future of poetry? Of the literary world? (Or who gets you excited?)
There are so many excited writers who get us excited. Cathy Park Hong’s Delusions of Whiteness. We’ve collaborated with a few such as Sade Murphy on her Lonely Britches post, Jennifer Tamayo who has made some lovely drawings and given us a space on her Poetry Foundation posts, Lucas de Lima a message bearer on Montevidayo and kween of lyric power bottoms
OTHER KWEENS WE LUV:
M. NourbeSe Philip
Don Mee Choi
Ruth Ellen Kocher
Latasha N. Nevada Diggs
Black Took Collective
Feng Sun Chen
Raquel Salas Rivera
Craig Santos Perez
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Vanessa Angelica Villarreal
The Dark Noise Collective
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Jay Santa Cruz
Suzi F. Garcia
hope you’re buying THEM—let Jos Charles kick yo ass!
this list is longer and we keep reading. we’ll continue adding to it <3
*Nota: AGAINST POC WHO ALIGN WITH WHITENESS TO GAIN AND EXERT POWER. AGAINST POC WHO FLAUNT THEIR OTHERNESS AS CAREERIST CAPITAL, BUT REFUSE TO ENGAGE IN THE “DRAMA” OF FIGHTING WHITE SUPREMACY. AGAINST POC WHO PLAY THE GAME AND ARE THEREFORE COMPLICIT. AGAINST POC WHO SELF-SILENCE/SILENCE OTHER’S RAGE AND MOURNING.
8. What are the MCAG’s aesthetics?
In the Caribbean, the conquistadores would often attribute Taíno rebellions to Caribs, something akin to claiming that every time there is a protest it is started by “outside agitators.” The Taínos were depicted as good and subservient and the Caribs were depicted as aggressive, barbarous, and cruel. eyeroll eyeroll eyeroll
No buildings were burnt, no people were beaten, no hearts chewed up.
A group of POC showing they were fucking tired of the racism and colonialism of U.S. imperialist poetics in all caps is more threatening to a white avant-garde than the police, white supremacist groups, the U.S. military, and years of racist art towers.
—“Fascinating and repulsive”
—cannibals ravishing gringpos <3
9. What are your long and short terms goals as a group? What is MCAG’s proudest accomplishment?
A lot of people ask us what our “goals” are as if we had a little sticky note on our fridge with a list of things to do this lifetime. That’s kinda cute to imagine:
1) KILL CONCEPTUALISM
2) DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY
4) BUY EGGS
5) PAY RENT
6) CREATE SPACES FOR MONGREL POETIX
7) ORGANIZE MONGREL BBQ
8) SEND EMAILS AND KILL PATRIARCHY
9) FOREVER END HOMONATIONALIST IMPERIALIST PROJECTS
10) MAKE THOSE BITCHES EAT IT
11) BRAID EACH OTHER’S HAIR AND PAINT EACH OTHER’S NAILS
13) WERQ, PROTEST, WERK, REFUSE WORK, FIGHT.
14) LOVE SELF
As for our proudest accomplishment: we can only take partial credit for anything. We do, after all, have friends in low places. ;)
10. I’m reminded a little of the Guerilla Girls when I look at the kind of work you do and how you accomplish it. How do you feel about them? Who are your predecessors?
There are similarities, but we reject white feminism and the Guerilla Girls tend to be very white. We’ve also been compared to the Riot Grrrls. We were recently called MascPo by a critic who claimed we were “masculinist” which is hilarious cuz we have been pretty explicit: FUCK THE PATRIARCHY, FUCK MACHISMO, FUCK RAPE CULTURE FUCK PROTECTING RAPE CULTURE FUCK MISOGYNY FUCK NORMATIVE MASCULINITY ERASE THAT BULLSHIT.
“MASCPO BITCHES IN ARMS”
We are linked to a constellation of predecessors, some present in this world, some out there in other worlds, some are writers and some are just kissable dears.
11. What do you think MCAG can accomplish as an anonymous group that a named individual cannot? What sort of work do you do as individuals that help the goals of MCAG / ending white supremacy & the heteropatriarchy?
Our invisibility is ours to deploy how we see fit. It’s our basic right to name or not name ourselves and disavow the colonial signs conferred on us by our masters.
As POC we are often already erased as subjects and hypervisibilized as bodies for consumption, but the pretense of inclusion is one that further obliterates by claiming we’re all equally canonized. By avowing our erasure as grounds for transformation, we’ve become visible in ways that were not possible before. [Of course, this is problematic because it was, in part, our attack of white gatekeepers that led to recognition. If we’d only addressed POC who were excluded, white people wouldn’t give a shit. This shows the extent to which they’re centered in their whiteness.] To have no access to our identities is disarming for most white folks. To not be able to attack or discredit us personally breeds a sense of powerlessness. Not that they haven’t targeted our supporters, played police and tried to guess our names repeatedly, but (NEWSFLASH) to this day they’ve failed to identify us. Additionally, the irony of conceptual poetry is that it “says” that it will ostensibly evacuate the fetishism of the subject. Ummmmm NOPE. When Goldsmith blocks detractors and Place claims persecution, their lies become obvious. If the subject isn’t the center of the piece, then does it matter how people respond? Does it matter if they get pissed and take you off panels? If conceptualism followed through with its half-baked dictums its auteurs wouldn’t be so possessive. They’d be willing to accept any and all reactions. They wouldn’t lament the stormy directions the internet has taken like white flight, suburban, gated-community vigilantes. Subjectivity and subjectification don’t cease to exist because they say it’s what they “want”. If that’s what they want we say: boycott the self and divest from your whiteness: Divest, Divest DIVEST.
We throb collectively without having to be asked to perform the free affective labor of reassuring white people of their fundamental ‘goodness’ and why they are ‘different.’ The “we” of MCAG is not totalized. It is a we that speaks for a coalition of voices that take a stand against white supremacy in a given context. The point of writing the manifesto was to delineate OUR positions, not to suggest these were the position of all POC. We’ve never claimed a unanimous consensus model. This would be as absurd as believing that the Civil Rights gains of the 60s have to be revoked cuz not all black people, new immigrants and Asian communities agreed with the Freedom Fighters. We aren’t saying we are Freedom Fighters, but rather that the consensus model is excellent as a “necessary impossibility” (Derrida). We work towards covering as much ground as we can, but there will always be a writer of color who for innumerable reasons feels more aligned with a white avant-garde tradition than with its dismantlement. Do we think we know better than them? HELL FUCKEN YEAH. But they also think they know better than us. This is called having ethical stakes.
As individuals we do all kinds of shit to end white supremacy & the heteropatriarchy. Some of us are activists, others are newer to anything activist-related but have dealt with struggles against oppression in our own way. Of course MCAG is not the only way to fight back. But taking the struggle to all contexts in which one lives and works is fundamental to enacting change. It’s our obligation to exert the same pressure on the poetry “community” that we bring to other spheres of our lives.
12. Does MCAG exist primarily on the internet? How do you see the internet as a tool for your work?
MCAG will use everything at our disposal, including the internet, to demolish white supremacy.
Conpo’s vision of the internet as a neoliberal theme park where everyone is waging pillow fights and stealing from the cookie jar was never a reality for us. We’re organizing via the internet because we grew up training ourselves on it, furiously making ASCII heart shapes and hitting “delete” ;)
MCAG proves the post-human is not white. The internet is not white. Get the fuck used to it.
13. What’s the deal with white fear? (Ugh.) (I guess this is a rhetorical question.)
14. What is MCAG working on now?
We’ve got a few things cooking. One of our deathly cute pet projects is a document that delineates the “levels” of our “organization.” We read somewhere that we’re an organization with many levels and thought this was the most adorable thing ever. We’ve also read the most “fascinating and repulsive” things about our inner workings, our identities, our secret hideouts…This doc will be like a treasure map/videogame and it’ll help those who want to know more about the inner workings of the mongrel world navigate our labyrinthian structure. It will also include a discount package with candycanes, ancient tokens, and expired coupons <3 <3 <3
15. The work of dismantling systematic oppression is exhausting! How do you deal with the emotional and intellectual and realtime workload?
Health and self-care models are often based on an ideal of harmony unreachable to most folks living in the white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, so we aren’t going to pretend our lives are harmonious. We’re overworked, overloaded and strained. While a lot of days are fucken depressing, MCAG is our Starship Enterprise without the Fukuyama post-historical fantasy.
Yeah, the work of dismantling systemic oppression is exhausting. We’re constantly burnt out. We have limitations but we also get love and have enough love in us to blast to those who need it.
We would like to thank the wonderful Bhanu Kapil who gave us life on a particularly hard day. Our co-conspirators have been the bestest and have made a lot of days survivable.
Follow Molly McArdle on twitter @mollitudo
[Ed. note: We are closing the comments section on this post at the MCAG’s request. We hope these important conversations continue elsewhere!]
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