Over 2000 poets and writers—including Danez Smith, Franny Choi, Safiya Sinclair, Daniel José Older, Jamel Brinkley, Hala Alyan, and Javier Zamora—have pledged to boycott the Poetry Foundation (as well as it’s poetry journal, Poetry), citing “a recent instance of prejudiced silencing” in which Joshua Gutterman Tranen’s review of Sam Sax’s collection PIG, which engages with anti-Zionist politics, was shelved indefinitely because the magazine didn’t want to be seen as “picking a side” in the ongoing genocide unfolding in Gaza.
In response to what they see as the censoring of anti-Zionist Jewish writers, four poets—Noor Hindi, Summer Farah, Omar Sakr, and George Abraham—published the below open letter to the board of the Poetry Foundation and the editors of Poetry in which they urge their peers to boycott the Foundation and its press “until such time as they have demonstrated they are on the side of humanity.”
Here is the letter in full:
TO THE BOARD OF THE POETRY FOUNDATION AND THE EDITORS OF POETRY
We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern and disappointment regarding a recent instance of prejudiced silencing within the Poetry Foundation.
Joshua Gutterman Tranen’s review of Sam Sax’s collection PIG, which engages with anti-Zionist politics—Joshua’s and Sam’s—was “shelved” indefinitely by Poetry magazine on October 8th because the magazine doesn’t want to be seen as “picking a side” in the genocide unfolding in Gaza. To postpone at a later date is a strategy used both by The Foundation in the past–where is the trans/GNC issue planned in 2017?–as well as other organizations seeking to silence pro-Palestine voices. It is the mission of the Foundation to “amplify poetry and celebrate poets by fostering spaces for all”; in a critical landscape that marginalizes poetry, the censorship of a review by a Jewish writer about a Jewish poet’s work is shocking. This takes place in the context of anti-Zionist American Jews being arrested for protesting the war crimes of Israel, and of anti-Zionist Jews being attacked within Israel itself.
We want to be clear: censoring an American Jewish anti-Zionist is indeed taking a side. As of this writing, over 8,000 Palestinians have been slaughtered. Over 3,500 Palestinian children have been killed, while another thousand are missing under the rubble. The number of dead increases every minute. Palestinians have been starved, denied water and power for the past four weeks with the support of Western governments, in direct defiance of international law and human decency. 1.4 million have been forcefully displaced and numerous Israeli government officials have stated their intention to commit genocide and ethnically cleanse Gaza from their population. In light of these crimes against humanity, Western governments have not just been shamefully silent, but grotesquely supportive of this mass murder of innocents, and it has fallen to regular people all over the world to protest in historic numbers, to raise their voices in a show of profound defiance and solidarity.
There have been attempts by politicians and their mouth-pieces throughout the Anglosphere to smear these protests, to diminish them through lies about their size and their intent, to say “now is not the time”, and even to categorize them as “violent” while simultaneously laundering the murder of thousands through a mixture of rote diplomatic jargon and strident Orientalism. This is to say there are two sides at play, one that is pro-genocide and one that is not. Now is not the time for silencing critical Jewish voices, in whose names this genocide is being committed—it is the time to amplify them and the communities most directly impacted by the violence.
The Poetry Foundation Strategic Plan, published in 2022, states that “The Poetry Foundation supports poetry in all its diversity,” envisioning a world in which poetry is vital to building a better future for everyone, and “center[ing] the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in programming, publishing, grantmaking, and internal operations.” It is clear that you have failed in this, profoundly, and it is not the first time. If you turn away while our kin in Gaza are killed, if you will not hear us when we most need to be heard, what use are you?
The Foundation was established the year the United States invaded Iraq, when thousands took to the streets to protest the unjust war. The Foundation was born into a United States ripe with anti-Arab, Islamophobic sentiment. This landscape has not changed. Today, thousands take to the streets to protest the genocidal escalation in Gaza, and pledge their solidarity to the Palestinian struggle against settler colonialism, and the Poetry Foundation has decided to silence them. The Foundation has picked a side. To claim that the review was held in order to protect the critic from potential backlash is infantilizing and cowardly; silence does not protect anyone. As artists, we accept the risks that come from taking a stand.
We urge the Poetry Foundation to understand the gravity of this failure, to act swiftly to address these concerns, and to reaffirm its commitment to equality in the world of poetry. Our demands are as follows:
Take a stand against imperialism Zionist settler colonialism of Palestinian land and the genocide of the Palestinian people
Commit to supporting, instead of censoring, Palestinians and anti-Zionist voices.
We, the undersigned poets, equally urge our peers to boycott the Foundation and its press until such time as they have demonstrated they are on the side of humanity. This includes:
Do not send work to POETRY magazine
Do not guest on or host podcasts produced by the Foundation
Do not write for Harriet
Do not participate in Ours Poetica or other affiliated Foundation programs
Cancel your subscription to POETRY magazine
The Foundation’s actions in response to these matters will not only shape the foundation’s future but also send a powerful message to the broader literary community.
Noor Hindi, 2021 Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow
Summer Farah, Radius of Arab American Writers
George Abraham, Executive Editor of Mizna
You can see the full list of signatories here
Since the publication of the letter on November 3, at least three Poetry Foundation events have been cancelled. The Poetry Foundation has also been removed as the main sponsor of the upcoming Southern California Poetry Festival.