The Nation's poetry editors have added a lengthy apology to a short poem published in its pages a week ago. The poem "contains disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities," for which they are very, very sorry.
Indeed, the apology is longer than the poem itself.
The poem's author, Anders Carlson-Wee, has apologized as well. "I am listening closely and I am reflecting deeply," he noted on Twitter. "The fact that I did not foresee this reading and the harm it could cause is humbling and eye-opening." The first reply to this post is from a Twitter user complaining that the use of the term "eye-opening" in the apology is ableist as well. This user does not appear to be a parody account, but the fact that it's quite difficult to tell is sort of the point.
As for the poem itself, please give it a read. I wouldn't call it my favorite poem ever, but it's clearly not trying to communicate anything nefarious. I read it as calling out the hypocrisy of people who claim to care about the poor, the homeless, and the disabled, but don't do anything meaningful to help them. ("It's about who they believe they is / you hardly even there.") You know, like people who relentlessly try to enforce politically correct language on social media, as if stopping people from using body metaphors will have an actual, tangible positive impact on the disabled community.
Others criticized Carlson-Wee for seemingly writing in the voice of a homeless person (possibly a person of color), even though he is an affluent white person. But this is the writer's task: to center oneself in the minds of other people, and make their desires and struggles seem genuine rather than imagined. I don't think anyone would have been able to tell that the author was white without looking at the name. This should be a credit to Carlson-Wee's work, not a thoughtcrime.
The editors' apology notes that the poem has not just "given offense," but also "caused harm to members of several communities." This seems in keeping with the view, increasingly popular in universities, that words do not just have the power to inspire violence, but are themselves equal to violence. No wonder so many observers of campus culture worry that formal policies intended to prevent emotional harm are making young people less resilient.