White Poets and Race
Major Jackson has a fascinating essay in the current (September / October, 2007) issue of The American Poetry Review. In "A Mystifying Silence: Big and Black" he asks why contemporary white poets do not write about racial issues in America.
"Whatever the reason, the mystifying silence around race highlights white American poets' unsettling and conspicuous unresponsiveness and ambivalence toward a very important aspect of social life in America, one given heft by our founding documents, our history of immigration and war, and by our being a beacon for so many disenfranchised peoples across the globe who arrive here with the hope of interweaving into the fabric of our democracy. At least Robert Penn Warren and the other Fugitives took a stand and compellingly wrote poems and novels, albeit at time reprehensibly, from the position of being white male Americans. We knew where we stood regarding the race question, which could allow us to substantively engage the tradition of white southern identity in American letters, and thus, each other quite candidly."
Jackson cites Sharon Olds, Ed Pavlic, Henry Taylor, C.K. Williams, Tony Hoagland and T.R. Hummer, along with several others, as exceptions to the silence of contemporary white American poets on racial issues. Here I think he is being somewhat generous; a gesture that does, in an odd way, underline the validity of his thesis.