On November 29, 2017, Minnesota Public Radio erased hundreds of women from Garrison Keillor’s online “Writer’s Almanac” column. From this month alone: Athena Kildegaard’s “Mother’s Prayer.” “First Formal” by Sharon Olds. “I Was Reading a Scientific Article” by Margaret Atwood. “Feeling East” by Gayle Brandeis. “You Could Never Take a Car to Greenland” by Maggie Smith. “Audience” by Connie Wanek. “Bell Bottoms and Platform Shoes” by Maria Mazziotti Gilan. “That I did Always Love” by Emily Dickinson. “Why I Love Being Married to a Chemist” by Barbara Crooker. “Couch on the Beach” by Catherine Abbey Hodges. “Winter Grace” by Patricia Fargnoli. “The Truth the Dead Know” by Anne Sexton. “A November Sunrise” by Anne Porter. “Bird Song, Cannon River Bottoms” by Joyce Sutphen. “But I, Too, Want to Be a Poet” by Fanny Howe. All of these poems are gone from the Writer’s Almanac’s official site.
I’m starting off talking about the women Keillor has published to make a point that firing him may be hurting women’s voices more than helping them…but many hundreds of poems by men are also gone. These include the last poem to be published on November 29: John Martin’s “Bear in Mind.” Martin’s piece is ironically appropriate in its final placement, as it’s about being pursued by fear– perhaps even, as exemplified by Keillor’s situation, the omni-present sort that the United States is becoming gripped by. Until we know more facts, Keillor’s firing feels McCarthy-like. It’s reminiscent of a time in which, as one of my poet-correspondents puts it, “anyone who ever used Russian dressing on salad was labelled a Communist. ”
At this moment all we know is what Keillor says:
“I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”
Is there more to the story? We don’t know yet. Despite his gregarious public persona, Keillor is known to be a painfully shy and awkward man. Without details from his accusers, it is hard not to wonder whether this was just a misunderstanding caused by his general awkwardness.
On the chance that Keillor is a harasser: he’s also a brilliant producer, writer, editor, and thinker, as well as a particularly articulate critic of the Far Right. As Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself,” “Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)” T.S. Eliot was anti-semitic; Ezra Pound was a fascist; Robert Frost is said to have been a plain old nasty guy. All, in spite of this, wrote beautiful poetry–Frost’s especially has given enjoyment and hope to people throughout the world. As one of many examples of this: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is taught to and loved by school children all over India because it was found on the deathbed of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru had underlined the last stanza:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The allegations that Frost was sexist, racist, and a manipulator does not mean that the world should have his poem taken away from it.
Besides what the harassment-allegations may do to future publications of Keillor’s own brilliant essays and creative writing, should the world be deprived of access to the poems that he published by other writers? Yes, they are reprints of poems which can be found in hard copy, and yes there are other sites that put out daily poems (Poets.org, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily are three of the best.) There are no other daily poetry columns, though, with as large an audience of intelligent people who, because they are not actively-involved in the poetry world, would not otherwise come across them.
The loss of this platform is a tragedy. The erasure of its archives is Orwellian.
As far as his work as writer and creative goes, Keillor has many miles to go before he sleeps. May he not be stopped for good.
Note: Good news!!!!! At the moment I write this many of the poems can still be found at WAMU 88.5 It is unknown how long they will remain up, though. I’ve sent them a query …At this point the site is hard to find via Google searches, but perhaps it will rise up the list as it gets more traffic from others also seeking it out.
As for Minnesota Public Radio, please write here to protest. (Thank you, John, for the link.)