Never mind that anthologies, in general, are inherently problematic because they are always subjective to the personal taste of the author. Vendler exposed her real opposition when she wrote, “Perhaps Dove’s canvas — exhibiting mostly short poems of rather restricted vocabulary — is what needs to be displayed now to a general audience.” By referencing an anthology not dominated by the usual white poets as ‘of restricted vocabulary” exposes Vendler’s disdain, if not hostility, for the gall of Dove to include non-white poets on the same level of traditionally-recognized, “classic” poets.
In essence Vendler has disallowed Dove to see and define what is great poetry through the lenses of an African American woman. As Dove explained in a rather contentious response to the review, “this line of attack is a sign of despair or fury on part of some critics who define themselves as white — whatever that means in our mongrel society. Are they trying to make a last stand against the hordes of up-and-coming poets of different skin complexions and different eye slants? Were we — African Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans — only acceptable as long as these critics could stand guard by the door to examine our credentials and let us in one by one?”
So what does the controversy over The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry have to do with the lack of Octavia Butler’s work on the big screen. Perhaps the objection to the poetry book, particularly the use of so-called “multicultural inclusiveness,” is at the heart of why we fail to see our work immortalized in the classic sense of films and books. For me, it is a question of who gets to play curator to culture. Is it the voices of those purveyors of the past, who have traditionally excluded the work of people of color? Or should people of color have equal footing to say what is and should be considered “classic” art? Likewise, if a cultural product is not appeasing to the palate of white folks, particularly those who have been the gatekeepers of culture in our society, should it ultimately be considered devoid any cultural significance at all?