WJDC? Would Junot Díaz Cry?

Submissions Close to the Yale Series of Younger Poets, Navigating Feelings of Inferiority

By Christopher Soto

When I finished [Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral] I bawled. Wise and immense.” —Junot Díaz, The New York Times Book Review

   When Carl Phillips became the first queer person of color  to judge the Yale Series of Younger Poets, I damn near shat my pants and shed a tear at the same time. The Yale Series of Younger Poets is the oldest and one of the most prestigious poetry book publishing competitions in the United States. And as a young QPOC poet I was so happy, so proud, to see my gente represented within this prestigious competition. I remember thinking “hell yea, we gunna take up space in this hetero-dominant, white-supremacist, elitist poetry series.”

   Mhmm.

   And then when Eduardo C. Corral became the first (queer) Latino to win the Yale Series of Younger Poets, chosen by Carl Phillips, I remember thinking “this (particular) system is about to be dismantled!”

   Mhmm.

   And then, when talking to a friend about Carl and Eduardo / what they do for QPOC confidence, my friend told me that I should submit my manuscript to the Yale Series of Younger Poets. And jokingly, instinctively, I said “No, Eduardo just won the competition a couple of years ago. What will the white people say of Carl if he chooses another brown fag’s manuscript?” (Insert “white fear” here).

   And that comment I made runs deep.

   A feeling of not belonging in a space because the QPOC quota has been filled. Or not belonging in a space because there are no other QPOCs who have been there. A feeling of inferiority that believes you are merely being accepted as a quota. A feeling of tokenization, of otherness. A feeling that continues to seek validation from systems of “power” which were never inclusive of my people to begin with. A feeling of the detriments that QPOC experience when looking for affirmation within white systems of power.

   And my current prerogative is not to critique the Yale Series of Younger Poets or Carl or Eduardo. Rather, this critique is an internal dialogue. A reminder to self – acknowledge “power” as an investiture. (And hell yea, I think we can play the game within these systems but that doesn’t mean we gotta give them our heart and call them on the weekends). I think we gotta be cautious about how much emotional energy we invest in these systems. And I propose that we create and invest in our own systems of meaning to measure our worth by.

   For example, instead of using publication with the Yale Series of Younger Poets as a signifier of poetic accomplishment, I now measure my literary merit in Junot Díaz’s tears. When I complete a poem, I think to myself WJDC? Would Junot Díaz Cry? … If the answer is “no” then I keep on working. If the answer is “yes” then that’s all the validation that I need. Sure, I’ll submit my poems for publication with the Yale Series of Younger Poets but the acceptance/denial of my poetry from such systems of “power” does not hold any value to me in comparison to worth of Junot Díaz’s tears.

   I write these words because I feel as if many of us QPOC are constantly struggling with these feelings of inferiority and a desire to overcompensate. And I believe that in seeking validation within such systems of “power” we will never find our contentedness/ allow ourselves to celebrate the plethora of accomplishments that we make every day.

   And fuck, my QPOC family, you are worth winning the Yale Series of Younger Poets a hundred times over. No, you are worth so much more! You are worth a billion Junot Díaz tears! So keep writing, keep living, keep doing your thang, and don’t measure it by anybody else’s standard but your own. Cuz the submission deadline for the Yale Series of Younger Poets closed last week but that don’t mean we stopped making beautiful poetry.

PS. This article was, unfortunately, dominated by conversation surrounding cis-dudes, as I’m currently unaware of any trans/femme-identified QPOC affiliated with the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

* Further Disclaimer: Junot Diaz is straight.

Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latin@ punk poet who is concerned with dismantling patriarchy and white supremacy.  They are currently curating Nepantla, an e-journal dedicated to queer poets of color, in collaboration with The Lambda Literary Foundation. Their work has appeared in print and online. They are an MFA candidate in Poetry at NYU.

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