An anonymous reader asked Gabbert:
"I am a white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals in and out of the writing community—but despite this awareness and sensitivity, I am still white and still male. Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore, and that the torch has passed to writers of other communities whose voices have too long been silenced or suppressed. I feel terrible about feeling terrible about this, since I also know that for so long, white men made other people feel terrible about who they were. Sometimes I write from other perspectives via persona poems in order to understand and empathize with the so-called “other”; but I fear that this could be construed as yet another example of my privilege—that I am appropriating another person’s experience, violating that person by telling his or her story. It feels like a Catch-22. Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story. I genuinely am troubled by this. I want to listen but I also want to write—yet at times these impulses feel at odds with one another. How can I reconcile the two?"Gabbert's response? White men need to stop taking more than their "fair share" of being published and they need to stop appropriating other people's culture.
She continues, "I think you’re right to be concerned that persona poems could come off as a form of exploitation and appropriation; there’s also a risk of self-congratulation and unexamined complicity. Even if your goal is to learn and to empathize, one wonders why your act of inhabiting a woman’s or POC’s perspective would be more deserving of readership than writing by someone who has lived that experience?"
Gabbert then explains that the reader needs to realize that he has privilege in being male and writing, explaining, "Because of your status as a white male, whatever you do write is easier to publish, all other things being equal. Whether or not you or your editors and readers are aware of it, you get automatic bonus points. You’re at the lowest difficulty setting in the video game of life."
White men need to stop writing so much and stop writing so well, Gabbert explains. "Editors make excuses about their submission pools – they get far more submissions and pitches from men than women. Then people inevitably respond by telling women to write more, submit more, and pitch more. I think this is exactly the wrong response: Instead we should tell men to submit less. Pitch less. Especially white men. You are already over-represented."
Further, "You – white men – have all the advantages here, so you should work to solve the problem of imbalance, instead of putting all the burden on women, POC, and LGBTQ to fix it themselves."
However, she explains, simply because she's telling white men to not write doesn't mean she's actually telling white men not to write.
Despite what she just wrote, Gabbert then concludes, "I’m sure some people would tell you to stop writing; I’m not going to. There is already more writing produced every day than anyone could ever be expected to read, and producing writing is not necessarily an imposition, since people have the option not to read it."
Indeed, she finishes, "The best approach is likely to work toward good writing regardless of your subject matter; to me that means choosing complexity over obvious, trite sentiments, and avoiding self-flattery—don’t cast yourself as the white savior."