Brief Background on the Poem: First published in Volume 11 of The American Journal of Poetry (July 1st, 2021). The author sent the poem to Joyce Carol Oates, who had previously slammed Brandeis over censoring words like “picnic,” and “tribe.” JCO enjoyed the poem and went on to promote it on her Twitter page. Either she, or someone at Twitter, took her post down as there’s no longer a record of it.
Open Letter to the Students of Brandeis University with Bibliography
This message is to say that if any of you guys want to come over for a picnic, I’m hosting one next week, for a very small fee. As a rule of thumb, please don’t bring insane amounts of food, and don’t play anything by the band Survivor; however, the music of Tribe, a lesser-known American rock group from Boston, will be very much welcomed, and only because Brandeis University itself is located in Boston. Please note that sophomores, juniors, and seniors are very welcome, but freshman are absolutely prohibited; this is my best attempt to be inclusive. Absolutely no student discounts—cash only. Your reservation will go through once I receive payment. We’ll gather in the Central neighborhood, known for having the highest crime rate in the city(1), so trigger warnings, perhaps, won’t keep you safe—killing it seems to be the name of the game here. What’s more—prostitutes who could be victims of sexual trafficking might be around(2). If you have any reservations about the event, or crazy people in general, please write your congressman or notify the nearest policeman—when making such references please avoid using the word “crazy” and instead opt for “bananas,” as in those who attended the outdoor eating event went bananas because they were allergic to pineapple. Generally, the word “crazy” is only acceptable in the academic context of Aerosmith, another band from Boston—this one much bigger than Tribe—who, in 1993, wrote a song called “Crazy,” which appeared on their album, Get a Grip, released that same year(3). Having said that, it’s best to get a grip on yourself and refrain from trying to stab somebody at this celebration, even if they attempt to take a stab at you first—to be crystal clear, in the case of self-defense, the Massachusetts Supreme Court will uphold your right to take a stab at defending yourself from someone who’s trying to stab you; this is only normal, but be advised that we, as the organizers of this party, take no responsibility for any bodily or psychological harm you may incur as a result of your participation. Please also note that if you’re homeless or mentally ill, you must first sign a waiver(4) to attend the gathering; this is official Brandeis policy and if you happen to have a disability which prevents you from being able to read or write(5), well that’s really unfortunate. Be advised that at the end of the event we’ll all engage in a thirty minute mediation session to try and discover our Spirit animal; the use of illicit substances is absolutely discouraged in conjunction with this quest—although music by Jane’s Addiction has been clinically shown to expedite the process of bringing out the shamanic entity(6).
(1) According to a Newsbreak article written just six days ago, you have a “1 in 17 chance of becoming a victim of crime in Central.”
(2) Refer here to the work of Teresa C. Kulig and Leah C. Butler, particularly their article “From ‘Whores’ to ‘Victims’: The Rise and Status of Sex Trafficking Courts,” published in 2019, which has absolutely nothing to do with the neighborhood of Central or even our discussion, but it must be mentioned, firstly, on the basis of principle, but, secondly, also to add at least one more footnote—two being the minimum requirement dictated by academic convention. The use of “whore” and “victim” is appropriate in this context, mainly because we are dealing with peer-reviewed scholarship—an article published in the very reputable journal called An International Journal of Evidence-based Research, Policy, and Practice, but also because both the authors in question are women, which makes it okay. Famous feminists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have said that women can do anything and men must sit there and take it, although academic research has not been able to prove this conclusively, mainly due to the lack of hard data.
(3) Refer here to the work of Christopher Scales, particularly his article “Powwows, Intertribalism, and the Value of Competition,” which has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion at hand, but was nevertheless published by the University of Illinois Press, so it must be mentioned, firstly, on the basis of principle, but, secondly, also to add at least one more footnote—three is certainly better than two and Confucius (or someone with the same name as him) once said that “all good things come in threes.”
(4) Refer here to the very excellent research conducted in 2015 by Larina Chi-Lap Yim, Henry Chi-Ming Leung, Wai Chi Chan, Marco Ho-Bun Lam, Vivian Wai-Man Lim in their article “Prevalence of Mental Illness among Homeless People in Hong Kong,” which once again has absolutely nothing to do with our discussion, but still had the fortune of being published in a peer-reviewed academic journal called PLOS One—certainly not as prestigious as the University of Illinois Press, but nevertheless very respected, and this allows us to not only add a fourth footnote, but also increase the citation count for the six Chinese authors in question.
(5) Refer here to another very well-written article by Lara-Jeane C. Costa, Crystal N. Edwards, Stephen R. Hooper called “Writing Disabilities and Reading Disabilities in Elementary School Students: Rates of Co-Occurrence and Cognitive Burden,” which in no way at all touches upon the dilemma presented above, but does have a very fancy title and features three well-respected American scholars with PhDs—actually, only Costa and Hooper have the PhD; Edwards just has the MA, which is a great shame. In any case, she may have gotten the PhD by now, because this is all based on 2015 data.
(6) Refer here to Lucy Harmer’s book Discovering Your Spirit Animal: The Wisdom of the Shamans. Astute readers will quickly note that the work has a colon in it, which means that everything in it is absolutely unassailable. Colons have been around since the dawn of humanity; in fact, they’ve always been a part of humanity, and so their presence cannot be questioned, especially when you find them in academic titles published by North Atlantic Books, a California-based nonprofit publisher of somatics, spirituality, ecology, social justice, and self-help books since 1974.
Costa L-JC, Edwards CN, Hooper SR. “Writing Disabilities and Reading Disabilities in Elementary School Students: Rates of Co-Occurrence and Cognitive Burden.” Learning Disability Quarterly. 2016; 39 (1):17-30.
Harmer, L. Discovering Your Spirit Animal: The Wisdom of the Shamans. North Atlantic Books. 2009.
Scales, Christopher. “Powwows, Intertribalism, and the Value of Competition.” Ethnomusicology 51, no. 1. 2007.
Teresa C. Kulig & Leah C. Butler. “From ‘Whores’ to ‘Victims’: The Rise and Status of Sex Trafficking Courts, Victims & Offenders.” 2019; 14:3, 299-321.
Uncredited. “Five Most Dangerous Areas in Boston.” Newsbreak. 2021. www.newsbreak.com/news/2288399807375/5-most-dangerous-areas-in-boston
Yim, L. C., Leung, H. C., Chan, W. C., Lam, M. H., & Lim, V. W. (2015). “Prevalence of Mental Illness among Homeless People in Hong Kong.” PloS one, 10(10).
About David Garyan
David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.