Bob Sharkey

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The Poem

At some point, all of us in the literary community must DEMAND that white editors resign. It’s time to STEP DOWN and hand over the positions of power. We don’t have to wait for them to fuck up. The fact that they hold these positions is fuck up enough.

Those words from a writer with an Arab background reacting to a publishing decision by a transgender editor and a Latina editor. All three women are professors at major universities.

What happened to intersectionality?

The editors either fucked up by publishing a poem alleged by some to be racist and ablest or by issuing an apology which offended others.

Following some blacklash, the young white male poet apologized. Does not want to be associated with blackface. Apologized. Likely never been to a minstrel show. Does he realize once the poem is out there it doesn’t belong to him anymore?

Were all the above career moves?

The poet thought the poem addressed the invisibility of homelessness. Is that a thing? Maybe in Minnesota.

In the poem, a beggar appears to be telling others how to panhandle on the streets. Stationary beggars with a cardboard sign or maybe just a cup. Most individuals asking for money on the street are homeless, but not all of them are. Is the poet aware of this?
It’s a persona poem, using a black idiom that some thought was inconsistent. Then someone contended that the very inconsistency of say “If you a girl, say you’re pregnant” captures the idiom exactly.

Do white male poets need to post this warning: This poem was produced in a brain that shares common processing equipment and may contain trace amounts of racism, sexism, ableism, gender stereotyping?

The poem got me thinking of:
A legless man on a roller board selling pencils. Nasty aggressive drunks at Albany bus stops. The shy ones, the sweet talkers, the insistent “veterans”, the Albany quarter lady, the well-dressed ones who surprise you, guys coming out of nowhere in the dark or a deserted area, people you have had a long conversation with, the overly polite ones, a regular in a filthy blue jacket with a sad story who became dependent on you, funny ones (“collecting for the United Negro Pizza Fund”), tricksters (“got change for a dollar?” didn’t say he’d give a dollar for the change), ones who follow you after you say “sorry, no”, ones asking for a nickel, a dime, a quarter, a dollar, $5 for peanut butter and jelly for the kids, some change, any change at all, help with bus fare, with a meal, a haircut, to get back home, for a drink, a slice, those who have lost their ticket, their wallet, their way in the world. On the streets of Albany, Portland, Boston, Montreal, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Galway, Dublin, Troy, or anyplace I love to walk.

Men at the Bellevue intake shelter going for HIV tests (if positive the “gold card” granting priority for permanent housing), at the Bordon Ave veteran’s shelter men and women from the Gulf Wars but mostly old guys from Vietnam, the grizzled old street denizens at a Bowery walk-in day program, strollers outside the family shelters and bunk beds for the kids inside, plastic bags full and ready for the next move, homeless mothers with fulltime jobs eloquent about how rent money is out of reach, others just sitting with blank stares, shopping carts spilling over with a person’s possessions, cops gently waking up the regulars promptly at five am in the Penn Station waiting area, bodies stretched out on sidewalks, subway steps and walkways, on church steps, wrapped in cardboard over heating grates, a toothless woman smiling, and, in almost any city in the early morning, benches and the dewy grass full of sleepers.

Isn’t that what a poem is supposed to do?


Bob Sharkey's poems and prose have been published in many journals. He is an active member of the open mic reading scene in the Albany/Troy NY area.  Bob is the editor of the annual Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest.