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Monday, January 23, 2012

Poetry As Propaganda

Emeryville Stops Artists From Speaking Truth To Power  

Artists speaking truth to corporate power in Emeryville?  Not so fast says City Hall and its publicly funded Poet Laureate.
Take the temporary plywood pedestrian protection wall recently removed from along the Horton Street sidewalk north of 45th Street at the former Sherwin Williams paint manufacturing site: there the city of Emeryville facilitated the paint corporation in a poetic advertising campaign in the form of an open poetry contest, even while helping to quash artists in town that might have questioned that corporate power. 
The Emeryville plant from the lead and
arsenic dumping go-go years.

Controversy arose around the contest, when Japanese haiku style poetry, critical of Sherwin Williams and its history of illegal toxic waste dumping at the site, was submitted for the wall from at least four citizens.  The paid judges, Ms Janell Moon and Ms Mara Feeney, deemed any poetry critical of the corporation out of bounds and those poems were summarily rejected from consideration. 

The plywood wall, removed last week, was erected some months ago at the start of a government mandated toxic waste clean-up project by Sherwin Williams after decades of their illegally dumping lead and arsenic in the soil at the site.  The seemingly innocuous poetry contest meant to adorn the wall with citizen's poetry incorporating and celebrating the proprietary names for Sherwin Williams paint colors was consequently sponsored by the city of Emeryville.  The contest, from Sherwin William's perspective, helped reinforce public good will directed to the paint company and helped to offset the negative public relations brought on by its toxic waste dumping.
In a less cynical world, Sherwin Williams 
paint colors would include:
Arsenic Silver & Lead Silver

The judges were compensated for their work in censoring the poems; Janell Moon, selected as Emeryville's first Poet Laureate last year, received a taxpayer funded stipend for her duties and Mara Feeney is a private corporate public relations consultant retained by Sherwin Williams for the Emeryville toxic waste clean-up.

On a side note, the city of Emeryville, upon bestowing Janell Moon the Poet Laureate title noted she is "Emeryville-based" even though Ms Moon's own website indicates the poet is "San Francisco-based".  The eligibility requirements for the position mandate "the selected poet lives or works in Emeryville".  

The city's contest announcement is here.
The Secret News story on the clean-up is here and here.
The city's announcement declaring Janell Moon the first Poet Laureate is here.


  1. Janell Moon lives in Emeryville. Please research more carefully.

    1. Please re-read the story: no mention was made of the location of Ms Moon's home, only that the city said she is "Emeryville based" and that Ms Moon's website claims she is "San Francisco based".

    2. Neither did Anonymous say you got it wrong--only that you should research more carefully. If you have conflicting information and you can't determine which is true, then either the information is elusive or your research is not thorough enough. In the case of this blog it's usually the later issue.

    3. The research revealed a factoid of interest to readers that would tend to not accept everything coming from City Hall at face value. The idea is that sometimes the government engages in deception to further its interest. The value here is the players (the city and the Poet Laureate) have common interest yet the spin is 100% divergent. It can be seen as a small illumination of a large construct built by the government. The public would have interest in this.

    4. Mr. Donahue, I must commend you on your correct usage of the word "factoid." The suffix "-oid" means "resembling the item in question, but being distinct from it." A factoid is something which resembles a fact, but which is not a fact. However, factoids don't serve the public particularly well. The role of a responsible, informative writer is to ascertain the fact and report it. While we might find your factoid interesting, it is in neither my interest nor that of my community to speculate about things which are not fact.

    5. I'm not interested in your didactic admonitions about how you see the role of a 'responsible informative' writer, entertaining though they may be. I am interested in writing the way I want to write but I do value your (and everyone else's) opinion. I invite you to go to another blog, say the city of Emeryville's e-newsletter, if this doesn't meet with your approval. Incidentally, judging by the readership, the Tattler it is in fact in your community's interest (presuming you live in Emeryville).

  2. Of course her website says San Francisco based, if anyone not from the area visited her site, they would have no idea where Emeryville is. Since the web is a world wide thing, you need to give people an easy landmark so they know where you are.
    Geeze, that is some ridiculous nit-picking.

    1. Of course...'easy landmark'...that must be it...

  3. Here's what I submitted. They weren't chosen.

    Business-friendly, bland,
    Emeryville’s hue is clearly
    Accessible beige

    Their shellmound is razed,
    But look at this fine paint chip
    Called Indian White

    1. ^Ms. Feeney pointed out that the second of the two (Jan 24/11:57 am) was in fact put up on the barrier. I stand corrected.