Carnegie Mellon University


I would like to apologize to readers, students, and colleagues for any distress caused by a poem of mine published in 1993 and recently circulated on social media and among our community. Nearly thirty years ago, I wrote “Time/Temperature,” a long poem about the 1968 uprising in Detroit, focusing specifically on the racism in my own community, a white suburb bordering the city. It was the longest poem I’d ever written, in part because I’d repressed so much about the virulent racism in that time and place, the landscape of my childhood. As I have said elsewhere, in that poem I was attempting to meet the challenge James Baldwin (who was my professor in graduate school) gave me—that I needed to confront my past honestly before I could move forward on the subject of race. The poem was also part of a larger poetry anthology on race in America I edited, whose project and rationale are explained at length in its introduction.  

In several places in the poem, I quoted an offensive racial slur to show how frequently it was used and to clear away any fictions about the source of hostility in Detroit in 1968. Though I intended the poem to call out the racism to which I was a witness and in which I was implicated, I clearly did not envision how triggering reading the poem would be for people of color, and I did not envision the historical moment we have arrived at in 2020, where our uses of language are quite rightly investigated not only for their intention but for their effects. If I were writing this poem today, I would not use such language. It was my first and flawed attempt to confront racism at a moment in time thirty years ago, and that moment has passed. But I own it; the poem and its mistakes are mine alone. These racial slurs are offensive for Black readers in particular, and I am deeply sorry if any reader of my work, at any time, has been hurt by it. I ask you, my learning community of forty years, to grant me the grace I strive to give all of you, which is the grace and space to learn.  

 - Jim Daniels, Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English