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'Norfolk: The Poem' Author Jesse Scaccia Not Appointed To Norfolk Public School Board (UPDATED)

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JESSE SCACCIA
Jesse Scaccia | Sam Shinault

Jesse Scaccia "wouldn't want to say" that a poem he wrote about a young man who is "officially a Norfolkian" when he "fling[s] ... condoms out the window" kept him off the Norfolk Public School Board.

That said, he does think that "Norfolk: The Poem" -- which graphically documents the narrator's challenging assumptions about race, sexuality and moonshine in this Tidewater city in southeastern Virginia, home to the world's largest naval complex -- did put the city councilmembers, who appoint school board members, "in a very difficult position."

Scaccia, who edits the alternative media website AltDaily, became a candidate for the school board after losing his recent progressive, arts-focused bid to join the Norfolk City Council.

On Tuesday, the Virginian-Pilot reported that Norfolk's vice mayor, Anthony L. Burfoot, planned to ask Scaccia about "Norfolk: The Poem," which was written in 2008, while Scaccia was in a graduate nonfiction writing program at Old Dominion University, during his interview for the school board position.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that Scaccia brought up the poem on his own later that day:

Jesse Scaccia said Tuesday in his City Council interview for School Board that a satirical poem he wrote could be used as a "teachable moment" for any Norfolk student who stumbles across it online.

"Let's talk about race. Let's talk about sexuality," Scaccia said. "Let's talk about sense of place and bias and how that affects our prejudices and the way we see the world."

Scaccia also brought to his interview samples of art that deal with race in confrontational ways, according to a story he published on AltDaily on Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, Scaccia told The Huffington Post he's happy the poem -- which is not about him, he says, but about a fictional narrator "who has never left the Northeast, someone who has never let himself explore, understand and love other cultures" -- did get people talking.

The Virginian-Pilot's story about "Norfolk: The Poem" "was the most read story in our region's top newspaper [on Tuesday]," he said. "Which means that thousands of people who decidedly would not have been thinking about poetry thought about it, had a conversation about it. And also talked about the school board."

Another good: Burfoot is ready to talk with Scaccia about more than poetry. "We're going to get lunch next week. That door has never been open between the creative community and the vice mayor. So I'm going to talk to him about creating an arts district," Scaccia said.

Burfoot said he is open to hearing Scaccia's ideas about art, but he also wants to talk about race and his sense of place. "I really wanted to get some insight on who he is and what his goals and objectives are," he told HuffPost. "Our city has been through a lot in terms of building race relations. And that particular piece did nothing to create a dialogue to talk about race in our city. I thought it was insensitive in terms of understanding the city of Norfolk."

And while Burfoot says the poem "had no bearing" on Scaccia not being appointed to the school board, he also told HuffPost that "if a child wrote a poem like that and gave it to one of their teachers, he or she would have been sent to the office. And they would be reprimanded for that," he said. "We can't have a double standard."

Looking back at recent events, Scaccia told HuffPost of his regrets.

"I just wish it was a better poem," he said. "It was just a first draft."

Update, 1:23 p.m.: Updated to include Scaccia's remark that the "I" in "Norfolk: The Poem" is not Scaccia himself.