Philadelphia ex-poet laureate faces uproar for skinhead past

In this Nov. 11, 2015 photo, Frank Sherlock, the then-poet laurel of Philadelphia, poses outside Dirty Franks, a bar in Philadelphia where he worked as a bouncer. Sherlock, who focused on bringing poetry to neighborhoods and the city’s young people, has been outed as a former white nationalist. He was appointed to the year-long post in 2014 during the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter, who is black. In the late 1980s, Sherlock was a 19-year-old skinhead and vocalist for a white nationalist punk band called New Glory. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Philadelphia's second poet laureate, who focused on bringing poetry to neighborhoods and the city's young people, has been outed as a former white nationalist

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia's second poet laureate, who focused on taking poetry to neighborhoods and the city's young people, has been outed as a former white nationalist.

In the late 1980s, Frank Sherlock was a 19-year-old skinhead and vocalist for a white nationalist punk band called New Glory.

"I'm mortified and not just that somebody found out, but that it happened at all," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sherlock, now 50 and a freelance writer, told the newspaper that period is shameful for him. He said he never considered himself a racist but had a limited worldview.

"I guess in my own mind I made this transformation," he said, adding he wanted to transcend his negative past. "I felt like I've been doing the work that was going in that direction."

Sherlock, who was also the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in 2013, was appointed to the yearlong poet laureate post in 2014 during the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter, who is black. Nutter's voicemail box was not accepting messages Wednesday.

Sherlock's white nationalist past was revealed in a poem by another local poet posted to Twitter and later deleted.

The poet, Amy Saul-Zerby, said in a statement that she was "troubled by the fact that it had been hidden from his closest friends." She said she made the Twitter post after the two had a confrontation at a bar.

Sherlock told the Inquirer that he never received any proceeds from the record or the lyrics he wrote and that the band never played live.

New Glory was one of many bands on the bill for a "Nazi Woodstock" festival blocked by a judge in California, according to a 1989 New York Times article, which described the band's lyrics as "extolling the supremacy of the white race."

"We are white nationalists," Sherlock told a British magazine in 1988. "Subsequently, we hold our beliefs of white power for white people. The Aryan people must forge their own destiny, free from the rule of an alien occupational government that serves no representation to the American white masses."

The band broke up in 1989, and Sherlock enrolled at Temple University, studying English. He said over the years that he has pursued projects "antithetical" to white nationalism, working with the nonprofit writing program Mighty Writers and the Mural Arts program, and performing at fundraisers for LGBTQ groups and Hurricane Maria relief.

Some have come to Sherlock's defense, saying that he has proven himself over the years and that people need to be allowed to change for the better.

Others say that he is disingenuous and that his redemption opportunity is all about white privilege.

Raquel Salas Rivera, the city's current poet laureate, said Sherlock's failure to be honest about his past makes it impossible for their friendship to continue. Salas Rivera said she believes Sherlock benefited from prestige and money that might have gone to others.

"Do I, as a person of color, have the choice to associate with a white supremacist? This is someone who was my friend," Salas Rivera told the newspaper. "The devastation of this is hard to quantify."

The city's poet laureate program was run by the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy from its inception in 2012 to 2017, when the Free Library of Philadelphia took over. A library spokesman told the Inquirer no one involved in the selection committee knew about Sherlock's past as a member of the white nationalist band.

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This story has been corrected to say "Salas Rivera said she believes Sherlock benefited from prestige and money that might have gone to others," instead of "Salas Rivera said Sherlock believes ...".

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com

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