A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ]. If you have questions, please contact me at todslone@hotmail.com.
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia, not to mention Sweden, England, and Austria.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Monday, September 29, 2008

Frozen in Blind Acceptance

A friend brought to my attention a couple of rather predictable essays on poetry contests appearing in Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century. Contrary to assertions, the real problem with contests is not so much the transparent corruption of some contest judges, but rather autocratic aesthetics. “Manuscripts are more likely to be evaluated solely on their merit today than ever before,” writes contest-winner David Alpaugh, who believes instances of sweaty literary incest rare. BUT what is artistic or poetic excellence (i.e., “merit”)? You’ll know it when you sniff it tends to be the usual implied response. Sadly, Alpaugh seems to think that “merit” is an objective term. Sadly, I doubt he could ever be made to consider it otherwise. Sadly, Rattle operates to keep the very idea that “merit” may indeed be subjective out of the agora of ideas. It has banned my opinions, for example, and backs the censorship effected by the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, and Poets & Writers, Inc..

“A well-advertised contest, judged by a well-known poet, will attract hundreds of manuscripts, each accompanied by a $15 to $25 reading fee,” notes Alpaugh. BUT what does that really say about the judge? What does “well-known poet” really imply? It implies playing the game, never bucking the system, never daring to go against the poesy grain, and simply opening ones mouth, saying ahhhh, and swallowing the gob of bourgeois verse fed by some blank face. Does that really make a good judge? Is Billy Collins a good judge? “I mean, I write about saltshakers and knives and forks—and talk like a politician,” he stated proudly. AND what does it say about the herd of contest-prize seekers? So few seem capable of questioning and challenging anything today! Well, perhaps it’s understandable since likely many of them are college grads used to groveling for letters of recommendation, those certifications that one is likely not to question and challenge what shouldn’t be questioned and challenged.

“They [contest administrators] are also free to solicit work from poets who have an established track record with at least a segment of the poetry reading public,” notes Alpaugh. How it pains/irritates me to contemplate this fellow who writes a seemingly analytical article on contests, but fails to examine the very underbelly of the ugly creature. What the hell does “established track record” mean? He can’t even ask himself that question. It’s as if it’s become taboo for those who want to be poet “success” stories. So, I’ll do it for him and even supply the response: “Established” always implies accepted by the established order. Instead of blindly sucking up to that order, we need poets willing to question it and question why it promotes certain kinds of poetry, discourages criticism of it (Rattle sure has done its part!), and why it promotes the likes of Billy Collins et al.

And what about the poets like me who NEVER apply to contests? Alpaugh never even poses the question as a possibility. Oh, but of course, all real poets seek to be contest winners! Christ, it’s like the back of a box of Wheaties or Cheerios! Alpaugh fails to even sniff the very bourgeois stench of the literary established order and the bourgeois type of poetry it peddles today. [Note how the very term “bourgeois” seems to have conveniently gone out of use today.]

“Though English professors would probably be more objective and impartial referees, they lack the name recognition crucial for a successful poetry contest,” argues Alpaugh. But why the fuck would they be more objective? Alpaught can’t seem to ask himself fundamental questions either. Name-recognition? Is that what it’s come down to? What is wrong with these scribbling poets? Tenure implies a certain degree of indoctrination. English profs are likely indoctrinated in the bourgeois mindset of bourgeois aesthetics and bourgeois poetry. “The more famous the judge, the more entry fees. As always, po-biz trumps ars poetica,” notes Alpaugh. BUT why doesn’t he even ask why poets act like a herd trampling towards the famous? Why don’t they behave as individuals instead and question fame? What all of this nonsense is really about is the taming of the poet and literature in an effort to render it sin cojones innocuous highbrow entertainment. Look at the immense difference between the samizdat literature during Stalin’s day and that in America today. It’s a question of powerful and threatening versus tame and playing the poesy game. By the way, Alpaugh wants everyone to know he is “winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize and owner of Small Poetry Press, David Alpaugh has both won and run a Poetry Book Contest.” Whatever the fuck happened to the SIXTIES??? Headline: HIPPIES HATCH BUSINESS-MINDED POETLINGS!


mather said...


The problem with poetry contests is that they exist. You might as well buy scratch tickets. Contests are a tired old way for magazines to gather in money and dole out six months of stupid hope to the feeble-minded entrants. I can’t believe Tim Green gets paid to send out those you-didn’t-win-the-contest-you-loser letters. Yes, I got one. I know: shame, shame. I got conned by the 5,000 dollar first prize, like the mob when the lottery gets up over 20 million. Now I feel like a fool, but I will tell you this, and I mean it: NEVER AGAIN.
The contesters really do believe their ideas of merit are objective and universal. They probably believe they were delivered from god. They think you are some archaic dope, Slone. They have no sense of history or of what real change is like or why change is good, of what literature has been in the past and what it could be again. It never occurred to them that poetry could be, or should be, dangerous, unpredictable, uncomfortable, destructive, angry, red hot with honesty. These contesters can’t handle anything like that, they’d squeal like a girl with a spider thrown on her. Their lives and their brains are so small that it does seem to them that every intelligent person agrees with them: that the most important thing is CRAFT. When you live on a college campus and go only among other people just like you, you could get this impression.
The sooner you understand that poetry is a business, Slone, that it is based on the corporate model, and that this is RIGHT and GOOD and DEMOCRACY and AMERICA, the better. You just don’t get it, do you? This is what they do. They are PROFESSIONALS. They have credentials and track records and the most expensive computers and ink pens. To make art commercial and professional is to ruin it. They are not creators, they are failed lackeys who have come to this arena to try to market their only commodity, stinko verse. The poetry is nothing because it is nothing to THEM, it is wispy and frail, but it’s got ART elements that are obvious enough to classify and talk about, which gives the judge something to do, and really it’s a way to make him feel necessary. He’s really just a mouthpiece for the majority, carefully chosen like a prize lobster.
The winning poem will not be based on anything other than COMMON DENOMINATOR, middle of the road, just like the flat, yellow line where you can’t pass. Energy, power, message, emotion, originality of language, connection to reality, all this is tossed out the window. The winning poem will be a calming influence, mainly, a half dead donkey draped with a mesh of literary tricks that were new and fresh maybe thirty years ago, so unoffensive as to leave even the blue-hairs nodding happily. Even if the content contains great pain or violence, the language will be docile and unnaturally decorated, and the all-important tone will be one of anus-scrunched, almost autistic control, which someone will call “mastery”. This is to comfort and entertain the super-educated readership and reassure them in their hearts, because no matter what the poem or story is about, the tone will ultimately signify that all is well with the world.
Reading the poem will be like fucking a styrofoam mannequin, which is apparently how these people get off.
That a poetry could live and breathe and excite people, this is totally beyond them.

Leigh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.