A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy
A FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND VIGOROUS DEBATE, CORNERSTONES OF DEMOCRACY
[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ]. If you have questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Sunday, January 25, 2009
However, a couple of days after the "event of a lifetime," I thought I’d take a look at the inaugural poem to be published in an initial 100,000 chapbook copies by Graywolf Press for $20 each. That's an initial $2,000,000. The poem was on the Internet (www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-poem.html?ref=books), so I read it, as well as diverse articles with its regard. Evidently, a dissident like me would not like it.
Elizabeth Alexander was a tenured professor poet at Yale University, from a moneyed black family, and quite comfortably distant (like Wolf Blitzer, Bush and Obama) from the strife currently felt by the average American citizen. Yet she seemed to equate herself with the latter, as in “I know there’s something better down the road./ We need to find a place where we are safe.” Well, there wasn’t much better or safer than the Yale tenured life! Alexander was selected because she was a friend of the new president, not because she was a concrete manifestation of the “change we can believe in” mantra, which she evidently was not. Selecting her was rather a manifestation of the business-as-usual faux-change we couldn’t believe in. Selecting friends or friends of friends was perhaps as commonplace in the literary established-order milieu as it was in the political milieu.
As for the poem, it was the kind of verse that would have been given the stamp of approval by the former Union of Soviet Writers because of its utter innocuousness. The Huffington Post dared not even criticize it, while The Yale Daily News titled its article: “Inaugural poem garners praise.” “It’s a beautiful psalm of praise, celebrating an extraordinary historical event by means of praising ordinariness, or the heroism of everyday life,” noted John Rogers, director of undergraduate studies for the English Department at Yale. But could one actually have expected gut truth from someone in a position like that? Certainly not! What one could expect, however, was the reigning collegiality provoking widespread blandness in academe. Indeed, blandness like the inaugural poem itself.
“I heard, I wept, I took great pride,” noted Yale English professor Leslie Brisman. “Elizabeth Alexander did most admirably in a particularly difficult genre. The poem makes us feel we are all heirs of those who have died so this day could come to be. Praise to her song for walking us forward in that light.” Brisman too was likely bathed in the comfortable light of wealth and the Yale easy life. So, it certainly didn't take much at all to walk her in it. The only thing I liked about the poem was its lack of mention of Jesus and God, though it was nevertheless bathed in an aura of blind positivism in a time where most of us would likely have preferred some gut anger in the poetry--most of us, that is, with the evident exception of the corrupt bankers and their political puppets that stole our life savings. Fuckem. Yes, why wasn't "fuckem" in the poem?
“It reminds us of the way democracy in America is ideally the chance for all people to speak in the public sphere,” noted Yale literature professor Amy Brundage regarding the poem. But what the hell was Brundage talking about? Only the moneyed had voice in the “public sphere”! Only the moneyed would be able to get Obama's ear... just like they got Bush's.
"Elizabeth Alexander is a superb choice for the Obama inauguration: She is from Washington, she represents Obama's generation, and she has written about the civil rights conflict and other historical events that have shaped the character of this country," noted Tree Swenson, executive director of the Academy of American Poets. "At the same time, her intense personal vision reveals the commonplace life illuminated from startling new angles as good poetry always does."
Only an established-order poet like Swenson could have written such a well-turned vacuous statement on a lousy poem. Swenson, by the way, was an evident proponent of politically-correct censorship (see www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets.htm). Was Alexander also such a proponent?
"I don't envy her," noted ex-U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. "Such poems are nearly impossible to bring off. Because of the heaviness of the subject the risk is that you will end up under it rather than on top. I wish her well and I'm certainly glad Obama is making room for a poet." But sometimes, perhaps often, no poet was better than a poet. Of course, the highly buffered like Collins wouldn't be able to understand that. Contrary to what he stated, such poems ought to have been very possible indeed to bring off, especially for a president calling for CHANGE! Of course, Obama would have had to select a poet, not of the established order, but rather one with a track record of daring to risk now and then, daring to make waves, and daring to go against the static grain! Change was what was called for! So why the same ole thing, though with a black face? True, the last inaugural poet, Maya Angelou, also had a black face, but wrote Valentine verse. Wanda Coleman, on the other hand, would have been a breath of fresh air… a real CHANGE… and with a black face!
"I think what I hope to symbolize and demonstrate is the important role that arts and literature can play in this moment when the country is thinking so keenly about moving forward and coming together," noted Alexander regarding her poem. Unfortunately, the only role the arts and literature had been playing was an entertainment and diversionary one, certainly not a critical one. And the problem with “coming together” was that it mandated the rejection of critical voices and reality. "You're always trying to catch a rhythm," noted Alexander. Well, while she was always trying to catch a rhythm, I was always trying to catch a corrupt intellectual in flagrant delit, which of course was perhaps a lot easier than trying to catch a rhythm.
Salon.com ran a long blathering open-wide-just-say-ahh article “How to write a poem for the president” by Jim Fisher. “What poet today would allow his or her voice to be yoked to the policy of a presidential administration, even one as popular as Obama's?” asked Fisher. Yet the answer was more than evident: 99% of the poets in America, including Fisher and Alexander. Money, prizes, tenure, sabbaticals, invitation and publication possibilities served to muzzle most poets because most poets did not possess strong principles. Alexander would be making a ton of money by “yoking.” “At what point would the poetry become propaganda?” asked Fisher. Sadly, he must have been keeping his head ostrich-like in the sand. Most American poetry was propaganda by eagerly fulfilling a diversionary role.
Finally, as evidence of the poem’s utter blandness, the established-order itself seemed unable to present a common front of praise. A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, for example, called the poem “less than praiseworthy,” a euphemism for lousy, while a reviewer for the Chicago Tribune labeled it “prosaic,” another euphemism for lousy.
The inaugural poem was inevitably a poem written in service of the politician, lobbyist, and Wall Street financier oligarchic culture. It would not shake up the status quo because it was the status quo. It was a cliché poem serving to further entrench the cliché of the poet as a harmless personage unlikely to make trouble, which of course served the power structure. It was the kind of poem that only someone entrenched in a safe, comfortable cocoon could write. For a moment in time, Alexander had held the national podium and attention. Imagine the great poem that could have been written and read to surprise, shock, shake up, piss off, and move… perhaps even a poem that would have challenged the demi-god Obama himself! Why couldn't Yale seem to give us more than a Bush or Alexander?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
David Alpaugh, a poet, wrote me out of the blue to suggest I read a poem he published on Rattle’s website. His name rang a distant bell and got me wondering, especially due to the last denigrating sentence of his email.
G. Tod Slone:
My visual poem "Strip Taze," published last summer by Rattle, has now been archived on their website, along with an audio of my reading.
Since my poem is about "dissidence," I thought you'd enjoy seeing and hearing it. Just click on the link below (and do read and listen to the entire poem, Tod, before rushing to your p.c. to attribute it to Lois Gold or one of the many other poets and artists who appear on the Rattle website). www.rattle.com/blog/2009/01/strip-taze-by-david-alpaugh/ [see the poem below]
Best, David Alpaugh
A while ago, I’d waged “battle” with Tim Green, editor of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century (whatever the hell kind of poetry that was). Eventually, it dawned on me what Alpaugh was referring to in that last sentence. It was his review, which I’d incorrectly attributed to Lois Gold because a picture she'd done appeared embedded in it with her name under it. When it was brought to my attention, I rectified that error.
According to Wikipedia, “A Red herring is an argument, given in reply, that does not address the original issue. Critically, a red herring is a deliberate attempt to change the subject or divert the argument.” Indeed, diversionary rhetoric includes the focusing on one or several details, while avoiding the general argument in question. Tim Green had excelled in it. Mather Schneider had also excelled in it. In Alpaugh’s case, he focused in on two errors I'd made regarding my critique of his essay on poetry contests. We were still working it out. In order for me to rectify an error, the individual must somehow present his argument in a cogent way.
In any case, I finally decided to take a gander at Alpaugh’s poem. Of course, it was only one poem. Thus, one would be hard pressed to generalize regarding Alpaugh's poetry in general. After all, who hasn't written and published a bad poem? Alpaugh wanted me to include its URL: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/01/strip-taze-by-david-alpaugh/. Also, I include the poem below,which illustrates several pertinent points regarding the general direction poetry had been taking today. Alpaugh evoked several interesting points that needed to be addressed.
“I'm surprised to learn that at a time when there are so many flesh and blood issues for a 'dissident' to speak up about you plan to expend so much time and energy swatting a gnat like me," he noted.
Actually, I seemed to get most of my creative inspiration from gnats—NEA gnats, Rattle gnats, Chamber of Commerce gnats, Concord Cultural Council gnats, Thoreau Institute gnats, DeCordova Museum curator gnats, selectmen gnats, reference-librarian gnats—you name it.
It was such an easy thing to express criticism of distant wars and presidents. Still, it was important to do so. But what was perhaps more difficult and even more fruitful was to express criticism of events and persons in ones immediate backyard—grassroots, as they said! To do the latter was certainly more RISKY… though convincing those who never did the latter of that RISK was likely not possible. One fellow, who countered me on the concept, argued that Homeland Security might come after him because he'd criticized the war. Tell me about it, gnat! In any case, pertinent issues and principles often stemmed from debate with gnats. Recall that Alpaugh had called himself a "gnat," not I. We've corresponded. He was an intelligent person... not a "gnat."
“Strip Taze” was a bad poem, something Billy Collins or Robert Pinsky might have written. How could Alpaugh have thought I might have actually appreciated it? It was the kind of poem I received, as editor of The American Dissident, all too often and immediately threw into the garbage bucket. Why?
Well, it manifested zero risk on the part of the poet, zero confrontation with the established-order status quo, zero experience base, and jaded language as in that “don’t taze me bro” inanity. In that sense, it was an innocuous poem amongst thousands and thousands of innocuous poems. Poets who never RISKED were poets who simply could not comprehend the concept of RISK. That had been my experience. Most poets could likely not comprehend it because most were too cowardly or too unimaginative to RISK their paltry poet careers.
What Alpaugh first needed was to be tazed prior to writing a poem on being tazed. And I’d be first to want to publish it! What were the nation’s professors and teachers teaching future poets? What a lame world of poets they’ve been creating. Why were so many of them not willing to show their students that there was indeed another way besides the established-order Rattle way? RISK and confrontation with the established-order way!
Needless to say, I sent my comments to Alpaugh, who responded. Now, that was called vigorous debate! Bravo to him… seriously! And wasn’t that what a poet ought to do… engage in vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy? Wasn’t that what a professor and teacher ought to do?
Alpaugh, however, could not, as predicted, seem to comprehend the RISK concept. “Although I'm no fan of the cliché workshop-word ‘risky,’ if ‘Strip Taze’ can be shown to be ‘innocuous’ and used to encourage the real thing I'll gladly be your whipping boy!” he noted. Was that a clever way to disparage the concept?
Again, I was not looking for a “whipping boy.” Alpaugh had actually inspired me regarding diversionary rhetoric, which could indeed often be an unconscious ploy, rather than a conscious red-herring one. He'd provoked the idea's final concretisation.
Anyhow, that was my humble opinion on Alpaugh’s poem, the one Rattle must have thought a very good one indeed. I also did not like the cutesy impression of the poem upon the picture of a tazer.
One might compare it with the poem I wrote several years ago after being tricked, then jumped, kicked relentlessly while on the ground, and robbed by three black youths in Baton Rouge at nine in the morning in front of the public library. Not one of the literary journals I sent it to in Louisiana would publish it. The Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, wouldn't touch it either. Evidently, it was not sufficiently PC. Would Rattle publish it? Certainly not! Except for here, it remains unpublished today.
Guard Down in Louisiana
(A Welcoming Initiation to Getting Older in the Deep South)
Self-assured the black youth chatted me up, and
insufficiently leery, if not like a damn old fool,
I bit the bait, for readily I talked with strangers
In a split second he scurried round me, a large
red-eyed rodent with a dated Afro and,
as my eyes followed instinctively,
my face received a sharp-ringed punch
from one of his black lieutenants, though
I don’t even recall it—the scars bear witness—,
and down I went over the cretin now crouched
behind me, cracking my head on the cement
What brilliant street-wise strategy! Bravo to the
parents and educationist pedagogy!
An endless bout of vicious kicks assailed my body,
head, and mind, leaving me upon my back
like a stunned carcass in the slaughterhouse,
steel-piked in the skull, or perhaps more like a Jew
at the mercy of Brown Shirts stomping jackboots.
Quickly realizing the three soul-less souls serious
in intent, I hollered for help until finally they fled,
running off with my wallet and keys, salivating like
pit bulls back to their cliché hip-hop dawg horseshit.
Dazed, still clutching my camera with the right hand,
I stood up and stumbled on back to the car,
reluctantly humiliated, for I was a man getting older,
caught off guard and failing to defend myself.
Later, they’d go on a $1,000 shopping spree at Wal-Mart
—not for food, but for guns, sneakers and play stations.
Later still, they’d lay in wait for another unsuspecting citizen;
sure, I’d try publishing an account of it in The Advocate
which, bound to the local Chamber of Commerce,
would evidently want no part of it.
My blood coagulated in multiple droplets
—dried dark purple in a large area upon the cement
in the bright Louisiana sunshine
there by the public library, by the city theater, there
by the opera house in downtown Baton Rouge
—no longer quite part of me.
In my past I’d seen similar splotched areas elsewhere,
but only now did I fully realize what they meant
for in them lay part of a man’s soul.
N.B.: As a white professor at the time at Grambling State University, an all black public institution, the assault would leave me nevertheless paranoid and distrusting of black youth. Also, the lack of justice or even interest therein would leave me somewhat angry; for the cops, The Advocate (Baton Rouge), Wal-Mart, and credit card companies, I was a mere business statistic—a write-off. Needless to say, the literary journals in Louisiana (Southern Literary Journal, Turnrow, Louisiana Literature, New Orleans Review, Exquisite Corpse et al) were not interested in publishing this poem.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”
[N.B.: Jeff Charis-Carlson, Opinion Editor, Iowa City Press-Citizen did respond to this blog in an email, informing me that the International Writing Program was not the same as the Writers' Workshop. Erroneously, I had thought it was and that was partly due to Merrill's drifting thoughts between the two. In any case, I admit having had that wrong thought and have altered a few statements, including the title of this blog (removing "cookie-cutter" and replacing it with "ESTABLISHED" since the IWP invites "established writers"). Charis-Carlson suggested an Iowa City resident write the counterpoint op-ed or that I truncate this blog to 500 words. I suggested, he publish the first 500 words and link it to this blog.]
A friend of mine from Iowa City informed me of an article written by University of Iowa International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill. The article concerned Merrill’s new title as “2008 Press-Citizen Person of the Year.” Press-Citizen was an Iowa City newspaper. Merrill had obtained that recognition by working to get the city named the “world's third City of Literature” by UNESCO. The first two such cities were Edinburgh and Melbourne. I read the article… and was inspired. "Just think, the first literary city in North America is little Iowa City," had said Merrill earlier in an interview. "Sure, there are still the New Yorks and San Franciscos of the country, but there's a way in which Iowa City has been quietly producing these great writers for years, and the world knows it."
Well, those "great writers" came out of the Writers' Workshop, not the International Writing Program (IWP). But what was a "great writer"? Far too many citizens—educated ones even!—were intellectually docile. They opened their mouths, said ahh or rather "great writer" or "established writer" or "poet laureate," then simply swallowed—no questioning and challenging at all!
According to Charis-Carlson: "Although the Writers’ Workshop continues to churn out MFAs, no one really graduates from the IWP. It’s an annual 10-week residency program for about 40 already established writers from around the globe. It’s a chance for them to meet with American counterparts, to give readings across the nation and hopefully gain some new material to write about."
But a thinking citizen would have to ask what "established" means and implies, and which established “American counterparts” the international “established writers” got to meet. Certainly, they would not get to meet me because I was not "established," at least not in the established-order sense. Indeed, "established" generally indicated that a writer did not overtly question and challenge the established order, which was why it tended to accord him/her prizes, invitations, and publication opportunities. The logic was clearly there.
When a college professor became anointed “person of the year,” as in the case of Merrill, a red flag ought to be raised immediately in the minds of thinking citizens because such a designation likely indicated the professor in question tended not to make waves, not to go against the established-order grain, not to buck the literary system, and not to question and challenge the hands of power that fed him security and money, including the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce. Now, what kind of college professor would that make? Well, in these trying times for democracy, it tended to make a rather common and poor one, though well remunerated.
Oddly, Merrill vaunted his modesty—half of the op-ed concerned that purported character trait: “I confess that when my name was put forth as a candidate for the Press-Citizen Person of the Year I was mortified. After all, I wrote a book about Christian monasticism, and if I learned anything from the monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, it is the virtue of humility. And if I am not unaccustomed to appearing on stage, I am by temperament more comfortable introducing and interviewing writers than being in the spotlight.”
Yet Merrill certainly could have rejected the honor and made a statement similar to the one made by Emerson above. Indeed, if he cherished modesty so much, as he underscored over and again, then why had he directed the push to adorn his city with such an immodest, vainglorious title? In fact, why would a truly modest man have adorned titles himself, as in full professor or program director or Dr.? What might his monk friends think of those titles?
“More than once he [a Scottish military monitor Merrill had met] said, ‘I have no wish to go down as anybody in history.’ My favorite writer is named Anonymous—and so it is a little disconcerting for me to stand before you now,” wrote Merrill. A questioning citizen would have had to wonder, however, why Merrill’s IWP likely invited anyone (i.e., "established") but Anonymous. Merrill himself enumerated in the op-ed the non-Anonymous writers issued from the Writers' Workshop, including Vonnegut and Graham. Besides, imagine all the politicking and turning of a blind eye it took for Merrill to rise in the dubious, though collegial, ranks of academe to become a Director of a state academic program?
“What is a writer anyway?” asked Merrill. He then answered the question in a fluffy, innocuous sort of academic way: “Someone who works in our common medium—the language—to reveal the contours, nuances and textures of our time here below; to find meaning in the tangled web of our experience; to delight and instruct, console and inspire [but not to expose and “speak the rude truth” about IWP and its writing instructors!]. And it is the writer's responsibility to name the world, as Adam named the animals in the Garden of Eden.”
Perhaps I stood at antipodes to Merrill. For me, a writer was someone who dared let his “life be a counterfriction to stop the machine” (Thoreau), who “goes upright and vital, and speaks the rude truth in all ways” (Emerson), and "who must never cease warring with it [the machine], for its sake and for his own” (James Baldwin). Part of the machine in question was of course the very academic/literary established order of which Merrill formed an integral component. Did the IWP offer the other side of the coin of what a writer ought? That was the question citizens of Iowa City should be posing, as opposed to what kind of signs and events the city and university ought to be erecting and sponsoring in a modest effort to vaunt the new vainglorious designation.
Merrill noted that “insight into the nature of the creative process” was “a core mission of the writing programs at the University of Iowa, which offer different ways of understanding the production of poems and plays, novels and nonfiction works. And what they have made is a community that fosters creativity.”
Well, that sounded fine and dandy, but one must wonder what ways might have been purposefully ignored if not suppressed and what forms of “creativity” not favored by the “community,” including and especially criticism of the “community” (e.g., University of Iowa).
“Exploration leads to expression, which leads to more exploration—a rich environment for everyone,” stated Merrill in quasi-religious exaltation regarding the writing programs at University of Iowa. Beware the leader, however, who states “everyone”! My “expression” was certainly not welcome by “everyone.” Certainly, it would not be welcome by the IWP, which would hardly consider it beneficial to the IWP’s “rich environment.” Ah, but I was not a graduate of one of the writing programs; I’d actually learned to question and challenge! Writers who exalted writing as something quasi-religious or godlike exalted themselves by doing so. Why the need for self-exaltation, especially for a self-professed modest Director?
What Merrill wrote under the section “Literature and Democracy” was distressing, to say the least. An honest academic would have simply avoided addressing the subject. UNESCO handed a cookie to Iowa City, so the professors of University of Iowa would now likely have to remain silent regarding the dark side of UNESCO. “I am grateful to have had the chance to point UNESCO toward the source of our vitality—the spring from which writers drink with the hope of creating works that will outlast them,” boasted Merrill. But The Guardian noted regarding UNESCO some time ago (see www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/oct/18/jonhenley1) that “Such cronyism reaches into almost every corner of Unesco, according to young professionals who despair of salvaging the organisation they work for. Nepotism is also rife, they say, after watching well-paid jobs go to mistresses and family members.” One must wonder what kind of University of Iowa horse trading went on behind the scenes with UNESCO! Indeed, and when it comes to horse trading, how not to think of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich?
Perhaps it was high time we cleaned up our democratic act before bragging about it overseas. Hopefully, Merrill’s Syrian students of yesteryear were sufficiently intelligent to realize that America was ruled by wealthy elites, corrupted by powerful corporate lobbyists, and otherwise intellectually castrated by tenure in its universities. American democracy had indeed become quite limited. Few American universities today, if any, are following the model of Thoreau and Emerson. Today, they follow the model of AIG, Merrill Lynch, City Group, Enron, and Worldcom (i.e., growth, growth, growth and image, image, image).
“It is said that the genius of the workshop lies in its democratic vision of literature—that you need not be descended from great wealth or privilege to participate in the invention of life,” noted Merrill. “It is said,” but who the hell said it? Perhaps one need not be descended from wealth, but to participate, one had better adopt the bourgeois taste and aesthetics of IWP and Writers' Workshop professors and, above all, avoid—like the proverbial plague—questioning and challenging them.
“And that is the beauty of the model that Iowa City has bequeathed to the world. For wherever writers gather to discuss a new poem or story, from Denver to Damascus and beyond, they follow the model developed here,” vaunted Merrill. But what was wrong with a fellow like him to make such a pompous, self-serving statement? I for one did not even know what the hell that “model” was, let alone emulate it, or use it whenever discussing writing.
The truth was that many professors in America, Merrill and cronies likely included, had all but excluded vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy, from their ivory-tower agora of ideas. What they were good at was formulating campus speech codes to help bolster them as campus power mongers and buffer them from criticism (see “Public Universities Overwhelmingly Violate First Amendment” at www.thefire.org/Fire_speech_codes_report_2009.pdf). Open questioning and challenging of professors was generally prohibited. Indeed, it was a certain death sentence to a career in academe, whose literary journals systematically rejected any writing of a highly critical nature, especially where they were concerned. Professors tended to work hand and foot with business leaders, not with citizens.
Would the Press-Citizen even permit me to write an editorial on the subject? When in Louisiana as a professor several years ago, I had to fight tooth and nail over the period of a whole month just to get one such letter published by the Monroe daily, News-Star, in response to the 52 published weekly columns written by one professor glorifying his university (see www.theamericandissident.org/Op-Ed-NewsStar.htm). As for The Chronicle of Higher Education, it wouldn't even run such a counterpoint op-ed. Far too many newspapers and journalists today had sold out to become merry organs of the local Chamber of Commerce.
A year and a half ago, the Academy of American Poets, sponsor of National Poetry Month, censored my comments off its website and banned me from participating in its online forums. That story interested not a single newspaper editor. Also, I’d mentioned it to about 130 academic and pseudo-academic publishers of literary journals. Not one of them proved interested in it, let alone concerned about it (see www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets-LitSurvey.htm). All of the Academy chancellors were tenured or retired university professors. Not one of them agreed with me that censorship was bad, especially when effected in the academic/literary milieu, the very core of the nation’s intellect. Famous Beatnik turned Academy Chancellor and tenured professor Gary Schneider refused to even respond. Would “person of the year” Merrill give a damn about that incident of censorship? That would be highly unlikely. Would the IWP like to hear about and discuss the incident during its poesy brouhaha ineluctably spurred by National Poetry Month in April? That too would be highly unlikely.
Finally, if graduating writing students of the Writers' Workshop were incapable of perceiving the truths emanating from the cracks in Merrill’s op-ed, then clearly it had failed them. If some of those students were in fact capable of perceiving, but would never dare write an essay such as this one for it would evidently be career damaging, then clearly it had failed them too. In fact, in both cases, a clear failure regarding democracy would be manifest.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Oil of vitriol must be applied.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Above is the front and rear cover of my new chapbook, Oil of Vitriol, which contains 50 pages of mostly critical poetry and costs $10. Finding a publisher to publish poetry highly critical of the academic/literary established order is like finding a dissident professor on a college campus today. Kudos to Jeff and Ruth of Petroglyph Books. If interested in purchasing a copy, kindly send a check to
G. Tod Slone
1837 Main St.
Concord, MA 01742
Below are three poems taken from the chapbook. For a scathing critique of them, read Mather Schneider's comments in the comments section for this entry. My scathing critique of a Schneider poem was added to this blog (see below) only after reading Schneider's critique of my poems. The animosity between Schneider and me began, as mentioned previously, when I dared criticize his poetry though only after he'd lambasted mine on several occasions. Previously, we were friendly and corresponded frequently. I'd even offered a truce, but Schneider refused to accept it. He was irrevocably wounded by my critique. Thin skin plagues democracy today. Far too many citizens have learned to accept only self-esteem building cookies and pretzels. The nation's educational institutions are largely responsible for conditioning citizens to reject criticism via whimpering and calling mommie or daddie to the rescue.
Ordinarily, I save such critique for poems written by poets of the known variety. But I thought it might be helpful for Schneider to look in the mirror, something he hates to do. Vigorous debate is the cornerstone of democracy. I am a fervent believer and promoter of it, which is why I include it here. The Academy of American Poets censored my comments on its website by removing them and even banned me from participating in its online forums (see http://www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets.htm). I will not imitate that action by removing Schneider's comments from this forum.
After a while, however, debate in Schneider's case seems to turn always to tedious ad hominem. That's when I tend to cease responding.
to be the
of the past
with quite similar
tastes and aesthetics,
as well as parallel
apathy to engagement,
both social and political,
draws others to it
like chicken to feed,
pigs to troughs,
or cows to bales of hay.
like an oil spill into a harbor
or fumes into a town or city
propagated by a member
of the chamber of commerce.
hardens more and more
like adipose deposits in arteries
or a viagara-induced erection
until it appears as if objective
and none dare otherwise contest it,
well, almost none…
In a Society of Whores
I too have been one of those publishing gangsters in the New York lit world. I even
get a pretty good table at Elaine’s, for old times sake…
self-avowed lit whore, former editor of Harper’s
Perhaps there is nothing
than a whore who declares
he has been
as if that declaration
in a confessional
before a Catholic priest
and thus absolves him
of past and future whoring.
Our society would not be
all the absolved
The Poet Is
Not Because He Writes Poetry, But Rather Because He Resists
For its very survival, society constantly
smothers the citizenry—oh, we do dwell
at alienated antipodes, she and he,
separated by her great ocean of crap,
crap that blinds,
that offers salvation…
How not to gasp for air, for the respite
of days off,
and in the teaching profession
relatively frequent they are, yet
hardly frequent enough!
Red wine flows into his veins, as
daily fluid of evenings
to help ease the deadliness,
to enable implacable struggle,
to assure survival against
the omnipotence of the structure
housing him with sole purpose
to digest, and otherwise crush!
A poet needs to be sharp sighted to see
beyond the laurels, anointments,
and herding circles,
or he shall meld into it unconsciously—oh,
how easy to adorn the titles, to feel the
comfort of brotherly approval, and the
satisfaction of winning, but winning what,
if not relief from the agony of not having
to stand upright, so alone,
relief from sharp-mindedness itself,
to lull in the soporific, to bathe in the analgesic!
Surrender! whispers the Siren and ye
shall have an audience of friends,
clappers and blurbers
Surrender! whispers the Siren and ye
shall be the very erasure of individuality,
relinquished into unquestioning conformity,
the ultimate dissipation of the prime essence
of what it means to be poet.
Everyday must count until the great void,
everyday battle must be waged against her,
but how to fight—and fight he must or
subtly slide capitulated, decapitated
—the army of dulling colleagues, jabber
and insouciance, surrendered so long ago.
Oh how destroyed they do appear, limping
and hobbling their obesity, here in herds
of acolytic swarming—so many lieutenants lost!
Of course, it was Schneider who indirectly incited me to put a few of my poems up on this blog and to mention the publication of my new chapbook. He’s been a pit-bull critic of my writing. It was like holding a fistful of fresh meat, blood oozing out. Yes, ole Schneider came running to it like a famished mutt, even faster than he usually does. Well, below is the poem Schneider had published in the most recent issue of Fight These Bastards. God, it’s really quite easy to know where to start with this poem, to paraphrase a Schneider comment on my poems. It is perhaps the worst poem in that issue. So, I guess I’ll quote Schneider, who described my poems: “First of all, the message is not a very strong message and definitely not a new message, so in order for that message to mean something it better be convincingly given.” Yes, Schneider, it better be convincingly given! But what is the grand message in the poem below? Not much of anything at all per usual—just an unoriginal Bukowski-wannabe vignette of the lowlife. “So, I look at the quality of the poems themselves. This is the great disappointment,” writes Schneider regarding my poems. Well, I’m not really disappointed in Schneider's poem at all. It makes a good filler piece for a journal with no purpose at all but poesy for the sake of poesy, which is not really the purpose of Fight These Bastards—did Schneider pay for a subscription to get it published? “Artlessness,” says Schneider about my poems. Well, what about the poem below?
The poem below is critical like most of Schneider’s poems, but only critical of faceless characters he either works with or transports in his cab—evidently, intellectually limited in scope. In this case, the poem is entirely disengaged—doesn’t say much at all about society—and critical of a working-class man, one of his colleagues. Its end is typical of Schneider’s poems (and Bukowski’s, though Bukowski is the master, while Schneider the pale imitator): cutesy wit. Schneider excels at vacuous cutesy wit. His comments are riddled with it. Oddly, he argues he doesn’t even like that kind of writing. Perhaps he doesn’t even like the poem below, but his drive to get published pushed him to send it out, right and left and all over the place. His poem is entirely devoid of metaphor, "unimaginative" or not. The character depicted in it is of course “dumb.” Everyone Schneider works with is “dumb.” Schneider is the only smart one at the job… or, on the other hand, since he’s been there for so long, paralyzed and unable to move on, he too might actually be “dumb enough/ and mean enough/ for the job.” How else to explain it? “Newbie,” is that a “schoolboy” word?
Eric was kicked out of Hooters
for saying something
to a waitress
he’s one of our
new cab drivers
he’s dumb enough
and mean enough
for the job
if he’d start
the side of his mouth
he’d be perfect