A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.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.

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Diversionary Rhetoric, an Unconscious Defense Mechanism... and Two Poems

When regarding particular individuals, my blog entries did not seek to malign those individuals per se, but rather to underscore points in need of further discussion or obstruction to vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy. The blog entries served to illustrate general principles, as opposed to underscoring the mere shortcomings of the individual poet, editor, librarian, or whomever in question. If in fact, a statement was wrong, it was up to the individual to respond and bring that to my attention. I had no problem admitting to and rectifying errors. What was the big deal? Well, apparently, it was a big deal for perhaps many, many citizens.

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My visual poem "Strip Taze," published last summer by Rattle, has now been archived on their website, along with an audio of my reading.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.


David said...

Praise be to American Dissident G. Tod Slone for showering so much attention upon my poem "Strip Taze." I invite visitors to this blog to visit the Rattle website (http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/01/strip-taze-by-david-alpaugh/ ) where they can read and listen to the poem and compare their own experience of "Strip Taze" to Mr. Slone's.

David Alpaugh

I do question his assertion that poets need "to be tazed prior to writing a poem on being tazed." Partly because Mr. Slone has no evidence whatsoever for assuming that I have NOT been tazed; more importantly, because his prescriptive assertion implies that unless poetry stays within the bounds of the poet's literal experience it cannot be powerful and effective.

Did Homer fight in the Trojan War? Did the Beowulf poet rip Grendel's arm off? Did Dante descend into hell before writing his Inferno? Is Bertolt Brecht's protest poem "The Ballad of Marie Sanders" an abject failure because Brecht was not himself a young girl persecuted by the Nazis for loving a Jewish boy?

Until the "Confessionals" appeared on the scene, poetry never had qualms about embracing fiction. Poetry has always reveled (and hopefully will continue to revel) in made up stories, made up characters, and made up events. Was Robert Burns' love REALLY a red red rose? Did King Lear's hand REALLY smell of mortality? If literal "truth" is to be used as the yardstick, like Plato, Mr. Slone needs to exclude ALL poets from his Republic.

Tazed or not tazed, poetry speaks to a higher power than literal truth--the power of IMAGINATION. Do we not risk censoring creativity and diminishing poetic experience by insisting that it be nailed to the cross of biography?

G. Tod Slone said...

If you had been tazed, David, the electricity would have oozed through that poem of yours… even if you were simply a mediocre poet. I felt nothing at all after reading it. No current. Period. Isn’t poetry supposed to move people emotionally or intellectually or both? Well, I suppose it did move me but only because it was a bad poem, one you actually thought I’d like. Perhaps that was your somewhat subtle way to disparage me? But apparently not because you actually think it is a very good poem!

The problem with poems written not from direct experience is that they tend to lack passion, a visceral raison d’etre. Poems written on Iraq by poets who have never even been there, but want to get into the money-making anthologies on poems on Iraq, tend to manifest the same absence of visceral passion as your poem.

You make a good point on Brecht et al, though those are certainly not my favorite poems. I much prefer Villon who did face the noose, Saro-Wiwa who did spend time in a jail cell and was eventually hung by the neck, and Haushofer who was hung by the Nazis, as well as a handful of Russkies from the gulags, including Mandelstam.

But again, we’re simply talking about individual preferences here. Ours differ. My critique of your poem stems from my preferences. Write what you know, not what you don’t know! That is something I personally agree with. My writing exists because I do know. It does not exist because I force it out from imagination.

The disengaged crap published by the big name mags and the shite that generally comes my way as submissions certainly is tending to put me toward the direction you mention: “like Plato, Mr. Slone needs to exclude ALL poets from his Republic.” Perhaps that is not as bad an idea as you seem to think! Instead, we have the poets brandished right and left reading their ineffectual crap like little PC soldiers in black robes like Prof-Poet Alexander at the Obama inaugural!

The crux of the problem is that poetry tends to speak to no power at all today, let alone to a higher one (what ever the hell that might be). Your exaltation of poetry is certainly not shared by me at all. When the poet today tends to be nothing more than a herd literary creature, one fearful of making waves, fearful of upsetting the PC power structure, how could I possibly share your exaltation of his or her production?

“Nailed to the cross of biography”? Man, that’s pushing it, don’t you think?

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