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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gary Snyder

The following is an excerpt from Contention: Conversations with the Established Order and Other Parodias de Discursos.

I tried to read Synder but couldn't get into anything he wrote. But in poetry reputation is what matters not what you write. There is also something askew when a counter culture poet gets on some council, its like he's been given the good housekeeping seal of approval.
—Dave Ochs

Stand alone to decry censorship in the midst of a herd of incoming poets, professors, and poetophiles, and expect not one herd member to support your cause. On the contrary, the literary mass will likely chuckle in harmony, scorn a tad, chuckle again, then dismiss you as an egotistical attention seeker. In the skull of that literary mass, a myriad of reasons will ferment to justify inaction and consequent acceptance, if not outright support, of censorship.

It wasn’t like I hunted for trouble. Illogical nonsense was ubiquitous in America. Step out of the house and there it was sticking its drooling tongue out at you, provoking you to respond, that is, if you had failed the happy-face, positivist citizen indoctrination test. Or even just stay in the house, and there it was mocking away at intelligence. In any case, a correspondent informed me that a poet had just croaked: “Well todd mo/ ore is dea/d did you he/ ar? Check this ridiculous letter that Moore wrote Scot Young.” So, I checked it out and ended up writing and posting a comment. That seemed to have become my profession: comment poster. But the comment was censored. America today was educating an army of little caeser censors obsessing over possible offensiveness, while ever rationalizing censorship and truncation of free speech and expression. The brave new world was here now. Some called it PC.

A back and forth email battle had ensued with Fred Wright because the censor, Scot Young, had sent my comment to him. Moore’s buddies and family were attempting to canonize him. But now the only hope for the poor fellow was a post-mortem Robert Creeley Award, though that hope was a dismal one because, to date, not one post-mortem had been designated. Moore had paraded around as one of the “outlaw” poets, yet he’d spent most of his life as a tenured high-school English teacher and hadn’t even spent a day in jail. Hell, I’d spent a day and so had Henry D, but we weren’t “outlaw” poets. Villon was an “outlaw” poet, spent time in a donjon for murder, was almost executed, and deserved the designation.

It was about 6:15 and still with plenty of daylight. Spring was just around the corner. It had seemed like the longest, coldest winter I’d yet experienced. I was like a bear just out of hibernation partly stunned by the sudden warmth in the air. First, I stopped off at the local library to dump off some DVDs, then headed to the next town over, got lost, then found my way again, and pulled into the lot. I’d prepared a broadside, reworked it a number of times and even drew a cartoon for it. Thanks to friend Dan, I had 50 copies to distribute. Dan had been inviting me to his English classes once every semester for the past three years. Amazingly… astonishingly, he was actually using The American Dissident in those classes.

My protest was against tenured professor poet chancellor beatnik Gary Snyder, who was going to read and receive the Robert Creeley Award. Creeley had lived in Acton before he’d kicked the bucket. Now, he was comfortably enshrined in the literary canon.

A male-female couple about my age, looking definitely like they were going to the reading, were walking ahead of me. They entered the school. I stood outside the doors. Then soon they walked out of the school and were standing in front of me.
—So, you’re the guy hanging up fierce things on poets!
—So, it’s not here?
—No, this is the junior high. The high school is down the road.
The grayish-blond haired woman did the talking and pointed down the road. Several years before I’d protested against the John Ashbery reading. The couple walked on back to the lot. I followed them. The woman had a thick accent.
—Did you say, fierce?
—Yes. Fierce.
—Well, that’s a first. I’ve been called lots of things, but never “fierce.”
—Someone I know was concerned about you.
—You mean that I might have a gun or something?
—Yes. Something like that.
—Well, I suppose I could say the same about that person or you for that matter. So, you’ve seen me before?
—Yes, I’m William Creeley’s widow.
—Ah, so you’re the woman who cried after seeing that cartoon I sketched and distributed?
She didn’t seem angry, just aloof—bourgeois aloof. The boyfriend or friend or whomever remained silent, though seemed to be listening. He had short gray hair, was well-groomed and attired, and definitely looked the part of the proverbial academic poet—no fangs, no rough edges, just proper word craftiness, probably a former hippie turned established order. Clearly, neither he nor she had any interest whatsoever in my protest.
—You know, I wrote something about you just this morning. Another poet died and everyone was praising him. But I didn’t like the guy, so criticized him. And, of course, that upset the poets. One of them wrote: "next time, send condolences to a person's family instead of desecrating his grave before they have even put him to rest." But I figured since they were pushing for canonization, they should be prepared for not just happy-face commentary. If the family really wanted peace, it shouldn’t have been pushing the fame button. So, of course, that reminded me of you.
She didn’t respond. Perhaps she didn’t quite understand. But evidently the same thing pertained to her husband, who she’d help canonize with the Award.
—Are you Deutsch?
—No, I’m from New Zealand.
They walked over to their car, while I to mine and without good-byes or see-you-laters. Last time I'd protested in Acton, the gala was indeed held at the junior high school. So, maybe Snyder was higher up in the bourgeois poet-pecking order than Ashbery, since his reading was at the high school.

Students were hanging around mostly in little groups by the front doors, where I planted myself like an unruly cactus. Now and then, mommy or daddy arrived to pick some of them up. I placed my two small placards against the wall: HATE FREE SPEECH, LOVE CENSORSHIP, MOVE TO CHINA! and DEMOCRACY NEEDS MORE THAN SMILEY-FACED POETRY! On the door was a little sign indicating the Snyder reading. Creeley’s widow and beau were pacing around, probably waiting for someone. Eventually, they were standing in front of me, though not really out of interest. The beau seemed hyper-timid, even somewhat fearful, kind of like a handsome squirrel. I opened my mouth. What the hell.
—No curiosity?
—What do you mean?
She seemed to have a difficult time concentrating on my presence as a human being. She really didn’t look at me at all, not even when she spoke to me.
—Well, you didn’t want to take a flyer.
—Oh, I’ll take one. Why are you protesting?
—Well, simply put, Snyder’s a censor, that's why. I’m a fervent free speech advocate and against censorship. If they censored you, I’d be here right now at your side to lend support.
—Well, I don’t think anyone would want to censor me. My son is a free-speech lawyer.
—Well, that’s interesting. I really do have a passion for the subject, especially regarding colleges and universities.
—Have you ever heard of FIRE?
—Sure, I’m in contact with them periodically. It’s a great organization.
—Well, my son works for them.
—Well, that’s interesting.
It was as if somehow by proxy what the son did made her important. She was not interested in any further details regarding Snyder. She’d folded up the flyer and had placed it into her pocket without even looking at it. No doubt the nearest garbage bucket would be in for a treat.
—His name is Will Creeley.
—Ah, yes, I know the name.
—He’s a poet too.
She looked at the beau, so evidently didn’t mean the son.
—Yeah, well, poets are probably all over the place right now.
The beau smiled in agreement. How not to think of the Quebecois term, platte. Indeed, he was as platte as it got. Bourgeois platte. And she was as platte as it got. Bourgeois platte. They disappeared into the building… platte. No good-byes and no see-you-laters. Poets and poetophiles were now arriving in a constant flow.
—Protest against the poet!
—Really? Come on, now.
—Why, isn’t that possible?
—Take it easy, dude, I’m just surprised.
Well, he at least took a flyer and smiled. Was Snyder that bland? A young high-school student walked up to me, stood in front of me, and actually held out her hand and with a big smile.
—Could I please have one?
—Yes, we’re having a poetry reading tomorrow in class.
—Well, then you’ll have to mention my protest.
—They’d kill me!
She took a flyer and scooted off to where her two friends. Poets and poetophiles kept arriving, flowing by, and into the building. If popularity was a measure of greatness, then Snyder had probably achieved it. But if popularity was only a measure of inoffensiveness, nicety, and not going against the established-order grain, then Snyder was perhaps a lousy poet, though a popular one.
—Curiosity is the first step to enlightenment!
—Thank you, sir.
—Thank you, mam.
A woman approached and stood in front of me. The light of familiarity suddenly glowed inside my head.
—May I have one?
—Ah, it’s Madame Le Poutine!
I hadn’t seen her in 15 years, more or less, but recalled her name because of its Quebecois origin. Once upon a time, she was one of my adult evening students at Fitchburg State and had even slapped the make on me suddenly in her car one evening. But that was as far as it got. She appeared quite surprised, laughed, fully recognized me, and stood by my side for a while, waiting for a friend. Well, that was nice, an ally of sorts. We chatted while I intermittently inserted a “Protest against the poet! Protest against censorship!” She was curious. Most were not curious.
—Why are you protesting against Snyder?
—Well, he’s a member of the Academy of American Poets, which censored and banned me.
—Really? What did you do?
—Well, I didn’t do anything. I just expressed an opinion they didn’t like. Should poets be into the censoring business? I didn’t threaten anyone, nor did I use four-letter words.
—Do you know Marie Ponsot?
—Never heard of her.
—She just became a chancellor. She’s 85 years old and a very good poet. She's a friend of mine.
—Good poet? Of course, she must be "good," but "good" at playing the game. "Good" for you ain’t likely gonna be "good" for me.
—What do you think poets should do then?
—Poets should speak truth, that’s what they should do. They shouldn’t be playing established-order games and climbing ladders all the time. A good poet should be a truth teller, not a blind-eye turning careerist!
—You must like doing these things.
—Well, I do sort of get a jolt of adrenaline, but actually I don’t like doing them. I have to force myself to do them. Who wants to drive 10 miles to see a bunch of scorning free-speech hating faces? My experience tells me that not one person here will even respond to my flyer.
—So why do you do this then?
—For free speech and democracy. There’s a principle involved. And you probably won’t understand that.
—Oh, I do.
—Can you believe someone actually said I might be dangerous?
—Well, I know. I’ve heard that too. People think you’re angry.
—I’ve heard that a lot. But weren’t the Revolutionary Patriots pissed off or were they smiley and happy?
—Yes, but angry isn’t always good.
—Well, it’s always good for democracy. And why should happy be good? Take a flyer! Here, take one, it’s free! Why are poets so incurious?
The pod of passing poets and poetophiles didn’t want to take flyers. My temporary ally actually tried unsuccessfully to interest a couple of them.
—Come on take a flyer.
—See, they’re not curious.
Then her friend arrived and she suggested I write.
—Why don’t you email me?
—Well, why don’t you email me?
—Is it on the flyer?
—Yes. And let me know if he does his Smokey the Bear poem.
They entered the building, and that would probably be the last time I’d see or hear from her. How to make the bourgeois understand? It was simply not possible. Ole Harry Haller couldn't do it. So how the hell could I do it? Well, they couldn't understand. That was why they were bourgeois. Droves of them were arriving, passing by me as if on a merry-go-round. It was a free reading. And free always meant droves. It was free thanks to the state cultural councils. Even the Concord Cultural Council was paying, yet the event wasn’t even in Concord. I was in Concord, but it wouldn’t give me a cent of a grant.
—Protest against Snyder! Take a flyer!
—But I like him! I don’t want to read a protest about him.
—Now, that’s a good one! Blind poets are just like blind Obama-philes. They just don’t want to see. Here, take a flyer!
—If he’s writing poetry, he’s okay!
—Well, I’m writing poetry too, but evidently I’m not okay.
The dude disappeared into the building without taking a flyer. Why did so many poets seem to experience such difficulty with basic logic? How did it get that way?
—Protest against Snyder! He’s a censoring chancellor!
A passing poetophile chuckled, then another chuckled, then another.
—We’re for free speech too!
—Sure, tell me about! Free speech for you, but not for me.
—Thank you!
—Well, thank you.
Then a pod of dowdy, hefty females arrived chuckling at me and refusing to take flyers. Probably from Concord Poetry Center. Then another pod arrived and another wave of chuckling. Free speech protest and censorship had become a chuckling matter in bourgeois circlets. On the ground, I spotted a rolled up bill. I picked it up. A buck, my payment for service to democracy! Whoopee. Another passing pod chuckled.
—Protest against censorship! Take a flyer.
—No, thanks!
—Today you chuckle at censorship! Tomorrow we’ll have dictatorship, and you’ll damn well deserve it!
No coppers were in sight. Usually the coppers arrived.
—Free flyer!
At about 7:15, I ran out of broadsides. Yet still waves of poets and poetophiles were arriving. So I began handing out AD flyers. I watched the kids run around the lit-up track on the embankment across the parking lot. It had slowly gotten darker. It was a beautiful spring evening. I breathed in the scented air.
—Spring! Spring is here! Ah, Beatniks! More Beatniks! Protest against Beatniks!
They chuckled. Well, at least I could amuse them.
—Ah, here comes a couple of Beatniks! Protest against Beatnik Censor Chancellor Tenured Poet Professor Snyder! Here come more Beatnik poets! Whoopee! Protest against Beatnik Snyder!
—Because he’s a censor. He belongs to a censoring academy.
But the poet or poetophile just chuckled and walked by.
—Yes, chuckle away! And soon we’ll have censors all over the place! Well, I guess you must be a Beatnik.
But the kid was only about 20 years old and looked at me like what the fuck are you talking about. I wonder if he even knew what the word beatnik meant. Snyder was cocooned in fame. It was difficult to penetrate that kind of armored veneer. I doubted he’d even get word of my protest. Well, I did email the broadside to his university address. They must have shuffled the old bugger in through the back door. I didn’t even get to see him. Interestingly, three different high-school kids had approached me separately and actually wanted flyers. “You must really have great teachers,” I’d said to one of them. Well, the gods were with me. The gods wanted me to protest. If it had been the night before during the great deluge, I wouldn’t have bothered showing up. Longhairs and beardos and typical dumpy older females kept flowing into the building. Another day of confirmed total alienation would soon be over for me. At about 7:30, I walked back to the car, my black shadow preceding me on the pavement. I opened the door, got in, and drove the hell out of there, while the poetry legend was probably being applauded by professors, politicians, town leaders, town businessmen, librarians, prize judges, students, and of course Great Book readers.


G. Tod Slone said...

I tried to add a comment by your interesting article,
but my Google account wouldn't accept my password.

Could you post this under the piece?
you probably won't live long enough
to see the fruits of your dissent,
but please keep it up.

If you don't, who will?

I bet some of the listeners at the reading
were sitting there listening to Gary Snyder,
and thinking:

"this must be special-
it's supposed to be special, if it's him,

but a voice inside me tries to remember
just what it was the guy outside was saying".


mather said...

That's a great cartoon.

G. Tod Slone said...

Thanks, M.

mather said...

I finally read this all the way through. Very funny. I think this sort of action/short story style is easier to read than your typical essay. I loved it. When someone threw you a dollar bill and you picked it up I laughed out loud. Good story, replete with your message of the incurious crowd/herd. The fact that Gary came in another door was classic! I read Snyder probably 20 years ago and thought he was nothing but so-so. The only reason he is still getting a crowd at all is because of his association with the "beats", because he is one of the few left living.