A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

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A FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND VIGOROUS DEBATE, CORNERSTONES 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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Minnesota Review

Experiment in Democracy: Virginia Tech & Carnegie Mellon University
"LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE" or PC LEADING THE INDOCTRINATED STUDENT BODY?

Janell Watson, French professor at Virginia Tech, has just replaced Jeffrey Williams, English professor at Carnegie Mellon University, as editor of The Minnesota Review, which seeks to publish “provocation,” “politically-engaged criticism,” and “committed writing.”

The foreign-language faculty at Virginia Tech and English faculty at Carnegie Mellon University were thus contacted and invited to comment on this blog (http://wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com/2010/01/blog-post.html) or via email in the name of vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy. As expected, not one of them responded. Careerism, fear of speaking out, turning a blind eye, requisite sycophancy, collegiality, indifference to democracy, and creative rationalization for such traits are sadly widespread in academe today.

Notice of this blog was also sent to the editors of the student newspapers of Tech and CM, though my experience has been that most such papers are run by student-editor sycophant shadows of their English professor advisors and equally indifferent to free speech and vigorous debate. Indeed not one of them responded.

What really irks me, as an American citizen/poet, are hypocritical literary journals boasting political engagement. Potomac and Guernica come to mind. The editor of the former, Charles Rammelkamp, noted regarding the quotes I’d sent him authored by, amongst others, Thoreau, Orwell, Havel, Emerson, Solzhenitsyn, Mandelstam, Zola, and Mary Harris Jones: “what a laundry list of tired ‘revolutionary’ quotations.” As for the editor of Guernica, Joel Whitney, he favors publishing interviews of established-order poets, including Pinsky and Collins (see cartoon at www.theamericandissident.org/AdHominem.htm).

What provoked me to submit several caustic reviews on Poets & Writers Magazine and the Pushcart Prize Anthology to The Minnesota Review was the following statement in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Paul Buhle called [The Minnesota Review] ‘the standard-bearer for dissenting views on American literature and culture,’ read by his students at Brown with ‘near-religious fervor,’ outlasting ‘nearly all of the journals of its type founded in the 1960s and 70s.’” When my reviews came back rejected with not a comment, not an iota of interest or even combative questioning and challenging from editor Janell Watson, my mind automatically began cogitating an idea for a literary cartoon. At first, I was going to depict Buhle, Watson, and outgoing-editor Jeffrey J. Williams. But when I hunted for a photo of Watson, I came across her website, which depicted Delacroix’s famous painting of Marianne, symbol of the French Revolution.

Interestingly, the painting was truncated to avoid exposing Marianne’s breasts and with Janell Watson’s name brandished upon it. So, here I thought we have a professor pairing herself with the symbol of revolution but fearful of OFFENDING (i.e., censoring female breasts). On further examination, I noticed all of the French professors in her department used the same truncated Delacroix motif. Did they have a choice?

Moreover, Virginia Tech with Stalinist-poet Nikki Giovanni (see cartoon http://www.theamericandissident.org/LitToons/Giovanni.jpg) was known for its PC-professorial brigades and indoctrination programs (see http://thefire.org/case/25). Thus, the cartoon was created. My purpose is simply to expose fraud and brandish TRUTH, as opposed to avoiding at all costs inflicting sorrow upon the spineless and easily offended. If The Minnesota Review had any courage and interest in real controversy and provocation, it would publish the cartoon. Of course, that thought is simply a pipedream.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Memoriam


This cartoon was drawn several years ago and sent to Zinn who, in the spirit of vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy, did not respond. My experience has been that academics tend to always respond when praised, but rarely when criticized.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Censored Yet Again!


Dear Kevin Moist , Associate Professor of Communications at Penn State Altoona, Sherman Dorn , Professor at University of South Florida, Bill Reader , E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, Earl Nicodemus , Associate Professor of Education:

First I commend the four of you for actually using your real names and mentioning where you “work.” Thirty-five others, likely mostly professors, regarding the Inside Higher Ed article, “Tenured Case Hinges on Collegiality” (www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/01/22/tenure) commented, as you likely noted, anonymously. As for Pamela Morris and Laura Winton, I could not locate their email addresses. They did not mention where they “work.” Is not such widespread anonymity a clear reflection of the fascistic tendencies of our purported institutions of higher learning?

In any case, this email seeks to inform you that Inside Higher Ed regularly censors my comments, though I never make threats and almost never use four-letter words. And I am not the only one being regularly censored. Several others have contacted me with that regard. The question remains: Should a newspaper devoted to higher education in America be into the censorship business? My censored comment regarding the article mentioned above is posted on my blog site [see below]: wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com/2010/01/censored-yet-again.html.

Perhaps you might—and that would indeed be astonishing—write Editor Doug Lederman (doug.lederman@insidehighered.com) to express your support for democracy and against censorship. In some aberrant manner, Lederman seems to think it amusing that censorship OUTRAGES ME. For a cartoon sketch I created on him as well as a short denunciation of Inside Higher Ed, see www.theamericandissident.org/InsideHigherEd.htm.

Will Lederman now censor all of my comments and, once and for all, render me persona non grata? That possibility in itself ties into the “collegiality” bullshit governing academe. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

G. Tod Slone, PhD and Founding Editor (since 1998)
The American Dissident, a Journal of Literature, Democracy & Dissidence
A 501 c3 Nonprofit Providing a Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy
todslone@yahoo.com
www.theamericandissident.org
1837 Main St.
Concord, MA 01742

Notes from a Gruff, Censored Professor
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some kind of central organization where professors of derailed careers, thanks to academic corruption (uh, “politics”), might actually be able to contact one another? Who knows how many of us out there exist? Where are the statistics? In Massachusetts, they’re buried in backrooms unavailable to public scrutiny, thanks to the powerful Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Rather than accept “teaching evaluations” as somehow objective, we should be focusing in on their perhaps often inherent corruption. If you’re liked, the evaluations will be good. If you’re not liked they’ll be bad. The logic is there and will remain as long as “good teaching” remains subjective.
What kind of professor does Ohio want around, obedient, group-thinking herd conformists? Likely. Because that’s the kind of professors other universities and colleges seek. Collegiality is the prime hiring concern, so why shouldn’t it be the prime tenure concern also? How many ads have I seen emphasizing collegiality and fit into the department? 100s and 100s and 100s. How many have I seen for courageous truth teller, daring to actually go against the department grain? Not one.
Inside Higher Ed should not be in the business of censorship (it’s censored at least 7 of my comments, including one made last week), nor should it be in the business of encouraging anonymity amongst grown-up professors. Nearly every comment on this article was made anonymously. Question: What is wrong with academics? Answer: They lack courage and conviction and dignity. How can one trust comments made anonymously? “A driven professor whose generosity is coupled with a sometimes strident demeanor,” note the cowards. Well, what do they possess, sheepish demeanors? And why should Ohio prefer the sheepish demeanor to the strident demeanor; after all, democracy demands the latter, not the former.
“He’s frequently the first to speak up,” note the cowards. Oh, my! How terrible! Am I dreaming here? No, I know higher ed much too well. Let those three female anonymities buck up and build some spine! Feeling threatened is by no means a reason to file a harassment complaint. If the professor in question has no criminal record, they should not feel threatened. Once upon a time, I was evicted from my public college office and building where I was teaching my courses mid-semester because one female professor had complained to the dean that she felt threatened. It disgusts me to this day that such things occur at public institutions in America.
In the public sphere, perceived “bully” and “excessively hostile and belittling” do not negate free speech and citizen rights equal treatment. College professors tend to be notoriously ignorant of the First Amendment. Those three anonymities need to educate themselves and learn to understand that democracy cannot thrive if the citizenry has no spine. Rather than whimper, let them take karate lessons or buy guns! As for the thought that the professor in question might be “mentally ill,” should we be at all surprised? “Anger” is not a sin! Nor is “happy”! Ohio sounds like a true “academic snake pit,” in the words of Nat Hentoff. How does fit in and like minded in a faculty possibly serve students?
Nelson’s comment on “gruff professor” is sadly laughable. Surely, anybody daring to criticize ones colleagues and institution will be perceived as “gruff professor.” Clearing out all “gruff professors” will clear out all criticism and make way for further deepening of corruption. Academe has truly become a frightful institution.
Thanks, “NUTS” for the comment on the disabilities act. It made me LOL… just what I needed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ian Thal, Poet Court Jester


The above cartoon was done several years ago and sent to Thal who, of course, was not pleased. Since I've noticed his response with its regard when googling The American Dissident, I decided to post the cartoon here in order to get it into the Google machine. Thal is a poet who actually wears a court jester outfit when giving readings. Thal corrected me: it's actually a clown's uniform. Court jester or clown, how could I have possibly resisted? So, I basically copied a photo he'd had on line. In a sense, Thal is a rare, honest poet who is not ashamed of his role as literary court jester... or rather clown.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Censored Once Again by Inside Higher Ed

EXPERIMENTS IN DEMOCRACY—DREW UNIVERSITY

Unfortunately, tenure has led to the ossificiation of American education. The hiring, promotion, and tenure system has institutionalized sycophancy toward those in power.
—Tenured professor Camille Paglia

Tenure corrupts, enervates, and dulls higher education. It is, moreover, the academic culture’s ultimate control mechanism to weed out the idiosyncratic, the creative, the nonconformist.
—Journalist Charles Sykes

This essay was sent to the English department members of Drew University, new home of Melissa Nicolas, expert in "writing across the curriculum" and author of "Lessons of an Academic Vagabond" (see http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2010/01/20/nicolas), an embarrasingly sappy Ms. Mentor-like, career-advice article. Academe has really gotten cutesy-bad today with regular columns by Ms. Mentor, Mama-PhD, Confessions of a Community College Dean, the Education of Oronte Chum, University Diaries, and who knows, soon-to-come, the Academic Vagi-bond? Be assured, however, we'll never see columns by Dr. Go Against the Academic Grain, Ms. Make Waves, or Mama TruthTeller.

Hopefully, Inside Higher Ed, where Nicolas' column appeared this week, will permit me to comment on it. One never knows because that academic publication has censored at least six of my previous comments. Should higher ed be in the censorship business? Well, my experience tells me that, quite likely, every English professor at Drew University thinks it should be.

To summarize, Nicolas’ advice is simply to play the academic game, that is, turning a blind eye to inevitable internal corruption. What she advises is business as usual, that is, corruption as usual. But until power is taken away from corrupt deans and chairpersons and even corrupt faculties, academe will remain ever the “political” rat nest and the best, that is, those with the courage to stand up and decry the rat business as usual will simply be eliminated. Does the nation and democracy really need more like Nicolas in tenured positions? I think not. The following are my responses to her 8 keys to academic "success," which in reality are 8 keys to avoid making waves and otherwise being perceived as an individual with the guts to "go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways" (Emerson).

1. "Every department, every division, every college has politics," notes Nicolas. The term “politics,” however, is nothing but a cop-out euphemism for “intellectual corruption” just like “moderation” is used to replace “censorship.” After all, highly educated persons surely cannot be “corrupt” and “censors.” Instead, they can only be “political” and “moderators.” We rarely, if ever, hear the word “corruption” applied to higher education, unless of course the dean or college president absconds with the cherished endowment fund.
2. As for “everyone [i.e., professors] is overworked and underpaid,” perhaps academics ought to engage in a physical exercise program. When one is out of shape, even walking to the building next door and sitting in a chair will seem like an exhausting chore and an example of being "overworked." Also, why not encourage academics (usually that's done monetarily) to use their sabbaticals to work at a job normally occupied by proles. Hell, I was once a shipyard welder, carpenter, factory worker, cabbie, census worker, radiation monitor at a submarine base, and toiled as an FDIC accountant trainee, amongst other things. I know what real work is. Being a professor is not akin to spending 8 hours on an assembly line. The latter is exhausting work, not the former.
3. If colleges and universities stopped treating students as paying business clients, adjusting to new students would not be the problem noted by Nicolas. Indeed, students would have to adjust to new professors instead because professors would not be forced to focus on student retention and pleasing student clients. On the contrary, the latter would be forced to do the work or be expulsed. Expulsing students, however, could threaten faculty jobs and even the existence of the university or college (i.e., the business).
4. "Even if you are excellent at your job, you are replaceable," warns Nicolas. “Your department may love you; you may get glowing reviews,” she states without thinking, without seemingly even having the capability to think, that “fit-in” and “collegiality” work against democracy. To be a good fit and “collegial” one must avoid at all costs being critical… and without criticism we end up with business as usual. The other side of this problem is that far too many professors doing a less than laudatory job and occupying tenured positions are not replacable because the law stipulates they cannot be replaced. Think, chere Nicolas, think!
5. “The least you can do is give them your best effort up until you leave,” notes Nicolas regarding the institution and vagabondage. I can agree with that to a certain extent. Unfortunately, it also implies, however, keeping ones mouth closed and turning a blind eye to intellectual corruption, both highly detrimental to democracy, though favorable to academic autocracy. Evidently, Nicolas like the bulk of academics favors the latter. Yet what kind of role models do such academics make? Well, they make good professional cookie-cutter role models, but bad citizen role models.
6. Nicolas' advice to "publish, publish, publish" mirrors the quantity over quality mindset that plagues poets and writers! The flood of academic publications is akin to the flood of New York Times bestsellers. One year later, you can pick them up on Amazon for 25 cents or even a penny. How does that mindset help the country and democracy? How does it help academe? Well, clearly, it does help the BUSINESS of academe.
7. At least Nicolas admits the existence in the academic happy-face paradise of “dysfunctional departments,” those departments that fail to heed the number-one hiring criterion of the university: collegiality, as opposed to courageous truth telling. To tell the uncomfortable truth openly, of course, will always be viewed as “shouting” and “angry,” to use Nicolas' words.
8. “By and large, academe is filled with talented, caring, interesting, and professional people,” notes Nicolas without however pondering what those adjectives really tend to indicate more than anything else: NOT CRITICAL OF ONES COLLEAGUES, DEPARTMENT, AND UNIVERSITY, HERD CONFORMITY, AND ESPECIALLY INDIFFERENT TO THE NEEDS OF DEMOCRACY. “Professional people” tend to be of that ilk.

One really has to wonder how so many like Nicolas manage to get PhDs without seemingly managing to learn how to question and challenge what so many seem to take for granted. Sadly, academe fails to encourage such questioning and challenging, instead encouraging conformity and acceptance, both important in the continued demise of democracy in America today.
What is really sad about Nicolas is her seeming acceptance of a really horrendous situation. She’s become an expert at playing the academic game, and indeed that’s why she gets to get her articles published in Inside Higher Ed, while I do not. Yes, why not an article by a professor who was forced to be an academic vagabond, not because of child custody concerns, but rather because of his inability to play the academic game of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, and speak-no-evil?

Now, when will we finally see the demise of “writing across the curriculum,” “writing for the humanities,” and “technical writing”? When will we just see plain old good “writing” again? By the way, how about considering me for a position in your English department, O Drew University professors? Or how about inviting me to speak to your students on Literature, Democracy & Dissidence?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kevin Larimer


What has changed, in the last few years, is that the advice to at least act in a positive way has taken on a harsher edge. The penalty for nonconformity is going up, from the possibility of job loss and failure to social shunning and complete isolation.
—Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

This review-essay was perhaps triggered by the rejection of my request by Poets & Writers to list The American Dissident with other journals listed. Notice of its existence was sent to P$W staff members, not one of whom responded. Unfortunately, I could not locate the email addresses for the magazines 24 board members, so could not inform Celia Currin, CEO of WhisperStreet.biz; Allison J. Davis, Director of Communications and Media for The Riverside Church; Lynn C. Goldberg, CEO Goldberg McDuffie Communications, Inc.; John W. Holman, Jr., partner at Hintz, Holman, & Robillard, Inc.; Ellen R. Joseph, attorney/partner at Kaye Scholer, LLP; Susan D. McClanahan, entrepreneur and education specialist; Theodore C. Rogers, general partner at Private Equity Investments American Industrial Partners; Shen Tong, president of VFinity; or Galen Williams, founder of P$W, Inc. and owner of Galen Williams Landscape Design, Inc.

Nor could I inform P$W ‘s Secretary of the Board, Helen Macioce, former President of Merrill Lynch Bank & Trust Company. Merrill Lynch and poetry? Yep! Evidently, reviews were never objective, even when reviewers would like us to believe they were. Just the same, a number of objective observations were included in this particular review and culled from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Poets$Writers.

Perhaps nonprofits like P$W, receiving thousands of dollars in public monies, ought not to be in the business of blacklisting literary journals like The American Dissident, a non-capitalist magazine of democracy-friendly poetry, writing, and debate. Well, P$W’s “Literary MagNet” rubric reported on certainly more “worthy” journals, including Monkeybicycle, which was “considering submissions of one-sentence stories,” Literary Bird Journal (i.e., LBJ: Avian Life, Literary Arts), and McSweeney’s known not for its ideas or original focus, but rather for its “innovative packaging.” Evidently, those journals would likely please and certainly not upset the easily offended bourgeois clientele nourished every other month by P$W. Yet should “pleasing” be the purpose of writing? Wouldn’t writing better serve society if it questioned and challenged and otherwise went against the grain of entrenched politicos, business leaders, and their poet/writer/professor puppets content with the intrinsically corrupt status quo?

Of the myriad poetry magazines and journals in America, Poets & Writers magazine certainly best represented the business of poetry and writing, which was, of course, precisely what was wrong with poetry and writing. In fact, that thought provoked me to Google “business poetry.” Numerous entries, of course, were listed. “Nick has visited various company websites, found the closest thing to a Corporate Overview, and then set about rearranging the words into poetry,” stated Nick Asbury, who included the following poem to illustrate his book, Corpoetics:

KPMG
I am strong.
I am vibrant.
I am committed to a vision.

I am tremendous.
I am quality.
I will lead people to excellence.

I am delighted.
I am respected.
I am very greatly valued.

What am I?
I am the best.

In any case, the well-remunerated staff of Poets $ Writers had to confront, every several months, the task of filling the 140-plus pages of the next given issue of the magazine. Well, pages 79-140 actually consisted entirely of ads, while even pages 1-79 contained many full and partial-page ads. So, how to fill perhaps 20-30 pages with actual writing that, at least on the surface, might appear to be minimally fresh? Hopefully, subscribers weren’t simply content reading through the mountain of ads and celebrity-writer rehash, though it was quite possible they were. Part of the likely role of P$W was to act as a social community like Tweeter or Facebook, thus serving to comfort the many poets and writers, especially of the younger tie-and-jacket set, for whom solitude was unbearable. But the main role of P$W was to obviously push and bolster the academic/literary established order of writing for the sake of writing.

On New Year’s morning, I’d picked up the copy of P$W off my table and began leafing through it, which immediately provoked a flurry of negative thought. It had been hanging around on my table for over a week and was the last issue of J’s subscription which, thanks to me, would not be renewed. I’d avoided opening it… because deep within me I didn’t feel like tangling with the inevitable crap I knew I’d damn well find within it. Even a battler like me needed a moment of peace.

What certainly characterized that issue, more than anything else, as mentioned above, was the plethora of advertisements. Indeed, more than anything else, the magazine constituted a compendium of money-making ads pertaining to the writing industry. It would have been interesting to discover how much P$W raked in every year from advertising revenues, subscriptions, and taxpayer monies in the form of grants, etc. Perhaps each issue pulled in well over $100,000. In any event, the cover illustration was so bland that I didn’t even notice it until reading Kevin Larimer’s editorial on just how “stunning” it was. Self-vaunting (thinly-veiled or straightforward), backslapping, and positivity had become the prime traits of the literary established order today. Negative critique of poets and writers was simply not permitted. Larimer informed that Chip Kidd, the artist, always created “prize-winning ideas for book jackets.” Larimer was too far indoctrinated (his career depended on it) to ponder what “prize-winning” so often really implied, including base popularity and bourgeois-friendly. Sadly, most poets and writers simply groveled for prizes. Few wondered about thee often intrinsically corrupt nature of prizes. The writer today had become an amazingly incurious, conforming creature. In any case, Larimer’s editorial was as innocuous as it got and ended with the following happy-face message: “When inspired, you are an inspiration.” Moreover, his little interview with Kidd informed that the latter had been designing book jackets for the last 24 years. “I’m mainly seen as a book-jacket person,” noted the latter. Not a word of wisdom in that interview—just 100% filler fluff.

When I first opened the magazine, I noticed the first two pages were full-page ads. Now, that was honest in a sense. One of the ads was for Norman Mailer’s Writers Colony in Provincetown, MA. That spurred me to say something to J since we’d visited PTown less than a month ago. I’d mentioned how the Writers Colony served to further Mailer’s name and image more than anything else and that as a nonprofit it also served to shield his estate from taxes. A lot of dubious money issues were involved behind the glorious doors of the 501 c3 nonprofit designation. A large picture of Mailer was featured, not as the old guy with two crutches I’d seen several years ago in PTown, but as a much younger man. That kind of ageism was rampant in our society and was intrinsically fraudulent. I’d much rather see the wrinkled face of life than the young face of yesteryear. But youth oblige was the name of our society’s deceitful mask.

Page 3 was also a full-page ad, featuring the big smiling goateed face of a Fairleigh Dickinson University student praising the university in an egregious example of thinly-veiled academic self-vaunting business as usual. Indeed, was it not aberrant that colleges and universities spent so much money today on fortifying and distorting their images? Was it not aberrant for them to actually have majors in PR and even worse yet, to use students to push their smiley-faced messages?

“Juan, you’re the first student we’ve asked to be in our new ad campaign,” asked FDU.
“I’m honored,” replied Juan Gaddis.
“Do you know why we asked you?” asked FDU.
[“Because I have black skin and a Latino name?” said I.]
“Because I’m a gifted writer and a fine human being,” said Juan.

And on and on went the cutesy ad. Page 4 featured the first page of the table of contents with the photo of a nameless Latino face with the words: “Poetry gives a sense of beauty… It reminds us to feel human again.” Nothing like banality spewed from the mouths of happy-faced poets and writers! On the bottom of the page was a smiling young black female with no words. The next page was yet another full-page ad! P$W evidently incarnated the happy-face nature of writing today. That thought led me to hunt for an appropriate quote to preface this review. Then it was time for more java. In the kitchen, I thus microwaved a cup and suddenly found myself bellowing out a tune, no doubt out of tune: “Inspiration shoves me into negative phases! Inspiration shoves me into nay-gative phases! Always I am inspire-errred by craaaaaaap!” I chuckled aloud, then walked back to the writing table or rather chaise longue in the alcove where I wrote. Ah, then I noticed “INSPIRATION” written on the front cover of the magazine. Truly, the cover’s blandness had somehow de-highlighted that highlight.

Cecilia Ward Jones’ essay was featured in what editor Larimer announced as a new rubric, “Why We Write.” So, I forced myself to read through it only to discover Jones wrote because at first she was bored, then now because she was simply compelled. No wisdom at all was to be found in that essay—just an autobiography of an underachieving positive “perseverer.” Would editor Larimer be open to the negative as inspiration? If so, that would have certainly turned off his advertisers! Imagine him publishing this review under that rubric, as an example of why I write. No way, Jose! “Discover the Writer’s Life in New York City,” noted the full-page ad purchased by The New School, which was of course nothing but The Same Old School. “You’re Not in Iowa Anymore,” noted the next page, another full-page ad, purchased by Emerson College, which then simply listed its writing faculty. Thus, beaver poetling debutants would hunt through the names in search of a literary icon and when they found him or her, they’d send off an application form.

What one found in P$W, more than anything else besides the ads, were names, tonnage of names and banal cutesy one-liners like Ashbery’s famous “Writing is a meatloaf sandwich.” One would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely touching on unique ideas, including the shoving of steak knives into the heart of flatulent poetry. Instead, it was the ole name-game celebrity at its basest: Gluck, Pinsky, Dove, Wright, Angelou, Hall, Collins, Ryan, Ashbery, etc., over and over again, raking in the huge bucks on their names, not on anything unique they had to say. It was as if filling an article with well-known poet names, backslapping, and general positivity somehow made it good or rather worthy as a P$W contribution.

From every page I turned, the crap jumped right out at me trying its best to suffocate me. “There were two kinds of truths, good truths and hurtful ones,” noted T. C. Boyle under the “Page One Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin” rubric. Oh my, hurtful truths! “It was the cruelest winter,” noted Joshua Ferris. Et alors? In today’s New York Times, one of the headlines read: “When Everyone Is an Honor Student.” Well, the same was evidently applicable today to the poets in P$W: “When Everyone Is a Prize Winner.” Kevin Nance informed that TriQuarterly had eliminated the (well-remunerated) position of longtime editor Susan Hahn and would cease publishing as a print journal, and we were all supposed to be deeply saddened. Hahn of course was deeply saddened. But why didn’t Hahn, if she was really passionate, offer to run the journal for nothing? Hell, I did that with The American Dissident. The passion kept me publishing it… even if at a slight monetary loss. When there was sincere passion, there was no need for expensive paper and paid staff.

There was truly just so much crap I could bear reading, but I pushed myself onwards just the same. John Dufresne’s essay, “Writing Your First Novel,” began with a load of banality: “Where do you begin writing a novel? At the desk, of course. And how do you begin?” And blablabla. Why couldn’t I write essays like his for money? Evidently, money didn’t sufficiently compel me to do so. What compelled me instead, as mentioned, was crap or in more presentable terminology, “I write because there is some lie I want to expose” (Orwell). Embedded in Dufresne’s essay was a list: “Nine Ways to Begin Writing.” What so many needed instead were “Nine Ways to Stop Writing… Crap.” Yet the established order certainly depended on filler crap—tonnage of filler crap—, opium of bourgeois poets and writers. Dufresne stirred us to think of intriguing ideas like the “taste of Play-Doh” and “Happy Puppet Syndrome” to help inspire us to write… more crap.

Next I waded through an article on—surprise!—writer’s block, “How to Get Unstuck.” There must be anthologies now on writer’s block. Dennis Cass, author of the article, specialized in the psychology of writer’s block. Soon, if not already, we’d have specialists in the neurology, sociology, anthropology, and mulitculturalology of writer’s block. There was no end to the writer’s inanity rainbow as long as cash, prizes, and tenured posts lay awaiting in a golden bucket at the other end. If one could get over the tediousness, one would likely discover the sad hilarity. But how to get over the tediousness of the history of academic scholarship in creativity and writer’s block? Sorry, I couldn’t. “If you’re experiencing mechanized thought, then the answer might be as simple as going for a walk or reading poetry,” suggested Cass. “If you’re struggling with functional fixedness, the answer might not be so clear.” Now, if that incited you to read more of his essay, then surely there must be an academic post with tenure waiting for you. Next, Drew University and Lesley University presented themselves in two full-page ads.

The special section in this issue was on inspiration. Managing editor Suzanne Pettypiece, who thought up the brilliant idea to interview “Five Writers Who Practice Other Arts,” posed some pretty fluffy questions: “Do you paint as you’re writing or as you’re revising?” “Are there certain periods in which you dedicate more time to painting or writing?” “Do you ever feel pulled between the painting and the writing?” I mean, who gave a damn? In fact, I’d feel bad for the writer, Michael Kimball, who had to answer them, if he weren’t starving for publicity and fame. And what about the writer who cooked or was it the cook who wrote, Michelle Wildgen? “How does cooking play into your writing process?” “Do you ever use cooking when you’re stuck in a certain spot in a story?” “Are there certain periods where you turn more to cooking or more to writing?” “I cook in the same way that I write,” brilliantly responded Wildgen.

Then there was the list of 50 celebrity living authors who were supposed to “shake us awake.” Let’s see, for example: “Tom Wolfe—The white suit” (Yes, that was all!); “Billy Collins—He’s made accessible a dirty word…”; “Kay Ryan—The quietness and measured quality of her poetry…” [did that imply that unmeasured quality of poetry was bad?]; “Cormac McCarthy—He made it okay for literary snobs to read bloody westerns…”; “John Ashbery—One of the best and most enduring poets that this country is lucky enough to have. Period.” (Yes, best unquestioning and unchallenging poet cheerleader for the literary established order. Period.); “Lawrence Ferlinghetti—The last bohemian [multimillionaire]… his audience treats him like a rock star [because it has been Beatnik and celebrity-indoctrinated and didn’t want to know that he acted as grand censor at City Lights Bookstore]; and “Frederick Seidel—Sure, he’s filthy rich, but the man knows how to spend his money. He owns four Ducati motorcycles and writes poems about them.” Number 50 was the darling of the Democrat-party-lining, PC-herd Barack Obama. Give me a freakin’ break! Could we imagine George W. on the list for his book? Of course not!

Okay, I was beginning to feel as if I were toiling as a specialized skin-diver trying to unplug a massive blockage in a great literary cesspool. Well, the last time I enjoyed (more or less) such skin-diving was back in 2008 when I ripped out a 15-page plug on Best American Poetry of 2007 (see www.theamericandissident.org/Reviews-BestAmericanPoetry2007.htm).

Under the rubric “First Things First,” editor Larimer as poet-god chose 12 poets, noting that over the past four years he’d “shined a spotlight on fifty-four poets at a crucial moment in their careers: the beginning. For some reason, each “beginner” possessed an MFA. Perhaps Larimer had struck a deal with his many MFA advertisers to highlight their MFA grads. The verse highlighted was quite innocuously bad in general. Unsurprisingly, none of it questioned and challenged the status quo… even remotely. Indeed, these were up-and-coming poets of the literary-septic system here to spread diversion. Some of the worst verse was perhaps the following: “Spring-stink, the world heaves with lust” (Kate Darbin); “I Google myself,/ and I’m a racecar driver” (Justin Markes); “Thomas Edison loved a doll/ with a tiny phonograph inside/ because he made her speak” (Robin Ekiss); and “the gold rope, the wick pierces a flower’s heart/ to be blue this way of flame is to be new always (Ish Klein). As for the advice these “beginners” gave, not one of them mentioned questioning and challenging. Instead, the advice tended to be, well: “it may sound hypocritical, but try not to fixate on contests” (Darbin); “read book contest winners and the work of the poets who selected them” (Kristin Naca); and “just keep writing and revising your work” (Kiki Petrosino). Yes, brilliant student-poetlings indeed!

Unsurprisingly, the final essay of this issue, “Inside Indie Bookstores,” pushed the commerce of writing. “Once the authors, agents, editors, publishers, and salespeople have finished their jobs, it’s up to these stalwarts to get books where they belong: into the hands of readers.” The essay highlighted Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books bookstore. As for the last rubric, “Bullseye,” one literary journal (Subtropics—University of Florida) got a free ad (unless of course it paid for it) and was highlighted vis-à-vis how to submit to it. Not much in that little article with the exception of the same-old, same-old celebrity name droppings—we published blabla and blablabla. Didn’t anyone besides me get tired of seeing that same-old, same-old crap?

Finally, more amazing than the writing stuff in P$W were the readers of the stuff, who far from rejecting the crap as I did, ingurgitated eagerly and thankfully. Cite Mike Powell: “I stumbled upon your publication and felt compelled to reach out. Within your pages, I felt sincerity, pride, and truth. The type of sincerity that makes you feel accompanied, the type of pride that only the proud can possess.” And blablabla. Cite also Erin Steeley: I just finished turning the pages of Poets & Writers Magazine and was astounded when I saw the black bar at the top of the last page informing me of your nonprofit status and mission. I had chosen the magazine originally for its quality writing, but found this to be a great treat at the end. I am glad that I unknowingly chose a magazine that is doing something as meaningful with its profits as you are.” Steeley was yet another reader who never learned to question and challenge. Indeed, some nonprofit organizations paid their CEOs six-figure salaries. Perhaps P$W paid its CEOs six-figure salaries. Other nonprofits backed America’s wars all the time. P$W as a nonprofit backed the established order, which backed war all the time… currently orchestrated by #50, Obama. Yes, P$W “supports the all-important work of cultivating literary activity in urban and rural communities throughout the United States.” Sadly, however, the type of “literary activity” it supported would always be the kind that did not question the established order.

MONEY would always be detrimental to the health of poets and writers, for MONEY would always be distributed by organizations like P$W, Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts to those not questioning that MONEY or those organizations. MONEY would always serve in the interests of the established order to bury the rare voices of dissidence. Business would always thrust its controlling fingers into everything. Just take a look at the board of directors of P$W!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The American School of Journalism vs. The Russian School of Journalism

The above cartoon was posted in response to Charlotte's comment, regarding my apparent posting of cartoons only of poets and academics. Why not cartoons on others, she'd suggested.
So here's one on journalists and inspired by the excellent cartoon below, which I discovered on National Free Press... which then kindly posted P. Maudit's cartoon also (see www.nationalfreepress.org/The-American-School-of-Journalism).
Things are certainly worse in many other countries regarding the press. Nonetheless, things are certainly not perfect in the USA, which is why I was compelled to do the sketch.

The Russian School of Journalism

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Murdered Oct. 7/06