From the Preface of Triumvirate of the Monkeys
(One of my new poetry chapbooks)
(One of my new poetry chapbooks)
Estoit-il lors temps de moy taire ?
A triumvirate is a political regime dominated by three powerful people. For the title of this collection of poetry, I thus chose to depict the three infamous see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys as a sort of omnipotent intellectual triumvirate reigning, as unwritten rule of law, over the firmly entrenched Academic/Literary Established Order in America. The god-like figure of intellectual corruption standing behind the triumvirate, William Bulger, was former president of the Massachusetts State Senate. then University of Massachusetts, where he was forced to resign, though had overwhelming support from the faculty. He’d refused to testify in a 2003 Congressional hearing about communications he’d had with his brother, Whitey, mass-murderer, Boston crime boss (today serving a life-sentence in prison). From political hack to university hack has become Massachusetts in a nutshell. As for the three monkeys, I chose Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets Anne Waldman, Poet Laureate of the USA Natasha Trethewey, and Obama’s PC-Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco. Of course, many others could have illustrated them, including Robert Pinsky, Gary Snyder, Ferlinghetti, Maya Angelou, Andre Dubus III, Billy Collins, John Ashbury, Mark Doty, Nikki Giovanni, Louise Gluck, Martín Espada, C. D. Wright, and Franz Wright.
Much of my creative criticism has been directed against the triumvirate, though the latter is essentially impervious to such criticism. Why therefore bother? In early 2010, an anonymous personage, pseudonym’ing as Mr. Spock, posed that question on The American Dissident blog site:
If you really disdain the academy, then why this blog and journal that seem to be obsessed by it and its petty squabbles? How can you afford to spend so much energy on your bitterness? I grant that I'm not responding to your arguments but I don't understand, from a mental health standpoint, how you can go on making them and making them.
In the above message, four derogatory terms are used with my regard—disdain, obsessed, bitterness, and petty squabbles. The “academy,” or as I term it the Academic/Literary Established Order, represents the very core of the nation’s intellect. So, why shouldn’t I be interested in it? In fact, why are so few poets and artists interested in how it tends to scorn FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION and VIGOROUS DEBATE, preferring instead speech codes, collegiality, cronyism, and resultant toadyism?
What I disdain is not the “academy” per se, but rather its cogs—professors, poets, deans, librarians, publishers, cultural apparatchiks, etc.—who disdain debate and freedom of speech. If the majority of those cogs were open to those cornerstones of democracy, I would not have any disdain. As for the ivory tower, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes that about 60% of universities possess policies that seriously restrict freedom of speech. Even in the institutions not possessing such policies, many professors clearly do not appreciate the First Amendment. Speak the PC-party line, or keep your mouth shut constitutes their prevailing rule of order.
Moreover, it is not a question of obsessed, but rather one of creative impulse. In essence, provoking academics and poets often provides me with interesting material. If writing poetry and drawing satirical cartoons from such material constitute obsession, then any interest can be subjectively deemed thusly. I mentioned this to the anonymity in question, but he or she remained silent. Epithets serve to divert attention away from uncomfortable truths. It is likely the anonymity was an academic and/or poet, who did not possess the courage to do as I do and thus felt compelled to dismiss what I do as disdain, obsessed, and bitterness. Standing up and speaking openly, not behind closed doors as most professors tend to do, enables me to maintain a certain human dignity that so many willingly sacrifice for career, fame, and money.
How to explain to poets why I chose to stand up and read poems critical of the poetry-event organizers, who in 2001 paid me $800 and provided a hotel room gratis for 10 days as an invited poet in Canada? Of course, I was never invited back. But I kept my dignity, while sacrificing who knows how much money. If I had been a nice smiley-face poet, I probably would have been invited back every year like many of the other smiley-face poets. That’s about $10,000 or more since 2001! But the 149 other remunerated poets at the Festival International de la Poésie de Trois-Rivières would not understand. Evidently, the anonymity would not understand. So, I suggested he or she consider moving to Saudi Arabia and perhaps adorning a burqa. From my perspective, the time I spend denouncing intellectual fraud is well spent. But from the “cog” perspective, it could only be perceived as a sign of bitterness. The important question regarding these things is why so many citizens—the vast majority—, from a mental health standpoint, do not give a damn about intellectual corruption and tend to dismiss anybody who does as bitter. Most citizens seem to prefer Stepford-wife positivism, censorship, self-censorship, and authoritarianism to the First Amendment. That certainly reflects my experiences testing the waters of democracy.
Finally, at the end of this collection are poems written during my two-month winter stint teaching English on the USS Boone, a military frigate, which sailed from Norfolk, VA to Columbia, then back and dumping me off at Panama City. I’d also done a stint several years earlier on the battleship USS Bataan. Those two experiences were unique. Once I was a tenure-track professor at corrupt Fitchburg State University (MA). If I’d succeeded in getting tenure, I’d probably be writing dull articles on geolinguistics today and wouldn’t have gotten to do stints at sea, nor in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Martha’s Vineyard Island. BTW, Estoit-il lors temps de moy taire is a refrain from a poem written in 1463, “Ballade du Guichetier Garnier.” Imagine, a lone poet stood up for Freedom of Speech in the darkness of the Middle Ages. “Should I have kept my mouth shut?” he wrote over and again. Most say, yes. Villon and I say, no.