A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal--guidelines, focus, etc.--go to www.theamericandissident.org. If you have questions, please contact me at todslone@hotmail.com. Comments are NOT moderated (i.e., CENSORED)!]
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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Frozen in Blind Acceptance

A friend brought to my attention a couple of rather predictable essays on poetry contests appearing in Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century. Contrary to assertions, the real problem with contests is not so much the transparent corruption of some contest judges, but rather autocratic aesthetics. “Manuscripts are more likely to be evaluated solely on their merit today than ever before,” writes contest-winner David Alpaugh, who believes instances of sweaty literary incest rare. BUT what is artistic or poetic excellence (i.e., “merit”)? You’ll know it when you sniff it tends to be the usual implied response. Sadly, Alpaugh seems to think that “merit” is an objective term. Sadly, I doubt he could ever be made to consider it otherwise. Sadly, Rattle operates to keep the very idea that “merit” may indeed be subjective out of the agora of ideas. It has banned my opinions, for example, and backs the censorship effected by the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, and Poets & Writers, Inc..

“A well-advertised contest, judged by a well-known poet, will attract hundreds of manuscripts, each accompanied by a $15 to $25 reading fee,” notes Alpaugh. BUT what does that really say about the judge? What does “well-known poet” really imply? It implies playing the game, never bucking the system, never daring to go against the poesy grain, and simply opening ones mouth, saying ahhhh, and swallowing the gob of bourgeois verse fed by some blank face. Does that really make a good judge? Is Billy Collins a good judge? “I mean, I write about saltshakers and knives and forks—and talk like a politician,” he stated proudly. AND what does it say about the herd of contest-prize seekers? So few seem capable of questioning and challenging anything today! Well, perhaps it’s understandable since likely many of them are college grads used to groveling for letters of recommendation, those certifications that one is likely not to question and challenge what shouldn’t be questioned and challenged.

“They [contest administrators] are also free to solicit work from poets who have an established track record with at least a segment of the poetry reading public,” notes Alpaugh. How it pains/irritates me to contemplate this fellow who writes a seemingly analytical article on contests, but fails to examine the very underbelly of the ugly creature. What the hell does “established track record” mean? He can’t even ask himself that question. It’s as if it’s become taboo for those who want to be poet “success” stories. So, I’ll do it for him and even supply the response: “Established” always implies accepted by the established order. Instead of blindly sucking up to that order, we need poets willing to question it and question why it promotes certain kinds of poetry, discourages criticism of it (Rattle sure has done its part!), and why it promotes the likes of Billy Collins et al.

And what about the poets like me who NEVER apply to contests? Alpaugh never even poses the question as a possibility. Oh, but of course, all real poets seek to be contest winners! Christ, it’s like the back of a box of Wheaties or Cheerios! Alpaugh fails to even sniff the very bourgeois stench of the literary established order and the bourgeois type of poetry it peddles today. [Note how the very term “bourgeois” seems to have conveniently gone out of use today.]

“Though English professors would probably be more objective and impartial referees, they lack the name recognition crucial for a successful poetry contest,” argues Alpaugh. But why the fuck would they be more objective? Alpaught can’t seem to ask himself fundamental questions either. Name-recognition? Is that what it’s come down to? What is wrong with these scribbling poets? Tenure implies a certain degree of indoctrination. English profs are likely indoctrinated in the bourgeois mindset of bourgeois aesthetics and bourgeois poetry. “The more famous the judge, the more entry fees. As always, po-biz trumps ars poetica,” notes Alpaugh. BUT why doesn’t he even ask why poets act like a herd trampling towards the famous? Why don’t they behave as individuals instead and question fame? What all of this nonsense is really about is the taming of the poet and literature in an effort to render it sin cojones innocuous highbrow entertainment. Look at the immense difference between the samizdat literature during Stalin’s day and that in America today. It’s a question of powerful and threatening versus tame and playing the poesy game. By the way, Alpaugh wants everyone to know he is “winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize and owner of Small Poetry Press, David Alpaugh has both won and run a Poetry Book Contest.” Whatever the fuck happened to the SIXTIES??? Headline: HIPPIES HATCH BUSINESS-MINDED POETLINGS!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crony Capitalism Paving the Way to Crony Culturalism: the Massachusetts Poetry Festival… Brought to You by State Cultural Apparatchik, Charles Coe

What really pains—deeply pains—is the bourgeois grip upon poetry and the literary milieu. It is an iron grip not unlike that of the Soviet Writers Union under Stalin. It silences dissent effectively. Indeed, if one wants to be a “successful” poet (or poetry editor), one must not upset it, let alone question it. Thus is the sad state of the literary milieu today in America. The voice of dissent is out there, but it is up against a massive, impervious brick wall. So, for a poet today, the choice must be a conscious, deliberate one, between “success” and failure, repression and truth. For some poets, however, we do not have the choice. Truth is our muse.

Why, one could wonder, was I not invited to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival since I have been a long-time Massachusetts poet and an editor of a poetry journal based in Concord, Massachusetts since 1998? Why, one could also wonder, was The American Dissident, the journal in question, not invited to exhibit at the Festival’s small press fair? Well, the answer to those two questions is simple. Charles Coe, the Festival’s chief organizational apparatchik (i.e., Project Administrator—I just love the corporate titles these fellows adorn) and Massachusetts Cultural Council (see www.theamericandissident.org/LitCCC.htm) career cultural functionary does not like dissent at all, let alone vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy. Only a month ago had I attempted, in vain of course, to obtain from him some rather simple answers to some rather damning questions regarding MCC policies, including the public funding of organizations that form part of multibillion-dollar endowed private universities like Harvard Museums and Agni (Boston University) and the refusal to fund any literary journal not having a budget over $10,000—a very strange policy indeed, or perhaps not for it likely works against the dissident spirit.

As for the CEO of Concord Poetry Center (www.theamericandissident.org/LitCPC.htm), an active participant in the Festival, Joan Houlihan also detests dissent and vigorous debate. Once upon a time, she’d written me:

“The idea of your teaching a workshop or delivering a lecture on the art of literary protest or poetry protest, or simply protest (Concord is where it all started!) occurred to me even before you mentioned it, so, yes, it’s something I will consider as we progress (this is only our first event). However, I must say I don’t favor having you teach at the center if you protest the reading.”

How odd! Or am I the only one who can see the oddity? Later she wrote: “We welcome dissidents! All the best poets were dissidents.” But then I informed her that I was going to protest and to hell with the workshop possibility. Her response was again an odd one: “What are you protesting? Seems like you’d welcome a place in your area for poets who are not part of the poetry establishment.” But what was Houlihan talking about? Not part of the poetry establishment? Horseshit! She is part of the establishment, regularly gets funded by the establishment and only invites poets of the establishment to read at the Center.

Thus, I’ve been around protesting lame poets, poetasters, and poetophiles for the past decade and even longer for back in 1995 or 96, I’d protested against the corruption at Fitchburg State College and brought it to the attention of Pinsky, who was chosen as graduation speaker. Pinsky, of course, chose to take the money and, like a good establishment boy, remain deaf and dumb. Evidently, for the average established-order poet or established-order wannabee, protest is fine, as long as not against the poetry milieu. “Pissing off politicians, corporations, zealots, and/or lawyers is acceptable and, in fact, encouraged,” writes M. Scott Douglass, editor of MainStreet Rag. Well, I challenged him on that and asked why it was apparently not acceptable to piss off poets and poet organizations. He did not/could not respond. Logic has died or never did thrive in the hearts of established-order poets and editors.

On another note, though really always the same note, why the NEED for egregious, ubiquitous self-vaunting in the poetry milieu, as in “The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is a three-day celebration of the poets, poetry, and literary heritage of a state whose contribution to American poetry is unsurpassed in the nation”?Is Massachusetts, a state plagued by rampant cronyism in all sectors including the cultural one, really “unsurpassed” in the realm of poetry? Perhaps in the realm of cronyism, but certainly not in poetry. Why the NEED for such feel-good exaggeration? Shouldn’t we expect more from poets and poet organizers? Moreover, a thinking poet—how few of us there are!—ought to ask him or herself who were the appointed judges who selected the appointed poets to read at the festival and, in fact, who appointed the judges in the first place. One could also ask why the judges (Coe?) chose to invite the usual suspects Pinsky, Espada, Sanders (The Fuggs?), and Dubus. Likely, they (or he) did so because they are dazzled by literary celebrity, know the chosen poets are safe, inoffensive, and do not question and challenge (i.e., think as individuals, disconnected from the crony careerist network). BUT does poetry really need INOFFENSIVENESS or does it need DISSIDENCE, QUESTIONING AND CHALLENGING of poetry events made safe for the bourgeois pillars of society, and POETS WHO WOULD DARE GO AGAINST THE GRAIN OF POETRY AS USUAL? Given the sad state of the nation, and not simply with regards the economy and war all the time, the answer to that question ought to be crystal clear. Crony capitalism has given way to crony culturalism.

Well, since I stand in direct opposition to the hypocrite Houlihan and for the sake of democracy, shouldn’t the Massachuestts Poetry Festival at least place a link to The American Dissident (and this blog!) in the list of links on its webpage? Let’s see what Coe has to say about that, though I already know what he has to say about it: NEIN!

Today, I swam across Walden Pond likely for the last time this year. The water is getting chilly! A dissident needs to stay in top physical shape, while on the other hand, a cultural council apparatchik will likely get as flaccid as a porker.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gen-X Takes on the Censorial Hippie Helm

Gen-X takes on the censorial hippie helm. This blog will likely be a blog into the void of the universe, the void of death pending, read by nobody but I. Ainsi soit-il…

A DeCordova Museum gen-x curator rejected my request to display the dissident watercolors exhibited at the Concord Free Public Library at the museum. It pisses me off. Onwards nonetheless! I’d contacted Nick Capasso, curator at DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, just a couple of “blocks” down the street from Walden Pond, informing him of the exhibit of dissident watercolors, “Literature, Democracy & Dissidence” at the Art Gallery in the Concord Free Public Library last month. He visited:

“While DeCordova Museum does have a long track record of presenting politically engaged contemporary art, I’m afraid that we will not be able to include your work in our exhibition program. Good luck fining [sic] other venues for your work.”
What pisses me off is not so much the “good luck” automaton refrain these fellows collegially chorus like toads in the evening, but rather the autocratic NEIN! It bubbled up in me over a couple of weeks then popped out just yesterday, took form as a new sketch and eventual watercolor. How to do it? I pondered and pondered, then came up with the Nazi idea. Yeah, curators like Nazis. Autocratic Aesthetics! So, I hunted for the fellow’s photo and a photo of Adolf, found both, and sketched. The curator looks like a gen-X fellow—replacement yuppie—, as does the new director. It does piss me off to witness these young bourgeois grads dictating what art shall appear in the nation’s museums and what art shall be deemed NEIN! Ah, but thus is life in America. So, the least one can do is create from the cultural crap covering over the landscape or crony culturalism to paraphrase that nice new term, crony capitalism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Activist poems wanted

Just beginning here. Never done this before. I do not expect this blog to become popular. The American Dissident is not popular, nor is it meant to be. So many seem to judge quality on the basis of "hits" (i.e., popularity). Sad. Hopefully, I'll do one or several entries per week. It would be nice if they might elicit a little debate. As mentioned (Mather tires of this!), vigorous debate is the cornerstone of a thriving democracy. Evidently, it is not the cornerstone of the academic/literary established order milieu, which thus must not be a thriving democracy.

Anyhow, this blog, my first one and first entry, is to announce that I am beginning to set up The American Dissident #18. So far, I have received fewer pertinent poems than in previous periods. Poets just don't seem to be writing activist poems nowadays... perhaps because seeking publication tends to be the only activism in which they engage. Sad.

The AD website now contains this blog and also several examples of activist poems just put up on the site today. Hopefully, they'll serve as an example to help out the confused.

So, what to do today? Unemployed and not quite ready for another battleship, I shall take a swim in Walden Pond, though the water and weather are getting a bit cool. This will likely be my last week in Walden.