Friday, May 30, 2008

Guest Writer: Jepson Responds to Christopher Woodman

I go by Jepson on poets.org. I am new to the site. Sadly, I joined poets.org shortly after your departure. I have enjoyed my time so far there. The moderators have been very helpful and friendly with me so far.

I respond to you [Christopher Woodman] as a gentleman representing nobody but himself. I have no sides in this argument. I’m here out of my own personal interest.

Would it be fair to say that the discussion you bring to the table involves the ethical and business reputations of some well known individuals? If I owned a forum I would be wary to allow personal attacks to continue. A site is not obligated to give any individual a platform for public defamation, especially at the expense of the organization’s own reputation, whether it is credible or not. You’ve listed names and have drawn some very convincing dots, but do you believe it is a ‘me vs them’ fight going on? Maybe the site wishes to remain neutral for now. It would be impossible to remain neutral when a member is ‘naming names’ while calling the reputation of American poetry into question. The situation might’ve been that you flew a little too close to the sun. The actions of the AAP might not have been to cover up and protect a couple of individuals, but an attempt to keep their own integrity intact.

Of course, all of that is speculative. I don’t know the specifics surrounding your banning. The best I could gather from the threads is that it dealt with a PM behind the scenes. However, all of this becomes a distraction from this message that you have been campaigning.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you are accurate in your discussion. There is corruption in poetry from the very top. A massive cover up operation has been taking place, because they don’t want the truth out. The question now is this: What do we do about it? Should we aspiring writers grab our pitchforks and torches and riot outside the gates, demanding the heads of those leaders responsible? Should the ‘who’s who’ in today’s poetry create a committee to investigate the matter internally? Should we do away with poetry contests? What direction should we move in? What is your solution to the problem?

Eliminating poetry contests won’t solve the issue that dominates in almost every field of entertainment and politics: It’s not what you do, but who you know. People are people both good and bad. There will always be an ‘in’ circle. Will taking down the reputation of a few individuals save poetry?

Will it hurt it?

If I submitted a manuscript to a contest for publication and was rejected then began hearing about ‘corruption’ that would make me wonder. Did my manuscript get turned down because I wasn’t sleeping with the judge, or was it really crap anyways? It would be easier to accept the first scenario. I’m not implying you in this situation, but a hypothetical “me” instead. Regardless, the fact is that hardly anybody in America is reading poetry today. They aren’t turning it down because of conspiracy theories either. There aren’t many outlets of poetry publication anymore. What will fill that void if we tear down what’s left? Will it get people reading again?

____________________________________

This comment has been elevated to a post because Jepson has raised some good questions and is deserving of his own thread.

Posted with author's permission.

Jennifer
admin

10 comments:

  1. Christopher WoodmanMay 30, 2008 at 2:27 AM

    Dear Jepson,
    Thank you for the very fair and thoughtful response to what has been a long, confusing and certainly exhausting confrontation for me, both with Pw.org and Poets.org--and with precisely the same results at both.

    The essential fact is that I never libeled anyone on either site--I just discussed the implications of words and actions that were already very much in the public domain, and had been discussed by many others for months. That's indisputable.

    Here's what I did do. First and foremost, I responded to a letter by the well-known critic, Joan Houlihan, that had been published by herself in Poets & Writers Magazine last November in which she asserted that the two, meticulously documented scams I had recently been caught up in weren't scams at all, and that indeed the editors involved had been "smeared" by Foetry. Well, that was quite a statement for me to stomach, not just because I had been quite a conspicuous voice on Foetry at the time, but because I had submitted 12 full length book manuscripts to Bin Ramke over the years and 8 to Jeffrey Levine--yet both those very well-established editors had still felt it was o.k. to trick me!

    And do take note that I wasn't the one who posted Joan Houlihan's Nov/Dec 2006 Letter on Poets.org --that was done by someone else and was in fact allowed to stand unchallenged for almost 2 days. What I did do is post the reply I had submitted to the editors of Poets & Writers Magazine myself. That's all. Joan Houlihan's letter attacking me was allowed to stand, yet I, the offended party, was banned 8 minutes after posting an entirely legitimate and well-considered reply!

    Do take note too that all that has been deleted by the Moderators at Poets.org, and the whole discussion afterwards too. Too bad for anyone who might like to establish precisely what happened.

    The second time I was banned I merely observed that Joan Houlihan and Jeffrey Levine might like to join the discussion. I know for a fact that Joan Houlihan does follow these discussions too, very closely, and indeed has entered them before, and specifically on behalf of Jeffrey Levine, so what I suggested was not at all out of the realm of possibility.

    As to the famous PM, that accusation has been thoroughly examined on the "Complaints on the Forum" thread itself, and as it's still there you can quite easily review the evidence and make up your own mind about it.

    You should also look at another, much earlier PM of mine which was brought into the argument by the poets.org Moderator, sbunch. The thread is locked but at least you can go and check out that second PM for yourself, and make up your own mind about that one too. You will find it on p. 6, posted by sbunch, Wed May 21, 2008 10:32 am.

    I'm repeating myself by saying all this yet again, I know, but I'm going to keep on saying it until it's finally been acknowledged that I get banned each time because I won't let Joan Houlihan get away with white-washing Bin Ramke and/or Jeffrey Levine just to protect her own business interests. It's a tiny case in itself, of course it is, but it's got well-defined handles, you see, and most such shadowy tendencies don't have handles at all, and are therefore very easy to dismiss. But you simply can't dismiss what I'm saying because it's true, and so well-documented--all you can do is ban me so I won't say it again, and that is precisely what's been happening to me at the very heart of the poetry establishment in the last two months over and over again. What you are watching is the baseless banning of a lowly individual to protect two well-placed and well-connected cronies. In poetry!!!!!!!!!!!

    You make many other important points, Jepson--I have simply answered the ones that only I can answer, and I look very much forward to what other people have to say.

    All the best to you, Christopher Woodman

    ReplyDelete
  2. Christopher WoodmanMay 30, 2008 at 5:17 AM

    I keep leaving out the key piece in the puzzle.

    Why at each banning did the Moderators try so hard to pin some other offense on me than what I actually did? On Pw.org I was banned for 3 absurdities: 1.) using a false IP, 2.) breaking a contract with the moderator, and 3.) misreading other posters. Never a word was said about about naming names, not one, though that's what I did.

    Ditto at Poets.org. I was banned for supposedly sending abusive PMs to the Moderators, repeatedly, no less, and for setting the moderators and other members one against each other. In other words, for sowing discord.

    All of these reasons have been examined carefully, and none of them have the slightest weight.

    So why not just say I was banned for naming names? I mean, why not?

    And why just the day before I was banned for the second time at Poets.org did the Moderator Larwar finally admit that--only to come surging back a few hours later to completely reverse herself and return to the ridiculous claim that I called sbunch a spy? I mean, go and look at that. Look at the knots Larwar ties herself into while trying to say what I didn't do and what I did, and how I called little sbunch a spy!

    Go and read it-- it's all there on p. 5--and it's then followed immediately by sbunch posting yet another PM of mine from weeks before which had nothing to do with what I was being blamed for!!!

    The reason behind all these shenanigans is simple. I never did say anything libelous, you see, and everybody knows that. I hadn't discussed anything that was open to doubt or even controversial. I just discussed the fact that Jeffrey Levine sent me a xeroxed personal review which in passing suggested I send him $295.00 more for some real stuff plus a bye through the first cut in his next contest and a 30 day deadline extension. I have the letter on my desk. I've posted it on the internet. Why should I pretend about that?

    So what is open to interpretation then, or potentially or intentionally libelous ? But you know what it is? It's about whether or not Jeffrey Levine is the sort of publisher someone like Joan Houlihan should chose as her publisher, and whether or not she should share her Colrain Manuscript Conference business with somebody like that.

    So she says he was smeared!

    That's the crux. That's what needs to be covered up, that the simple unsayable. And for some reason or other both Poets & Writers and The Academy of American Poets have banned me for speaking the truth about somebody else's business partner.

    And we're talking about poetry!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Christopher WoodmanMay 30, 2008 at 6:30 AM

    And this is not a conspiracy theory either, anymore than there was a conspiracy in the Catholic Church to systematically defend pedophile priests. There was a system to defend priests, yes, but that is based on a tenet of faith that assumes a priest is sacramentally endowed by God, yes, His Moderator on earth and my Confessor and my Guardian, etc.

    A painful subject--my heart goes out to the priests too to be caught in such a human dilemma, involving as it does loneliness, beauty, love, and shame.

    Here's another example very close to my heart. In France nobody wants to be a primary school teacher or "Instituteur,' because a college student only embarks on that stream if he or she fails to get anything at all that goes higher. So all Instituteurs feel uncomfortable in their jobs right from the start, which becomes part of the job description, in fact. In France all children hate primary school teachers and all primary school teachers hate children. Indeed, to be caught smiling or taking a friendly stance toward children is a recipe for disaster, because the children in the classroom will tear that weakling apart, or if not the parents themselves will complain!

    Or the Prefects in an English Public School like Eton or Winchester, or a parade sergeant in the Marines. Or Prison Guards in those multitude of prisons in the world which set out to humiliate the prisoners, not just to hurt them.

    On-line Moderators too have certain assumptions. They must have or they couldn't trot out those ridiculous Guidelines as they do even worse at Poets.org than at Pw.org!

    I've just heard that Moderator Hatrabbit is now complaining my wife was prejudiced against his religion, and that she accused him of being a liar. I mean, that's as bad as Moderator Sbunch being called a spy! Yet you all take these things so seriously--you all stride around the Forum like adolescent boys whose voices haven't quite changed yet and the hair isn't doing so well between their legs.

    I say that with great compassion too, as a person whose voice didn't change until he was 17! But look at the abuses that are perpetrated by people who feel they have to be strict to be true!

    So my guess is that maybe one Poets.org Moderator somewhere had a game-plan, and perhaps shared that game-plan in very general terms with a friend--Christopher Woodman is going to talk about Joan Houlihan and Jeffrey Levine, and we're not going to let him even get started. Or Robin might have said just a little something, or somebody from even higher than that maybe had a word with a senior officer that hadn't even been involved in the running of the site but could help to get the bully-ball rolling with a few , carefully chosen words.

    "We've got to stop him right from the start!"

    Indeed, that's how bullying works in boarding schools too, and it's often initiated by just a few words or movements even from a prefect or a supervisor or an athlete. It doesn't take much to get bullying going, and it doesn't take much to get a whole gaggle of moderators setting upon poor Christopher once it's clear to everybody he's just a bad egg!

    And were STILL in poetry!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. The funniest thing about this is that somebody actually kept sending these people manuscripts 8 and even 12 times. One would think a person could have reached some conclusions after a couple or three rejections, no?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Christopher WoodmanMay 30, 2008 at 12:12 PM

    I published my first poem at 52--16 years ago.

    I have never been part of a poetry community, have only met one editor in my life, Dan Veach of The Atlanta Review when he launched his Asia issue, and have never met a publisher.

    For 12 of those years I looked after my heavily handicapped brother in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand--for the last 6 years of his life I never slept away from him.

    It never occurred to me to be suspicious. It also never occurred to me that the reason might not be that my work wasn't good enough. And it wasn't, but still it shouldn't have been scammed.

    I was just making out the check for $295.00 in November 2006 when I saw a reference to Foetry in Poets & Writers. There I saw a copy of exactly the same "personal review" I had just received.

    I was so angry. When I saw Joan Houlihan's letter a year later in the same magazine I was even angrier.

    People as sheltered as myself do exist--they make the world's best activists, if they survive the shock.

    Poetry shouldn' t need them.

    Christopher

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, Christopher--you give me hope too.

    I know the feeling, because I work hard like that too and don't have nearly as much as you do to show for it. I'm so excited about each new thing in my work which keeps me going. I'm not nearly as old as you are but I think I could keep sending out 12 manuscripts like you did. I would be so proud of each one, I would have such hopes for it.

    I think it was partly hope and partly belief in yourself that kept you going. I think that's what makes you so angry too, and you're right. poetry needs that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear Mr. Woodman:

    My comment was not intended to imply that you were rejected because your poetry wasn't good enough. I guess I was just somewhat surprised at your faith in "the establishment" (Po-biz, as they say). I believe it comes down to simple supply and demand and the keepers of the wealth guard it jealously.
    I am also a late starter. I (self) published my first book of poetry at the age of 53 (#'s 3 & 4 due out in August). Prior to that, I never once submitted a poem or collection to any magazine, publisher or contest. I didn't need the money (such as it is) or the recognition and, being of the Taoist persuasion, it seemed kind of pretentious, if not arrogant. I didn't realize until I learned to 'surf' the web how right my instincts were.
    I was upset by a post I read on Silliman's blog one day by someone frustrated in their efforts to get some poems published. I reacted with an indignant outburst which I share (edited) with you here:

    *******************************************

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said...
    Here's a wild concept: have a poetry reading.

    Try this: publish your own book.

    Everybody agrees that wealth isn't in a poet's future, so I suppose it's just a question of whether one is motivated by a love of poetry or a need for recognition and external validation of one's self worth.

    If you write for today, you are a craftsman.

    If you write for tomorrow, you're a poet.

    *******************************************

    Words to live by.

    Regards,
    Gary

    By the way, I spent some time in Nong Khai back in '68.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Gary,

    I absolutely agree with you that a poet and writer must create his/her own bliss.

    I agree with you about self publishing. Why worry about some mythical gatekeeper and his/her personal prejudices and biases?

    I'm self-publishing (online) a revision of my very long MFA thesis novel, which was rejected by several agents.

    Is is good? I happen to think so, but in the end it doesn't matter what other people think.

    Besides, I'm doing it more as a political act of defiance and because I can.

    I'm not going to advertise it here because I have made a commitment to NOT self-promote my work on this site. (I do plenty of that on my other sites.)

    Because of the internet and its ability to reach a vast audience, writers have an opportunity to create their own empowerment.

    Christopher, whether or not he realizes it, has established, through sheer persistence and daring, a strong and compelling voice. Just take a look on poets.org at the stats that his threads garner as opposed to the other threads there.

    Gary, you too are a brave soul; you put your name out there, big as day, and you don't give a crap what others think.

    You, Christopher, and others like you ARE the future of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.

    You ARE the future of writing.

    Jennifer Semple Siegel
    Bugzita
    admin

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is Jepson.

    Gary said supply and demand. Only problem is...there is no demand! More and more poets are born every day with fewer and fewer readers. To sustain a business the money has to come from somewhere. Grants, donations, and contests. It would only be a matter of time before po-biz would come under scrutiny.

    One thing Christopher has shown me is that there is nowhere to go if you have a personal grievance. There is no authority that is listening. Everybody answers to somebody with their finger on a button. There is no one keeping watch. No one has to be accountable. Nowhere to make a case.

    Or is there?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Jepson,

    I think you’ve grasped the issue and outlined it very well.

    1. Surely AAP can be ‘neutral’ while allowing debate on their forums to occur?
    2. Isn’t the ‘integrity’ of the AAP compromised when it refuses to allow discussion? If AAP is not party to any ‘cover-up,’ why can’t the AAP enjoy both neutrality and integrity as it facilitates a discussion important not only to the business of poetry, but to the soul of poetry?
    3. Poetry, as well as other disciplines, will always suffer from the ‘not what you know, but who you know’ dynamic, as you point out, but shouldn’t we always try to improve ourselves in that area?
    4. “Should we aspiring writers grab our pitchforks and torches and riot outside the gates, demanding the heads of those leaders responsible?” Yea, why not? When's the last time poetry's had a good riot?
    5. We can call it ‘small press,’ we can call it ‘university press,’ we can call it ‘contest prize publication,’ but American poetry publishing has become Vanity publishing--all of it. There's no critical integrity. I'd like to see all books with a plain cover, 'Poems;' no fancy, glossy covers, no blurbs, and honest, rough-and-tumble reviews. Keats' fame is due to a nasty review, in fact. "Nice" helps no poet, in the end.
    6. American poetry is now a cog in the University Creative Writing Industry. I don’t think we need to fear this Industry will be ‘torn down’ any time soon, because this Industry is feeding off the problem itself. The larger the problem, the larger the po-biz zombie-army grows.
    7. I think we attack this problem very simply. We talk about it. Throw in some honest poetry criticism, and then, who knows?

    ReplyDelete

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