Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thread: Writing Forum Survey

Please post your comments here.


You may answer this survey anonymously:


  1. Have you ever felt stifled on a writing forum? If so, how? (Feel free to name names and specific writing forums).


  2. Have you ever been banned from a writing forum? If so, why? (If you're not sure why, offer your best guess.)


  3. On some forums, does the application of forum rules/guidelines seem to offer more leeway for administrators, moderators, and forum "pets"? If so, offer some examples. (Feel free to name names and specific writing forums).


  4. In your opinion, should some forum topics be off-limits? If so, what topics should writing forums avoid altogether?


  5. Should forums allow for anonymous (for example, with no name or alias) discussion? Why or why not?


  6. Should forum members be allowed to discuss the policies and behaviors of other forums? Why or why not?


  7. Should forums that accept government funds be required to follow at least a limited "Public Forum Doctrine" policy*? Why or why not?


  8. How would you define "libel"?

_______________________________________

Please post your answers on this thread. This survey is being conducted on a public thread because we feel no need to censor any opinion.

* From Public Forum and the Internet (1997):

We can conclude that the Internet is in some respects public and for other features private. The First Amendment does not extend its guarantees to the private property. Only a public electronic forum--owned, operated or sponsored by the state--would obtain protection by the First Amendment. Therefore, only a regulation in this sector could be scrutinized accordingly to the rules applied to traditional public forums.

16 comments:

  1. FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM!

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  2. This poll deserves a serious answer, but the questions are too numerous and call for too lengthy an answer. Defining 'libel' alone could easily involve a treatise or two.

    I found the P&W forums really thin-skinned. I'm proud to say I was banned by Dana Davis and to this day I have no idea what my offense was. I recall using the term 'careerist poet' and causing quite a stir of indignation from the little band that frequents that rather sleepy site.

    Poets.org has more moderators, and I'm thriving there at the moment, and I had a great time doing their poem-a-day for April.

    I like on-line forums as a rule; it's a great place for all sorts of people to muck it up together.

    Poets.net has the potential to be the best site around.

    One curious thing I find is that really great posts tend to get few or no responses. If you want to get a response, you have to be short and sweet, and almost talk in platitudes. Nasty humor gets the conversational juices flowing like nothing else.

    We're all barbarians at heart, when it comes to exchanges with others.

    We're only really civilized when we're in silent awe.

    So I'd appreciate it if you didn't reply to this. Please appreciate it silently.


    Monday Love

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  3. Christopher is like a character in a John Grisham thriller. The law firm of American Poetry, Inc. is a great Vanity Publishing Network and the cover-up is more horrible than the crime.

    If not John Grisham, then the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Dracula, or a terrifying scenario more horrific, where poets are zombies who feed off innocent flesh: the minds, hearts, souls and money of ‘paying poetry customers,’ the would-be poet and hasty poetry reader who has scanned a few contemporary poems and said to themselves “I can do that.”


    The living dead of Poetry, Inc. are no longer concerned with Poetry and its readers, Poetry and its history, for all “readers” are now would-be poets willing to pay for the privilege of being ‘poets’ in a shadowy realm of ‘contemporary anthology’ pretense, manufactured by the lawyers of Poetry, Inc. You sign on the dotted line at the nearest MFA recruitment center and agree to participate in the game: you agree to never ask why it is always night, why some things are just ‘not discussed,’ why the poets wear blank looks and carry black appointment books and blithely abet the pyramid scheme of money-laundering for the secret muse.

    Woodman met a ‘respected’ official of the poetry world, a gentleman calling himself ‘editor’ and ‘poet,’ warm his voice, with unctuous flattery, but once, when Woodman looked away, this smiling editor, with teeth shining like ice, suddenly lurched towards Mr. Woodman’s neck. Woodman looked up in horror. Was it a dream? The ‘editor’ drifted back into the night, complaining he was busy, and had so many clients who needed his expertise. Woodman followed, and met up with a woman who hissed at him like a snake, warning him to leave the gentleman ‘poet’ alone. Woodman went to Policemen and Writers, to the Academy of Poets, Toads, and Spiders, seeking help. Every policeman and toad he encountered had the same blank look and—could it be?—he heard the hissing sound of that woman in a nearby room…

    Madness, I tell you! Madness! The record of Woodman’s complaint! Gone! It was all a dream! Come away, Christopher, come away! In the shadows, here, down by the earthen lake, your fate awaits you, the raven flies and beneath the hidden moon, she is waiting, the proper one, with the ghost-white guidelines in her slender hands…the icy caress of the secretary muse…of Police & Writers...Poets.Ogre...

    Poetry, Inc.!

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  4. I can't imagine what this questionnaire expects to find out except to confirm your own assumptions and prejudices. Indeed, I would say the first comment is spot on--FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM! is what cheerleaders chant when they've got God on their side.

    So have I ever felt stifled on a writing Forum? Absolutely not. Indeed, the only limitation I ever feel when I'm writing anywhere anytime is in myself. And am I always allowed to say anything I want to say? Absolutely not, but there are a whole lot of things I don't want to say as well. I don't want to hurt people's feelings for one thing. I want them to like me and to understand what I'm talking about, I want them to be interested and to take me seriously, even if I'm being irreverent or funny. So I write very differently in different situations, and the only thing that remains the same is that I always try to write to the best of my ability.

    Do I ever feel there is hostility toward what I am writing? You bet I do, particularly if I'm writing about a sensitive or even forbidden topic, let's say like the veil or abortion or the authority of God's word. On the other hand, if I get a chance to write about any of those topics in a forum where there are people who feel differently from the way I feel, then I also feel it's such a privilege to have the chance just to be heard, and will try even harder to get as deeply into the tricky subject as I can. And that's not easy, of course, but it's also not a question of feeling stifled at all, just challenged.

    Your questionnaire assumes that everything ought to be able to be said everywhere, and this is just naive. Even in a marriage you can't say everything, even in the freest of parliaments. We writers are equally human, and can say only what we are capable of saying within the limits of our own understanding. And a good, kind and sensitive writer always respects the limits of his or her audience too, including age, culture, gender, religious persuasion, nationality and, most important of all, education.

    You get my drift, I'm sure--even if it's painful. I mean, look at your question #2? How many people in the whole of America have been banned from a writing forum? It's a ridiculous question--it's set up just for you people, a tiny handful of agitators who have been banned, not for neurotic or abusive behavior, there are plenty of those, but because you want to be banned in a way, like civil rights protesters want to be bundled off by the police and environmental activists want to be soaked and abused. It's what they're there for, isn't it, to get arrested? That's how they make their point, after all, that's how they get something done. I think even Christopher Woodman would agree with that--if he hadn't been stopped nobody would have noticed what he was saying!

    I'm afraid you've got to do a whole lot more thinking on this site if you're going to be effective. Freedom is a far trickier entity than most social issues like the vote for women or even racial equality--it's not something you can even fight for in the abstract, in a way--you can't do FREE-DOM, FREE-DOM, FREE-DOM! Because the struggle for freedom is always involved just as much with self-restraint and patience as it is with self-expression and letting it all hang out.

    I'm with you very much in your literary cause, which is why I'm here, but you're not arguing your case very well. I read you, but I wouldn't feel comfortable joining you yet, at least not by name.

    I'll keep watching--if you show me a smarter, more sophisticated understanding of freedom I might even join you.

    Meanwhile you can call me Robocop if you want to reply to me specifically.

    Robocop

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  5. Robocop,

    Your reasoning reminds me of Socrates' who took the hemlock--when friends were willing to save him. The philosopher told his friends that he owed his life to the state, so it would be wrong to flee the state's decision.

    But who is more like Socrates? You, or Christopher?

    You choose to 'get along,' respecting the forum and the opinions of others. Therefore, you, unlike Socrates and Christopher, live to see another day. Your principle is to 'have no principle' if it conflicts with others.

    I would argue that you are the silver soul, one who will behave in a tepid or restrained manner in order to get along with others; your 'silver type' is a necessary and noble element in human intercourse. Yours is the solid, middle class morality necessary for civilization.

    Socrates and Christopher are golden souls who provoke in a selfless manner: martyrs who die for others. If Socrates achieved lasting glory for his death, should we revile him for his martyrdom? If Christopher has his voice silenced because he wishes to speak the truth, should we, the silver souls, resent him as a mere attention-getter?

    You are correct, Robocop, when you say this issue is more complicated than 'free-dom!' Socrates earned glory for himself--while meekly obeying the state.

    I took our discussion deeper simply by citing this ancient example and letting its light shine on our present case.

    I hope we can discuss this complicated matter further.

    Respectfully,

    Monday Love

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  6. Thanks, Robocop.

    I asked question #2 as someone who has NEVER been banned from a writing forum.

    Yes, I was warned but never actually banned from poets.org, but, perhaps, this is a minor point.

    I meant it as a serious question to people beyond the obvious ones such as Christopher, SawMyGirl, and Alan--we all know they have been banned, so that wouldn't be too useful if they were to answer this question.

    But could there be others out there who have been banned by writing forums even beyond the two we have been discussing since the inception of this site? And why? I don't know the answer to this and am genuinely interested in finding out.

    It could be that banning is a relatively rare occurrence, but how would we know?

    I absolutely agree that with freedom of speech comes great responsibility and balance, but it seems to me that stifling negative commentary about po-biz accomplishes nothing except retaining the status quo and allows offenders to continue re-offending.

    It's often tricky to find that line between bringing po-biz practices to light and hurting someone's feelings. Even if it's warranted, do we not name names because it might hurt someone's feelings or even his/her career and/or reputation?

    On the other hand, I'm not interested in looking for dirt under every bed and in every corner. In fact, I just wish for a more open system that would discourage questionable literary contests and censorship.

    Ironically, a year ago, I actually defended Poets.org on my Post Foetry blog because I sincerely believed that it was a more open forum.

    Anyway, I just want you and others to know that I'm looking for serious answers to what I consider serious questions, even that seemingly tacked on question about defining libel.

    Best,
    Jennifer

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  7. Monday Love:
    Do I choose "to 'get along,' respecting the forum and the opinions of others?" Yes, I do, but I don't see anything wrong with that, and I don't see why that would indicate that I "have no principle." I think it's more a technique than a position, and it's effective not only because you get to live another day but because it actually gives you the chance to do something. It gives you some time and it gives you greater leverage too than just a head-on collision--which tends to wipe everybody out.

    "Restrained," yes, but not tepid, unless tepid is the best temperature to be effective. Like the art of war, it's all about not getting into a battle and still winning--show hot, show cold, and listen.

    Look, I freely admit I'm not so good at all this myself. I guess that's why I'm reluctant to come out and join you more openly. When I hear the drum beats my blood quickens too, and I have always just taken it for granted that God was on my side. That's why I know idealism like yours when I see it--and recommend that you all tone down your rhetoric a bit so that your enemies can't dismiss you as in yet another feeding frenzy!

    Do you remember who put that one on you before?

    And what about "the solid, middle class morality necessary for civilization?" I mean, who's talking about civilization? I thought we were talking about poetry.

    Also, Monday Love, I know who you are very well, and you're actually doing at Poets.org just what I would recommend you to do. You're listening to them, thinking about what they say, learning their language--and there's a lot of it to learn there too! Christopher Woodman did the same, I would say, because he tried his best not to swallow that Hemlock, didn't he? You could hardly call him a martyr, he tried so hard and so deviously almost, like Odysseus, to stay alive. And look what he's doing here, as if the blood-letting at Poets.org had just given him strength?

    I'd say you two are a great team, by the way, and I've been following you quite carefully too. But you're going to find it a lot harder to be effective once you have your own platform, you know, simply because you won't have to be so careful anymore. You won't have to listen or be tactful or come up with some new, outrageous stunt or story to get over what you mean. Of course you weren't as free there as you'd like to have been, but you know, if those problems didn't exist you wouldn't have had a clue who you really were, either of you.

    That's my feeling--you're still just in opposition.


    And Jennifer, it is truly very tricky indeed to find the way to publicize po-biz practices without hurting someone's feelings, because not one of those practices is far from someone's self-image, bank account and career. So that's the fine line--to be able to expose the practices in such a way that people don't always have to get hurt, or at least as few people as possible. Because you've simply got to have some of those people on your side--you've got to bring some of them over to share your vision. If you polarize them you'll just have to fightthem--you've got to come up with something that is so attractive it'll attract them!

    Thanks for listening, all of you. And thanks for being so understanding above all you, Jennifer--you're a truly remarkable person if you can run a site like this and still hear criticism!

    That really separates you from Poets.org!

    Robocop

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  8. Christopher WoodmanJune 8, 2008 at 7:59 AM

    Thanks for the good words, Robocop--though how you came up with some of the things you say I can't imagine.

    So where was I devious? indeed, my whole argument was that I wasn't devious, that if the records could actually be displayed it would be clear to everyone that I never did any of the things I was accused of, not one of them. I never wrote an abusive PM to anyone, I never tried to play one moderator off against another, and I was certainly never aggressive or disrespectful in my posts.

    And the joke is that what I did do the moderators were at great pains to say I didn't do at all, and that it was not at all the grounds for my getting banned. The moderators said I never said anything libelous or even potentially libelous--indeed, that was an argument that one of the moderators put forth right at the end but then very hastily withdrew literally minutes before the lights went out. It wasn't supposed to be said!

    The fact is that we are up against nameless and faceless opponents who fear that what we say is potentially of great danger to their reputations and their business interests, but because we're talking about poetry we're not supposed to be thinking about our reputations what is more engaging in business. So my crime has to remain undefined for fear that by defining it certain indefinable elements might be associated with inappropriate sentiments and ambitions.

    WOW!

    That's why it's so threatening, you see--the crime has no name!

    But I'd really like to thank Robocop for making us consider what it might be like to have no opposition. I mean who would we be then? What would we die fighting for if we had no enemy, and what freedom would inspire us if we were already free?

    My own feeling is that the enemy is NOT the so-called PoBiz at all, and even if all the competitions were clean, all the editors and publishers were cleared of conflicts of interest, and all our American poets awake and sensitive enough to be free of ambition and other venal concerns, even so we'd have a huge problem. Because the problem is that the number of students & teachers of poetry in America today so out weigh the number of readers of it that the writing of poetry has lost contact with the reading of it altogether. And that's serious, and nobody wants to find out!

    So I guess I do agree in the end, Robocop. We do need an opposition because if there's no opposition the problem we want to solve doesn't have a shape or a name, and nobody will believe in what we are doing!

    In the end we've just got to make the problem interesting. That's all we can do!

    Christopher

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  9. Robocop,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    I suppose I do seem quixoitc when I say 'civilization;' as you remind me, 'civilization? I thought this was poetry.'

    But poetry is civilization. I think we diminish poetry when we put it off to the side.

    I am not only learning about Poets.org. They are learning a thing or two from me, also. Good for all of us.

    The major point about Po-biz and Joan Houlihan and Jeff Levine and Christopher is this: Po-biz has not acknowledged that Jeff Levine committed a grave error in judgment when he hustled poets, one of them being Christopher Woodman. Poets & Writers allowed Joan Houlihan (Jeff Levine's business partner!) to have the last word on the matter, accusing Levine's accusers of ignorance and vindictiveness. If this is allowed to stand, without further discussion, what sort of message does this send? I don't think anyone wants to put Jeff Levine and Joan Houlihan out of business. They are sincere, I'm sure, in 99% of what they are doing. But they crossed a ethical line, and po-biz, in whatever official capacity it can bring forth, needs to acknowledge the mistake, and move on. Woodman should not be banned for mentioning Houlihan's name on poets.org. The cover-up has become worse than the crime. This affair seems to indicate that sleazy commercial interests will be permitted to triumph in the future. Who was talking about academic poetry corruption in a systematic manner before Alan and Foetry.com? No one was. Doesn't that worry anyone? The Levine affair should also make us realize how small po-biz really is. Poets.org is beholden to the IBPC, as its workshoppers compete for poetry prizes there. Web Del Sol runs the IBP, and Joan Houlihan is a major player at Web Del Sol. You couldn't make this stuff up.

    We don't need the peasants to storm the castle with torches and pitchforks. We don't need to libel anyone. All we need to do is be honest and truthful about what's going on. I see this as win-win. Why shouldn't poetry be seen for what it is? It's not 'only about the poetry.' It never has been, and never will be 'only about the poetry.' Poetry will benefit, in a larger sense, if is seen with a human side. Woodman and Houlihan and Levine could be laughing about what happened together. It might be too late that for that, but who knows?

    It's the cover-up tactics playing out at Poets & Writers and Poets.org which I find especially disconcerting.

    Thanks for listening.

    Monday Love

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  10. Robocop,

    Thank you so much for your comments; we need people like you here and hope that you will keep coming back.

    You see, I don't want to become another emperor without any clothes. I want others to question what we do because that will help keep us honest and on track with our mission, which, admittedly, is kind of loose at the moment.

    The core "members" of this group often do not agree with each other, which makes for some interesting discussions. But I see that as a good and healthy thing.

    Although I technically "own" this site, it would be nothing without its people: friend, foe, and those in between; I want to hear what people say, even if it hurts my feelings and makes me question my own motives. If I don't hear what others are saying, then that narrows my own viewpoint.

    So that also means accepting the snark that comes along with it. And that's okay because not worrying about a little snark and silliness sends the message that poets.net is a place where poets and writers can banter without being pruned or locked.

    Silenced.

    Please feel free to remain anonymous as Robocop; I completely understand why you and others need to remain anonymous.

    For a year, I (as Bugzita) was anonymous on Foetry, and coming out into the light was one of the scariest moments of my life.

    Best,
    Jennifer

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  11. I'm very happy to see this conversation happening. I mean the one that evolved out of the survey more so than any direct reply to the survey's questions. I am entirely in favor of the ever-vigilant examination of the rhetoric of us who identify as "outsiders" and support Foetry.com's and Poets.net's missions. And Robocop's points are, in my opinion, excellent ones . . . and without the whiff of elitist/insider dismissal of the other that is what we "others" tend to hear so much of the time.

    For instance, I think Robocop is entirely correct in suggesting that the rhetoric of this survey is misleading in a partisan way. That is, the subtext of the survey implies and reinforces an outsider/insider or tyrant/victim dynamic between forum moderators ("insiders") and unaffiliated and "dangerous" dissidents ("outsiders"). I found that I was not able to really answer most of these questions, at least not simply . . . as I found them leading and inclined to simplify and pigeonhole responses and responders. Not that I failed to understand and appreciate the subtext of the survey. The sentiment (tinged with necessary outrage and drive to change) is valid and extremely important, but perhaps the time for such a survey and its implication of an Us vs. Them call to arms has not yet come. And I mean primarily that those called on to "join the outsider army" are being asked to pick sides before they have been convinced or otherwise (honestly) wooed. It's not time yet to dig foxholes (and may never be).

    That said, my only experiences on a poetry forum have been with Foetry.com and Poets.net, and a handful of the same people have been involved with both. On Poets.net I know my voice will be tolerated and probably even appreciated much of the time. My experience with Foetry.com was mixed. Many people seemed to appreciate my more essayistic and "literary" posts, but a number of Foetry regulars made it clear that forum posts were "supposed to be" short, simple, unrelfectively emotive, and free of argument (in favor of bald and unexamined opinion). I saw this as small-minded and self-defeating, and I continued to both write my essay-posts and to argue for the value of such a development of argument and idea. I owe it to the awareness and respect of Alan Cordle that he also saw value in my approach and entrusted Foetry.com largely to me after he retired. That is perhaps not the most accurate way to explain what really happened. In fact, when Alan retired, I tried to argue for a coalition of the regulars (the "Anti-foets") to collectively take charge and install no leadership.

    As I was perhaps the leading voice in stumping for this democratic coalition, it turned out that (as anyone involved in activism might expect) I ended up with the lion's share of the responsibilities. I tended to see this as similar to the common cartoon scene where one person is volunteered because s/he forgot to step backward along with everyone else in line. Even though I repeatedly declared that I was happy to do anything I could to further the cause of Foetry.com (within the scope of my sense of ethics), I did not in any way want to be in charge of Foetry.com . . . as it turned out, that was precisely what happened (and by default rather than election, I might add).

    My one year tenure as Foetry.com's admin was admittedly frustrating for me. I attempted to push Foetry toward becoming a more journalistic PoBiz news source and "poet's advocate" information archive. I argued for organization, better research and presentation, and a new dedication to fair-mindedness and clarity. But I tried to remain conscious of the fact that I was, ideologically, more radical than many of the Anti-foets when it came to my objections to the PoBiz system (which I felt should be both boycotted and critically deconstructed). Recognizing this, I made every effort to not stamp Foetry.com with my personal philosophies. A significant part of doing this was to call for volunteers to take on various projects (research, mission statement writing, organization and verification of evidence against poets and judges involved in contest and publication improprieties, a formal FAQ addressing the many repeated questions and attacks Foetry.com received to which no definitive and readily available answers were available, etc.

    But perhaps because this sense of a conscientious and more-professional, grassroots, activist organization required more disciplined (and more carefully reflected upon) efforts from a "staff", combined with the general disillusionment we all shared regarding Alan's retirement, things never came together as I had hoped (and felt was necessary in order to make Foetry.com viable and useful for poets). At the same time, I was an odd "choice" as an admin, because (similarly to Alan) I had already "retired" from the whole poetry game by this time and stopped writing and reading poetry. My investment was based entirely on the fact that I felt what Foetry.com wanted to achieve was a just objective and greatly needed support from those who recognized this (and also had the sense to direct this objective and the grassroots outrage behind it toward useful, ethical, and intelligent reform).

    But I came to feel that if I, a person who had lost interest in poetry in almost every way and no longer had any personal poetic ambitions, was the most enthused about the cause, the future of the cause was in sorry shape. I was ready to move off into my prose writing and pursuits of psychology, so I felt ready to retire from Foetry.com along with Alan. We discussed this and agreed that it was time to shut down Foetry.com . . . feeling that handing off the reins to yet another loyal supporter was bound to only pass the buck and stick them with the same burdensome situation that we found impossible to resolve. Our hope was that, if anyone really had the drive to continue the Foetry.com mission, s/he would simply start over and do so on his or her own and sans Foetry.com's baggage.

    And this is precisely what Jennifer has done . . . and I hope she can understand that the reasoning Alan and I implemented in our closing of Foetry was intended to be an act of kindness and support for whoever took up the standard next . . . and not an attempt at forbidding access to a resource.

    I mention all of this in the hope that it will serve as one example of the difficulties of constructing any kind of forum community and suggesting that there are all kinds of ways in which an ideal of that community fails to function in act. Humanity must be preserved at all costs in any organization . . . and that includes individualism, a right to speak and to disagree even with one's fellows. At Poets.net, we are just beginning, and there will be growing pains. I am completely tolerant of this, but at the same time, I have already (both privately and publicly) spoken out on behalf or restraint and careful strategy. What I appreciate (and recognize as a rarity in any group dynamic) is that my cautions have been seriously considered by all those involved in Poets.net. This dynamic is pushing us closer to a democratic ideal, where decisions are made with collective reflection while also giving plenty of space for individual expression. Instead of the group (or a dictator's) psychology conforming the published products at Poets.net, the group has given the right of equality and voice to all who would speak. And so far, there has been a significant amount of self-criticism on this forum.

    This is such a unique and wonderful thing, that I hope it will come to be appreciated and respected by more and more who visit Poets.net. And I hope that many of these people will understand that the beginnings of this kind of functional democracy are going to have their hiccups and belches. I'm reminded of the Dr. Seuss story, "Yertle the Turtle", in which a "plain little turtle named Mack" finds that the only way to rock the ridiculous system of King Yertle's oppressive supremacy is to issue a small burp . . . and the whole hierarchical stack of turtles comes crashing back into the pond. I think there should be tolerance for these occasionally "unseemly" burps coming from those people on the bottom of the stack, those people barred from entering the Kingdom of Poetry. This tolerance and understanding of the nature of dissent and outrage are what (as far as I have seen) are most lacking in the criticisms and dismissals of Poets.net (and Foetry.com) coming from "insiders" and PoBiz devotees and wannabes.

    The main reason I wanted to be involved with Foetry.com when I joined was to contribute the thing I realized was my most useful attribute: balance and rational (or at least complex and articulate) philosophy. I didn't want to just jump in and amplify the voice of outrage and injury that already rang out loudly from Foetry.com. I felt that what Foetry.com lacked was a devotion to credibility and an adequate consideration of how others not in its camp perceived its rhetoric. If the harshest critics and smug dismissers of Foetry.com had been correct about the "shrill, self-centered whining in the name of sour grapes", then Alan and the other devoted people at Foetry.com would have made every effort to dispose of me and my attempts to encourage balance and credible reform. But not only did that not happen, I even wound up as the admin of the site.

    That is a testament to the intelligence and fairness of this group . . . the best and brightest of which have reemerged to keep fighting the good fight through Poets.net. These good people are capable of reason and change. But sometimes we will make blunders in the pursuit of a cause. This is, in my opinion, not any kind of justification to dismiss what is being attempted here. What IS being attempted is a bold and original adaptation, the evolution of an entirely new life form in the poetry world. So long as dissent is allowed and listened to here, this evolutionary event with progress toward fitness. Individual voices will be tolerated and yet they will listen to and influence one another. We should not fall into the same position that the original malcontents with democracy voiced. Democracy is a complex system, and it needs time to evolve and self-organize. The alternative is some form of royalism or dictatorship or party elitism.

    So I encourage all who would question the way Poets.net presents itself and its ideas to continue voicing criticism (but not sniping dismissals, which are not in any way useful for anyone). Thus far, Poets.net has demonstrated that these criticisms, even when they hurt, are being considered and can in fact lead to change. That the people here are willing to listen and reflect on anything that is being said to them already demonstrates the unique and rather wonderful potential this site foreshadows. Where else in poetry today is there this much willingness to self-criticize and even change directions based on well-argued critique?

    Even as I have already voiced a number of criticisms and calls for restraint to the people posting, commenting, or being quoted here, they have continuously impressed me with their ability to reflect and seriously consider the values of mission and fairness even over personal desires and injuries. The call-outs Jennifer has posted declaring that freedom of speech is granted and admired here are not blown smoke. For those of you who don't like what is said on Poets.net, come and voice your dissent and criticism . . . and do so intelligently. That is how progress is made.

    My Best,
    Matt Koeske

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  12. Regarding being banned from forums, although I have never been banned from a poetry forum, I have been banned from a Jungian psychology forum and for reasons much less contentious even than those surrounding Christopher's banning (in my opinion). I simply voiced three things that these particular Jungians could not collectively tolerate: 1.) I dared to disagree and criticize some of Jung's ideas and writings that I saw as dated and in need of modernization, 2.) I voiced my own tendency toward atheism and my criticism of the spiritualism and religiosity that many Jungians took for granted and I worried was a wrong-turning (as it came with the dismissal of science), and although I did not do this with any kind of evangelism at all, it evoked a great deal of anger in the true believers of the community, and 3.) I argued for the value of dissenting opinions in any intellectual community, because without them, no progressive discussions could occur. Part of this arguing for the value of dissidents and contrary opinions included a protest against the personally abusive attacks some of the moderators made against me . . . and in lieu of any actual response or counterarguments to my initial arguments.

    I was eventually banned immediately after writing a PM to one of the admins in which I brought a grievance against a couple of the moderators who had issued personal attacks publicly against me for ideological reasons (where I never instigated or engaged in any personal attacks of them). I merely asked that this sort of thing cease, as it was both hurtful and made the community look bad. The banning was never explained or justified to me. No discussion with the admins took place. I merely was informed in one sentence via e-mail that I was banned. No mention of my banning or any explanation was given publicly on the site.

    Shortly after this (and taking a somewhat different approach than Christopher has taken), I started my own Jungian psychology forum. Perhaps fearing that their mistreatment of me could no longer be silenced and swept under a carpet, the admin who banned me quickly reinstated me (I had not asked for such a reinstatement). But, I had no interest in returning to a community that would ban me for ideological reasons . . . nor any interest in waging a war with them. My interest was in pushing Jungian thinking into the 21st century . . . and that is what my forum has been dedicated to doing.

    From the very beginning of the conflict between Christopher Woodman and Poets.org, I recommended to him that he not waste his time on fighting with them, because I felt that he only sullied himself in the act. But I have to admit that Christopher's persistence (although not something I would personally choose to emulate) and outrage, although somewhat martyrous, has continued to shine a light on a wrong that was done to him and which was essentially advocated by the Academy of American Poets, if only indirectly. In this battle, there has been a bit too much of the "if it bleeds it leads" approach for my taste . . . but if that is what gets people's attention and brings them to consider the nature of PoBiz society and its problems and dangers, so be it.

    What I like about Christopher's outraged approach to this injustice most of all is his self-presentation of utter innocence. One can scrutinize this, of course. It is a persona, in my opinion, but not a lie. That is, we might speculate about whether or not this Woodman fellow is really as innocent as he presents himself, but what is, I feel, true is that such innocence and outrage should live and live furiously within all of us and be as shocked and offended by the dehumanizing treatment of poets (especially aspiring poets) in the PoBiz as Christopher's voice has been. Still, what makes his voice most compelling and perhaps universal is that this Christopher Woodman is an old, ex-pat who has no real ties to PoBiz indoctrination. He is like an utter alien who stepped into this sordid system with the "naive" expectation of being treated with normal, humane respect. He is expressing the outrage of what it feels like to be an intelligent and self-respecting human being who is "handled" in conventional PoBiz ways. We may think that he protests too much or exaggerates, but his voice on these matters is, I feel, a distillation of the human, unindoctrinated poet that has suffered so severely under the PoBiz "regime". This is a reflection of the voice in all of us that has been shamed into obedience and silence. So if Christopher cries out louder than we might find "seemly", good for him and good for us. This shamed human poet in all of us, the one that thinks big ideas and feels powerful emotions and embraces romantic and dire ambitions, deserves its all too rare champions more than anything else in poetry today. This is the poetic voice and self that has been exiled and stomped out by the current PoBiz, academic system that commodifies and specializes the art form of poetry out of public existence. I think that the way we, as individuals, react to this voice is a reflection of the sense of valuation for our humanness and vision that we yet retain, even if it is ailing under the influence of PoBiz indoctrination.

    For me, the skirmish with Poets.org and the Academy of American Poets is the smaller issue. What is most important about Christopher's protests and persistence is the championing of the disparaged and neglected innocent poetic and human voice which I feel is the most essential sun and gravitational mass around which the real poet's planetary system revolves. Without this voice and without its cultivation and championing, one is not, cannot be a poet . . . but only a scholar of poetry, an academic specialist divorced from the reality, burden, and drive of being a true individual creator and artist.

    -Matt

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  13. Many who love poetry look at ‘foetry politics’ and say, ‘but what’s this got to do with poetry? If editors and poets use creative marketing and fund-raising methods which are not pure as the driven snow, if coteries exist in which friends support each other, so what? This has always been done and always will be done, and there are enough honest platforms out there for poetry, so what’s the big deal? If I really love poetry, why should I care about this nonsense? It’s trivial to me.’

    Poets.net probably needs to answer this question.

    Corruption is more wide-spread than anyone realizes.
    Po-biz is very, very small and almost all the coteries are connected, and if you don’t happen to belong to one of these coteries, you really will lose out on a slice of the pie.

    'Group-think’ permeates po-biz, due to the existence of coteries. This is a subtle point, because it is true that coteries and ‘group-think’ which arises due to coterie behavior is normal and there is nothing wrong with it, per se.

    However, since poetry does suffer from a severe lack of open markets (because poetry doesn’t sell on its own and requires university subsidy and fees collected from contests which are run and won and judged by a relatively small group, consisting largely of these defined coteries) this ‘group-think’ does stifle free discourse, not from any conspiracy, but simply from the nature of coterie group-think, which, again, is quite normal.

    “Group-think’ is really a misnomer, because ‘thinking’ isn’t really what occurs; it’s really a non-thinking gesture which prevails, an irritation with lively and original investigation; any ‘thinking outside the box’ is viewed with suspicion, since the insularity of 'group-think' is unconsciously rewarded and defended for the survival of what is essentially an entity which exists accidentally, not out of any necessity.

    Coteries exist for themselves, not for the sorting and processing and development of new knowledge, and too much activity in the ‘knowledge’ area sends out warning signals to the coterie or club. Coteries always appear ‘innocent,’ precisely because they are ‘accidental’ (they contain persons X, Y, and Z for various social reasons, and most, if not all, are perfectly healthy reasons).

    Coteries are ‘innocent,’ because they exist, not abstractly, but socially; they have no agenda beyond, ‘these are my friends and we together doing what we love.’

    These ‘innocent persons’ are the first to protest when ‘necessity’ is introduced: “You are nothing but a coterie, you are not helping poetry, per se, poetry requires a more systematic investigation of…” These sorts of comments are those which immediately send up the flags, and this, in a nutshell, characterizes the current struggle between “Foets and anti-Foets” in poetry, today.

    The coteries react with ‘innocent’ indignation (‘you hate us merely because we exist’) and the outsiders reply, ‘yes we hate you because you exist (for yourselves) merely.’

    What gives the debate outlined above even more momentum is the following: The coteries become more and more enamored of the 'friendly' nature of the coterie-process and gradually become less enamored with intellectual debate and process, while the outsiders continue to become more enamored with intellectual debate and process, resenting more and more the friendly nature of the coterie process.

    The rift widens, and the two sides become more and more irritated with the signals given off by either side. The coteries can smell the type who is ‘desperate for argument,’ while the outsiders feel they are quickly labeled a ‘troublemaker’ for daring to argue about anything substantial. The ‘anti-argument’ and the ‘argument’ sides solidify into their respective identities, and the end result is that the coteries grow more and more anti-intellectual while the outsiders grow more and more ferociously intellectual and argumentative; but even worse, the status quo of the coteries, in order to secure intellectual respect, will strive to be intellectual in highly bizarre and technical ways, while the outsiders, striving to appear friendly, to make up for a lack in that regard, turn timid and acquiescent--thus both the outsider’s passion AND the inquisitive intellectuality of the insider’s coterie-status quo become diminished to such an extent, that poetry loses even the minor edge it once possessed.

    A great dishonesty finally prevails, with coteries pretending to be intellectual in more and more Byzantine ways, scaring more and more laypersons away, while poetry outsiders fall into toothless and ‘out-of-touch’ impotency.

    Since poetry is ‘market impotent’ in general, coteries come and go fairly quickly, even occasionally receiving new blood from the quarrelsome, anti-social outsider.

    So the rift exists in the first place, then becomes diminished, and sometimes disappears, but in a process, as described above, which damages poetry as a social entity and as an art.

    Discussion within poetry loses effectiveness, for no one is talking to each other about poetry with an independent spirit; fashionable theories and ideas are repeated and shallowly discussed, everyone looks to each other, attempting to get clues as to what to say next, radical anti-intellectual statements are allowed to pass, since no one is prepared, to defend, in any substantive manner, any intellectual idea or principle, the whole of this idea having been eroded by groups staking out positions in the manner described above.

    So here we are back to where we started: “for no one is talking to each other about poetry” and this was the initial complaint upon which I launched this commentary. It may be pointed out that I am guilty of the same thing, since here, at some length, I am demonstrating the problem of which I complain: verbosity which has nothing to with poetry; but the careful reader will see that I am clearing ground so that discussion of poetry might exist in a more fruitful manner; and also I would remind the reader that poetry can not be boiled down to ‘itself;’ the structure of po-biz will always matter, just as who writes the canon and the textbooks and the reviews and who writes the poetry, will always matter, beyond ‘the poetry’ itself.

    Monday Love

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  14. [i]Socrates and Christopher are golden souls who provoke in a selfless manner: martyrs who die for others.[/i]

    Oh, get a grip.

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  15. Anonymous,

    Don't like Socrates?

    Christopher did not literally 'die;' it's a metaphor. He 'died' on Poets.org for trying to speak the truth.

    It doesn't sound like you read the whole post.

    Monday Love

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  16. • Have you ever felt stifled on a writing forum? If so, how? (Feel free to name names and specific writing forums).
    I don’t know that I’ve “felt” stifled—in that I generally say whatever I want to say, even knowing that it won’t be popular. But I have been stifled. (see next question)

    • Have you ever been banned from a writing forum? If so, why? (If you're not sure why, offer your best guess.)
    I have been banned from one poetry workshop forum for defending another poster who had also been banned, without warning, for being too “harsh” with critique.

    • On some forums, does the application of forum rules/guidelines seem to offer more leeway for administrators, moderators, and forum "pets"? If so, offer some examples. (Feel free to name names and specific writing forums).

    Sure. I'd say it's probably almost universally true for a writing forum in which the administrators/moderators are also forum participants. You're just not an equal participant in the conversation when you make the rules, carry the stick, and are the one to offer the carrot.

    The biggest issues that I see resulting from this are:
    1) Moderators/administrators receive unduly positive, focused attention on their own posts/opinion/work because there is pressure to "kiss-up" to staff.

    2) The moderator's social group receives preferential treatment in the application of forum guidelines. Other participants are punished for doing/saying the same kinds of things as the In Crowd.

    3) The moderator's opinion may unreasonably influence the tide of comments. More a problem of weak constitution in posters than moderators, probably.

    • In your opinion, should some forum topics be off-limits? If so, what topics should writing forums avoid altogether?

    Nope. That's like saying some topics should be off-limit for poetry.

    • Should forums allow for anonymous (for example, with no name or alias) discussion? Why or why not?

    We go back and forth on this all the time, don’t we? Yes, probably they should. The biggest reason cited for forbidding anonymity is that it lessens personal responsibility and increases the tendency for virulence. Using the same name on a forum that you use to report to your boss, speak to your family, or publish your work does, obviously, mean that you are more conscious of a general public eye judging your behavior. So you’re probably less likely to act in a socially reprehensible manner.
    But it also means less information. Working poets posting under their real names will surely be less likely to share honest criticism about journals, contests, editors, and peer poets. They’ll be less likely to post honest thoughts about published books of poetry (if they feel this criticism will in some way hurt them professionally). If the poster is using his “real life name,” he may be less likely to post politically or socially radical work, to post biographical narratives, or to write openly about topics which might impact his family or employment (sex, crime, abortion, whatever). If you tell someone they must create a permanent “persona” associated with their name, it seems likely that you will get a whitewashed version of the true, flawed human.
    However, I do think that it is STRONGER and possibly more ethical to speak from a named position, to identify yourself openly. It’s just tough!

    • Should forum members be allowed to discuss the policies and behaviors of other forums? Why or why not?

    Yes. Self-criticism is always vital to growth and change. As participants in a broad arena of critical community and poetry-based discourse, we ought to engage in broader discussions about how and why we do the things we do.

    • Should forums that accept government funds be required to follow at least a limited "Public Forum Doctrine" policy*? Why or why not?

    I think they should be held to some standard regarding free initial access—although violation of forum policies could still result in termination of free access.

    • How would you define "libel"?

    Yeah, right.

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