Wednesday, April 30, 2008
A Second Open Letter to Tree Swenson, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets
Of course I understand that The Academy of American Poets is a separate entity and that the Poets.org Forum’s administration is not under your direct control—indeed, I had exactly the same conversation with Jason Chapman, the IT Director at P&W, who was furious when I wrote Kevin Larimer, the Deputy Editor of P&W Magazine, after I was banned from the pw.org Speakeasy last March. But do take notice, my argument was not that Kevin Larimer should intervene, but simply that he should know what was happening on the Speakeasy. He was after all the Editor who wrote directly about both Jeffrey Levine and Bin Ramke in the Magazine, and it was Joan Houlihan’s attempt to white-wash them both in her Letter in the Nov/Dec 2007 issue that led directly to my banishment.
The whole Poets & Writers Community needs the facts, dear Kevin Larimer and Tree Swenson—they need their own history. My thread called “Does A Poet’s Behavior Matter?” is at present locked on pw.org, and I’m sure the plan is to delete it. Ditto the passionately argued “Mediation” thread which in the end exonerated ACommoner, i.e. me, completely. If it’s all gone, then Poets & Writers descends back into ignorance, and I mean the community does, I mean you both do, and I mean me.
That’s the point.
There are two other points I want to make as well. First of all, the Poets.org Forum is probably the most active meeting point for poets of any website in the world, and that’s a huge responsibility. And why is it so famous? Because I tell you from my own experience it’s certainly NOT because the Site Administrator has created such a free and welcoming environment! Indeed, you should be aware that the whole site is school-marmish, and that most of the participants are as dutiful as boyscouts longing to get those badges one by one so that eventually they too can stand up tall in the parade as Moderators! Olie North’s on Parnassus, so salute!
The Poets.org forum does some wonderful work with its young people, but it’s youthfulness is also a very big part of the problem, particularly when a 68 year old man like myself gets banned on trumped-up charges. The Academy of American Poets has to represent views as uncomfortable as my own too, you know, unless you think poetry has no room for the uncomfortable. Because if your website has no room for a 68 year old expat maverick with degrees from Columbia, Yale and Cambridge, a bunch of credits anyway, and a passable but peaceful essay style, then you’re not serving the poets of America. You’re just serving the Moderators!
So that’s my first point—you simply have to get in there and change the management style so that the Forum gets out of the kindergarten where it’s stuck. My case should have alarms bells ringing all over the place, and I sincerely hope they’re being heard. Use my death well, lay a little wreath on my gravestone, even if most of the lettering has been deleted and the rest will go as soon as the mourners go home. If you lay that wreath in good faith, learn something from my demise, and keep my work up as SIGNIFICANT POETS.ORG HISTORY, that’s all I could ask. Indeed, that’s what I came for, not to be critiqued or get medals!
The final point is about Alan Cordle’s threat to you, dear Tree Swenson. I have no idea what he was referring too, and I don’t want to know either. I just have to say to you as I have said above to Joan Houlihan and Janet Holmes, if one is stalking oneself then one’s going to get stalked. The only way out of it is to get out of it—refuse to participate in isolating anyone, refuse to accept one iota of harassment, marginalization or destructive innuendo. Make the Academy truly the Academy of American Poets, where such behavior is not only unacceptable but unthinkable.
With very best wishes,
Monday, April 28, 2008
ADDED 4/28: Today, I received a letter from PEN, which, in support of releasing 38 Chinese imprisoned writers before the Beijing Olympics, quotes Don DeLillo's views on freedom of speech for writers:
A writer's freedom of expression is synonymous with his right to live. Writing is more than a profession and a duty--it is a writer's life-blood, and when the state denies the free flow of language and ideas, it defines itself in important ways in the eyes of the world. The more nearly total the state, the more vivid and living is the imprisoned writer.Now it might be argued that DeLillo was referring to oppressive societies, and that is absolutely right. Most reasonable people would agree that a government denying its writers freedom of expression is an abomination.
But the same principle could be extended to the oppression of outsider writers in a free society, their views squashed and ignored by "important" publications and forums under the ruse of "civility." In some ways, this kind of oppression is more insidious than the blatant kind because it is widely practiced by those in positions of power and accepted by those who are scrabbling for the top.
Often, those who disagree with the majority viewpoint are trampled by those in power and stepped upon by those on the way up.
April 9, 2008: The "pruning" thread has been "pruned" over at poets.org, so I'm reposting my rationale for Poets.net here:
Poets.net exists because of what has happened [at poets.org] and at another forum.
I assure you all that developing a new forum was not a part of my summer plans.
I used to tell my students (and others) that poets.org was a good space for new writers, but now I'm rethinking that.
ACommoner came to this forum wanting to discuss some important issues facing the literary community (an overall silencing of opposing viewpoints being his major concern). He thought this would be a good place.
But he was told to go somewhere else.
If a poet cannot express (on a forum that accepts public money) controversial ideas and, yes, unpleasant information about known foets, then it's business as usual, no?
In short, if you don't like someone or what he/she has to say, just take away his/her voice, which is apparently what poets.org does with its banning and "pruning" policies.
I welcome ACommoner and whoever else wants to show up at Poets.net.
If you had your text "pruned," feel free to replicate it here.
You can't imagine how hard this is for me to say, but I still feel what you wrote in your Comment following my last post is just plain unacceptable. What you threatened to do on Poets.org was to tell dirty secrets about someone if they didn't knuckle under, and I say that even if you're right that "if" makes it wrong. It always does and it always will, and I wish you would decide never to threaten that way ever again.
I wish you would come out and say that too, Alan. Go ahead, spill the beans on Roy Cohn or Max Mosley all you can, or Karl Rove, but only if you have to spill them to make the world a better place, never just to control it! Come out and say you've learned that the hard way, and that you want everyone to know you stand for that too.
Having said that, dear friend Alan, I understand entirely where you're coming from, the monumental frustration you feel, and above all the anger that someone who blew that golden whistle so well and so far should have to suffer so much for it. The ignominy that in the end Alan Cordle should be the one who's so often attacked under the cover of darkness, and disgraced!
So I want to say right here is that you are in very good company in your war, Alan Cordle, and to be sure everyone understands exactly what I mean by that, I'll just call a spade a spade. I myself received several harassing e-mails from Janet Holmes just this month, for example--and I had never even heard of her until she assumed "Christopher Woodman" must be Alan Cordle, and thought she would demolish his cover and, of course, little old ME in Thailand (what a shock it must have been to find out I didn't have any—I tried to talk to her on the phone but she refused!). Indeed, Janet Holmes is quite a well-known critic and poet at Boise State University, I think, but was involved in a number of scandals that Foetry uncovered. That's why she's so vindictive. Indeed, I have watched her try to get at Alan Cordle ever since—I've seen it with my own eyes on my own iMac screen!
I also got savaged by Joan Houlihan a number of times on the internet, and she's another quite well known critic and poet, and certainly not someone who should be doing such dirt. Moreover, now that she has admitted on her own blog that she is 'rperlman,' I want to say that I saw with my own eyes 'rperlman' lurking on the pw.org Speakeasy Forum every time I got near Joan Houlihan in my posts, and since I entered the site to respond specifically to her Nov/Dec 2007 Letter in P&W Magazine, I had occasion to talk about her views quite a bit. Most striking of all, 'rperlman' made a visit to the Speakeasy just 30 minutes after I got banned from pw.org for talking about among other things her Colrain Manuscript Conferences, her partner in it, Jeffrey Levine, and her publisher (EUREKA! the same). The lightning post-ban visit was co-incidence perhaps, but she hadn't looked in for 10 days before that—and she visited over and over again during the shambles that immediately followed my departure—I always had another Login as "CSWoodman" so I watched with my own eyes.
And of course that's why I got banned from Poets.org too. It's a no-brainer, but could never be said. Indeed, Joan Houlihan's name has been central every time I have run into trouble anywhere this year, indeed ever since she wrote that letter in Poets & Writers ["Rotten Grapes"] and I objected--including twice at Poets.org, of course. She has also attacked me personally at least three times on the net in broad daylight, "that Christopher Woodman guy," she calls me. "Why does he think he's owed an apology?" she asks, as if she didn't know exactly what I'm talking about!
Finally, I have seen the cyber logs posted on the web so I know where else she visits over and over and over again, obsessively.
Not a pretty picture at all--also not my scene, and I have no intention of pursuing it further. On the other hand, many of you do, even some of you 'respectable' poets, teachers, critics, editors and publishers, and I say you are tarred with exactly the same brush if you do. The difference between you and Alan Cordle is that he tells the truth, you just stalk and you stab because you've been found fiddling the books--and that's the right image when you're talking about publishers and poets!
Just before I sent my Open Letter to Tree Swenson to Poets.net yesterday, I deleted a paragraph that might have made all the difference. I regret that now very much, because I feel that had I supported Alan Cordle more fully he might not have lashed back at you all as he did. This is what I deleted--indeed, I want you to see the deleted words in the context so you'll understand exactly what they mean:
And one word about another famous name, Alan Cordle--a man whom I deeply admire. Alan invented the Foetry movement all by himself, and went on to reveal and substantiate in very great detail the unthinkable all by himself--through very hard work, persistence, and uncanny intelligence. He was eventually outed in a most unconscionable way, and he and his wife are still being harassed almost daily for their service to humanity--he's writing a book about it so very soon everybody will know--and the same names will resurface, don't worry. So I understand Alan Cordle's impatience completely even if I don't share his tactics in threatening you as he did. Never will I compromise on that!
On the other hand? On the other hand, who asks for scruples from the Scarlet Pimpernel, after all? Even Simone Weil was ready to parachute behind the lines and wreck havoc among the innocent in the Second World War, even this angel so pure she couldn't eat! I compare Alan to both. He's a hero for me, and I place him right up there with the world's greatest RI (La Résistance Intellectuelle!) fighters.
With very best wishes,
(Admin note: I know for a fact that Alan Cordle and Christopher Woodman are two distinct people; I can see that Christopher Woodman's visits originate from Thailand.)
Sunday, April 27, 2008
This letter is part complaint and part apology—a difficult stunt to pull off!
The complaint first
--I think in its context you and your colleagues may be surprised at the apology!
As I feel sure you will all be only too aware, I got banned from the Poets.org Forum very recently. Indeed I got banned TWICE—the first time for talking about what eventually became the huge, fertile, sprawling thread called "On Aspiring Writers Becoming Successful Writers." The second time was for saying exactly the same thing yet again--same cause, same effect!
But what was the cause, that's the question? What was it really?
For a start, both expulsions were sudden—and in neither was I provided with a coherent explanation. After the axe fell the second time I couldn’t even track down the Site Administrator, the forum [at] poets.org address was malfunctioning (!), and it was only through the good graces of my Thai wife, Maw Homprang, that I eventually forced Christine Klocek-Lim to explain that I was banned for "harassing" Moderators and sending them "flaming" PMs. No evidence was provided, just the word of the Site Administrator on the thread.
To make a long story short, in the end Christine Klocek-Lim admitted that there was only one offending PM, so we don’t have to do a lot of research to take the next step to arrive at a conclusion.
Well, I've posted that PM now for all to examine here on Poets.net, and if it's neither "harassing" nor "flaming" (Christine Klocek-Lim's own terms), which I think everybody agrees it isn’t, then you've got a problem. At the very least you’ve got to acknowledge that I was banned for something else--and that that something else was what I had been saying in public, not in private. The problem with the trumped-up “harassing/flaming” charge is that it would suggest the management doesn’t want to admit to the real reason, that it was, in fact, certain persons and issues that could not be discussed on the site that got me banned--not my style or my tone. And this is a very serious difference, and has very serious implications for Poets.org as it's managed today.
Here's the link to the document in question--you can judge the evidence for yourself:
And the apology?
Oh dear, oh dear. It's for what a poster called 'Foetry' said to you on-line—something which, dear Tree Swenson, I want to say is completely and utterly unacceptable. Though not involved in expressing that threat myself, I want to apologize for it anyway—as somebody has to, and profoundly. On the other hand, I do want to say in the same breath that in my experience there is no such thing as a Foetry Gang out there, if such a group ever existed. Foetry has always been just a loosely associated brother/sisterhood of mavericks like me—look up the word for the image to really get teeth. Also read Matt Koeske, who talks a lot about that phenomenon in both his letters just below.
As to myself, I only discovered Foetry.com just a few months before it was dissolved last year. At that time I wrote quite a lot for it, having been very badly abused, and very personally too, by two important editors to whom I had been sending my work for 10 long but hopeful years. Call me naïve if you wish—I’d rather call myself the very rare poet who had never passed through the PoBiz system and was therefore blissfully unaware of it! So when the mask fell away and I saw the Machiavellian deceit of the faces behind it, I looked for help, and Foetry was the only relief I could find. I was 67, lived on the moon, had published my first poem at 52, and had no connections with any poetry community anywhere on earth! And then I went on to write for Foetry, quite a lot too, because it helped me. Indeed, I have come to admire what it stood for, and to admire it a lot—just like Matt Koeske.
I want to assure you, dear Tree Swenson, that what I am doing on Poets.net will never include smearing people, and that indeed if I feel anyone is being treated vengefully, being humiliated, or threatened with exposure on the site just to gain points or advantage, I will do my best to stop it--and if I can't stop it, I will quit. As simple as that.
I have also discussed this with the Poets.net owner/editor, Jennifer Semple Siegel, and she is in complete agreement with me on this. She will never let this happen on her site.
On the other hand, we all know there are a lot of things in the world that have to be said that some people would do anything to cover up, like the Bushes oil, or Enron--or Roy Cohn or Max Mosley their sex lives. Of course, there are moments when such private information is so relevant it has to be leaked, like the fantasies of the perpetrators of Watergate or Abu Graib. In Roy Cohn’s case it was not the sexuality but the hypocrisy, and we needed the essential sexual information to get closer to Joe McCarthy's own will to destroy so many lives. In the case of Max Mosley it's also not about the sex but the politics--and of course they were masquerading as each other!
I'm writing this letter to you partly because as President and Director of The Academy of American Poets, you need to be aware of aspects of your very worthy cause that may be in trouble and/or inappropriately supervised. I feel it was a great mistake to ban me at all, and if you read what I was writing I think you will see that both my posts and PMs were always well-focussed and dealt with even the most sensitive issues in a constructive and humane way.
I myself have used The Academy as a major resource in my exile for many, many years, and I am very grateful for its existence. I have nothing but positive feelings about your personnel as well--I just think you have to be very careful about the issues that are so advanced they are almost unthinkable, and one of them is that certain figures in the poetry establishment, among them perhaps some of your own friends, are engaged in business activities that cannot be publicized without serious moral questions being asked. You must be very careful that the Academy does not cover up for such people, especially when the going gets rough--and the names are right there in my own personal banning!
And one word about another famous name, Alan Cordle--a man whom I deeply admire. Alan invented the Foetry movement all by himself, and went on to reveal and substantiate in very great detail the unthinkable all by himself--through very hard work, persistence, and uncanny intelligence. So I understand Alan Cordle’s impatience completely even if I don't share his tactics in threatening you as he did. Never will I compromise on that!
On the other hand? On the other hand, who asks for scruples from the Scarlet Pimpernel, after all? Even Simone Weil was ready to parachute behind the lines and wreck havoc among the innocent in the Second World War, even this angel so pure she couldn’t eat! I compare Alan to both. He’s a hero for me, and I place him right up there with the world’s greatest RI (La Résistance Intellectuelle!) fighters.
I wish you the very best in all your good work.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
My memory is a little foggy at this time, but as you mention you posted on Foetry occasionally, let me be forthcoming and say that I was the Foetry.com admin for its last year of existence after Alan Cordle retired. That was where I first met Christopher.
As to your comment about my "blanket dismissal" of "poetz" . . . first, I believe I actually referred to them as "PoBizzers", i.e., poets who seek indoctrination, allegiance, and status through the official PoBiz channels, primarily academe and the contest system . . . publication in poetry journals is more complex. I am not quite sanctimonious enough to declare all poets who seek the fruits of the PoBiz "fakes", which is what I, at least, feel a neologism like "poetz" would imply. A semantic quibble, but an important one to me, as the mistake you made in evaluating my rhetoric, though tiny on the outside, carries major subtextual and rhetorical implications. For instance, if I was actually dismissing all poets who have gone to school, won contests, or obtained college and university teaching positions, my argument would easily be dismissible as that of a total crank.
I accept that this misunderstanding was purely accidental, but I would like you (and others) to know that we who are, for lack of a better term, "PoBiz dissidents", are commonly having our arguments "unintentionally" misread so that the readers don't have to more deeply consider their validity. The reason I joined Foetry.com and became an active member and eventually an admin there was not that I thought attacking individual poets who were involved in contest and publication impropriety was the right thing to do. I did not then and do not now agree with this tactic. I joined Foetry because I saw that there was, despite some vitriol and obvious (justified) outrage, a very valid argument to the main gripes of Foetry.com. Namely, the corruption in the contest system (and perhaps the contest system itself) was, logically, destructive to the quality of the poetry publish through it. I saw many critics of Foetry.com come on the site to chastise and issue "blanket dismissals" at the Foetry.com members simply because these members were pissed off and wanted change. Such chastisement was the easiest way to both ignore and seemingly discredit the Foetry members' arguments. As Foetry's admin, I was constantly encouraging the members to pull back from personal attacks on poets and focus on logical arguments and evidence . . . in the hope that PoBiz devotees (and more importantly, those riding the fence) would be less capable of ignoring the validity of the arguments that were being made.
In general, I decided to do what I could do to bring stronger argumentation and intellectual credibility to the arguments that were already being made on Foetry.com.
Secondly, as to a blanket dismissal of poets who seek support, fellowship, audience, and status through the PoBiz, I issue no such thing. That would be a dangerously simplistic argument. What I am saying is that the PoBiz as an institution (and, notably, an institution that not all of its members even recognize as a whole interconnected system) promotes beliefs, laws, and indoctrination rituals that are the main cause behind the decay of contemporary American poetry. We who seek or have sought to enter into this system of indoctrination and conformity have been asked in various ways to make choices between an inner creative vision or drive (which requires an ethical commitment, not just "selfishness") and being accepted and credential by the PoBiz system.
The PoBiz makes it exceedingly difficult to survive as an individual or innovator. The chamber of conditioning is the university, of course. But the real conforming gallows (in my opinion) of the PoBiz is the poetry contest. The contest is the gatekeeper of PoBiz credentialing. If it is dysfunctional, the poetry and poets that are credentialed will also tend to be dysfunctional. The more these dysfunctional poets, poems, and poetics are credentialed by this gatekeeper system, the greater the power of the system to conform and limit poetry to not merely dysfunction, but also a sanctified dogma of dysfunction. That is, I think, a logical conclusion. What Foetry illuminated was that the contest system was indeed dysfunctional.
In my opinion, the subtleties are very complex. There are no literal "puppet masters" conducting the PoBiz. Indoctrination and dogma are the real masters, and individual ambition and contemporary university administration practices provide the instinctual drive and resources. I think this all trickles down from ideological dogmas that became popularized in the universities in the 20th century (and were put into official practice with the rise of the university writing programs, which had a strong upsurge in the 70s, especially). At bare minimum, we have developed an ideological system with the writing programs that we have not adequately studied the impact and implications of (much as the "externalities" of modern industry went unchecked for ideological reasons until very recently . . . and even today, the battle for regulation and sustainability in industry is entirely uphill) . . . and we continue to live in an academic age in which university writing programs (as they now exist) are not very criticizable. Why? Because they are usually very profitable. Many people who would not attend college or would drop out (and take their tuition with them) will stay around for a creative writing education. There are even many MFA programs that take paying graduate students to help fund the program (in addition to undergraduate tuition fees). Essentially, the administration of the universities (which has grown increasingly business-like and less "educationally-oriented") doesn't really care if academic integrity is high in writing programs, just as long as they continue to be profitable.
I recommend the book The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 by David Gershom Myers, which gives a pretty even-handed account of the origins of writing programs (although it doesn't follow them into their more contemporary mode).
So, the core of what I'm saying is that we have to look more closely in the mirror and try to figure out if we have turned an art form into a commodity or market, and if so, what can we do to correct this?
Although I do think that going through the PoBiz indoctrination system is likely to limit the originality and perhaps also the depth of the poets who accomplish this, I by no means think that PoBiz-credentialed poets are untalented. But a close examination of the system of indoctrination suggests (in my opinion) that poets with very high degrees of potential talent are not likely to have that talent facilitated, developed, cultivated . . . and possibly even recognized in the PoBiz. The PoBiz system is not one that orients itself to the recognition and development of poetic talent. Rather, it is "designed" (really it's a byproduct of unconscious, tribalistic sociality, so we could more accurately say it "evolved") to capitalize on poetic ambition (which is like a potent natural resource) and turn this into an affordable status attainment market. It greatly resembles the New Age and Self Help markets in this way.
More importantly, I think we (even we who are strongly critical of the PoBiz) need to recognize and admit that we are part of the system. Detaching ourselves from it is like unplugging oneself from the Matrix. We don't want to do it, and if we manage (usually by some kind of accident), we find ourselves terribly weak and nearly useless. The "enemies" are within, not without. We all carry various degrees of this PoBiz indoctrination. And the truth is that, we are so symbiotically connected to these beliefs and conditionings that we don't know how to functionally conceive of poetry and poeting without them. What we have in front of us is first the "unplugging" or reconditioning or epiphany of PoBiz destructiveness (to both the art and to those who are driven to practice it), and then the long, hard scrabble to reinvent ourselves and our poetry and poetics (and perhaps, eventually, our publication system).
No one should be shamed for stumbling about in the dark in quest for this Holy Grail. That is the nature of all self-discovery . . . and of all art. Frightening? Hell, yes . . . and the PoBiz promises in its PR to limit this terror as much as possible. But without the full reality of this terror, this loneliness, there can be no genuine self to discover, and no bravery in the act of creation. Innovation must be met heroically, defiantly. We cannot both belong to the tribe unconditionally and create art for that tribe, art that tries to comprehend it.
For what it's worth, I would prescribe empathy for all of us who struggle with PoBiz indoctrination. Some have already "lost their souls", we might say, and are probably beyond redemption . . . but most of us are simply being human. A significant part of being human is being both ambitious and afraid, being unconscious, not knowing but wanting. This doesn't make us evil; it's merely what we are.
Poets and critics who work on the fringes of the PoBiz can remain relatively untainted by indoctrination . . . but at the same time, they might also remain forever ignorant of the way the system works. And so, many of these "fringe PoBizzers" are quite likely to assume that nothing is rotten in Denmark . . . and that those people who complain about the stench are cranks and embittered losers (as many of them clearly are . . . but they are not ONLY these things, that's the important distinction). Regrettably, the PoBiz as an organization feeds off of this collaborative ignorance and uses it to help prevent dissent from penetrating its walls. It all boils down to the old adage "Question Authority". So long as this is done, so long as we (as they say in left-wing politics) "follow the money" and see how the organs of the system interconnect, I think we will start to see many of the problems I and others have been noting for some time now.
Why then do so many remain ignorant and disparage people like Christopher Woodman and the members of Foetry.com? Simply because the cost of knowledge or consciousness is dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that is likely to cut the umbilical cord to the larger body that sustains almost every poet in some manner or other. Consciousness is always this dangerous.
(Dawn, I would be happy to move your response to Matt here as well; if you wish this, simply give your permission, using the same Blogger ID, by responding in this comment section. You are also welcome to expand on your original comment. --Admin)
Friday, April 25, 2008
Guest Writer: Matt Koeske Offers a Message to Christopher Woodman and Other Poets Outside of the Po-biz
I'm very sorry that this has happened to you. The trumped up charges are a pretty clear indication that your banning was less a matter of what you wrote on Poets.org than what you represent in contrast to the ideology and tribal participation of the PoBiz establishment. You are an incompatible element with the "Utopian" ideal of a place like Poets.org. I know you from back in the Foetry days, and I see you as one of the most honorable, considerate, and affectionate people I've ever met. These qualities stand out in what I suspect is an online poetry world where most forum posters are in their 20s or maybe 30s (i.e., a post-adolescent peer competition environment). You have a sense of grace this is fully adult and very wise . . . and this quality is sadly not recognizable in the very adolescent poetry world today.
Equally foreign to the PoBiz (and one of its minor "cells" like Poets.org) is the attitude that holds ethics, honor, and integrity above ambition, undisciplined/unconsidered expression, and status-mongering. Again, this kind of honor comes from maturity. Although to the adolescently-minded poets of Poets.org and the PoBiz establishment today, your humanity must seem anachronistic, this really reflects a distinct lack of vision, depth, and mature perspective on their part. This lack of maturity (in the Jungian world, we might say it's a lack of initiation) has enormous impact on and implications for today's poetry. The Old Soul that was long a staple of poetry (just as much as its essential half, the New Soul or daring innovator) has become utterly alien to the poetry coming out of the PoBiz today. Your experience with the Poets.org forum has merely made you into an example of this great loss to the most ancient (and once sacred) literary art form.
Although I fully support you and Jennifer and agree that you should acknowledge and record all of these goings on for posterity or at least for public knowledge, I worry that the root of this unfair and adolescent usage of power in the Poets.org forum administration lies in the very ideology (or impaired ideology) I described above. It is good to stir up support and focus outrage on incidents like this, but I don't think it will change the attitudes and opinions of the people that run Poets.org or its forum. My recommendation is that we who care try to direct our outrage from incidents like this into a deeper and more detailed (and above all, well documented and absolutely fair) criticism of the PoBiz mentality. That is, we need, I feel, to take our energy and drive it into the investigation of the question "Why?" Why do so many PoBiz cogs and tools and "nobles" and "peasants" alike behave and think the way they do? Why do they have such a minimal grasp of ethics? Why are they so tribalistic, cronyistic, status-hungry? Why do they hold the various (never questioned) dogmas about poetry and poetry publication and poetry community that they do . . . and why do they refuse to question them? Why has the experience of "initiated" or mature adults with adult experiences and feelings and ideas eroded away from today's poetry?
I think that in the investigation of such questions, we will (or at least should) find that the poets who have gathered under the wing of the academic PoBiz establishment are, despite their misdeeds and apparent lack of fully evolved ethics or consciousness, really not much different than those who find themselves opposed and embattled with them. What I mean is that, poeting today involves a number of standard choices. Like, do I go to an MFA program or don't I? Do I seek publication by any means necessary or do I bide my time and hope to be "discovered" without networking or favor trading? Do I associate myself with people that are perhaps slightly "corrupt" and may require that I think and write more like them or do I go it alone and follow my own artistic vision? Do I dare to love and learn from writers who are not on the academic approved lists? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of questions like this that everyone seeking to write and publish (and maybe make at least part of a living off of) poetry faces. Most of these questions can and must be satisfied with Yes or No answers. At every fork in the road, taking one path excludes the possibility of taking the other (unless we are willing to backtrack, and that can be a whole new kind of grief).
I think that poets like some of the Poets.org forum staffers have made a number of choices in their quests to "become poets" that led them to their current state of impaired ethics and adolescent grasp of both complex ideas and relationship with others. When you or anyone else ask them now to consider ethics more closely or whether a poet's behavior matters, you are not asking them something that they have ready access to. They are not like you, a mature adult who has wandered up and down and around and through the various labyrinths of life. Rather, they are like rats in a maze that have kept moving forward on the impulse of short-term thinking and immediate gratification and lost site of the innumerable branching options that there are in life and in the evolution of a human personality. To ask them to consider ethics in a complex, long-term fashion is to ask them to go back to some very early part of their maze and start over.
And the truth is that back when they made those early decisions, they were children (at least psychologically), they were afraid and fragile and sought immediate rewards like comfort and protection. They had no idea that as they continued down these paths, this initially embracing and seemingly unconditional comfort and protection would cut them off from so much that is human. So when they are asked (as you have asked them) to look back to these early forks in their poeting road, they are terrified of what they might lose and of how fragile and confused they were back then. Essentially, you are asking them to individuate, to "grow up", to get initiated, to evolve . . . and from their perspective, you are asking them to do this just so a particular grievance or notion of yours can be validated. They don't understand that your particular grievances and interests have more-universal implications, implications that even would be meaningful to these PoBiz tribe members and also to human beings beyond the "small" (small in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual scope, more so than in actual population) world of poetry.
It is easiest for them to say, "Christopher Woodman is just a foolish and selfish old man who doesn't speak for anyone. He's an insignificant nobody and a nuisance. We, on the other hand, are a tribe, a group, a community, a society. We are right and Woodman is wrong, because we are numerous and connected and he is singular and disconnected." If they didn't say this (and of course, to say this is very childish, very prejudicial, and very offensive), then they would have to go back to the kindergarten of their rat maze and stick their thumbs in their mouths and still whimper for the Great Mommy of an institution like the PoBiz to swaddle them up and suckle and stroke them. And to face and rise above that would require them to be, like you, like Christopher Woodman, an individual who like all real individuals is forced to stand alone, to stand with integrity and honor (which must have first been hard won and painstakingly cultivated).
This kind of individuality, this dread of loneliness and lack of protection from the group is foreign to them. They are terrified of it (just as preadolescent children are terrified of the burden of adult responsibility when they begin to get a whiff of what that really means). The predicament you are in when trying to engage in ethical debate with these people is that, in order to face you, individual to individual, they would have to acknowledge their infantile fragility, fear, and smallness. Regrettably, one of the most attractive lures of poeting today (in the PoBiz age) is the potential to not be "small" or alone. The romantic notion of the poet is that, by force of individuality alone, s/he overcomes his or her initial smallness. Vision, talent, genius . . . are the romantic's medicine for the "disease" of smallness and anonymity. The PoBiz has developed an alternate system and branded its own "medicine" for the same disease poets have always struggled to overcome. This PoBiz "cure" is tribalistic aggrandizement and status-sharing. One has only to sacrifice to the tribe's specific gods and totems, accept its taboos, and stay in line, and a certain portion of medicine is handed out. All who abide can partake of the ritual of "status" to at least some small degree. Those who can work this system to their advantage (who have a talent for being able to do this), can get more of the curative PoBiz drug for the "dreadful condition of smallness and anonymity".
But, of course, it is this entire totemic, tribalistic system that affords these portionings of status medicine. And the old romantic notions of individualistic vision, talent, and genius are anathema to the totemic system of the PoBiz. The PoBiz system is really not fundamentally different than the situation of modern business in which we see conflict between corporate giants and small, independent businesses. What is sacrificed in actual integrity by corporatism is "made up for" with PR, with spin. In business this is generally a conscious decision . . . but the decision itself is totemized and considered an unquestionable Good. In poetry (where philosophies for living have not real need to be non-fanciful), it is perhaps less conscious, but true-believers in a lie are always the best liars.
All of this is terribly regrettable for the state of today's poetry. The qualities of poetry (and poeting) that you (and I and many others) admire and are outraged by the absence of today are not accidentally left out of the PoBiz dogmas and ideals. They are overtly and intentionally excised. They are the only real dangers to the power of the established PoBiz system. Their exclusion and elimination and tabooing are the first and greatest Commandment of PoBiz Law. Like true scapegoats or taboos, once the tribal elders drove them off into the Wilderness, any further mention of them was strictly forbidden and punishable in the most vicious and absolute of ways. So your simple questions about ethics are, for people like the Poets.org administrators (and all devoted members of the PoBiz) actually traitorous, sacrilegious, religious violations, sins . . . deadly sins and heresies. That is absurd, of course, even somewhat laughable . . . but that absurdity stands as one of the great pillars of the PoBiz and its pledge of allegiance.
For these PoBizzers to grant you the right of a voice (in their kingdom), the status of valid humanness, they would have to question the makeup of their entire totemic belief system, the entire structure on which they have risen or which has sheltered them from their infantile fears. Telling true believers that their god is a sham, a phony, a delusion is never going to win them over to your perspective. They have far too much riding on the unquestionability of their beliefs. If they are contented believers, they will mock, ignore, and/or swiftly reject you. If they are slightly more uncertain believers, they will feel compelled to destroy and make an example of you and your heresies . . . because questioning themselves is radically dangerous and likely to cause an inner rupture. There is no room in their minds or in their beliefs for tolerance and consideration of your Otherness.
I feel and worry that your attempts to introduce these ideas into PoBiz bastions (regardless of their tact, honor, or foundational correctness) cannot succeed. And I worry that, this failure being inevitable, you will be unnecessarily hurt and defiled by the way you have been and will be treated. And even as my blood boils, my heart also sinks to recognize this. It is unjust, but this particular injustice cannot be directly or linearly combated. You will never win a case against a PoBiz credo when the judge and jury are determined by the PoBiz. You cry out for justice, but justice will never be given to you . . . because the system of power the PoBiz uses and is, is not just, is not constructed with any sense of justice in mind. The only justice you will find is that which is inside you, that which you make. And you can bring it to the PoBiz, right up to its bejeweled gates, but I don't think you will be allowed to bring it inside the kingdom.
And I don't think you actually have to. Right on the outskirts you can hang your protest signs and raise your pickets and pass out your fliers . . . because there will always be a steady influx of potential PoBiz inductees trudging hungrily and longingly right through your encampment. And even if these inductees still choose to go inside, the seed you wish to plant can sometimes be planted with them. Not with the already-indoctrinated (who have too much to lose and to whom you are too alien). Some you will even persuade not to go in at all. And inside the walls of the PoBiz kingdom, occasional dissatisfaction will lead people to peer down into the outskirts and wonder if your ongoing protest and campaign might have some merit. Additionally, the occasional seeds you managed to plant (probably unconsciously) in the new inductees might find ways to take root and sprout inside the PoBiz walls, increasing dissent in a grassroots, evolutionary fashion. That is, by planting these seeds (or by devoting yourself to such seed planting outside the PoBiz kingdom) you increase the chance that even poets that pass through the indoctrination and perhaps even find their way to PoBiz success or status might someday be struck with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction or even disgust. A kind of "midlife crisis" of the poeting life, and these empowered individuals may be able to disrupt the inner structure of the PoBiz in ways people like you and me never would have the opportunity to do. So, it is of the greatest importance that these seeds have strong genes that can grow deep-rooted, resilient trees. When the dissident thought awaken in a PoBizzers mind, they have to be pernicious and impossible to entirely dismiss.
And this perniciousness is not impossible to create, because it is also the quality of all great poetry. Even if poetry isn't its medium, it is a poetic thing essentially. These seedling ideas need to be able to truly endanger the sanctity of the PoBiz mindset and conditioning. They can't be merely selfish wishes. To be truly dangerous and effective, they must be true.
It's a long-term strategy, but I think it is more functional than trying to forcibly convert those who are already deacons of the kingdom or more functional than trying to shame the high priests into submission from our esoteric, little pulpit in the excommunicated wilderness. At the very least, I suggest that this kind of long-term strategy be given equal energy and time as those shorter-term strategies that currently prevail among the PoBiz resistance.
Whatever the tack taken, let us always remember to keep our dignity and self-possession and honor and not throw them before hungry dogs like some unwanted table scraps. We can't do this and then convince the dogs it would be unethical to devour them. Don't let the fools and goons of the PoBiz shame you or take advantage of your immense decency and integrity.
My Very Best,
(This post has been elevated, with permission from the author, from the comment section.)
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Well, "elsewhere" is here.
I am honored to have been invited by Poets.net to report on what has been happening at the Poets.org forum. And to make it easier for those of you who are just coming here for the information you can’t get elsewhere, I ‘m going to provide the essential documents first and then gradually work back through the details in subsequent posts.
But before I do that, I want you all to know how moved I have been by the letters of support that have been arriving by e-mail in the last few days, and most of all from the students who have been following all this but can’t speak up in public. It is for you I am writing above all, you new poets, it is for you that I put up with the little whips and scorns of those who have sold out to the "aspiring writer" business. And it’s laughable, isn’t it, the posturing, the trotting out of the Guidelines over and over again, the school-marm scolding! But it hurts too, you know, it's never easy to be dismissed over and over again as a crank, a loser and a bore. So it's better you let this old man carry it because he has no career or position to protect, or to prepare for either. If you young poets just understand what's happening, that’s enough. That's all I need.
Almost as much I want to thank those who have NOT supported me but still dared to contact me, in particular those few in significant positions who in the end had to tell me they couldn’t help me at all, that they had to support the decision to ban me. And I do understand that too--if you’ve landed a very good job in Poetry Management you simply can’t hang out with awkward whistle blowers like me, or even be seen talking with us. Yes, I understand that you simply have to close in behind the wagons when the going gets rough in the office. But I want to thank you good people anyway for giving me just that little tiny glimpse of favor that you did—because I know that one day when you are in a position to help you will!
So what you’ve all been waiting for: the famous/infamous PM we’re not allowed to see!
The first one went to the Poets.org Moderator named “sbunch” who had just challenged me out in public and right out of the blue, “I have no idea what happened to you when you ‘brought in material from the outside,’ and I have no additional idea why you ‘don't dare discuss material that's not already on the board.’ So many windmills, so little time.” [Fri Apr 18, 2008 10:28 pm] Knowing full well that his intention was to get me to say something about the “deleted” (more anon, I promise!) threads in public and thus get myself banned for breaking the “rules,” I replied to him by PM:
From: ACommoner To: sbunch PM: Fri Apr 18, 2008 7:50 pm
Knowing how vindictive 'sbunch' could be, and how often the Site Administrator had already accused me of writing abusive PMs “behind the scenes,” as she called it, I sent a copy to the Moderator, Kaltica, as well. Kaltica is a very fine critic who is extremely active on the site and, indeed, we had had many, many interactions along the way, some of them very fertile. Because I respected Kaltica a lot I decided to send him a copy--in a sense to protect myself from slander!
I'm trying so hard to say what is important to say without breaking the rules of the forum or lowering its tone. You yourself have been involved in a number of the discussions that took place around the time of my banning, but as they've all been deleted now I don't think I would be allowed to refer to them.
So just for your own eyes, if you have a Saved Copy of the deleted threads, try "On Pruning," Tue Apr 08, 2008 4:15 pm. Even more poignantly you might want to look at the exchange you had with my wife on the thread called "Just One More Point Re: First Amendment...May I?" Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:35 pm--now also deleted. She is not a native speaker and comes from an entirely different cultural background so your response was extremely insensitive.
I have no bone to pick with you whatsoever, sbunch--but if as a Moderator you also function as an agent provocateur, that's not fair.
If I'm being paranoid, please do forgive me. And frankly, I think this thread has demonstrated its value a 1000 times over. Slip ups are inevitable when working so near to the edge--I do hope you'll warn me if you feel I'm in danger.
And many thanks for all your good work too, and I mean that, Christopher
From: ACommoner To: Kaltica PM: Fri Apr 18, 2008 7:55 pm
I just sent the following PM to sbunch--I did NOT tell him I was copying it to you.
I do hope you will feel that it was appropriate for me to contact him in this way--and of course that it is appropriate to contact you in this way too.
(You're a thrilling critic!)
All the best, Christopher
[+ copy of the PM to sbunch.]
And that’s all—that’s what got me banned!!! The Site Administrator, Chrissiekl, described the above Personal Messages as “harassing” the Moderators and “flaming" them. In her last e-mail to me she called the letters “rude and manipulative” and concluded, “I gave you many warnings...my decision is final.”
No mention was made by her at any point about what I had been discussing on the thread, nor to the specific names I had mentioned along the way. No reference was made to my last post either, and it did carry some pretty hard stuff—polite, appropriately expressed, reasonable, to the point, but nevertheless HARD.
I quote this last ACommoner post because I think it is absolutely relevant to my banishment. The PMs are, in fact, no grounds at all—the following post is grounds if you don't want to discuss what it says, or even more so if you are the successful poet-publishers who are mentioned in it and don't want negative publicity for your business activities, or to be associated with business at all!
Posted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 5:10 am “On Aspiring Writers Becoming Successful Writers”
That's beautiful, Noldo, that's a much better way to say it than I did.
Like "Zen in the Art of Archery." The physics of the action is easy, and the equipment uncomplicated. The problem lies in our separation from the trajectory of the arrow, and to reconnect with that we have to work very hard for years to recover the simplicity of the original flight.
Or meditation as the shoe we wear so that one day the foot can touch the ground--I used that image before, I think. Or what I wrote to you just above about Yeats, Frost and Neruda--"To say [such work] is obvious is not to say it's easy, God forbid--how they worked for it to arrive at such generous transparency!"
My argument is that some poetry today is more difficult than it needs to be because our teachers model difficulty as a virtue. Because who would pay that much money to a teacher that just kept handing out three sprigs of green and a small pot to arrange them in each day year after year after year? And if the teacher got the job without knowing how to place those three sprigs in the pot in the first place? Why, that teacher would talk up a storm to make it look as if the transformation were taking place anyway, and then define it in terms that nobody could understand without his or her or a colleague's professional help.
And then publish it, give it a prize, make that a big credit, raise the bar even higher, gather everybody together in a mansion in the Berkshires for the weekend to explain how it works--and if you're still willing even then, and sound right, of course, you're in!
But how's your poetry? How has it fared?
That's the risk, you see, Noldo. Deliberate obfuscation is the danger--pretension, convolution, boutique spectacle and speciosity, all of which I would say are just the opposite of the sort of rigorous study you're talking about which whittles and pares down to the bone and beyond like the artist in Ted Hughes' "Thrushes!".
And are prosodists like Kaltica part of that problem, Noldo, or TomWest? Well, let's hear from them about that.
Or Jorie Graham herself, or Joan Houlihan or Jeffrey Levine, all three of whom I feel certain are following this thread. Our trend setters in the editing and publishing of poetry in America today. Let's hear from them.
This is the third time in 2 months I have been banned from a poetry forum, and in each case the charge was trumped up. At the Posts&Writers Forum in March 2008 I was banned in the first instance for 1.) using a counterfeit Login and b.) for welching on a contract I was supposed to have made with the Administrator. When both these accusations were exposed as a set up, I was dismissed for repeatedly "misreading" other posters and thus "looking down" on them. Specific examples were discussed in detail on the site and in every case I emerged as fair and considerate--that indeed, it was I myself who had been slandered by the Administrator.
And of course the two offending threads were locked, one called "Does a Poets Behavior Matter" and the other just "Mediation!"
On the Poets.org Forum I was first banned on March 25th for having posted "defamatory material," but after three days of clarification by other posters I was reinstated. In fact the material was already in the public domain and had already been proven to be true so the Site Administrator had no alternative but to restore my privileges. She also accused me at the time of repeatedly writing inflammatory PMs and ignoring her "numerous warnings." These latter facts were never examined because I was so easily reinstated.
And the present case is, of course, all clarified just above.
What I want to do in my next posting on Poets.net is to reveal what actually happened in all three cases behind the scenes, what facts were consistent in each and what names and personalities were involved. Indeed, I want to focus on a new aspect of the "aspiring writers" industry that is gaining a lot of influence and kudos for some very highly placed editors and publishers, yet as far as I know has never been discussed before, or even properly identified. Indeed, it is that subject that has proved so explosive in all these three instances of unfair dismissal, and I will bring the subject back in detail on this site in my next post.
So yes, the "flaming PM" is just a cover-up, and I intend to bring what it is covering up out in the open here on Poets.net where it is safe to do so. Of course I will be scrupulously fair. I will only quote facts, documents and publicity that are legitimately available in the public domain, and will make it clear when what I say is just a personal opinion on the ethical matters arising. Indeed, I would welcome comments. Poets.net is not in the Forum mode yet, but it will be soon. Meanwhile we can do a lot just like this!
So I welcome your participation.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Now in its fifth decade, the "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Contest, formerly "Discovery"/The Nation, is designed to attract large audiences to poets who have not yet published a book. This year, the Poetry Center is proud to partner with Boston Review. Four winners are awarded a reading at the Y (set for Monday, May 5, 8:15 pm), publication in the Boston Review and $500. Timothy Donnelly, poetry editor at Boston Review, coordinates the contest, and three leading poets are invited to judge.
We're pleased to announce that Jorie Graham, Reginald Shepherd and James Tate will judge in 2008. Many winners of this contest have gone on to distinguished careers as poets, among them Marilyn Hacker, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter and Gary Soto.
See here for source.
Very interesting piece, given that Jorie Graham has supposedly “retired” from judging contests. Before entering this contest (or any other contest with her name attached to it), please check out the Foetry Archive.
Essentially, Ms. Graham has a penchant for selecting friends, students, and lovers (the most notorious, her now-husband Peter Sacks) for major prizes, so before writing that check, you might want to check around on the internet before deciding to send money. [Update: Thankfully, the deadline has passed for this year's contest.]
If Boston Review is smart, its staff will "retire" Jorie Graham from its slate of judges.
New Year's card sent by Anne Frank found, museum says
(April 23, 2008)
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch school director preparing an exhibition on Anne Frank has found a holiday postcard signed by the Jewish teenage diarist, a museum said Wednesday.
Also known as Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus, all of 15 years old, is writing a memoir.
Now I have nothing against this young person who (because of her connections) has made it big. From what I have observed, she has the talent to back up her claim to fame.
Besides, my three-year-old granddaughter adores her and has memorized all her songs. What's not to like about that?
But I have to wonder what a pampered 15-year-old has to write about that could possibly be of interest to the general reading public.
Anne Frank, of course, was 15 when she died in a concentration camp and 13 when she began inking in her astonishing diary, but, then, due to circumstances, she had to grow up fast and, unfortunately, had something compelling to write about.
It seems that publishing industry is way out of whack; unless a manuscript is guaranteed to become a best seller, no one wants to publish it.
This seems especially true of poetry, although I would contend that the po-biz itself is largely responsible for the general lack of interest in "serious" poetry.
I cited James Tate's poem "Father Day" as an example of a bad poem by an esteemed poet. As long as the biz continues extolling lousy work, the more alienated the reading public will feel from poetry.
Come to think of it, that proposed Hannah Montana memoir is looking better every minute.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Night descends upon the city. The moon rises higher and higher as if trying to get a better look upon the city's inhabitants. As night creeps on, there are still people out and about. Men sneaking behind their wives' backs, even some women sleeping around being unfaithful to their husbands. None of this is new to the moon, for she has risen night after night. She has seen many a betrayal, and often the fights that ensue. She has seen mothers tending their children, who can't sleep because of nightmares. The moon is rising, watching over her domain. Nothing seems out of place; everything is as it should be. But then something catches her eye. It is a mother, wandering about her kitchen, seeming to fret over her children.
The rest of Jennifer Butts' "The Smile Of Accomplishment" (with background and explanatory notes)
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Insult poetry has a long poetic tradition, for example, this poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834):
----------In Koln, a town of monks and bones,
----------And pavements fanged with murderous stones,
----------And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;
----------I counted two-and-seventy stenches,
----------All well defined, and separate stinks!
----------Ye nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
----------The river Rhine, it is well known,
----------Doth wash your city of Cologne;
----------But tell me, nymphs,
----------What power divine
----------Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?
by Lucy Terry (1730-1821)
Samuel Allen like a hero fout
And though he was so brave and bold
His face no more shall we behold.
Eleazer Hawks was killed outright
Before he had time to fight
Before he did the Indians see
Was shot and killed immediately.
Oliver Amsden he was slain
Which caused his friends much grief and pain.
Samuel Amsden they found dead
Not many rods off from his head.
Adonijah Gillet we do hear
Did lose his life which was so dear.
John Saddler fled across the water
And so escaped the dreadful slaughter.
Eunice Allen see the Indians comeing
And hoped to save herself by running
And had not her petticoats stopt her
The awful creatures had not cotched her
And tommyhawked her on the head
And left her on the ground for dead.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh! lack a-day
Was taken and carried to Canada.
----------You really resemble
----------An old man who has no teeth
----------And who wants to eat elephant hide,
----------Or a woman without a backside
----------Who sits down on a hard wooden stool.
----------You also resemble a stupid dolt
----------Who while hunting lets an antelope pass by
----------And who knows that his father is sick at home.
An insult poem offers a way for the poet to express anger without engaging in a total snark fest; the main hallmarks of an insult poem are humor and exaggeration. Insult poems do not generally deal in universal themes--they are personal and are directed to a specific person or group. However, these poems are artistic in that they emphasize the poet's verbal superiority with words (as opposed to down and dirty fighting and name-calling).
Do you have a favorite public domain insult poem, or have you written one yourself (with or without an explanation)?
If so, feel free to post it in the comment section.
Some information is from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Terms, 2nd ed. Edited by Ron Padgett. New York: Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 2000. 91-92.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Confessional poetry traffics in intimate, and sometimes unflattering, information about details of the poet's personal life, such as in poems about illness, sexuality, despondence. The confessionalist label was applied to a number of poets of the 1950s and 1960s. John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, and William De Witt Snodgrass have all been called "Confessional Poets." As fresh and different as the work of these poets appeared at the time, it is also true that several poets prominent in the canon of Western literature, perhaps most notably Sextus Propertius and Petrarch, could easily share the label of "confessional" with the confessional poets of the fifties and sixties.
Development of definition
In 1959 M. L. Rosenthal first used the term "confessional" in a review of Robert Lowell's Life Studies entitled "Poetry as Confession,"  Rosenthal mentions earlier tendencies towards the confessional but notes how there was typically a "mask" which hid the poet's "actual face." "Lowell removes the mask. His speaker is unequivocally himself, and it is hard not to think of Life Studies as a series of personal confidences, rather shameful, that one is honor-bound not to reveal."
Life Studies broke new ground: the reviewer in The Kenyon Review saw clearly what new thing had been achieved: "For these poems, the question of propriety no longer exists. They have made a conquest: what they have won is a major expansion of the territory of poetry." Nevertheless there were clear moves towards the confessional mode before the publication of Life Studies. Delmore Schwartz's Genesis had been published in 1943, and John Berryman has written his Sonnets to Chris in 1947, although they were not to be published until 1967 (and then as Berryman's Sonnets). Berryman's sonnet sequence fits in the long tradition of highly personal sonnet sequences, stretching back through George Meredith's Modern Love to William Shakespeare's sonnets and the sonnets of Petrarch. The difference between the long tradition of intimate, personal, lyrical poetry and the confessional approach, lies in the shameful confidences that Rosenthal identified, it goes "beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment".  In his 1955 poem Howl, Allen Ginsberg wrote "[To] stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,..."
The impetus towards more personal, more autobiographical writing, dates back at least a century and a half before Life Studies. In February 1797 Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in a letter to Thomas Poole: "I could inform the dullest author how he might write an interesting book—let him relate the events of his own life with honesty—not disguising the feelings that accompanied them."
In a letter to The Guardian on 20 April 1989, Ted Hughes wrote that there was a "Fantasia about Sylvia Plath".  Plath's life and poetry have been constructed in such a way as to perpetuate particular fictions about her marriage, mental illness, and "autobiographic" writing, and although this may in part be due to a mythologizing tendency among critics and biographers, it can be shown how Plath fictionalizes herself in her writing. 
Later writers such as Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde present personal difficulties in a socio-political context. For example, Lorde's poem, "Coal" reflects on such personal problems within a given cultural context. Levertov's "Life at War" presents something inextricably personal bound in the conflict of the age.
What defines poetry as confessional is not the subject matter, but how the issue represented is explored. Confessional poetry explores personal details about the authors' life without meekness, modesty, or discretion. Because of this, confessional poetry is a popular form of creative writing that many people enjoy not only to read but to embark upon. Another element that is specific to this poetry is self-revelation achieved through creating the poem. This passes on to the reader, and a connection is made.
Reasons behind writing confessional poetry
Poets whose writing is classified as confessional (it has been argued) use writing as an outlet for their demons. Writing and then re-reading one's work changes the cognitive processes with which one's brain processes this information—it offers perspective. Anne Sexton famously said, "Poetry led me by the hand out of madness." But she also argued against this perception in her interviews. In an interview with Patricia Marx, Sexton denies that writing “cured her”:
“I don’t think [that writing cured my mental illness] particularly. It certainly did not create mental health. It isn’t as simple as my poetry makes it, because I simplified everything to make it more dramatic. I have written poems in a mental institution, but only later, not at the beginning”.
Confessional free verse poetry seemed to have become the dominant approach in late 20th-century American poetry. Robert Bly in the preface to his 1983 translation of Antonio Machado's poetry, Times Alone, praised Machado for "his emphasis on the suffering of others rather than his own". The reaction to confessional poetry has sparked new movements such as that of the Language poets and New Formalism.
Kirsch, Adam: The Wounded Surgeon: Confession and Transformation in Six American Poets, W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.
Rose, Jacqueline, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, Virago Press, London, 1991. ISBN 9781853813078.
Rosenthal, M. L., The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction New York: Oxford University Press, 1960 ISBN 0195007182
Rosenthal, M. L., Our Life in Poetry: Selected Essays and Reviews, Persea Books, New York, 1991, ISBN 0892551496.
1. The Nation, September 19, 1959), reprinted in Rosenthal 1991, pages 109–112. Rosenthal somewhat reworked the review into an essay "Robert Lowell and the Poetry of Confession" in his 1960 book The Modern Poets
2. Rosenthal, 1959.
3. Thompson, John, "Two Poets," Kenyon Review 21 (1959) pages 482–490.
4. Kirsch, page 2, makes this observation in his reassessment of the historical context of Life Studies
5. Ian Hamilton, "A Biographer's Misgivings," collected in Walking Possession, Essays & Reviews 1968–1993, Addison-Wesley, 1994. ISBN 0201483971
6. The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume III, 1854, page 601.
7. Reid, Christopher, editor, Letters of Ted Hughes (Faber & Faber, 2007 ISBN 9780571221387), pages 552–556. The letter is a response to an earlier letter to the newspaper complaining that Plath's grave was hard to find and poorly maintained; Hughes is most angered by a false assertion that Plath and he had divorced, and he attributes this to the "fantasia" generated by the academic Plath industry; the issue of the fantasia is explored in Chapter 3 of Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991)
8. Rose, page 5
9. “Interview with Patricia Marx,” Hudson Review 18, no. 4, Winter, 1965/66)
10. Bly, Robert (translator), Machado, Antonio Times Alone, Wesleyan University Press, 1983, ISBN 978-0819-56081-0, page 1.
Available under Wikipedia's GNU Free Documentation License
Version: Modified on 15 April 2008, at 01:46
Of course, this Wikipedia article is not the definitive word on confessional poetry, but merely a jumping off point for a discussion about the place of confessional poetry in the academy.
Since this is a thread on confessional poetry and its affect on poetry, I have a confession to make:
I love Sylvia Plath's poetry, for it is a mirror into her short life and offers the reader a voyeuristic view of the darker aspects of her psychological makeup; I fear her work appeals to the baser side of my personality.
However, I often wonder if the "confessional movement" has, somehow, debased "Poetry" itself.
Feel free to post your thoughts.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
Originally titled "And did those feet in ancient time," this William Blake poem is from the preface to his epic Milton: a Poem (1804). Today it is best known as the hymn "Jerusalem," with music written by C. Hubert H. Parry in 1916.
This hymn is often referred to as England's unofficial second national anthem.
Friday, April 18, 2008
(The poet, who wishes to remain anonymous, originally submitted this poem for critique, which appears in its own critique thread. He/she has graciously granted permission to Poets.net to repost it as a starting point for a discussion thread.
The poet believes that the meaning of the following poem should be "obvious," but is it? If not, should it matter?
When do confusing images and allusions blur the artistic qualities of a poem?
On the other hand, what if the meaning of a poem is too obvious? Does that, too, subtract from the artistic qualities?
In the end, what makes meaning?
This is a discussion thread. If you wish to critique this specific poem, click here)
A superfortress glides
head high, torpedo chest--patent
black punctuates a bomb-
shell, a sleek silhouette.
A power walker well-heeled.
The stiletto elongates the leg,
raises the arch.
Hips thrust hereafter
sway like a pendulum.
prize on a pedestal,
Versace, Prada, Chanel, Dior, Uggs, Gucci–
D-squared is not a formula.
she never does coach.
A-Bomb in the morning.
(The poet wishes to remain anonymous. He or she would like to know if this poem would be worthwhile revising. If so, how? The poet would also like to know if the reader can understand the meaning, which feels obvious to the poet.
I asked the poet if this post could also be posted under a discussion thread called What Makes Meaning? He/she has agreed.
For that general discussion, click here.)
A superfortress glides
head high, torpedo chest--patent
black punctuates a bomb-
shell, a sleek silhouette.
A power walker well-heeled.
The stiletto elongates the leg,
raises the arch.
Hips thrust hereafter
sway like a pendulum.
prize on a pedestal,
Versace, Prada, Chanel, Dior, Uggs, Gucci–
D-squared is not a formula.
she never does coach.
A-Bomb in the morning.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
This translation segment is from the Pearl Poem, written in the late 14th century in the medieval alliterative verse genre. Alliterative poetry was read at estates in developing towns where trading merchants from various nations and urban centers would visit. The concatinative lapidary poem weaves together themes of chivalric rescue, kingly presence in urban settlement, jousting and proto-market competition, clan and interests conflict, authority in disputes and interrogation, residual and emergent human trafficking, smelting of ores and crafting of jewelry, famine and disease including the Black Death of 1347-1351, the grandeur and mystery of nature and artifice, and exploration of seas and development of lands and agriculture.
. . .
. . . I knew in my kestrel quest unusual clues of the cliffs and Leuven. (1)
Toward a forest I revealed face,
Where there were rich rocks to describe.
The arrangements of them must no man misinterpret,
The smouldering glory that of them was lent,
For there were never weirs from which knowledge was woven
Of trial and simulation half so dearly dedicated.
So reproduced were all those going down the truth slides
With ice crystal cliffs, light people, and so free of children.
Wooden holds brought about them sea bound ones
Of low shackles and as far south as the blue of India;
As borne glimmering silver was left beside,
That pikes against haggling in such a complex tender hold;
When glimmering of glowing lodes against them slid,
With chimerical Chinese brilliance their Cyrillic bond choice shone.
The growlings that were around the ground and the grinding stones
Were gradual greyings, precious pearl speakings of the Orient;
The sun beams on the boat show desert winds and blind
. . .
The doubly represented proliferation of the passage of those placed down there
Encloses my ghost spirit to the forgotten forced seizure.
So fresh flowering of freeing test frights were,
As foes of the one hit against me freshly refestival’d.
Fowls of foes there flow in protection in iron,
Of flam band ways, both miniature and gregarious;
But systole-strings stirring, pillar alignment, and trial turning means
There reckon myrth bad mockings rather than revisionings,
For anyone, those captive display brides of their winged beast,
Pay songs with a sweet ascent in Indian smokes.
So gracious the seizures and blows to the seized no one saw delivered
As here and so elsewhere the maiden wife is reproduced.
That coherence of their other Fortune from me goes
For the dearth therof to devise
Nesting no wisely valued words that are borne on tongs.
I whisperingly welcome assent forth in common ways,
No embankment so big that did not have me dare them.
The fir in the rice forage, the fare taker with ruse desire
The plain, the blunt, the spies, the pairings;
And rawes and randies and rich penitence reconciliations
As at harvest time her bank tillage burnt.
I wandered to a waterway by the market shore where they all search the cherished . . . .
(1) Antoniszoon, Cornelis (b. ca.1499)’s Safegarde of saylers, or great rutter. Contayning the courses, distances, soundings, flouds and ebbes, with the marks for the entring of sundry harboroughs both of England, Fraunce, Spaine, Ireland, Flaunders, and the soundes of Denmarke, with other necessarie rules of common nauigation represents geographies and trading contexts that connect with narration and emotion in the Pearl Poem. Antoniszoon’s shipping narrative includes “The course from the Moones to Lubeck [Leuven].”
Leuven in Flanders, Belgium, was connected with the northern shipping route, Ireland to Scandinavia, and with the Baltic. See Hammel-Kiesow, Rolf (2002), Lubeck and the Baltic Trade in Bulk Goods for the North Sea Region 1150-1400, Lars Berggren et al eds., Cogs, Cargoes, and Commerce: Maritime Bulk Trade in Northern Europe 1150-1400, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, cited in Johan Söderberg, Prices in the Medieval Near East and Europe, Towards a Global History of Prices and Wages, 19-21 Aug. 2004, Department of Economic History, Stockholm University.
More on the Pearl Poem.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
As a writer, I would take great umbrage at some renegade site stealing my work. With freedom of speech comes responsibility to reserve that freedom for your own ideas and work--you are not free to post someone else's work (unless it's in the public domain or with permission).
I firmly believe in spanking, from time to time, the establishment literary community, but for the right reasons. Whether or not you like individual poets or not, you still don't have the right to lift their work, depriving them of their livelihood.
This right to control one's own intellectual property is the cornerstone of the literary community and benefits both insider and outsider.
By the way, I know my way around the domaining community and am aware that the .coop TLD exists, but I believe this is the first time I have seen it in actual use--or in this case, was in use.
During poetry month, I usually open the daily poem email from poets.org, glance over it, and move on. Today, I was compelled to respond to James Tate's Father's Day:
A Non-Poet’s Lament
The poet has lived in a dusty tower since the twentieth
century. He speaks of Michelangelo–the women, too–
and the academy concurs. Royalty, a man with no robes
or under shorts. He lives on celebrity and a few sips
of kudos. He dreams of past book awards. His iconoclastic
child lashes out at his noted conversational surrealism.
Yellow cats rub sleek torsos against his trouser legs.
I detect a whiff of a putrid peach, the poet’s conceit.
I opened my email, trying to quell the mind-numbing
poetic assault. I, too, have written a drawer full of prose
but not to the State Department. They would have never
written back, for I am not a poet–and know it. I
never listened to his nuggets. I was always tapping
away. I never called him anything–I already know
my shortcomings–and he will never know of me.
Chickenshit: this–his–poem’s middle name.
Note: I am never surprised when a poet or writer creates a bad poem--writers are notoriously bad judges of their own work. I have drawers full of questionable work.
What surprises me: when editors fall all over themselves to publish anything by a famous writer, no matter how mediocre.
I do not know James Tate, nor do I have an ax to grind with him personally; I was just struck by the mediocrity of this particular poem.
Of course, you are free to respond, tell me how lousy my imitation is--which I already know. I spent less than one hour on it and don't have time for revision. I have to move on and grade papers.
But could someone please tell me (and others) why Tate's poem is worthy of being the poem-of-the-day for April 16, 2008? Am I missing something? If so, what?
We are Indies
If you are an Indie writer,