Evidently, freedom of expression at Poets & Writers is afforded to some poets and writers and not extended to others, taking literally the Orwellian notion that "All pigs are created equal, but some pigs are more equal than others."
Poets & Writers pretends to represent its subscribers and membership, but, in fact, it represents only the politically sanctioned viewpoints of the the power structure: those who hand out prizes and keepers of the status quo.
Dissenting viewpoints not welcome.
Christpher Woodman, a.k.a. ACommoner, a Poets & Writer reader, wished to respond to the following Joan Houlihan letter to the editor, which appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine Nov/Dec 2007):
A STUDY IN DENIAL
Craig Morgan Teicher's profile of Bin Ramke ("Noble Rider," September/October 2007) referred to the now-defunct Foetry.com as a "poetry watchdog," with a legitimate point of view in a "squabble." But thanks to that "watchdog," one of the best poetry series in America has been dismantled (the Contemporary Poetry Series), an independent press was smeared (Tupelo Press), and Ramke, one of poetry's most dedicated editors, chose to retire. Any influence that Foetry wielded came about through its bullying tactics and sensationalist accusations, which were far more serious than what Teicher calls "sour grapes." They were the product of a willful misunderstanding of the process of editing and publishing poetry.
So on November 2, 2007, Mr. Woodman wrote directly to P & W editor Kevin Larimer:
I couldn't believe my eyes when I came upon Joan Houlihan's letter "ROTTEN GRAPES" in your current issue. I've admired her too, a lot. So how could she be so blind as to defend the extinct Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series against the very fair and detailed accusations leveled against its editor, Bin Ramke, NOT against the Series? After all Bin Ramke never dared to defend himself--which he could have done so easily by revealing the records voluntarily. When those records did get into the public domain everything Foetry had said about his bias proved to be 100% correct, and he resigned, he didn't "retire!"
Of course there were fine books published in the Series--but the question has to be what even finer and more original, grass-root or autodidact, books were never even looked at? And how sad such a distinguished series should have had to be closed down too--I submitted no less than TWELVE m.s. to Bin Ramke over the years, and would have continued to do so had it not been for his self-serving sleights-of-hand and cronyism. Bin Ramke took something away from me when he fell too--he deprived me of something so valuable in my life. Bin Ramke did that to me, let's be clear about that, not the Series!
I've been reading P & W for years--sometimes I subscribe but at the moment my postal service is so erratic I don't receive it if I do. I've also written to you a number of times, including twice before about Jeffrey Levine. Now you've published this letter of Joan Houlihan--surely you've got to let me be heard at this point too. Because I really am the real thing--the poet unattached, unfettered, uncompromised. Indeed you can check me out at my wife Homprang's website, www.homprang.com (is my e-mail address p.c. or is it p.c?).
I wish I could have made the following shorter--I've tried for days and days and just can't say what needs to be said any more succinctly. If you can prune it more do feel free to do so--but be sure it continues to say what it says. Foetry did wonders for me--and I suspect it has changed things for all of us more than we can possibly see at the moment.
With many thanks too for your good work--you can't imagine what a wonderful resource P & W is for isolated writers like myself!
And one last point, dear P & W Editors--do you hear any sour grapes in my voice--or my verse?
All the best, Christopher Woodman
ACommoner added an ATTACHED LETTER TO THE EDITOR, November 2nd, 2007
Your grapes are truly rotten, Joan Houlihan. As a start, Bin Ramke didn’t retire, he resigned—under relentless pressure from the public and from the University of Georgia Press. Secondly, the dispute wasn’t about the Contemporary Poetry Series but about the selection process. In top-flight poetry book contests all the finalists are the very best, and for that reason it’s even more important they all get an equal hearing. If a judge favors a friend or someone connected to an institution he likes, then another equally gifted but different finalist doesn’t get recognition—and when that happens over and over again for years it’s destructive to the whole poetry environment. If only one species of poetry is propagated the art ends up as dead as any other ill-adapted species, a dinosaur, a haemophiliac crown prince, or an emperor with inadequate clothing!
The third of Houlihan’s distortions is the worst--to suggest the whistle-blower is a “bully” and the message just “sensationalist accusations.” No, the “willful misunderstanding of the process of editing and publishing poetry” was not on the part of the watchdog but on the part of the editor/publisher with the secret agenda. It was Bin Ramke who destroyed the Series, not Foetry--and the proof is it’s coming back so quickly without him!
Like a teacher, a priest or an elected representative, an editor has an almost sacred responsibility to the public, especially in the high art of poetry. Bin Ramke was in a position to help American poetry to evolve honestly and naturally, not to foist on it his own claustrophobic hothouse variety!
And Jeffrey Levine? If the Watchdog was rabid then so was P &W, because all the facts were repeated in the magazine too and nobody challenged them. Levine was also given the space to refute the charges, and his excuse was not that Foetry was wrong but that the mess was all due to pressure and fumbling, and he just wished the whistles would stop blowing! Perhaps they will, but not if you try to bully them with your rotten gripes, Joan Houlihan. That will just make them shriller and more frenzied, and suspect that you too have your interests!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
These letters were never published in the print or the online versions of P & W, effectively silencing Mr. Woodman. On March 17, 2008, Mr. Woodman, posting as ACommoner, brought his plight to poets.org, and started a lively 2-page thread called "The First Amendment & Forums." There he posted the above unpublished letters. He also posted the following (among other entries):
I was very struck by a letter which appeared a few months ago in Poets & Writers Magazine (ROTTEN GRAPES, P & W Magazine Nov/Dec 2007) in which a well known critic and poet defended the conduct of two equally well-known editors and publishers who had been caught red-handed abusing the trust of those who had placed their work in their hands. One of the editors had systematically undermined the integrity of a well-known poetry series for 20+ years, bestowing the bi-annual awards on his friends and cronies and sometimes not even bothering to read the other manuscripts, including 12 of my own along the way. The other editor sent xeroxed "personal reviews" to 100s of hopeful poets, including myself, all of whom had entrusted him with their best and most precious work. Even worse, the editor in question suggested to us all that he might be able to lift us “up a level” (his exact phrase) if we sent him an additional $295.00, checks made out to him personally. “But will we get published this time?” I'm sure we all asked ourselves.
“I don’t rule out the possibility in some cases…” went the classic come-on spiel.
What upset me more than anything about the ROTTEN GRAPES defense of the two compromised editors was that it accused the whistle blowers, myself among them, of a “willful misunderstanding of the whole process of editing and publishing poetry.” We were all “losers,” the letter suggested, clueless incompetents who had nothing better to do than to “smear” their betters, and even if some mistakes had been made by the two editors, what we had done was far worse!
So I want to know what the process of editing and publishing poetry entails that we didn’t understand? The answer seems to go like this—I’ve heard it hundreds of times. If a publisher’s “lists” are “good,” that’s all that really matters. The taste with which the “lists” get drawn up is what the process is about, not who is left unread or whose feelings get hurt, which is inevitable. If the “lists” are "good," it doesn’t matter what fees are collected, for example, or who knows the judge or is just about to marry her or is baby sitting for her right now on the campus where the decision is being made. Great editors and publishers are above such venal concerns. They devote themselves to such a high art in such a selfless way and for so very, very little money, why trouble them with your small-minded obsessions?
On March 25, 2008, poets.org site administrator chissiekl posted:
If you wish to continue to debate this topic, you are free to create your own blog or website to do so. If you wish to discuss poetry, poems, the po-biz in a non-defamatory manner, you are free to start a new thread in this section. Any more defamatory content will be locked and further warnings will be issued. Thank you for your cooperation.
"The First Amendment & Forums" thread was locked, and, for a time, ACommoner was banned from the forum. He was later reinstated with a warning.
An interesting side note: both Poets & Writers and poets.org feed at the government trough. Perhaps shutting down an exchange of free ideas and factual information might give those who dole out free money for the arts pause in awarding future grants.
In any case, ACommoner's thread has been reopened here.
Bring it on!
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