Saturday, May 31, 2008

Poets and Free Speech

"In our free speech they say/ There is protest."

-----------Mark Yakich, The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine
-------------(Poetry collection, Penguin, April 2008)


(Disclosure: I found this quote in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers, page 12.)


Just as the Nazis never proscribed Rilke
(he was no Expressionist, no Degenerate,
no Art-Bolshevik), so most of us poets
are thought no threat by those in authority—

Halfhass, for instance, his books won't get banned:
his Rilkemanqué wins awards, his "spiritual
progress" and "earned words" (—to paraphrase Wilde,
his genius gives good guru Po-Biz style while

his talent brooks those so serious ergo poems)—
what might please our fuehrers even more is
his patriot's part in The American Poetry Series.

Better silence than that? Better to hide, to write
for one's cabinet? (To paraphrase Benn,
the aristocratic form of publication.)


[Poet's] Note: This poem was deleted from my collected comic poems by the publisher, BOA, whose chief fund-raiser at the time was Robert Hass. . . .

I've often wondered if the BOA editors censored this poem on their own
initiative, or whether they were ordered to do so by Hass.


Admin note: I have "propagated" this poem as per Bill Knott's statement to readers:


Poem copyright Bill Knott, August 2007

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thought Policing on Forums

"Thought policing" (taken from George Orwell's novel 1984) on forums occurs when

...Someone trolls the forums looking for posts that do not align with their political, religious, or moral values. When they find a post that they do not agree with, they post messages in that post to incite people to bring attention to that post to get it locked or deleted.

This phenomenon is widespread in forums and motives can vary, but what they accomplish is to stifle freedom of speech and open and honest discussions on topics they feel could be a threat.

--From Wikipedia allows and even encourages differing viewpoints.

1984 in 2008?

One broken windmill, so many sheep.

Guest Writer: Jepson Responds to Christopher Woodman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will it hurt it?

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


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

Posted with author's permission.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Comment on Secret Survey

In response to the secret survey, I emailed (on May 23) the following to Larwar:


This survey ought to be conducted in a PUBLIC THREAD, not behind the scenes.

As a member of (I joined long before I started, I am not afraid of the results, even the ones that disagree with my views.

What are you people so afraid of?

The truth?

No answer, of course.


If you don't think poetry is big business, guess again.

Today, as I was going through my gmail, I noticed the following targeted "sponsored links" hawking contests, publications, MFA programs, and even writing gigs for poets:

-----Dorothy Prizes



-----Create Space


-----Poetry LA

-----Antioch LA MFA

-----Sheetz Poet (Sheetz is a local convenience store chain.)

----------More About...

---------------Humorous Poems

---------------Short Poems


---------------Romantic Poems

No doubt that many of the ads on this blog are targeted toward the poetry money-making machine.

And, guess what? I am thoroughly unapologetic about the possibility that poets might make money from their work and that this site might keep afloat because of ad revenue.

Capitalism! It's the American Way!

In my opinion, the Jeffrey Levine and Joan Houlihan publications, contests, and conferences are no different from Poetry[dot]com or any other poetry money-making enterprise.

Here's a comparison and contrast of Tupelo and Poetry[dot]com:


Tupelo: Fee-based contests

Poetry[dot]com: Free contests


Tupelo: Organizes and runs expensive conferences filled with celebrity poets (albeit mostly unknown outside of poetry).

Poetry[dot]com: Organizies and runs lavish (and expensive) conferences filled with big name mainstream celebrities, who often have little to do with poetry.


Tupelo: Publishes books of the so-called elite (often friends and cronies of the owners), primarily funded by reading and contest fees collected by unsuspecting poets.

Poetry[dot]com: In lieu of a contest fee, publishes vanity books and then hits up poets to buy the volume in which their poems appear, thus basing their on profits from its published poets directly.


Tupelo and other "non-profits" simply hide behind credentials and the sacred word of


and act outraged that this haloed word would be besmirched by those who would dare to make major money from poetry and then have the audacity to question the Levine/Houlihan "mission" of promoting poetry.

At least with Poetry[dot]com and others like them, one quickly figures out their main mission: to make scads of money off the young, naive, and ignorant.

The so-called literary mainstream hides behind shell non-profit corporations, thus perpetuating a huge con designed to snare young and not-so-young hopefuls into sending money to contests where winners have been decided in advance.

Do you, at the expense of your own career and pocketbook, want to fund the career of a foet?

Do all literary contests fall under this umbrella? Of course not, but enough do that one would do well to do a thorough search before committing to sending money. On both Post Foetry and, this has been my mantra.

Christopher Woodman learned this lesson the hard way: for his Tupelo reading fee, he was promised a short personal review of his poetry collection.

What he actually received: a form letter.

Big business, indeed.

Come to think of it, I actually prefer poetry[dot]com's business model--at least its antics are fairly easy to figure out.


Anonymous #1 said… [May 26, 2008 8:29 PM]


Anyone writing any poetry here?

I thought not.

Anonymous #2 said... [May 26, 2008 8:52 PM]

If you were a poet looking for life insurance and you decided to go for a policy that had been written by a poet, do you think you could have spotted Wallace Stevens at Hartford?

Anonymous #3 said... [May 27, 2008 12:58 PM]

"Anyone writing any poetry here?

I thought not."

This sums up the stupidity of a certain kind of 'poet' offended by any machinations in the poetry world which don't boil down to 'writing poetry,' as if everything is OK as long there are great assembly lines 'writing poetry.'

According to this silliness, 'writing poetry,' is the only criterion necessary.
Thinking what it means to 'write poetry' in a wider context is a waste of time. We should just be 'writing poetry.'

There is indeed truth to the remark: "I thought not."

This opinion contains no thought.

Christopher Woodman said... [May 27, 2008 11:59 PM--This is an edited version]

It's like all attacks on orthodoxy. If a criticism contradicts a tenet of faith it's an invalid criticism.

If the tenet of faith is that guns make you free, then guns are a non-negotiable matter. If it's a tenet of faith that sex is bad then sex-education is a non-negotiable matter. If it's a tenet of faith that men have a much higher sex drive than women, as it is in a great many cultures in the world today, including where I live, and that true men are truly driven by sex, then you get boys taken by their fathers to brothels at 14 while the mothers wait at home with the daughters until they can be married off as pure virgins--and the crowning irony of that absurd tenet of faith is that in addition to brothels on every street corner you get men who are butterflies and women who run the whole show!

The tenet of faith in American poetry is that the true poet is the product of not just higher but higher and higher and even higher "assembly lines," and that the more a poet pays for it the more right he or she has to be truly successful in it.

Anyone who suggests that the poets, critics, editors or publishers who are running this extravagant industry are self-interested, or even, God-forbid, in it for profit or life insurance, is considered not a real poet. Indeed, I myself am mocked as a jealous loser and amateur all the time, and every word I speak is dismissed as “the product of a willful misunderstanding of the process of editing and publishing poetry!”

And you know who said that? A famous contemporary poetry “critic.”

And you know where? In Poets & Writers Magazine, the bastion of our contemporary faith in exactly what sort of training you need to become a poet in America today, plus the retreats, conferences, camps, travel groups, summers abroad in castles and wine tastings and weekends you have to attend, and what they cost.

But you say you think the son should at least wash the dishes before he goes out to the brothel at 14 with his father?

Just ask the mother for an answer to even that question. "You must be joking," she’ll reply. "Any true mother would keep her daughter carefully cleaning as well as clean at home so she can attract a true man for a husband!"

So that's a monstrous problem, both for their sex and our poetry.

Yes indeed, tenets of faith always polarize, always lead to intolerance, always lead to abuse.

There's nothing wrong with virginity per se, of course there isn't, any more than there's anything wrong with sex--but oh the heart-ache when too much stock is placed in either!

There's nothing wrong with training poets either, even in castles, it's just when you make a religion out of it, install priests at all the altars, and charge an entrance fee not only to get into church but heaven!

And, of course, excommunicate those who say it ain't necessarily so!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Christopher Woodman: "The chick that’s in him pecks the shell, 'twill soon be out."

"The chick that’s in him pecks the shell, 'twill soon be out," Stubb whispers to Flask before the voyage has even begun. Ahab strides back and forth on the quarter deck consumed by thoughts which will, as Moby Dick unfolds, motivate perhaps the greatest struggle between good and evil the world has ever been privileged to read. Yet it’s just a whale of an odd color, the object of this extreme vendetta, and all those diverse individuals that will eventually go to their violent deaths serving willy-nilly Ahab’s obsession are just innocents. Save one. Ishmael alone survives to tell the tale.

If the crew members of the Pequod were rather members of the good ship Speakeasy, they would complain bitterly that none of this concerns them, that there are no white whales where they live in New Hampshire or upper New York State, and that they can do very well without having to ride somebody else’s fabulous hobbyhorse to their deaths, thank you very much.

Indeed, just after getting banned yet again from, I went back to and tried to reintroduce the matter of Captain Christopher’s aborted ‘voyage’ on the Speakeasy for discussion, and one of the leading members replied, “You think Christopher is some sort of brave hero because he argues with a handful of prominent people who occupy one small corner of the poetry world. I think he's a brave person because of his aid work in Thailand, which as I understand it puts him in actual personal danger on a regular basis. That's real. This? It’s just so much hot air, with very little at stake.” (Just a detail here. I don’t do aid work in Thailand, but I do do human rights work and, even worse, I do write about politics--and my wife is sure it’s for that I’m going to get killed!)

Another, more politically active Speakeasy member then wrote, “[Christopher’s] attitude is as tyrannical, as unforgiving, as the tyrants he'd depose. None of us, no matter how we tried to see his points, could quite live up to the standard he was setting, for independent thought, for commitment, for whatever.”

“Why does it always return to the issue of corruption in the literary world?” the same poster asked a little later. “Not only is it becoming a great big yawn, but it distracts from the bigger (and much more interesting) issue of engaged poetry (and poets).”

Now “corruption” is one of those words like “whales” that is so hugely emotive it can propel even quite ordinary people to take huge risks, and may in the end even sink ships as if they were presidents, or vise versa. On the other hand, it’s so easy to say, “corruption,” and everybody says it about just about everything these days, and that makes people just as easily yawn. “Can’t they think of anything better to do than block the streets with all that shouting and foul smelling stuff? What do whales have to do with issues that really matter like abortion, or MFAs, or God’s work in the Middle East?”

And so the word “corruption” can reduce anything to just a whale, not a Moby Dick!

In any case, the word "corruption" simply isn’t the word to describe the overall malaise that besets American poetry anyway—"corruption" is a relatively minor manifestation of the rot in poetry, I’d say, and I rarely use it myself. Even corrupt contests are just the tip of the iceberg, for example—poetry contests get a lot of publicity because they're so easy to see, and to document too, of course, and to prove. Also, they’re sometimes actually illegal, and nothing else I think of as a serious poetry abuse is illegal, any more than Moby Dick is illegal!

What seems to me far more interesting is to look at the personalities of those who get caught scamming the contests, or whatever--the MFA entries, or the tenure appointments, or the critical reviews even, or the lists--and then to examine not only the activities of those people in the poetry community, including their jobs, but at the poetry they write. The poet who got caught more often than any other “fiddling the books,” so to speak, and has lent her name to the "Jorie Graham Rule,” has just written her own interview at, for example—yes, written her own interview at The Academy of American Poets. The Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University has just written her own interview at the AAP!

So what goes on in a mind like that, or in the minds of those who bow down before her, or in the minds of those who gave her that highest and most conspicuous poetry job in the world? Does integrity not matter in poetry? Does it have nothing to do with what we write, read, or study?

But even that’s just a whale, I agree, and we must move on even if Jorie Graham hasn’t, even if Jorie Graham is back judging contests we must move on, because that’s her whale of a problem, not our Moby Dick!

The problem comes about when the powers that be in the world of poetry decide that anything they do is just a whale, and that Moby Dick is just a red herring. That’s a key image—watch how it unfolds in one specific case, as follows.

In the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, a very well-known critic, poet, editor, publisher, conference organizer and poetry business person wrote a Letter called ROTTEN GRAPES, claiming,

(1) That the most treacherous of America’s poetry wheeler-dealers in recent history is in fact “one of poetry's most dedicated editors,”

(2) That the publisher who sent hundreds of xeroxed “personal reviews” to poets who were hoping to get real critical help from him, and then asked for $295.00 more to get them “up a level,” was “smeared,” and

(3) That any accusation against either of the above offenders was just “bullying,” “sensationalist,” and “the product of a willful misunderstanding of the process of editing and publishing poetry.”

Still a whale?

Yes, if it could have been left at that.

But what if a poet comes along who had been abused in both of the above scandals, and felt that someone should speak out against such a blatant white-wash published in such a conspicuous venue as Poets & Writers Magazine?

What if the editors of P&W refused to print that reply so the poet decided to go to the P&W Forum, the Speakeasy, to get a hearing for his complaint?

And what if he got banned from for daring to name the name of the author of that letter along with her business partner and publisher in public, though the reasons given by the moderator were everything but: that he used a false IP, that he broke a contract, and that he misread other posters, whatever that means?

And what if that poet then moved on to The Academy of American Poets Forum at, and was met by a whole gaggle of even fiercer moderators within a few minutes of his first post?

What if those moderators made it clear to the poet that he must not talk about anything controversial here at all, as if they didn’t know exactly who he was and what he meant?

And what if that same abused poet then got banned for just mentioning the name of the author of the Letter once again—and banned not once but twice this time, and each time for mentioning just that one name and her publisher?

And what if it emerged that the Chief On-line Editor at was just in line to win a prize from the same publisher who had not only xeroxed the fake critique to the poet but was the business partner of the author of the P&W Letter?

And then, what if there was a lengthy tussle to find out what actually happened to the poet to get him banned, and it was clearly shown that the administrators and moderators had been frantically covering up the real reason, i.e. the naming of the names?

And what if that whole scramble to unscramble the mess then got all locked up and deleted in its own messy turn with one final, memorable remark by the Academy of American Poets' very own Site Administrator, Christine Klocek-Lim, "Apparently, rancor has a longer shelf life than a twinkie"?

Does that degree of Machiavellian intrigue, bad taste and manipulation spread over six months at two of the largest, most influential poetry organizations in America just to cover the asses of two poetry personalities not sound more than just a whale?

If it could be proved that two poetry personalities had that much power over the most respected poetry institutions in America, and that that power could be used to silence another poet just because they felt what he had to say might hurt their business interests, even though it was true and a valid public message, couldn’t that become a sort of Moby Dick for him? Couldn't it become so for all of us?

Indeed, if it could happen to him, are not all poets vulnerable to such negative forces, and American poetry with them?

Friday, May 23, 2008

TomWest: On Locked Threads

Locking a thread affects all who had anything to do with that thread—readers, as well as posters. Locking deprives all rule-abiding posters from participating in a thread they intellectually own.

Even banned posters have intellectual validity in the atmosphere of reflective discourse, for both the good and the bad help to formulate those ideas which make any discourse valid. All ideas, even ideas which give rise to discourses (and even behavior) we don’t like, feed the atmosphere of self-conscious, universalizing discourse which should be held sacred in any community which values intellectual freedom.

We have laws, prisons, and the military for state defense; we have police, laws and manners for community defense. permits powers to revoke membership and silence speech to defend its internal integrity.

Locking a thread, however, can only be compared to shutting down a newspaper, for it censors general discourse, the protection of which ought to be unquestioned.

This goes beyond the issue of ‘moderator power’ or ‘rights of members.’ Shutting down discourse violates a principle both human and universal.

If moderators can ban posters and delete posts at will, what possible defense, or just punishment, or good, is served by locking/ending a current and active thread?

Locking a thread not only capriciously punishes, it violates a bedrock principle of civil and intellectual life.

Once a poster crosses a certain line, that poster gives up their rights to exist on

When a post is deemed inappropriate, that post is whisked out of sight.

But a thread is different; a thread belongs to all; to censor a thread is to turn the will of a community--a principle which defines the very existence of the Academy--against itself.



(This thread appears as a LOCKED thread on as Locking Question. Reposted here with permission of the author.)

This thread is open for comments.

Yabbut, What About Those Trolls?

"Yabbut some threads just attract trolls. Often, trolls disguise themselves as Reflective Posters and it takes us a while to catch on. Or else, we believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and we do, until it becomes clear that they are just well-dressed trolls..."

Christopher Woodman and Homprang Chaleekanha in July 2007 in the Wind River Mountains. Trolls thrive in that sort of environment.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

THREAD: When Should Forum Threads be Locked?


See poll at left.

Or post your narrative comments on this thread.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guest Writer: Caestice Raises Some Good Questions

(The following post appears as a comment on the Monster-ator Mash thread:)

Don't you think that there's more to the choice in poetry than truth and status? Personally I would think that those with the higher status would have a greater impact on more people, and it's rare that these people gain their status through truth and muckraking. Is this a conundrum?

Perhaps a level of popularity is necessary for this, and a large group of people with a large audience for an impact to be really made at all.

Perhaps will grow into what Foetry was and more, and I think that would be a large step.

That said, I think that poetry today has warped into something totally different from what it ever has been before. These days the number of venues where you can have your poetry published is astonishing. Does this sometimes diminish the quality and effort put into modern poetry?

As a reader of poetry, what would you read, honestly? A book of poems is probably the highest hit, if you really like the author's works. Second is likely the thousands of free electronic websites available, which publish a much higher percentage of the poems which are submitted. But it's free. This creates a subworld of poetry, the poetry posted on a website for collection purposes or status purposes but in the end reach very few people.

What poetry needs, I believe, is an elite magazine which pays decent (therefore creating serious submissions and a wider range of submissions), which can become respected in the poetry world. I've seen poems on discreet websites that are astounding, and have had maybe 100 views if that. A magazine where the articles aren't about the Jorie Grahams and her interviews, but about poetry movements and achievements. A magazine where poems themselves hold higher ground than the kings or peasants who write them.

Maybe with an audience such a magazine could truly turn things around in the right direction, and produce a poem which will be remembered for a few centuries; because I haven't read a famous poem of quality that dates after 1950.

Just throwing fantasies around.


(Posted with author's permission.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

(WAY Off Topic) WARNING: From the I.R.S.--NOT!!!

On Sunday, I received the following piece of email purporting to be from the I.R.S.:

Over 130 million Americans will receive refunds as part of President Bush program to jumpstart the economy.

Our records indicate that you are qualified to receive the 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund.

The fastest and easiest way to receive your refund is by direct deposit to your checking/savings account.

Please click on the link and fill out the form and submit before May 19th, 2008 to ensure that your refund will be processed as soon as possible.

Submitting your form on May 19th, 2008 or later means that your refund will be delayed due to the volume of requests we anticipate for the Economic Stimulus Refund.

To access Economic Stimulus Refund, please click here.

[Link removed--should you click on this link, you would be directed to this site: not the I.R.S.

Gmail also removed the URL from "click here."]

© Copyright 2008, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.

Despite some of the grammatical errors, this email is very convincing because the sent info specified "" as the actual sender. To give gmail its just due, the message contained the following warning (Highlighted in bold red):

Warning: This message may not be from whom it claims to be. Beware of following any links in it or of providing the sender with any personal information. Learn more. [This link shows how you can check your gmails for validity.]

Here is the code I found when I clicked on to "Show original":

Delivered-To: [Deleted]
Received: by [Deleted] with SMTP id u1cs271976wfu;
Sun, 18 May 2008 10:23:31 -0700 (PDT)
Received: by [Deleted] with SMTP id [deleted];
Sun, 18 May 2008 10:23:30 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from ( [])
by with ESMTP id h8si9853846wxd.26.2008.
Sun, 18 May 2008 10:23:30 -0700 (PDT)
Received-SPF: fail ( domain of does not designate as permitted sender) client-ip=;
Authentication-Results:; spf=hardfail ( domain of does not designate as permitted sender)
Received: from User ([]) by with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.211);
Sun, 18 May 2008 13:23:28 -0400
From: ""
Subject: 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund ( $1800 )
Date: Sun, 18 May 2008 12:24:23 -0500
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/html;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2600.0000
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2600.0000
X-OriginalArrivalTime: 18 May 2008 17:23:28.0887 (UTC) FILETIME=[E3464070:01C8B90B]

But I must admit, this particular scam message caught my eye, although I did NOT fall for it; the I.R.S. has offered plenty of warnings about not using emails with links for official business.

Just remember: you need only to file your U.S. Federal tax return to receive your economic stimulus check.

[Disclaimer: I have posted this message on at least two other of my sites. You are welcome to copy it on your site.]

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Parody and Satire...

Emperor "What-Me-Worry?" Dubya

Parody: any humorous, satirical, or burlesque imitation, as of a person, event, etc.

In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with an intent to bring about improvement.

Although satire is usually meant to be funny, the purpose of satire is not primarily humor in itself so much as an attack on something of which the author strongly disapproves, using the weapon of wit.--Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Monster-ator Mash

Motet, monster-ator of P &W Speakeasy (not!), bans members for mild, satiric bantering, tends to sulk, needs attention, defends "regulars" who have been there forever and add little to the site, has trouble stimulating discussions on her own, which are few and far between on the Speakeasy.

Motto: "Waaaaaahhhhhhh!"

Worst move: Banning Sawmygirl.

Chrissiekl, monster-ator and former Borg Queen of Poets.borg, recently demoted by inside poets.borg moderator coup, operates with band of moderator-helpers (a.k.a. "The Hive"), Sbunch, "Mr.Kansas," Kaltica, Mr. DUM DUM DUM, Billy 'Go Away' Blazes, but reports to Robin Beth, a young, aspiring "poet" recently short-listed for chap-book contest by Jeff Levine, "critic," publisher of Tupelo Press, and business partner of Our Lady of Poets.Org, Joan Houlihan.

Motto: "You will comply."

Worst move: Banning ACommoner.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Right to be Silent...

Just a message to both friend and foe.

I'm in charge of what I post on and any other other forum. When I post something (for good or ill), it's because I have something to say. I make the decision as to what I post, sometimes scathing, sometimes humorous and downright silly, sometimes newsy, sometimes sad, and sometimes just plain fun. If I don't have something to say, I won't post. It's that simple.

I created because there aren't too many places where poets and other writers can post without being cyber-slapped for the silliest of reasons. I'm too old and cranky to be bullied by 20-something power-hungry mods and admins who don't want to see the foibles of their mentors exposed, even when such exposure is warranted.

In addition, there are other issues that seem to be taboo, and it is my hope that will be a place where issues, no matter how uncomfortable, can be aired and brought to light.

Very soon, I'll be working on developing an actual forum--I have discovered just how awkward the blog structure can be. That way, members can post whatever they want. Or anyone, including non-members, can lurk. You can be anonymous or "out." You can just "be."

For now, I have been trying to post for others who find the blog structure limiting, but I do have a personal limit as to what I'll post under my own signature, and I'm not comfortable going "stealth" under other aliases--here or anywhere else.

At and my other blogs, I have two IDs: Jennifer (my real name) and Bugzita, which was my anonymous ID (for one year) on Foetry and is still my ID on on and Bugzita, a childhood nickname, has her own website. Not much on it, though...

In the meantime, I'll continue to elevate posts at my discretion (and with the author's permission, of course).

But I also want foets to understand that they won't get a free pass at

I don't have the money, time, or staff to do in-depth investigative work, but if I get a tip and can verify it with two or more sources, I'll do my best to act on it in a timely manner. Also, readers can leave comments (or e-mail me) if they want to tell their side.

Last year, on Post Foetry, I posted a Watch List of contests--nary a peep from any of the people running these contests. Perhaps they believe that a wall of silence will silence the discontents, but they would be totally wrong. I may be a kinder and gentler soul, but I'm also persistent and stubborn.

I am the queen of my own domain, where I invoke my right to speak out and the right to be silent.

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Suppression...

Literature should not be suppressed

merely because it offends

the moral code of the censor.

--William O. Douglas

Naked Celebrity

Clothes make the man.

Naked people have little or no influence on society.

--Mark Twain

Thursday, May 8, 2008

With All Due Respect to George Orwell: You Know What They Say About Pigs...

It all starts at the piglet stage...

And then they grow into greedy adolescents who pig out at the trough...

The power grab begins in earnest...

Pig Laureate...

Rut Roh! Easter Dinner...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008



The monthly "Pruning" of the Forum at The Academy of American Poets starts tomorrow, May 5th--how much of this invaluable "oral-history" will we lose to protect poetry's celebrity faces?


Joan Houlihan and I know each other pretty well—for a whole year now she’s been following me around everywhere, and I’ve been getting in touch with her every time I noticed it.

The following paragraphs are for archivists and historians—they're as dense as they're ephemeral, so if you're satisfied that you know the story then just skim the following. The gist of the argument starts in the "JEFFREY LEVINE AND JOAN HOULIHAN, BUSINESS PARTNERS..." section.


As a start, Joan Houlihan and I debated face to face AGNI's intervention on Foetry just a year ago:

(She was ‘rperlman’, I was ‘Expat Poet’, Steven Ford Brown was ‘Thewayitworks.’ ‘Monday Love’ was Monday Love—we went on for pages!), and she even quoted some of her parts of the argument on the Buffalo Poetics List a month later, particularly the parts about “this Christopher Woodman guy.”

All that has probably been deleted now, but it was just a copy of the Foetry passage anyway, so here it is in the original--and do note her threat in the 2nd post on 'Defamation' to expose AGNI for its lack of "editorial integrity!"


After Joan Houlihan published her letter in the Nov/Dec 2007 P & W Magazine, I went straight to the P & W Forum to try to get a hearing there. And sure enough, there was 'rperlman' lurking around what I was writing yet again, starting here and going on for pages about why I was so angry with her and her partner, Jeffrey Levine:;post=256080;page=2;sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;mh=25


I asked Joan Houlihan/'rperlman' by PM to participate in the dialogue, twice in fact, but she never came on, or even replied, but of course she hadn’t yet admitted she was ‘rperlman’ at that point, though we’d all guessed it! I also applied formally to join one of her Colrain Manuscript Conferences in the Berkshires, and we corresponded a bit over that—she felt I was unsuitable, and on reflection I must admit I couldn’t agree more, though I was serious when I applied--I thought I should give it a chance. Finally, she came on-line at almost immediately after I was banned from the Speakeasy last March, I mean within minutes (how did she know?)--and of course I got banned two weeks later from the Forum as well for specifically discussing her Nov/Dec 2007 Letter to Poets & Writers Magazine, though the Administrator trotted out the usual charges about "offensive material" and "abrassive" conduct. All that’s been deleted on now, of course, so you’ll have to go here to find it—we at save everything deletes; it’s always so historically important:

That was just the first time, and the post lasted just 8 minutes that time (, “The First Amendment & Forums,” Tue Mar 25, 2008 4:06 am > Tue Mar 25, 2008 4:14 am), so obviously somebody was well-primed and waiting. The second banning was when I wrote about some “white mansions in the Berkshires,” and suggested Joan Houlihan and Jeffrey Levine were probably listening and would perhaps give their views on the issue:

If they were, they didn’t--but then I was zapped out of the water right then and there, minutes later once more! Here’s a little more detail on that last catastrophe:

--it's all gone, you know where.

So we have quite a history together, Joan Houlihan and myself, and I guess she’s winning if bannings followed by deletions are the way you define your victories!


In fact our history goes back to the moment Joan Houlihan’s publisher/partner in the Colrain Manuscript Conferences, Jeffrey Levine, sent me one of his famous “Template Personal Reviews” after the Tupelo Press Open Reading in Nov 2006 and asked me for $295.00 to get some extra help from him, to "lift [me] up a level!". Here’s a copy of the actual signed document I received:

(Reply # 179 April 06, 2007, 01:11:56 AM)

Indeed, Joan Houlihan got into my really bad books (what a metaphor!) when she decided, yes, to defend Jeffrey Levine’s abuse of my trust in her Nov/Dec 2007 P&W Letter,

--almost as if I were a woman who had been asking for it. That’s how she made me feel in her ROTTEN GRAPES defense of the man, and that’s certainly why I’m raging at her still. Or mothers who cut their little girls in Ethiopia.

I’ve been following the development of Joan Houlihan’s Colrain Manuscript Conferences from the start—here are a few URLs for those of you who are not familiar with the Colrain phenomenon, to get you quickly acquainted:





To be quite frank about these conferences, what astonishes me is that so many obviously intelligent, well-educated and highly sensitive people (look at the photos!) who are also serious poets, including Joan Houlihan herself, could have become so confused about what poetry is, how a person becomes a poet, how a book gets written, who reads that book, and most important of all, why anyone would read a book of poetry who didn't have to! I’ve become a poetry activist at almost 70 specifically because of contemporary movers like Joan Houlihan, and though I’m still writing poetry, hard, and sending out my work as much as I can, I’m more concerned about poetry pollution at the moment than I am about my own career!

That’s probably just as well!

One final link between Joan Houlihan, Jeffrey Levin and myself at the Academy of American Poets--indeed, the current link, and why I'm writing now.


The Tupelo Press just announced the Finalists of its 2008 Snowbound Chapbook Contest, and among them is Robin Beth Schaer, the Chief On-Line Editor on the board of The Academy of American Poets, and the Supremo in charge of the whole Forum.

I was banned from that Forum twice, of course, and both times for mentioning the Editor and Publisher of The Tupelo Press, Jeffrey Levine, together with his “business partner,” Joan Houlihan.

I’m not for a moment suggesting Robin Beth Schaer had anything to do with my banning, but since there can be no doubt in anybody’s mind as to WHY I was banned, nor that I was banned TWICE for the same offence, i.e. mentioning Jeffrey Levine’s and Joan Houlihan’s business activities, the suspicion has to be that it had something to do with loyalties and/or special interests within The Academy of American Poets. It would not have needed anything special from Robin Beth Schaer anyway, there are so many ways influence can make itself felt, but even if she just knew about it she has compromised herself, I’m afraid. And I say that with great compassion for her, having lived a very long life and regretting many, many foolish things I’ve let happen by turning a blind eye or conveniently forgetting!

And did Robin Beth Schaer attend a Colrain Manuscript Conference too; did that help her like so many other “top poets” get the ear of the “top editors and publishers” that that high-end service provides? Of course I will never know that unless some brave Colrain participant lets me know, or Robin does herself, which would be even braver. And even if you did, dear Robin, you obviously haven’t done anything wrong by that either, just helped to stack the deck a bit more against the poets who weren’t there, who perhaps wouldn’t have wanted to be there, like me, or couldn’t have afforded it. You also will never do anything wrong subsequently if you always resist the temptation to advance the interests of either Jeffrey Levine or Joan Houlihan at The Academy, but that will be much harder once they become your publishers. I do hope you win the Snowbound Chapbook Series, but if you do you’re going to have to be very strong and very alert not to become part of a much wider problem!

The last Colrain publicity I saw proudly announced that the poetry books and/or chapbooks of no less than 16 Colrain participants had subsequently found publishers, and I’d say that’s a lot!

I’d also say it doesn’t bode well for poetry in America, and it certainly doesn’t bode well for me personally! And that’s also the main bone of contention between Joan Houlihan and myself, that not only is she associating with unsavory activities, but she’s gaining influence in unsavory ways. I would even call her own Blog a bit unsavory, at least if this page is anything to go by:

“INVESTIGATIONS OF AND OPINIONS ON CONTEMPORARY POETRY,” she calls it—I’d say it sounds more like stalking, and even if one wins at stalking one’s humanity is lost!

Anyone at odds with Alan Cordle to this extent has got to have a lot to hide, as whatever you think of his methods he investigates not "opinions on contemporary poetry" but options, and she's clearly taken out a few too many of those for her own good. And of course, anyone who needs to take it out on someone's wife, and a fellow poet to boot, is clearly well below the belt!

Indeed, I'd say the lady doth protest way too much!

Christopher Woodman

Thread: The Cult of Celebrity

UPDATED 5/7/08

In his or her comment in A Second Open Letter to Tree Swenson, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, "Anonymous" posed this question:

How is poetry being affected by Jorie Graham? I did indeed see the interview on the main page of and I don't agree with it being there; but that seems to just be Jorie tooting her own horn so to speak.

Is this more than politics? Is [Graham's] self-idolatry changing poetry?

My questions: If so, HOW is such self-adulation changing poetry for the better or worse?

Overall, how has the "cult" of high self-esteem (whether earned or not) affected the literary arts?

Athena answers "How is poetry being affected by Jorie Graham?":

How poetry, in the widest possible sense, is ultimately viewed and judged—or not, by critics, poets, English departments, the poetry establishment, and society at large, is monumentally crucial, and affects not only whether poetry publications get reviewed by the New York Times, but the lonely creative act itself, even the obscure poem written by the poet in obscurity.

No poet can escape Jorie Graham’s influence, and her influence is not confined to herself, but vibrates within the critical medium which mutually strikes the creative medium, causing all poetic thought and all poetic social interaction to vibrate as well. What the greater orchestra plays really does determine what notes YOU play. This may not be apparent to the individual poet, since the scale and complexity of the influence is vast, but if it cannot be easily traced to the satisfaction of the isolated consciousness, it certainly does not follow that the phenomenon does not exist.

We long to write what is loved, with no detour into criticism; almost every poet fears criticism. This fear, however, should never blind us to the arc which every public poetic act completes: a poem is conceived, written, published, read, and, here is all that most people think needs to happen; but, here’s the crucial point: the poetic universe cannot exist without criticism, without feedback, without review—without reviewing, poetry would not exist in society, for the critical medium which exists as a result of this feedback, influences, in turn, the creative medium and the poetry universe as a whole.

How poems and poets are received, rated, ranked, judged, applauded, censored, discussed, sold, hyped, denigrated, and to what extent, and in what manner, is as crucial an element as any in the whole process, but it becomes even more crucial when this final necessary step in the cycle of poetic birth, reception, and influence, is short-circuited by crass business interests, selfish, non-poetical reasons, or just neglect. If the circular flow of poetry-in-society is interrupted, or even partially clogged, the wounded cycle of the poetic process will hinder the way poetry thrives in society at-large.

Criticism and biographies of poets long dead may continue to expand, but if living poets are not reviewed critically, and their reputations exist only in bookseller-blurb-islands of boosterism, the contemporary poetic process, as a socially valid process, will falter. Helen Vendler can write all the books on William Butler Yeats she wants. William Butler Yeats cannot help contemporary poetry—at least not in the manner we are discussing here. Without living critics writing honestly on living poets, contemporary poetry will gradually cease to exist.


From ACommoner, paraphrasing TomWest on

[Jorie Graham] ...the very queen of our contemporary poets walks into the room looking relaxed and happy and begins reading from her new book of poetry. "I cannot even begin to tell you how stunning and alarming it is," writes a young poster in [the same] thread. “Within this collection, Graham explores the devastating problems facing the environment and our humanity with profound urgency and grace.”


Has the "Cult of Celebrity" infiltrated the polite community of poetry?

In other words, in 2008, do personality/charisma, social skills, and physical beauty trump art, in this case, the words on the page?

Or must the text somehow rise to the "stunning" physical presence of the person wrote it?

In 2108, when scholars and students will be looking back on 2008, will any of this even matter?

Related to this topic, Matt K. adds,

Nowhere today is the myth of the Great Poet more disbelieved (and even ridiculed) than in the heart of the PoBiz. The Great-Poets-For-A-Day that the PoBiz indoctrinates and raises up are never afforded the status of the greats of old. They represent a dream that is being sold to other poets like self-help cure-alls and other snake oil. It's just advertising. It encourages more poets to keep paying for their shot at fame...a fame that is manufactured by the PoBiz machine. But it's like a kid going to Chuck-E-Cheese for a birthday party (I just went to one of these for one of my son's friends): they hang a medal around your neck, sing you a song, turn on the animatronic puppets for 5 minutes...and there's your celebration. And this routine is what people pay for. It's the imitation or fantasy of temporary status and prestige. It's a pageant, a costuming where the consumer pays his or her money for a brief lie of their greatness. And then the animatronic puppets grind to a halt, the song ends, and the next customer's birthday arrives. It's all product. Greatness, even talent, is never a factor.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

William Logan Revisited

William Logan, in late 2006, posted on his viewpoints on the state of poetry. One passage has caught my eye:

Poets who write for awards are idiots. Poets who want awards are idiots. Look at the Pulitzers from the thirties: Conrad Aiken, Robert Frost, George Dillon, Archibald MacLeish, Robert Hillyer, Audrey Wurdemann, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, Robert Frost (again), Marya Zaturenska, John Gould Fletcher. One poet of the first rank, two or three of the third, and then oblivion. You don’t see Pound or Eliot or Stevens or Moore or Williams. If you think the poets awarded the prize in the nineties will fair better, think again.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept awards. It’s rude not to accept something people give you. Perhaps every award should be replaced with a saguaro cactus.

The rest of Logan's post is also enlightening.

His concludes his post with this emotional outburst:

My last words on poetry:

I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!

Thread: Opposing Viewpoints

With the first amendment comes significant responsibility, which (in my opinion) includes offering opposing viewpoints on any related topic. may be one of the few writing forums that offers this option.

My feeling: if we cannot discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of the literary academy, then the academy becomes a caricature of itself, and literature itself suffers.

So far, only one side has been represented, which suggests that some self-censorship has been imposed. readers would like to read opposing viewpoints on any literary topic discussed on this forum. You may do this anonymously in the comment section, and I will elevate the top two or three to post status.


Thread: What is Libel and Slander? What is the Difference Between the Two Terms?

In a forum that imposes few boundaries, these are important questions, and, certainly, the answers are not cut and dried.

We would like to hear what you think about libel and slander, so feel free to post in the comment section, which is wide open.

I would like to elevate TWO well-written comments to post status, preferably someone who has NOT yet had an elevated post in this forum.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thread: What is Legitimate Academic Publishing? (Athena)

I'd love to go from Hunger Mountain right into a piece on Colrain--which is the same deal, really, except people spend much more money, and Joan Houlihan and Jeffrey Levine are editors who can publish their "students" and perhaps eventually judge them in a "contest," thus providing incentive for the aspiring writer to pay the "manuscript doctor" fees.

Most of these poets would never pay a thousand dollars, or whatever it is they have to pay, for a vanity publication, and Levine and Houlihan would vociferously deny they are in the "vanity publication" business, but if they collect money to edit a person's manuscript, become acquainted with that person and their work in the process of taking their money, and then subsequently publish them in a magazine or a book--how can any objective viewer not reach the conclusion that this is, in fact, vanity publishing?

If an editor receives an manuscript out of the blue and says, "Wow, I must publish this," fine, wonderful.

But if an editor takes hefty fees from a poet for "manuscript doctoring" services and then subsequently publishes that poet, one has to be rather naive not to know what's going on.

And then, of course, the "students" and the Colrain manuscript "doctors" trumpet the "success" of the "manuscript doctor" retreats.

Okay, now we just put a headline on it:


Guest Writer: Manuscript Doctors--Quacks? (Athena)

Hunger Mountain, affiliated with Vermont College and the Hunger Mountain literary magazine, auctions manuscript critiques.

There’s something a little slimy about this, and it’s not because you might not get a decent critique from these people; what bothers me is that what’s really being "sold" is not so much these folks’ "critical expertise" (which could be anywhere from excellent to non-existent) but something utterly unspoken—that maybe these writers will, through their connections and the force of their personality, help one get published.

Isn’t that what people who buy these critiques are secretly hoping for? And why shouldn’t they hope for that?

And why shouldn’t there be the slightest chance it could happen?

But since it’s all insinuation and none of it is fact, it makes the "sale" somehow…creepy. In almost all instances, maybe in ALL instances, 100 dollars or more is paid to get a critique that one could also get, for free, from a friend—but the money is paid in the hope that "maybe this somewhat successful writer will fall in love with my work and become an advocate for it."

The payment, or "sale" is completely based on unspoken, false expectations.

I suppose that’s why this is run like a "benefit auction." This mitigates its crass, commercial character. It still doesn’t change the fact that something is being sold.

Maybe the Hunger Mountain site should be required to post a caveat:

"These writers are NOT offering their services as commercial editors, publishers, or advocates for a writer’s work. They only provide critiques, as stated, and there is no guarantee the writer/purchaser of said critique will agree with the critique."


Admin note: There is nothing inherently wrong with offering or accepting editorial services for a fee, but I agree with Athena that the Hunger Mountain approach raises some red flags. If this were an unknown literary agency or a poetry [dot] com type of site, the watchdog groups would be all over it with warnings.

I suggest that if you are thinking about bidding on these services to please ask questions first; be clear on expectations and know what you are getting for your money.

Each auction offers an email address for questions--use it before placing a bid. Getting specifics in an email will be your best protection should the deal go awry.

I also welcome
Hunger Mountain staff/reviewers to respond.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Guest Writer: PAULA ABDUL = JORIE GRAHAM? (by Monday Love)

The popularity of "American Idol" would seem to confirm that large swaths of pop music audiences prefer "Judging/Competition/Win-Lose/Survivor" thrills to the actual music, and why is it no surprise that a major judge on "American Idol" has no clue and doesn't even know what she's judging?

When "the Contest" (the elated winner, the bitter loser) becomes more important than what is actually being judged, it is inevitable that we have "judges" like Paula Abdul, who, like Jorie Graham, are mired in big, stinky, judging scandals.

There are other similarities, too; both Graham and Abdul are "good people"; they are kind, they love giving praise, and they adore crowning "winners," but if the judge shows no responsibility to what is ostensibly being judged, all this "nice" is merely a cover for damaging incompetence which hurts everyone in the long run.

Both Graham and Abdul have been judged favorably for doing (poetry, singing) what they in turn, "judge," but it's been a long time since Abdul has had a genuine hit, and it's been a long time since Graham has written a good poem.

Abdul was caught on live TV, this week, "judging" a number which hadn't even happened yet.

Graham has been caught (most notably by giving poetry prizes to students and lovers rather than actually judging contests.

Graham holds the highest academic poetry position in the world at Harvard, and yet she's a scandal-ridden judge, and her actual poetry credentials are weak: she can't write verse like the bards of old, or even write verse like living versifiers, she's never published an essay of note on poetry: theory, history, or any aspect of the art, and today Ms. Graham has been reduced to waging a cynical campaign to save her poetic reputation--by showing how much she cares about the planet. Jorie Graham cares more about global warming than you do, and this makes her not only the best poet, but a terrific judge of poetry, it seems.

After her poetry contest judging scandals, Graham said she would never judge poetry contests again. But now Graham is back as a judge, signing on to judge a big poetry contest. Maybe Graham envies Paula Abdul and all the attention and power judging confers.

Who knows? Hey, you go, girl!

--Monday Love


(Foetry friends and foes will remember Monday Love as being a regular on the now-archived Foetry forum.)

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