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.)


  1. Seriously Jennifer, put some thought into your posts. Randomly throwing up old quotes is the intellectual equivalent of fish and chips, without the fish.

  2. Well it's not old for me, and frankly I prefer the chips to the fish anyway, always have--as long as there's plenty of brown sauce and The Daily News. On the other hand, I'm not so taken by the quote. Of course I don't have the context, but as it stands I doubt it says what advocates of free speech think it says.

    Because I'm not an advocate of free speech if it encourages grown-ups to talk like adolescents, as if that were cool. For example, calling anyone or anything chickenshit. You grow out of the feeling nobody is listening listen unless you curse them, don't you? Don't you eventually overcome that sort of linguistic frustration and learn how to say what you mean?

    America's a young nation, I know, which is why 50 year olds still dress and posture like 17, and every American stays forever either a "kid" or a "guy."

    That's not an attack on you personally, Gary--I suspect you probably don't do that very often, and perhaps you were just getting something off your chest.

    On the other hand, the original Anonymous is a serial offender, and of course entirely disingenuous. So why doesn't he or she engage Poets.net in a dialogue instead of taking pop shots at it?

    Why not throw out a proper challenge, Anonymous? Why not write an essay outlining your position so that Jennifer can elevate it to a post and illustrate it? Yes, try her--and surprise yourself in how pleased you'll be with the image she chooses to accompany what you write!

    "in our free speech they say there is protest," says the quote. Who says, I want to know?

    America has become one of the most conservative societies on earth, one in which it has become embarrassing to call yourself something even as innocuous as a "liberal." I mean, there are no "leftists" left, are there--just aesthetes who talk politics as if it were pot, and that's really old hat. Indeed, I doubt if many of Americans who are a little bit left of center would dare to discuss Norman Thomas' views seriously, for example--if they even know who he was! I mean, even FDR is an embarrassment!

    It's like American "Civil Libertarian"--there are a whole lot of expats of that stripe where I live in Chiang Mai, and I'm embarrassed to hear their self-serving rhetoric. so obviously a cover up for how they got enough money to retire so early, or how they reconcile themselves with the number of servants they employ at $5.00 a day.

    They're proud of being independent thinkers too, they'll tell you. I even heard one say a few evenings ago, "Even in my free speech there is protest!"


  3. Anonymous,

    I don't take advice from "Anonymous."

    Besides, not everyone reads Poets & Writers, and I thought it was an apt quote that fits the situation perfectly.

    But thanks, anyway.

  4. Christopher,

    I am a 'liberal'. It's not about Conservatism Vs Liberalism. You aren't promoting 'Liberal' values here at all, you're hijacking and distorting them for your own aggrandizement. There's little of worth to engage with here, so I just pop in for a laugh now and then when I notice things getting particularly silly.

    Today has been much fun.

    I thank you all for that.

  5. Good, Anonymous, that's better already.

    And I agree with you entirely, it's not about anything versus anything. Indeed, if you're ready to be counted as a poet you've already faced up to the fact that nothing makes sense in polarities anymore, just paradox. I personally am a neo-royalist, much to my horror, because as a die-hard socialist I support the King in the country where I live with all my heart and soul and went public with my praise for the coup last year that overthrew the capitalists--who are the "republicans" here (NOT the U.S. party, who are royalists, of course), as they are in Singapore under Plato's own Lee Kuan Yew!

    Oh dear.

    And I hope to God we aren't promoting "liberal values" here either--just look at how I just deconstructed that quote!

    And it may come as a bit of shock to all of us, including you, dear A--Poets.net supports poetry, not family values like most liberals.

    Oh, there shall indeed be weeping and gnashing of teeth wherever true poets assemble!

    Yes, it has been fun today--funner, anyway. And I hope you'll drop by often.

    And just as a suggestion, why don't you do what I'm going to do now and sign off with a handle? That way we can enjoy the dialogue even more, and build on our fertile disingenuities--or are they ironies?--or images?

    A Commoner

  6. Dear Mr. Woodman:

    You have (twice) bitten the very hand that feeds you.

    Good luck and farewell.

  7. Not at all, Gary, not at all.

    I know you write truly and independently, but I felt you were getting sucked into a discourse that was not really natural to you, that you felt obligated to use it in a way, even when you didn't really want to.

    I was just trying to give you a way out, you see, to help you trust your own dignity and intelligence--which are both so obvious in everything you say!

    Forgive me for having said that badly--please forgive me for having been so clumsy.


  8. Come now, let Gary say 'chickenshit' or whatever he wants to say. Big deal.

    I think what Jennifer was trying to point out is that a potato sometimes looks like a mushroom. No, seriously, the real point here is that places like Poets & Writers and the Academy of American Poets prattle in the abstract about 'free speech,' but when it comes to talking about their own, when it comes to real free speech and not just mouthing politically correct platitudes, they're a bunch a cowards.

    Christopher, as usual, is brilliant. A socialist who is a neo-royalist. Another piece of evidence that the entire American Left is simply a residue of the old British Empire...

  9. "Christopher, as usual, is brilliant."
    Christopher, as usual, is also a dunce.
    The founding fathers almost made George king by all but name, and the Washingtons a dynasty.
    Royalty is basically about religion--those who feel the ground slipping out from under their feet tend to grasp for it, like Eliot.
    Christopher had a bad day today, and is down on his knees before Gary and Jennifer. With his fancy talk he cracked no nuts or codes, just friendship.
    Sorry, he says--and for God sake, say chickenshit!

  10. The irony here is that I specifically chose 'chickenshit' as the most innocuous way to say 'cowardly predator'. Funny how something so silly can offend so many. Oviously nobody here has ever has an online debate with Jim "King of the Trolls" Behrle.

    Let's move on.

    Now that Bill Knott...there's a flamer. :-). 'Halfhass' is nothing. You should see some of his other 'creative' monikers.
    He's a hoot.

  11. Ah, yes, Jimmy!

    I wonder what he's up to these days?

    Didn't he once have a brush with fame?

  12. I think Mr. Behrle is mostly doing his collage-cartoons these days.

    So, back to poetry. Can somebody please explain 'after-before' (post-avant) to me? Does the term belong to Houlihan or Silliman?

    How about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.

    Can you provide some examples?

    Do these terms have any real meaning for poetry or are they just academic hair-splitting?

  13. Jim Behrle battled folks on Foetry.com, ridiculed them with his cartoons, then became a friend and supporter. Behrle's cool. He's gregarious, but he's an individual--thinks for himself.

    L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E is what happens when poetry is taken over by bored profs.

    Terms like 'post-avant' are empty academic phrases. It's what happens when professors no longer do what they're supposed to: teach the history of Letters, and instead tend their little modernist/ahistorical/creative writing gardens.


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