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.


  1. For those of you that are new to this site, join the crowd--we're all new here! I myself am a bit over-exposed on it at the moment, but that's not because I have anything special to do with running it or that I'm in any way defining what it stands for or where it's going.

    That's Jennifer Semple Siegel, the Founder, Designer and Guiding Light of, and suitably the poster of this particular thread. We are all very much in her debt!

    So I thought it might be valuable, even this soon, just a month into our history, to look back a bit and see where our mission not only started but how diverse are its positions. In fact, there's a variety of opinions even about the Poetry Business itself, and ironically I myself, A Commoner/Christopher Woodman of all people, tend to be a little more sanguine about the world of traditional publishing than some of my colleagues on the site.

    Here's a good way to get a glimpse of the diversity, and the openess too, of our attempt to clean up poetry's act--so to speak. I mean, dirty poetry's the best, isn't it, so who wants to clean up the act?

    Whatever, I got banned from both and last month for talking about one small episode in the "poetry act" that certain poetry celebrities still don't want publicized. Indeed, realized they'd been a little agressive in banning me for just mentioning the subject, after all, so they let me back in with a very big caveat: YOU'RE ON PROBATION, AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT! They still didn't say what for, mind you, but I knew--for mentioning that one little incident that was bad for somebody's business.

    So I started an entirely new thread--or at least I collaborated with another poster in good stead named TomWest aka that enfant terrible of Foetry, Monday Love, and THE persona non grata of, Sawmygirl. And between us we started a new thread called "On Aspriring Writers Becoming Successful Writers," and it's still thriving even if it ended up killing me! It now stands at 17036 visits and 243 posts, and I believe that makes it the most popular and dynamic thread of all time!

    So there--it was worth sacrificing my life for, wasn't it?

    But it's riding high on TomWest's genius very well complemented by the genius of own Kaltica, and I do hope you'll go and visit it. It's thrilling!

    So here's the first post of that memorable thread, and the message is POETS.NET'S DIVERSITY OF OPINIONS ON THE PO-BIZ:

    Tuesday, April 8, 2008
    Thread: Cynicism and the MFA--Successful vs. Aspiring Writers

    TomWest said:

    The "aspiring writer" industry has become far bigger than the "successful writer" industry, and the "aspiring writer" industry has taken on a life of its own such that it only connects to the "successful writer" industry in a cynical fashion ("Pay us money! We’ll make you a great writer!")

    (TomWest statement originally appeared in the "pruned" (i.e. deleted!) thread "The First Amendment & Forums," Wed Mar 19, 2008 4:56 p.m.)

    ACommoner replied:

    The big problem with this statement is that there are so many "aspiring writer" programs out there that are good, transparent and sincere—in fact, I would say that the majority of poetry programs are pursued with good will and integrity, at least in themselves they are, whatever the management may be doing. Because the abuse lies not in the workshops or in the MFA programs per se, or anywhere specifically, for that matter, but in the SYSTEM that sustains them all, and above all in the mechanisms that award the positions and the prizes to the “successful.” That’s why as soon as anyone begins to discuss the abuses, everyone on the “aspiring” level, students, teachers, critics, and even plain readers, all hooked on legitimate programs, rush in to defend the whole "aspiring writer" movement as if it were some sort of sacred monolith—they value it so highly. OUR SACRED ART OF POETRY, they cry—and that’s the citadel this thread is storming, obviously, and the defense is already bristling with “is this true?” and “what do you mean by successful?” and “how dare you say there’s money in poetry?”

    And other such red-herrings.

    I put it to you that the Craft of Poetry Movement in America has organized itself into a huge self-interest (N.B. “self-interest” is a neutral qualifier in itself) community which is just as powerful and, yes, as sacred, difficult to enter, self-preserving and self-perpetuating as a Medieval Guild! No one would argue that the Medieval Guilds were bad in themselves, quite the contrary, but they did control the whole process of training in each and every craft, and they did dominate the accreditation process, fiercely and exclusively. And that becomes a real problem for me if there are networks in the poetry community that are doing the same thing with poetry—as if it were some sort of craft!

    Because poetry is simply not a craft, even if it does make good use of craft in some aspects of its production. For even if everyone writes heroic couplets, let's say, or Shakespearean sonnets or haikus, there is that all important SHOCK which makes some of it fly and some of it crawl--that moment of inexplicable and indefinable particularity in saying something which has never been said before, for example, or of saying something which has been said millions of times before but so simply that it’s new again at last, at last, at last! And craft just doesn’t do that—it copies, it reproduces, it’s placed where it belongs on the shelf with the label filled in by the planner. And most of what is coming out of our contemporary Poetry Guild is just craft, make no mistake about it, and not doing anything special or uniquely precious, despite all those oohs and those aahs (see An Interview with Jorie Graham). And the proof is that nobody’s actually reading it! It’s not about poetry anymore, it's about a way of life called poetry, it’s about the pleasure, the security, the sense of meaning in poetry as a livelihood in America, not about writing a poem that actually matters—that lonely, slow, intolerable wrestle with beastly, recalcitrant words, and oneself!

    Change gears for a moment. “Aspiring writer" programs today in America are extremely expensive, and I'm not just referring to the MFA programs either. It can cost as much as $900.00 just to get your manuscript read for a few hours by someone who matters with a pencil, for example, or $1300.00 for a single weekend in the country in which the great one blows in for dinner on Saturday evening. And if your whole self-image has been built around yourself as a writer, and particularly as a writer that calls himself or herself a poet, and you have paid a whole lot to lift yourself up a level, so to speak, have paid to meet that editor for the weekend, for example, and have bent your whole book around following his or her instructions and then resubmitted that manuscript to him or her or their friend, then you’re not going to take kindly to the suggestion you've been had.

    Which you have and you haven't, of course. The weekend in the country will let you meet some editors and publishers that are as gifted as they are powerful, and charming too, and the food will be excellent, for sure, and the sea air refreshing if it’s the Hamptons, but if those editors and publishers are beginning to support themselves on you as one more "aspiring writer" among a great many others, and I mean 10s of thousands of others just like you (and like me!), and if those editors and publishers have no intention of letting you (or me!) into the Guild ahead of their families, friends, lovers, business partners and colleagues in the queue as they define it, then it's not only like a Guild but a pyramid scheme!

    That’s a fairly stark introduction to the issue, but it is an issue that ought to be on every thinking poet's mind today. Because the world has never seen anything like this--there are simply no precedents in the whole history of poetry for this, it's that new.

    And make no mistake about it, our poetry is suffering for it. Just look at the reception of what was read in Boston last weekend on the “Jorie Graham Interview” I just mentioned and you’ll see. Or read the NYT Book Review article on the book.

    This poetry is nothing but what it says it is itself--which however environmentally friendly and universal, all the way from the short line to the long line, it says, is what's known in the trade as "puff." And what an irony that its author should have given her name to the new rule that is attempting to discipline editors and publishers in America at last, to make them fairer, more ethical, and above all more generous to aspiring writers even as old and as unlikely as me!

    A sense of discipline and generosity which James Laughlin and Theodore Weiss would never have needed to be taught!

    RePosted as a Comment by Christopher Woodman

  2. When you make a simple comment on a post does being called a "nameless chickenshit troll' count as thought policing?

    just wondering.

  3. Christopher,

    'La de da' and 'doop de doo,'

    As for the 'aspiring writers' industry, I'll just make this point.

    I think self-editing is the best way to learn how to write.

    Here are all the ways we can get feedback:

    1.Honest book review of the published work.
    2.Chapter of commentary in the Norton Anthology.
    4.Feedback from friend or acquaintance
    5.Free, on-line critique
    6.Paid feedback from a poetry professional (yikes!)
    7.Blurb attached to prize winning manuscript (la de da)
    8.Blurb attached to book publication (doop de doo)
    9.Puff review of the published work (yahoo)
    10.Assassination review of the published work (alriiight)

    Most of us like to be in control of everything we do; we don’t like to passively let others determine our fate one way or the other, but sometimes we have to await the judgments of others.

    Of the 10 ways in which poets do receive feedback, which method is the most helpful?


    It is free.

    It is honest.

    It is the most knowing source re: both the work and the poet.

    None of the other methods has this combined advantage.

    Self-editing is also the only method in which gives the poet complete artistic control over the process.

    There is just one simple caveat. Wait 30 days (approximately) between writing and editing. In 30 days, the poet should begin to forget what he or she wrote; when they look at the text again, it appears almost as if someone else had written it. The poet edits with a double advantage: unique, personal, inside knowledge of poet and poem and also a ‘fresh’ piece of writing. If one is producing a lot of poems, the ’30 day’ cycle can even be longer: one or even two years. In the meantime, the poet’s wide reading of other poets will add to the poet’s knowledge, and thus the ‘editor’s’ knowledge.

    Tom West

  4. A minimum 30 days wait is a good condition for self editing. We all have blind spots though, and that's an inherent flaw in this method.

    External feedback should be a part of the process if the writer is at all interested in developing as a poet. The key is in finding someone who's opinion you trust, even then I'd agree there needs to be some discrimination in deciding when to take their advice on board.

    There's always a danger that self editing will become a means to protect the ego from a discriminating editor. I would argue that's the case more often than not with 'self editors'. That's why Vanity Publishing remains a popular option for poets whose work can't stand up to the scrutiny of thoughtful readers.

  5. "Protect the ego" applies to all of us, not just to the 'self-critic.' The poet who is truly a 'self-critic' could be protecting his ego less than the poet who is getting 'external feedback,' for, as you point out, the 'external feedback' may not be trustworthy; it could be flattery, it could be fuzzy, it could be inaccurate, or just not right for the aspiring poet.

    An editor needs to publish someone; there's no reason to believe that what does get published is good--just because it does get published--or, that any 'scrutiny' which produces an external opinion is better than self-criticism; however, it is a fact that self-criticism does have the advantages I mentioned.

    The chief danger I see with the desperate search for 'external feedback' is that it gets us into the area of what I might call 'the cult of the co-author,' in which the poet essentially lets others share in the writing of his or her poem. The 'cult of the workshop' courts this danger, for what sort of poet is it who needs others' opinions and ideas, who always has an unfinished poem which 'needs help?' It opens the door to a pathology involving the creative person, in the name of 'education.' It just seems to me that if a poet has to ask others, 'how am I doing?' it betokens the type of poet who is not going to be very good in the first place. It is natural, of course, to wonder 'what others think,' but if one's creativity lacks a self-critical element, this question is never going to do a whole of good, and may even lead to heartbreak, desire for flattery, and a great waste of time.

    Tom West

  6. I think we're talking a continuum here, at least I am. There's a balance that needs to be struck. I agree with what you say about a desperate search for 'external feedback' and have the same opinion of someone exhibiting a need to desperately flee from external feedback. At least if we're talking poetry that we want people to read. Honestly, from what I've read I'm not even sure that's the case around here.

  7. Mr. West:

    "Wait 30 days (approximately) between writing and editing."

    Horace recommended nine years for this. I tend to lean his way. Hell, I've spent more than thirty days on one damned poem...and two years revising it!

    "To sustain a business the money has to come from somewhere. Grants, donations, and contests."

    I understand that the injustice of the 'Po-biz' is why so many are here and so indignant. I just still can't make that connection between 'business' and 'poetry'. There's no money in it, after all. It must be the fame thing, right?
    But why would anyone who loves poetry care?
    The quest for fame is not conducive to good poetry. Achieving it is worse.


    Please delete the 'Anonymous' option. I feel like I'm debating with Sibyl. :-)

  8. Wazzup Gary--don't like free speech so much?

  9. Oh, I am a Sibyl!

    Yea, I like 9 years, too.

    One should not defer 'external feedback' forever, obviously. This is where the honest, independent reviewer comes in. I am not saying there should never be 'external feedback,' just that 'creative writing' is not necessary to become a good writer. Self-criticism will do fine there. The occasional remark by a friend is OK, too; but addiction to 'creative writing feedback' is not going to help at all.

    I would go further.

    There is something about the creative personality that 'will not let itself be educated.' Education and creativity are at odds, in fact, for creativity is that which starts where education ends, and the attempt to make them overlap is to make a mockery of both.

    Education's purpose is to present facts, but creativity's purpose is to refute facts. Every great creative writer 'explains' within the work itself in a way that can never be explained, that can never be taught.

    The closest anyone ever came to teaching poetry was Poe in his "Philosophy of Composition," when he showed, step-by-step, both how and why he composed "The Raven," but Poe's attempt has been almost universally derided as a clever trick. And why? Because creativity does not work that way, they say, or, if it does, it will work only once in a certain way for a certain poet who is writing a certain poem. So, how can the poem be taught? The 'poem,' all would agree, 'the writing of THIS poem,' cannot be taught. How shall Poetry be taught, then?

    If 'a poem' cannot be 'taught' as a 'thing written with a certain method,' how then the vast, many-headed Poetry? We ought to be honest then, and say that facts of poetry can be presented, but not 'how a poem is written,' much less how poetry is written, or can be written, or should be written. That must be done by the poet who is writing the poems, not by any 'creative writing' teacher. This is not to say that a 'creative writing teacher' cannot go through the motions of teaching 'creative writing.' But it will do no good for the pedagogy which is advertised. If a little good is done, it is because facts are presented, but this is education, not 'creative writing.'

    Pope's "Essay In Criticism" is also an act of 'teaching creative writing, one might say, and yet it's more than that, and here we get a glimpse into the genius who 'explains' as part of the creative act itself; every genius carries an inner-pedagogy which anticipates the cumbersome understanding of the outside reader feeling his way into the shoes of the genius who is already running ahead by that very act of creativity which cancels external pedagogy tailored towards 'the student' within the 'creative writing' mode.

    A bit of advice Pope makes in his great 'Essay' is that great poems will always fall short in a few details in order to acheive excellence overall, and one reads Shakespeare and Shelley and knows just what he means. The genius does not sit still for 'education' in the act of creation. Much of Shelley needs to be read for its flow; a New Critical magnifying class will only rob the reader of pleasure and insight.

    The inspiration of a Shelley cannot be taught, but it can certainly be un-taught.

    Education, no matter what they may say, is a two-edged sword. 'Creative writing' is a baby spoon.


  10. Gary,

    I appreciate your frustration with the anonymous feature, but that's the flip side of a more open forum.

    There are good reasons for allowing anonymous commentary--some people have issues they need to discuss but for various and good reasons (job, family, even position in the po-biz) cannot do so openly.

    Also is receiving the backlash of events that are occurring in the more "polite" forums; the so-called "polite" members of other forums come here to snark because they'll get banned if they try this at or

    Ironic, huh?

    Real debate is starting to take place here, but this still-young forum will not bloom overnight. We don't have public money and the Academy backing us, so it will happen day by day, post by post.

    My best advice: ignore anonymous snark and smackdown.

    I know, sometimes hard to do.

    I didn't say ignore ALL anonymous discourse; occasionally an anonymous commentator will say something important and compelling--I saw this happen on Foetry.

    Hope this helps.


  11. Why is that hard to do. Jennifer?

    I think you still start from the assumption that diction requires contradiction, which leads to street smart street talk, and will have the same results, inevitably--friction, conflict, insult, loss of face, polarization, war.

    What a waste!

    Why not rather look at what the Anonymous Commentator is actually trying to say? Why not take the comment seriously, and when I say seriously I don't mean necessarily sensibly because most of the really important things that people say simply aren't sensible! I mean creatively, like lovers do each other's bodies even when in truly compromising positions!

    I think we are very lucky to have at least one Anonymous Commentator who is really reading us even though he or she doesn't agree with us at all. Everything will go astray if everybody agrees for sure, because no value is of any value until it has been thoroughly engaged by its opposite. That's why "family values" as used by the present administration are so difficult to engage without appearing to be anti-family values, or "pro-life" positions without appearing to be anti-life.

    I have just tried to disassociate myself from cosy "liberal values" on the Policing thread. I try to say that I hope this site won't set itself up as a bastion of liberal values. Indeed, what a thought!

    I also say, don't dismiss what any commentator says as "snark and smackdown." That's stereotyping, that's gang warfare. I say lift your reply to the point where you can engage any point of view as helpful, any at all!


  12. Whatever, I got banned from both and last month for talking about one small episode in the "poetry act" that certain poetry celebrities still don't want publicized.



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