Showing posts with label Celebrity Poets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Celebrity Poets. Show all posts

Naked Celebrity

Clothes make the man.

Naked people have little or no influence on society.

--Mark Twain



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.

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