Showing posts with label PoBiz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PoBiz. Show all posts

Can There Be Poem Criticism Without PoBiz Criticism? (Matt Koeske)

This post grew out of the conversation in the Comments section of the post "Thread: Writing Forum Survey" . . . and is oriented especially as a response to Monday Love's comment (#13). As the scope of Monday Love's (and the below post's) topic is much larger than any response to the survey, I thought it would benefit from having a topic of its own.

I'm inclined to take a small (?) detour from the insightful and compelling argument of Monday Love (regarding the dynamic of polarized insider/outsider coteries in the poetry world today and the relation of this dynamic to the functional criticism of poems themselves) posted in the comment section of the post: "Thread: Writing Forum Survey". I'm not so certain that discussion of poetry can or should stand in the place of a discussion about the current social and psychological behaviors and attitudes of poets or of the PoBiz (if that is was Monday was implying). I tend to see it the other way around, i.e., no functional discussion of poetry can take place without first "deconstructing" (and more importantly, understanding) the platforms from which those discussing speak . . . and perceive. My feeling is that this blockage is due to a "tribalization" inherent to the PoBiz organizational dynamic. In other words, various splinter schools of thought in poetry do not have any successful interactions or relationships with one another (no cross-pollination . . . they don't even have an abstracted symbiotic relationship in the same ecosystem).

Take the various tribes that seem to cluster around poststructuralist, academic notions of language, the "post-avant" or those influenced by language poetry and by postmodern, culture-theory-laden, literary criticism and philosophy. They come up with new names for their tribes pretty frequently. They are fashion horses for the clothing of names ("signifiers"), but the mindsets and core beliefs don't change (nor does the love of naming things for the sake of naming things). From what I've seen, the various splinter tribes that could be categorized by these things do not very often self-criticize the writing within the tribe, but often write scathingly about more "mainstream" poetic styles, using intellectually derogatory terms like "quietude" to issue a merely tribalistic or prejudicial rejection of those poets who don't belong to the "post-avant" tribe.

At the same time, those poets who identify strongly with the mainstream, "workshop-bred" writing that most classrooms and poetry journals are devoted to, respond to the "post-avants" with general ignorance. It seems to me that any discussion of poetry and poetics between these two groups is essentially pointless, because tribal prejudices eclipse any functional reflection on the poetry itself. One might as well listen to the politician's campaign ad slam of his or her opponent in the hope of getting a fair, critical assessment of that opposing candidate. If we are to provide useful critiques and reflections on the poetry coming out of these two (perhaps the largest two?) camps, we must write from a perspective that transcends or avoids the tribalistic, Us vs. Them warfare. This doesn't require poetic knowledge or "good taste" or critical expertise so much as it requires a psychological and sociological understanding of group behavior (especially, in my opinion, of tribalistic group behavior . . . which is the conventional social structure of academia, precisely where today's poets inherited it . . . with a surprising eagerness to join and partake of the empowerment of "professionalization", and with a distinct lack of reflection, I might add).

Equally, the understanding of how contemporary poetry publication impacts what kind of poetry is published, taught, and celebrated cannot be derived entirely from an examination of the poems (and the complimentary ignorance of those poems that are generally not getting published). We would need to understand the dynamics of the market, how and why it buys and sells what it does . . . how money comes into the publication system and who is giving and receiving and channeling this money. That seems especially important to me because the two largest sources of funding for poetry today are (I believe) contest submission fees and grants (from government and other organizations). It is hard to calculate another channel of funding, which comes from the tuition of the many thousands of undergraduate and MFA students who are paying universities to make them into poets and/or help give them access to publication venues. Only people as starry-eyed and detached as academic poets could ignore the realities of market systems and economics in this capitalistic day and age . . . divorcing themselves both from modern reality and from the scope of thought beyond their specialized field (as a creationist might ignore evolutionary biology's ideas and research).

I think that what happens all too often in the poetry world today is that the poets are not really analyzing and questioning the system in which they strive to create and find identity and audience. They are not asking how the system affects poetry, defines poetry, determines poetry in America. Poets are not looking at the systemic level, at complexity and interrelation. They are looking only at the short term and only through the lens of abstract ideologies that falsely present contained sets of conditions, as if poetry today existed only in its own little Petri dish. They are thinking in terms of "How can I get published/find an audience/gain status (and maybe a career teaching)?" They are not considering externalities or consequences of the system. They are not asking whether the system commodifies poetry or how that commodification affects what poetry is or how it is defined (by the PoBiz system).

Poets feel their world and their ambitions are so small that there could not possibly be such externalities . . . but if poets were 1/10th as well-read in the psychology of groups and crowds (and tribes) or in the study of complex systems, they might be more inclined to understand how cause and effect occur in such a system. The naive faith that many poets share regarding the "smallness" of the poetry world is effectively negated by the lack of adequate diversity in that world. I mean the lack of poetic diversity, the lack of a diversity of attitudes toward poetry, poetic status, and publication. When the vast majority of the agents (an anthropology term denoting individual volition and some degree of self-interest, not meant to imply anything like "agent provocateur" to the more paranoid readers out there) in this social system are doing and wanting the same things, the system does not benefit from the counterbalances (i.e., "self-regulations") greater diversity could provide.

Another common belief among poets is that anything that benefits the increased publication of poetry is an absolute good. This belief is the typical reaction of poets to the recognition that poetry is not widely read or paid attention to in America. Therefore (they conclude), it requires some kind of "affirmative action". There is no contemplation among most poets of how this "affirmative action at any cost" might negatively affect the system and the poetry it produces. There is also little to no reflection on the fact that boosting poetry book and journal sales with grant and contest money does nothing to encourage non-poetry readers to start reading contemporary poetry. The audience for poetry is an audience of poets, almost entirely. Another fact that is not often noted is that there are more poetry books published each year in contemporary America than there every were in previous (less-academic) eras. Some poets who have recognized this flaw in the notion that poetry publication requires social welfare subsidization have hailed this as a golden age in poetry publication. But again, this glut of poetry publication is funded largely by aspiring poets paying contest fees on the gamble that they, too, can be published poets, poets of status. The sales of contemporary poetry books to non-poets or those who do not aspire to become poets is dismal (as most would expect).

I think it is essential that we look at facts like these and contemplate the effect they could have on the character and quality of American poetry. And this, I think, should be done before any aesthetic discussion of published poetry can be entirely valid. In other words, I suspect that there is a very strong effect on the character and quality of poetry based on a simple observation of the current publication system.

And I mean with this that we should go back to fundamentals in the criticism and study of poetry. We should be asking all over again, "What is a poem? What defines poetry? What defines a poet?" When I read contemporary poetry, one of the primary questions I ask of the poem and poet is "What are you doing to make sure this poem is not a commodity of the PoBiz marketplace? What and where is the individual (unaffiliated) vision behind this poem." Almost every contemporary poem I have read fails this personal criterion, because the poem and its author seem to lack the awareness that poetry is even in danger of commodification. The great disease of today's poetry is a lack of awareness of the larger world, of humanity as a species in its modern predicament. Today's poetry mostly looks academically specialized and small-minded to me in the same way that most academic writing has no appeal or meaning to non-academic readers, readers who are not professionals in the specific field being written about. From my perspective, most of today's poetry looks exactly like it was written within an academic market system like the PoBiz offers . . . and without any awareness of the compromises and dangers such a system presents to art and to the evolution and adaptivity of language itself.

As an additional minor note, although I don't deny that the dynamic Monday Love describes (in which an outsider/insider polarization exists) can potentially occur, I haven't personally seen any real evidence of this in today's poetry world. What I have seen is very few outsiders and poetry dissidents . . . a surprisingly tiny number, in fact, especially considering that I have also observed a great deal of dissatisfaction (even in academia) with the current state of poetry and its publication. Of the dissidents I've met, I've yet to meet one whose poetry (if I had the opportunity to see it) struck me as absolutely aesthetically defiant of PoBiz or contemporary academic conventions. Much, even the well-written and most interesting, was "regressive" and resembled the poetry of an earlier era. "Regressive" is not meant as a criticism here. It's merely meant to indicate that the poetry did not really directly challenge the PoBiz system in its conception or style . . . except in the sense that fundamentalisms always react against modernisms (i.e., not progressively). What I'm saying is that I have yet to read any contemporary poetry that really progressively transcended the inheritance and indoctrination of our PoBiz era.

Back in the days, I once questioned whether one could be a true "Poet" these days by writing poetry at all. Perhaps the qualities and voice that defined and/or should define a Poet (e.g., individual vision, functional innovation in thought and language, the desire and effort to speak to and for a large and diverse social collective, to articulate the thoughts, feelings, and voices this collective can't seem to put into words, etc.) have been barred from the language form published and labeled as poetry. Of course, most poets were and will be nonplussed by this proposition. But I still feel this notion is viable. And by "poetry" here I am not referring to poetic stylings, spoken word, rap, performance oration, etc. . . . but to what is defined (by the PoBiz) as poetry, what literary artifacts are deemed "poems" by the poetry establishment, what is published in "poetry journals" and in "poetry books".

In the very small, very underground, very disorganized resistance to the PoBiz, there is simply not enough mass and muscle to create the kind of self-defeating polarization with the "insiders" that Monday Love describes. As far as I have seen, outsider poetry of literary quality (not just adolescent, neo-Beat, rebellion poetry) has yet to be written in America. Or if it has been written, it has yet to find an audience or be disseminated or recognized . . . even by an underground of "Anti-Foets". I would even venture the guess that we, none of us, know what such poetry would even look like. It hasn't yet been conceived, because in order to conceive it, we would have to throw off the shackles of the PoBiz indoctrinations, monopolies, and colonizations that still imprison our thinking about poetry. I suspect that it is only after these shackles are slipped that we will be able to embark on the creation of such a poetry (or poetries, more likely). And that creation will not begin with a bang of genius, but with fumbling in the dark, wild misses at a glorified goal. Moreover, only when great critics discover, comprehend, and promote this poetry effectively would any sort of movement be able to start.

I think that there is some genuinely good and a great deal of well-written poetry coming out of the PoBiz publication factory . . . but any truly great and revolutionary poetry must, I feel, cut its umbilical cord to the PoBiz clean through and find a wholly new soil to stand on and cultivate in. This has, I believe, been the model of many if not all the major movements in poetry recognized today. Reinvention. Not an absolute reinvention (which is probably impossible), but a recognition and rejection of the element of contemporary poetry that makes it moribund. I believe that this moribund element of today's poetry is the PoBiz. And the PoBiz is a set of beliefs, ideologies, dogmas, habits, taboos, and totems (perpetuated and empowered by an indoctrinating, academic market system). The PoBiz is a culture unto itself, a mindset, a collective way of being a poet that is not only accessible for more aspiring poets than any previous forge of poet-making, but is actually a purchasable commodity. Poethood can be purchased today, and this purchase is significantly easier than earning poethood through the old-fashioned means, an individuating "trial by fire", an initiation not into the tribe, but into unaffiliated selfhood. The kind of selfhood that is not bolstered and comforted by a group of like-minded believers. This poetic selfhood is also every bit as much a strangerhood.

It is this strangerhood, in my opinion, that the PoBiz has emerged to protect aspiring (and practicing) poets against. The fear of individuated strangerhood is a great menace to poets and always has been, claiming many victims in every era of human life and creation. But I think we need to start seriously contemplating that, menace though it may be, such initiation into strangerhood could very well be the truly essential "education" one needs to become a Poet. Accepting and enduring this threshold of self-creation had always been the traditional and ritual poet-maker . . . until it was replaced by the model of purchasable poethood the PoBiz now mass-produces and sells. We must, at the bare minimum, ask of this transformation: what was lost and what was gained? And what is the value of each?

--Matt Koeske

Naked Celebrity

Clothes make the man.

Naked people have little or no influence on society.

--Mark Twain

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...

AN OPEN LETTER TO TREE SWENSON, President and Executive Director, Academy of American Poets

Dear Tree Swenson,

This letter is part complaint and part apology—a difficult stunt to pull off!

The complaint first

--I think in its context you and your colleagues may be surprised at the apology!

As I feel sure you will all be only too aware, I got banned from the Forum very recently. Indeed I got banned TWICE—the first time for talking about what eventually became the huge, fertile, sprawling thread called "On Aspiring Writers Becoming Successful Writers." The second time was for saying exactly the same thing yet again--same cause, same effect!

But what was the cause, that's the question? What was it really?

For a start, both expulsions were sudden—and in neither was I provided with a coherent explanation. After the axe fell the second time I couldn’t even track down the Site Administrator, the forum [at] address was malfunctioning (!), and it was only through the good graces of my Thai wife, Maw Homprang, that I eventually forced Christine Klocek-Lim to explain that I was banned for "harassing" Moderators and sending them "flaming" PMs. No evidence was provided, just the word of the Site Administrator on the thread.

To make a long story short, in the end Christine Klocek-Lim admitted that there was only one offending PM, so we don’t have to do a lot of research to take the next step to arrive at a conclusion.

Well, I've posted that PM now for all to examine here on, and if it's neither "harassing" nor "flaming" (Christine Klocek-Lim's own terms), which I think everybody agrees it isn’t, then you've got a problem. At the very least you’ve got to acknowledge that I was banned for something else--and that that something else was what I had been saying in public, not in private. The problem with the trumped-up “harassing/flaming” charge is that it would suggest the management doesn’t want to admit to the real reason, that it was, in fact, certain persons and issues that could not be discussed on the site that got me banned--not my style or my tone. And this is a very serious difference, and has very serious implications for as it's managed today.

Here's the link to the document in question--you can judge the evidence for yourself:

And the apology?

Oh dear, oh dear. It's for what a poster called 'Foetry' said to you on-line—something which, dear Tree Swenson, I want to say is completely and utterly unacceptable. Though not involved in expressing that threat myself, I want to apologize for it anyway—as somebody has to, and profoundly. On the other hand, I do want to say in the same breath that in my experience there is no such thing as a Foetry Gang out there, if such a group ever existed. Foetry has always been just a loosely associated brother/sisterhood of mavericks like me—look up the word for the image to really get teeth. Also read Matt Koeske, who talks a lot about that phenomenon in both his letters just below.

As to myself, I only discovered just a few months before it was dissolved last year. At that time I wrote quite a lot for it, having been very badly abused, and very personally too, by two important editors to whom I had been sending my work for 10 long but hopeful years. Call me naïve if you wish—I’d rather call myself the very rare poet who had never passed through the PoBiz system and was therefore blissfully unaware of it! So when the mask fell away and I saw the Machiavellian deceit of the faces behind it, I looked for help, and Foetry was the only relief I could find. I was 67, lived on the moon, had published my first poem at 52, and had no connections with any poetry community anywhere on earth! And then I went on to write for Foetry, quite a lot too, because it helped me. Indeed, I have come to admire what it stood for, and to admire it a lot—just like Matt Koeske.

I want to assure you, dear Tree Swenson, that what I am doing on will never include smearing people, and that indeed if I feel anyone is being treated vengefully, being humiliated, or threatened with exposure on the site just to gain points or advantage, I will do my best to stop it--and if I can't stop it, I will quit. As simple as that.

I have also discussed this with the owner/editor, Jennifer Semple Siegel, and she is in complete agreement with me on this. She will never let this happen on her site.

On the other hand, we all know there are a lot of things in the world that have to be said that some people would do anything to cover up, like the Bushes oil, or Enron--or Roy Cohn or Max Mosley their sex lives. Of course, there are moments when such private information is so relevant it has to be leaked, like the fantasies of the perpetrators of Watergate or Abu Graib. In Roy Cohn’s case it was not the sexuality but the hypocrisy, and we needed the essential sexual information to get closer to Joe McCarthy's own will to destroy so many lives. In the case of Max Mosley it's also not about the sex but the politics--and of course they were masquerading as each other!

I'm writing this letter to you partly because as President and Director of The Academy of American Poets, you need to be aware of aspects of your very worthy cause that may be in trouble and/or inappropriately supervised. I feel it was a great mistake to ban me at all, and if you read what I was writing I think you will see that both my posts and PMs were always well-focussed and dealt with even the most sensitive issues in a constructive and humane way.

I myself have used The Academy as a major resource in my exile for many, many years, and I am very grateful for its existence. I have nothing but positive feelings about your personnel as well--I just think you have to be very careful about the issues that are so advanced they are almost unthinkable, and one of them is that certain figures in the poetry establishment, among them perhaps some of your own friends, are engaged in business activities that cannot be publicized without serious moral questions being asked. You must be very careful that the Academy does not cover up for such people, especially when the going gets rough--and the names are right there in my own personal banning!

And one word about another famous name, Alan Cordle--a man whom I deeply admire. Alan invented the Foetry movement all by himself, and went on to reveal and substantiate in very great detail the unthinkable all by himself--through very hard work, persistence, and uncanny intelligence. So I understand Alan Cordle’s impatience completely even if I don't share his tactics in threatening you as he did. Never will I compromise on that!

On the other hand? On the other hand, who asks for scruples from the Scarlet Pimpernel, after all? Even Simone Weil was ready to parachute behind the lines and wreck havoc among the innocent in the Second World War, even this angel so pure she couldn’t eat! I compare Alan to both. He’s a hero for me, and I place him right up there with the world’s greatest RI (La Résistance Intellectuelle!) fighters.

I wish you the very best in all your good work.

Christopher Woodman

Guest Writer: Matt Koeske Responds to Dawn

Dear Dawn,

My memory is a little foggy at this time, but as you mention you posted on Foetry occasionally, let me be forthcoming and say that I was the admin for its last year of existence after Alan Cordle retired. That was where I first met Christopher.

As to your comment about my "blanket dismissal" of "poetz" . . . first, I believe I actually referred to them as "PoBizzers", i.e., poets who seek indoctrination, allegiance, and status through the official PoBiz channels, primarily academe and the contest system . . . publication in poetry journals is more complex. I am not quite sanctimonious enough to declare all poets who seek the fruits of the PoBiz "fakes", which is what I, at least, feel a neologism like "poetz" would imply. A semantic quibble, but an important one to me, as the mistake you made in evaluating my rhetoric, though tiny on the outside, carries major subtextual and rhetorical implications. For instance, if I was actually dismissing all poets who have gone to school, won contests, or obtained college and university teaching positions, my argument would easily be dismissible as that of a total crank.

I accept that this misunderstanding was purely accidental, but I would like you (and others) to know that we who are, for lack of a better term, "PoBiz dissidents", are commonly having our arguments "unintentionally" misread so that the readers don't have to more deeply consider their validity. The reason I joined and became an active member and eventually an admin there was not that I thought attacking individual poets who were involved in contest and publication impropriety was the right thing to do. I did not then and do not now agree with this tactic. I joined Foetry because I saw that there was, despite some vitriol and obvious (justified) outrage, a very valid argument to the main gripes of Namely, the corruption in the contest system (and perhaps the contest system itself) was, logically, destructive to the quality of the poetry publish through it. I saw many critics of come on the site to chastise and issue "blanket dismissals" at the members simply because these members were pissed off and wanted change. Such chastisement was the easiest way to both ignore and seemingly discredit the Foetry members' arguments. As Foetry's admin, I was constantly encouraging the members to pull back from personal attacks on poets and focus on logical arguments and evidence . . . in the hope that PoBiz devotees (and more importantly, those riding the fence) would be less capable of ignoring the validity of the arguments that were being made.

In general, I decided to do what I could do to bring stronger argumentation and intellectual credibility to the arguments that were already being made on

Secondly, as to a blanket dismissal of poets who seek support, fellowship, audience, and status through the PoBiz, I issue no such thing. That would be a dangerously simplistic argument. What I am saying is that the PoBiz as an institution (and, notably, an institution that not all of its members even recognize as a whole interconnected system) promotes beliefs, laws, and indoctrination rituals that are the main cause behind the decay of contemporary American poetry. We who seek or have sought to enter into this system of indoctrination and conformity have been asked in various ways to make choices between an inner creative vision or drive (which requires an ethical commitment, not just "selfishness") and being accepted and credential by the PoBiz system.

The PoBiz makes it exceedingly difficult to survive as an individual or innovator. The chamber of conditioning is the university, of course. But the real conforming gallows (in my opinion) of the PoBiz is the poetry contest. The contest is the gatekeeper of PoBiz credentialing. If it is dysfunctional, the poetry and poets that are credentialed will also tend to be dysfunctional. The more these dysfunctional poets, poems, and poetics are credentialed by this gatekeeper system, the greater the power of the system to conform and limit poetry to not merely dysfunction, but also a sanctified dogma of dysfunction. That is, I think, a logical conclusion. What Foetry illuminated was that the contest system was indeed dysfunctional.

In my opinion, the subtleties are very complex. There are no literal "puppet masters" conducting the PoBiz. Indoctrination and dogma are the real masters, and individual ambition and contemporary university administration practices provide the instinctual drive and resources. I think this all trickles down from ideological dogmas that became popularized in the universities in the 20th century (and were put into official practice with the rise of the university writing programs, which had a strong upsurge in the 70s, especially). At bare minimum, we have developed an ideological system with the writing programs that we have not adequately studied the impact and implications of (much as the "externalities" of modern industry went unchecked for ideological reasons until very recently . . . and even today, the battle for regulation and sustainability in industry is entirely uphill) . . . and we continue to live in an academic age in which university writing programs (as they now exist) are not very criticizable. Why? Because they are usually very profitable. Many people who would not attend college or would drop out (and take their tuition with them) will stay around for a creative writing education. There are even many MFA programs that take paying graduate students to help fund the program (in addition to undergraduate tuition fees). Essentially, the administration of the universities (which has grown increasingly business-like and less "educationally-oriented") doesn't really care if academic integrity is high in writing programs, just as long as they continue to be profitable.

I recommend the book The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 by David Gershom Myers, which gives a pretty even-handed account of the origins of writing programs (although it doesn't follow them into their more contemporary mode).

So, the core of what I'm saying is that we have to look more closely in the mirror and try to figure out if we have turned an art form into a commodity or market, and if so, what can we do to correct this?

Although I do think that going through the PoBiz indoctrination system is likely to limit the originality and perhaps also the depth of the poets who accomplish this, I by no means think that PoBiz-credentialed poets are untalented. But a close examination of the system of indoctrination suggests (in my opinion) that poets with very high degrees of potential talent are not likely to have that talent facilitated, developed, cultivated . . . and possibly even recognized in the PoBiz. The PoBiz system is not one that orients itself to the recognition and development of poetic talent. Rather, it is "designed" (really it's a byproduct of unconscious, tribalistic sociality, so we could more accurately say it "evolved") to capitalize on poetic ambition (which is like a potent natural resource) and turn this into an affordable status attainment market. It greatly resembles the New Age and Self Help markets in this way.

More importantly, I think we (even we who are strongly critical of the PoBiz) need to recognize and admit that we are part of the system. Detaching ourselves from it is like unplugging oneself from the Matrix. We don't want to do it, and if we manage (usually by some kind of accident), we find ourselves terribly weak and nearly useless. The "enemies" are within, not without. We all carry various degrees of this PoBiz indoctrination. And the truth is that, we are so symbiotically connected to these beliefs and conditionings that we don't know how to functionally conceive of poetry and poeting without them. What we have in front of us is first the "unplugging" or reconditioning or epiphany of PoBiz destructiveness (to both the art and to those who are driven to practice it), and then the long, hard scrabble to reinvent ourselves and our poetry and poetics (and perhaps, eventually, our publication system).

No one should be shamed for stumbling about in the dark in quest for this Holy Grail. That is the nature of all self-discovery . . . and of all art. Frightening? Hell, yes . . . and the PoBiz promises in its PR to limit this terror as much as possible. But without the full reality of this terror, this loneliness, there can be no genuine self to discover, and no bravery in the act of creation. Innovation must be met heroically, defiantly. We cannot both belong to the tribe unconditionally and create art for that tribe, art that tries to comprehend it.

For what it's worth, I would prescribe empathy for all of us who struggle with PoBiz indoctrination. Some have already "lost their souls", we might say, and are probably beyond redemption . . . but most of us are simply being human. A significant part of being human is being both ambitious and afraid, being unconscious, not knowing but wanting. This doesn't make us evil; it's merely what we are.

Poets and critics who work on the fringes of the PoBiz can remain relatively untainted by indoctrination . . . but at the same time, they might also remain forever ignorant of the way the system works. And so, many of these "fringe PoBizzers" are quite likely to assume that nothing is rotten in Denmark . . . and that those people who complain about the stench are cranks and embittered losers (as many of them clearly are . . . but they are not ONLY these things, that's the important distinction). Regrettably, the PoBiz as an organization feeds off of this collaborative ignorance and uses it to help prevent dissent from penetrating its walls. It all boils down to the old adage "Question Authority". So long as this is done, so long as we (as they say in left-wing politics) "follow the money" and see how the organs of the system interconnect, I think we will start to see many of the problems I and others have been noting for some time now.

Why then do so many remain ignorant and disparage people like Christopher Woodman and the members of Simply because the cost of knowledge or consciousness is dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that is likely to cut the umbilical cord to the larger body that sustains almost every poet in some manner or other. Consciousness is always this dangerous.


(Dawn, I would be happy to move your response to Matt here as well; if you wish this, simply give your permission, using the same Blogger ID, by responding in this comment section. You are also welcome to expand on your original comment. --Admin)

Guest Writer: Matt Koeske Offers a Message to Christopher Woodman and Other Poets Outside of the Po-biz

Dear Christopher,

I'm very sorry that this has happened to you. The trumped up charges are a pretty clear indication that your banning was less a matter of what you wrote on than what you represent in contrast to the ideology and tribal participation of the PoBiz establishment. You are an incompatible element with the "Utopian" ideal of a place like I know you from back in the Foetry days, and I see you as one of the most honorable, considerate, and affectionate people I've ever met. These qualities stand out in what I suspect is an online poetry world where most forum posters are in their 20s or maybe 30s (i.e., a post-adolescent peer competition environment). You have a sense of grace this is fully adult and very wise . . . and this quality is sadly not recognizable in the very adolescent poetry world today.

Equally foreign to the PoBiz (and one of its minor "cells" like is the attitude that holds ethics, honor, and integrity above ambition, undisciplined/unconsidered expression, and status-mongering. Again, this kind of honor comes from maturity. Although to the adolescently-minded poets of and the PoBiz establishment today, your humanity must seem anachronistic, this really reflects a distinct lack of vision, depth, and mature perspective on their part. This lack of maturity (in the Jungian world, we might say it's a lack of initiation) has enormous impact on and implications for today's poetry. The Old Soul that was long a staple of poetry (just as much as its essential half, the New Soul or daring innovator) has become utterly alien to the poetry coming out of the PoBiz today. Your experience with the forum has merely made you into an example of this great loss to the most ancient (and once sacred) literary art form.

Although I fully support you and Jennifer and agree that you should acknowledge and record all of these goings on for posterity or at least for public knowledge, I worry that the root of this unfair and adolescent usage of power in the forum administration lies in the very ideology (or impaired ideology) I described above. It is good to stir up support and focus outrage on incidents like this, but I don't think it will change the attitudes and opinions of the people that run or its forum. My recommendation is that we who care try to direct our outrage from incidents like this into a deeper and more detailed (and above all, well documented and absolutely fair) criticism of the PoBiz mentality. That is, we need, I feel, to take our energy and drive it into the investigation of the question "Why?" Why do so many PoBiz cogs and tools and "nobles" and "peasants" alike behave and think the way they do? Why do they have such a minimal grasp of ethics? Why are they so tribalistic, cronyistic, status-hungry? Why do they hold the various (never questioned) dogmas about poetry and poetry publication and poetry community that they do . . . and why do they refuse to question them? Why has the experience of "initiated" or mature adults with adult experiences and feelings and ideas eroded away from today's poetry?

I think that in the investigation of such questions, we will (or at least should) find that the poets who have gathered under the wing of the academic PoBiz establishment are, despite their misdeeds and apparent lack of fully evolved ethics or consciousness, really not much different than those who find themselves opposed and embattled with them. What I mean is that, poeting today involves a number of standard choices. Like, do I go to an MFA program or don't I? Do I seek publication by any means necessary or do I bide my time and hope to be "discovered" without networking or favor trading? Do I associate myself with people that are perhaps slightly "corrupt" and may require that I think and write more like them or do I go it alone and follow my own artistic vision? Do I dare to love and learn from writers who are not on the academic approved lists? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of questions like this that everyone seeking to write and publish (and maybe make at least part of a living off of) poetry faces. Most of these questions can and must be satisfied with Yes or No answers. At every fork in the road, taking one path excludes the possibility of taking the other (unless we are willing to backtrack, and that can be a whole new kind of grief).

I think that poets like some of the forum staffers have made a number of choices in their quests to "become poets" that led them to their current state of impaired ethics and adolescent grasp of both complex ideas and relationship with others. When you or anyone else ask them now to consider ethics more closely or whether a poet's behavior matters, you are not asking them something that they have ready access to. They are not like you, a mature adult who has wandered up and down and around and through the various labyrinths of life. Rather, they are like rats in a maze that have kept moving forward on the impulse of short-term thinking and immediate gratification and lost site of the innumerable branching options that there are in life and in the evolution of a human personality. To ask them to consider ethics in a complex, long-term fashion is to ask them to go back to some very early part of their maze and start over.

And the truth is that back when they made those early decisions, they were children (at least psychologically), they were afraid and fragile and sought immediate rewards like comfort and protection. They had no idea that as they continued down these paths, this initially embracing and seemingly unconditional comfort and protection would cut them off from so much that is human. So when they are asked (as you have asked them) to look back to these early forks in their poeting road, they are terrified of what they might lose and of how fragile and confused they were back then. Essentially, you are asking them to individuate, to "grow up", to get initiated, to evolve . . . and from their perspective, you are asking them to do this just so a particular grievance or notion of yours can be validated. They don't understand that your particular grievances and interests have more-universal implications, implications that even would be meaningful to these PoBiz tribe members and also to human beings beyond the "small" (small in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual scope, more so than in actual population) world of poetry.

It is easiest for them to say, "Christopher Woodman is just a foolish and selfish old man who doesn't speak for anyone. He's an insignificant nobody and a nuisance. We, on the other hand, are a tribe, a group, a community, a society. We are right and Woodman is wrong, because we are numerous and connected and he is singular and disconnected." If they didn't say this (and of course, to say this is very childish, very prejudicial, and very offensive), then they would have to go back to the kindergarten of their rat maze and stick their thumbs in their mouths and still whimper for the Great Mommy of an institution like the PoBiz to swaddle them up and suckle and stroke them. And to face and rise above that would require them to be, like you, like Christopher Woodman, an individual who like all real individuals is forced to stand alone, to stand with integrity and honor (which must have first been hard won and painstakingly cultivated).

This kind of individuality, this dread of loneliness and lack of protection from the group is foreign to them. They are terrified of it (just as preadolescent children are terrified of the burden of adult responsibility when they begin to get a whiff of what that really means). The predicament you are in when trying to engage in ethical debate with these people is that, in order to face you, individual to individual, they would have to acknowledge their infantile fragility, fear, and smallness. Regrettably, one of the most attractive lures of poeting today (in the PoBiz age) is the potential to not be "small" or alone. The romantic notion of the poet is that, by force of individuality alone, s/he overcomes his or her initial smallness. Vision, talent, genius . . . are the romantic's medicine for the "disease" of smallness and anonymity. The PoBiz has developed an alternate system and branded its own "medicine" for the same disease poets have always struggled to overcome. This PoBiz "cure" is tribalistic aggrandizement and status-sharing. One has only to sacrifice to the tribe's specific gods and totems, accept its taboos, and stay in line, and a certain portion of medicine is handed out. All who abide can partake of the ritual of "status" to at least some small degree. Those who can work this system to their advantage (who have a talent for being able to do this), can get more of the curative PoBiz drug for the "dreadful condition of smallness and anonymity".

But, of course, it is this entire totemic, tribalistic system that affords these portionings of status medicine. And the old romantic notions of individualistic vision, talent, and genius are anathema to the totemic system of the PoBiz. The PoBiz system is really not fundamentally different than the situation of modern business in which we see conflict between corporate giants and small, independent businesses. What is sacrificed in actual integrity by corporatism is "made up for" with PR, with spin. In business this is generally a conscious decision . . . but the decision itself is totemized and considered an unquestionable Good. In poetry (where philosophies for living have not real need to be non-fanciful), it is perhaps less conscious, but true-believers in a lie are always the best liars.

All of this is terribly regrettable for the state of today's poetry. The qualities of poetry (and poeting) that you (and I and many others) admire and are outraged by the absence of today are not accidentally left out of the PoBiz dogmas and ideals. They are overtly and intentionally excised. They are the only real dangers to the power of the established PoBiz system. Their exclusion and elimination and tabooing are the first and greatest Commandment of PoBiz Law. Like true scapegoats or taboos, once the tribal elders drove them off into the Wilderness, any further mention of them was strictly forbidden and punishable in the most vicious and absolute of ways. So your simple questions about ethics are, for people like the administrators (and all devoted members of the PoBiz) actually traitorous, sacrilegious, religious violations, sins . . . deadly sins and heresies. That is absurd, of course, even somewhat laughable . . . but that absurdity stands as one of the great pillars of the PoBiz and its pledge of allegiance.

For these PoBizzers to grant you the right of a voice (in their kingdom), the status of valid humanness, they would have to question the makeup of their entire totemic belief system, the entire structure on which they have risen or which has sheltered them from their infantile fears. Telling true believers that their god is a sham, a phony, a delusion is never going to win them over to your perspective. They have far too much riding on the unquestionability of their beliefs. If they are contented believers, they will mock, ignore, and/or swiftly reject you. If they are slightly more uncertain believers, they will feel compelled to destroy and make an example of you and your heresies . . . because questioning themselves is radically dangerous and likely to cause an inner rupture. There is no room in their minds or in their beliefs for tolerance and consideration of your Otherness.

I feel and worry that your attempts to introduce these ideas into PoBiz bastions (regardless of their tact, honor, or foundational correctness) cannot succeed. And I worry that, this failure being inevitable, you will be unnecessarily hurt and defiled by the way you have been and will be treated. And even as my blood boils, my heart also sinks to recognize this. It is unjust, but this particular injustice cannot be directly or linearly combated. You will never win a case against a PoBiz credo when the judge and jury are determined by the PoBiz. You cry out for justice, but justice will never be given to you . . . because the system of power the PoBiz uses and is, is not just, is not constructed with any sense of justice in mind. The only justice you will find is that which is inside you, that which you make. And you can bring it to the PoBiz, right up to its bejeweled gates, but I don't think you will be allowed to bring it inside the kingdom.

And I don't think you actually have to. Right on the outskirts you can hang your protest signs and raise your pickets and pass out your fliers . . . because there will always be a steady influx of potential PoBiz inductees trudging hungrily and longingly right through your encampment. And even if these inductees still choose to go inside, the seed you wish to plant can sometimes be planted with them. Not with the already-indoctrinated (who have too much to lose and to whom you are too alien). Some you will even persuade not to go in at all. And inside the walls of the PoBiz kingdom, occasional dissatisfaction will lead people to peer down into the outskirts and wonder if your ongoing protest and campaign might have some merit. Additionally, the occasional seeds you managed to plant (probably unconsciously) in the new inductees might find ways to take root and sprout inside the PoBiz walls, increasing dissent in a grassroots, evolutionary fashion. That is, by planting these seeds (or by devoting yourself to such seed planting outside the PoBiz kingdom) you increase the chance that even poets that pass through the indoctrination and perhaps even find their way to PoBiz success or status might someday be struck with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction or even disgust. A kind of "midlife crisis" of the poeting life, and these empowered individuals may be able to disrupt the inner structure of the PoBiz in ways people like you and me never would have the opportunity to do. So, it is of the greatest importance that these seeds have strong genes that can grow deep-rooted, resilient trees. When the dissident thought awaken in a PoBizzers mind, they have to be pernicious and impossible to entirely dismiss.

And this perniciousness is not impossible to create, because it is also the quality of all great poetry. Even if poetry isn't its medium, it is a poetic thing essentially. These seedling ideas need to be able to truly endanger the sanctity of the PoBiz mindset and conditioning. They can't be merely selfish wishes. To be truly dangerous and effective, they must be true.

It's a long-term strategy, but I think it is more functional than trying to forcibly convert those who are already deacons of the kingdom or more functional than trying to shame the high priests into submission from our esoteric, little pulpit in the excommunicated wilderness. At the very least, I suggest that this kind of long-term strategy be given equal energy and time as those shorter-term strategies that currently prevail among the PoBiz resistance.

Whatever the tack taken, let us always remember to keep our dignity and self-possession and honor and not throw them before hungry dogs like some unwanted table scraps. We can't do this and then convince the dogs it would be unethical to devour them. Don't let the fools and goons of the PoBiz shame you or take advantage of your immense decency and integrity.

My Very Best,
Matt Koeske


(This post has been elevated, with permission from the author, from the comment section.)

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