This post is in two parts. The first is a simple announcement of my participation in the upcoming AWP Conference in New York City.
I am chairing a panel on Saturday, February 2 at from noon to one fifteen on Gay Male Poetry Post Identity Politics, featuring “emerging”? poets Christopher Hennessy (whose wonderful blog Outside the Lines focuses on the relationship of identity and creativity), Brad Richard, Aaron Smith (whose entertaining blog focuses on anything but poetry), and Brian Teare. Here is the description of the panel from the conference schedule, written by moi:
What does it mean to be a gay male poet today, after gay liberation, the somewhat domesticated gay rights movement, the revived radicalism of Queer Nation, the AIDS epidemic and ACT UP, and intellectual interrogations of “queerness”? and identity itself? Contemporary gay male poets can take their gayness for granted on several levels. They also can explore, question, and even explode that identity. On this panel, four emerging gay male poets discuss what the words gay male poetry mean to them.
I hope that all interested parties will try to make it. Let’s make this panel a party!
The second part of this post is about my impression of the role that some phantasmatic nightmare image of AWP plays in the imaginations of many participants in the various online poetry worlds. To read more, look below the fold.


There seems to be a lot of resentment and anger toward AWP and its conference among those (many or most of whom seem never to have attended the AWP conference) who see themselves as excluded from an overly monolithic and reified idea of what AWP is and what it does, people who seem to believe that all published writers enjoy lives of pampered luxury. I understand the sense of those who feel themselves to be on the outside that the “inside” is some kind of “cabal,” as Ron Silliman has characterized the mainstream poetry world (though his definition of “cabal” includes people who don’t support or even know one another and have no contact with one another, which is rather the opposite of a cabal), or even a conspiracy, as the folks at the late-and-very-much-unlamented Foetry.com saw everything in the poetry world. I have felt that sense myself, that there was some secret key which I didn’t possess which would give me access to the poetry world and make me a real boy at last.
But it’s hard to understand the cultivation of such feelings among those who are clearly not the beleaguered outsiders they present and/or imagine themselves to be. Charles Bernstein has a recent post on his web log parodying AWP as the “Amalgamated Writing Programs,” a malign and monolithic corporation. He also presents it as seeking to crush all poetry that clashes with its ideology, all poets who refuse “to write the Amalgamated Way,” quoting the imaginary Darien Credenza (a caricature of D.W. Fenza, AWP’s executive director) as saying that “some views are more equal than others,” a heavy-handed allusion to George Orwell’s Animal Farm and its critique of Stalinism. Besides the implication that AWP is equivalent or even comparable to Stalinism, I was especially disturbed by the piece’s central conceit, that the so-called Amalgamated Writing Programs were holding (at their “annual congress,” a clear allusion to Communist Party congresses) a “Morally Repugnant Poets-and-Theorists Exhibit,” particularly since at another point in the piece this imaginary exhibit is referred to as “the Degenerate Books exhibit.”
The last people to hold Degenerate Art (Entarte Kunst) exhibits were the Nazis. Such a conflation of the utterly incommensurate—the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and the Nazi Party—is irresponsible and, yes, morally repugnant. If we put all the insinuations together, that would make AWP a bunch of hypercapitalist Communazis. The latter was a popular term of opprobrium among Nineteen Fifties McCarthyite types. But then, “the centerpiece of the exhibit [will] be a graphic display naming names of poets who engage in Un-Amalgamated activities,” so I guess that AWP are McCarthyite red-hunters as well. It all gets so confused and confusing…
Such pseudo-political posturing is rife in the online poetry world. But to compare AWP, which whatever its shortcoming and blind spots has no power over anyone (though the piece quotes Credenza with threatening that poets who don’t toe the Amalgamated party line that “poets should be like bees [working in swarms]…are going to get stung”), with Nazism is inexcusably irresponsible, demonizing AWP and trivializing the murder of millions of actual people. Such comparisons, like the word “fascism” (which Bernstein doesn’t explicitly use in this post), are thrown around much too casually these days.
But Bernstein’s piece does reflect many people’s view of AWP as a malignly powerful corporate entity out to keep them from achieving their dreams. Such a sense of exclusion and oppression is rather odd in the case of someone like Bernstein, who has been a chaired professor at SUNY Buffalo and is now a chaired professor at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. Such positions are hardly markers of marginalization. These would seem, rather, to be indications of the acceptance of avant-garde poetry and criticism in academia.
Having now published five books of poetry, two poetry anthologies, and a book of literary essays (yay me!), and still not found that magic key, I now realize that the poetry club or clique or coterie or cabal is at the least much more diffuse, diverse, and fractured than I had imagined when I was only aspiring to be a poet. Of course there is no lack of nepotism and back-scratching in the poetry world, and I don’t like it any more than anyone who’s not a beneficiary does. I hate dishonesty and hypocrisy, by which I've been victimized too many times. But I’ve also realized that their prevalence doesn’t distinguish the poetry world from the world at large. The poetry world offers more opportunity for effort and merit to be rewarded on their own terms than most parts of the so-called real world that I’ve seen. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have the publications I rolled off above, as I’ve never had anyone’s sponsorship or been anyone’s protégé.
I grew up in poverty, about as far from anything like a literary world as one can imagine, and partly because of this, literature and the world it presented, and the possibility of a world where people cared about literature, appealed to me as a place utterly different from my own. As I’ve experienced the literary world and academia in general, I've come to see that too much of it operates by the same unfair rules as does the rest of the world, except sometimes in even more vicious and petty ways.
Many aspects of academia are petty, cruel, and vicious. The MLA convention, for example, which I have attended as a job-seeker for more than ten years (and no doubt that situation colors my perspective), is for me a toxic experience, full of people whose only interest is in scoring points against one another, in looking down on those who don’t come from or haven’t been placed in the right institutions, and in playing out their social dysfunction in the guise of intellectual debate, the point of which always seems to be “I’m smarter and thus better than you are” or just “Pay attention to me.” The criterion of “collegiality” in academia (at least in English departments) seems mostly to be used to weed out anyone who isn’t “one of us,” often on ethnic or racial grounds, or just because someone hasn’t completely filed him or herself down to fit into his or her assigned box. Or maybe he or she is just someone that the powers-that-be in a given English department don’t want to have over for cocktails. But the MLA is hardly the Nazi party either.
But I was struck when attending the AWP conference for the first time last year by how closely it resembled my early vision of a literary world. The warmth, the friendliness, the welcoming environment were almost overwhelming. I found it to be a very diverse place where I could meet with poets, have discussions about poetry, creativity, etc., without any sense of people trying to advance their careers. I’m very sensitive to the jockeying for position that’s so common at “professional” gatherings, and I found none of it.
So two cheers for AWP.

Originally Published: January 28th, 2008

Poet and editor Reginald Shepherd was born in New York City in 1963 and grew up in the Bronx. He earned a BA from Bennington College and studied at Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), won the Associated Writing Program’s Award in...

  1. January 29, 2008
     Christian Bök

    Hello, Reginald:
    Actually, the article by Charles Bernstein constitutes a sardonic rebuttal to an article entitled "The Words & the Bees: Advice for Graduating MFA Students in Writing" by D. F. Fenza, who has written an absurdly paranoid essay, which seems to warn students at length about the perils of the Language Movement, describing such avant-garde poets as "ichneumonids"–a species of wasp that can, with systematic efficiency, destroy the hives of honeybees (who in this case represent the lyric poets of honest, humane labour, uncorrupted by the evils of any "poetic theory"). Despite the use of such an apiary trope in the article by Fenza, his own advice comes across as very "waspish" in tone, particularly in its prejudices toward the poetics of the avant-garde–so Bernstein has merely responded in kind with a parodic article that showcases the hidebound attitudes of Fenza, a writer who promulgates, but does not acknowledge, a poetic theory of literary genocide, one which equates the avant-garde with a degenerate, corruptive influence upon young minds, etc….

  2. January 29, 2008
     Simon DeDeo

    As Adam Smith wrote, "people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public."

  3. January 29, 2008
     Ron Burgandy

    I think much of the nasty talk about AWP is simply a sadness (and, for some, self-loathing) over the increasing professionalization of our art form. When we all first dreamed of making a life of poetry, I think whatever we dreamed (Paris in the 20s, New York in the 60s, San Francisco in the 70s) was very different from the life of an insurance salesman or property manager flying coach to sit on a hard metal chair in an auditorium to listen to a rally. Writing's major profesional conference, however "warm" and "friendly" it may be, is an annual reminder that we're part of a machine that grows larger as it continues to lose social significance.

  4. January 29, 2008
     Charles Bernstein

    Dear Reginald,
    My "Amalgamated" piece, by-lined by one Mike Freakman, is a parody of “Advice for Graduating MFA Students in Writing: The Words & the Bees” by D.W. Fenza, Executive Director of the Associated Writing Programs, published in the official publication of AWP, The Writer’s Chronicle, May/Summer 2006 (Vol. 38, No. 6). Although this information is clearly stated at the end of the piece, nowhere in your comments do you mention that it is Mr. Fenza who uses the term "morally repugnant" to describe those poets with whom he has aesthetic disagreements. My parody is studded with clearly marked, direct quotations from Mr. Fenza's article. Wouldn't it make more sense to note the source of the language you find so unpleasant? “Demagoguery,” “condescension,” “parasites,” “pretenders,” “hypocrites,” poets who have “tortured our poor mother tongue” with “abuse” – all these are Mr. Fenza’s words. My point was to bring critical attention to this way of demonizing those to whom one disagrees, not to endorse it.
    Yours, truly,
    Charles

  5. January 29, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    Chuck Close: "I hate art fairs. I think that for an artist to go to an art fair, it’s like taking a cow on a guided tour of a slaughterhouse. You know that sort of thing goes on, but you don’t want to see it."

  6. January 29, 2008
     Collin Kelley

    After attending my first AWP in 2007, I found it interesting and I'm glad I attended, but it was overcrowded, exhausting and just not "fun." I felt like I was at work, rather than there for my art. Many of the panels I attended were, to be honest, a bore and whoever did the layout for the book fair in Atlanta should have been taken out and shot. I did my fair share of networking and meeting writers, but I was amazed at the number of grad students and other assorted attendees who were trying to hawk their manuscripts. I had no less than five eager beavers come up to me at the booth I was volunteering at for an hour ask me who they could drop their manuscript off with. Really? That was a turn-off, but AWP has its place and while I'm not attending NYC (there are a number of other just as important conferences happening that I want to attend this year -- Split This Rock in DC and Saints and Sinners in New Orleans), but I'll be back in 09 in Chicago. I highly recommend that folks attending AWP find out about the "off-site" events. We had some amazing readings here in Atlanta at various venues around the city. My "fun" quotient was fulfilled at the off-site readings, so search them out.

  7. January 29, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Thanks to all for reading and commenting. I'm pleased that this piece has gotten so much response.
    With regard to Christian Bok's comments, I am well aware that Bernstein's piece is a parody of D.W. Fenza's article in a recent issue of The Writer's Chronicle. Hence my use of the words "parody" and "caricature." I find Fenza to be rather narrow-minded and, yes, a bit paranoid in his conviction that theory is the death of literature, though he is hardly alone in such a view. From the first time I encountered theory (in the form of primary texts by Adorno, Barthes, Benjamin, and Foucault, and summaries by Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton), I found it a useful spur to my own thinking and writing, from providing new conceptual frameworks with which to grapple to offering up phrases to steal for poems. But theory has been both over-used and abused (especially by those who come at it second- or third-hand), as a cudgel against both literature's pretensions to be more than an ideological mystification or a social symptom and its practitioner's pretensions to be anything other than discursive automatons at best, agents of ideology at worst. Fenza's position does not just emerge out of thin air or sheer malice.
    Bok seems to be saying that Fenza considers theory to be committing genocide against literature and creative writing. Fenza never uses such a word, and I strongly object to its use in this context. There is such a thing as genocide, and it is not literary. Genocide is the extermination of a people, and it is going on in Darfur even as I write these words.
    With regard to Charles Bernstein's comments, once again, I am aware that the piece is a parody of Fenza's article, and I am also aware that it uses some of Fenza's own language, if only becauae the post so informs readers. However, the language is ripped out of context and distorted to score easy rhetorical points. For example, while Fenza does use the phrase "morally repugnant" in his piece, he doesn't use it to describe those who criticize the major poetry awards, as Bernstein's parody has it. Bernstein later goes on to attribute the phrase to his Fenza caricature Darien Credenza in reference to any "work of poetry challenges my understanding or beliefs." At this point, it's Bernstein's phrase, not Fenza's. Similarly, Fenza does say that "It’s an age-old game of partisan politics to pretend that your party has a monopoly on virtue" (which is so true it’s a truism) but he doesn't go on, as in Bernstein's piece, to claim such a monopoly for himself or for AWP. And certainly the idea that AWP will punish those who stray from its path (as if AWP had any such power even if the organization wished to use it) is pure Bernstein.
    There is a fine line between parody and willful misrepresentation. A parody is amusing and effective to the degree that it is accurate. And I a great believer in accuracy in reading.
    "The language [I] find so unpleasant" in Bernstein's parody, as I made quite clear, was that which imputed Stalinism, Nazism, and McCarthyism to AWP, none of which was in the original--that language was all Bernstein, as was the conceit of the Degenerate Books exhibit. There is no analogy between Fenza's intellectual and apparent artistic conservatism and the real and massive crimes of Stalinism and Nazism. To make such an analogy (like casually tossing around the word “genocide,” as Christian Bok does) trivializes the deaths of millions of their victims and the sufferings of millions more. I have no objection to Bernstein or anyone else criticizing or parodying AWP. But I found his piece's reduction of Nazism, Salinism, and McCarthyism to mere elements of his rhetorical strategy to be deeply upsetting and, yes, offensive. So I said so, and tried to specific about what offended me and why.
    With regard to Simon DeDeo’s comment, I’m not sure in what way creative writing is a “trade” in Adam Smith’s sense, or what conspiracy the writers gathering at AWP are hatching against the public. I certainly wasn’t let in on it, and I do love secrets...
    With regard to Aaron Fagan’s comment, Chuck Close may be an important artist, but his analogy makes no sense. Are works of art slabs of beef carved from the carcasses of artists slaughtered in the back of the museum or art gallery? What exactly is “that sort of thing” that goes on at art fairs, and why is it so unsavory to witness? Not only does the analogy not work, but I don’t get what the point is supposed to be, except perhaps that artists should just sit at home and never go to see art or meet other artists. Which seems rather pointless.
    Thanks again for your comments, and take care.
    peace and poetry,
    Reginald

  8. January 29, 2008
     Simon DeDeo

    Just teasing, Reginald -- or am I?
    I suppose if I had serious thoughts on the matter -- pounding on MFAs and networkyness is a bit of a sport for both the poetic right and left -- Collin and Ron have already expressed them well. What Thoreau said about abolitionist societies seems to go double for AWP, given the lesser dedication to ending the evils of slavery.
    I certainly love joining clubs, I join far too many for my own good. My experience, though, does indeed mirror Adam Smith's -- perhaps you are going to the wrong afterparties!

  9. January 30, 2008
     Charles Bernstein

    Dear Reginald,
    The reason I wrote my "Amalgamated" parody is that I was appalled (but also darkly amused) by AWP Executive Diretor D.W. Fenza's essay in the organization's flagship journal. Fenza's piece calls into play all the demons – and I agree with you that they are demons – that you prefer to locate solely in my response. Yes, my parody exaggerates; that's why it's funny. But it stays fair to the political unconscious of its unintentionally self-parodying source text, which, for reasons you don't give in your reply, goes unmentioned in your initial post, giving the impression that my satire came from out of the blue (or out of some Generalized Discontent, from which, I confess, I often suffer).
    For good reason, and very much unlike you, neither Darien Credenza (the subject of the parody) nor Mike Freakman (the bylined author), specifically mention Hitler or Stalin (I’m sorry to have to mention them now). Those may be among the demons that lie in wait in any retro Cold War rhetoric, poetry or otherwise; but the evil twins are not the only ghosts in the machine, nor even the most relevant ones for this discussion. Rather than recognizing that through Freakman’s satiric news report, I am parodying Fenza's arguments, you absurdly– and falsely – attribute to me Credenza’s ridiculous hyperbole, which you make even more extreme than Credenza. As if caught up in a hall of mirrors, your protest reflects the very exaggeration and distortion you lament.
    In your puzzling defense of Fenza, you say "Fenza does use the phrase 'morally repugnant' in his piece, he doesn't use it to describe those who criticize the major poetry awards, as Bernstein's parody has it." But that is exactly what Fenza does. Speaking of my critique of "poet laureates and Pulitzers," Fenza says "it’s the demagoguery of a tone-deaf poetics; and, I feel, it’s morally repugnant."
    At the heart of the Amalgamated parody is my belief that any accusation of degeneracy should be used with great care, a point on which you seem to agree with me, but won’t admit is the central point of my parody. As you know, the satire was published as part of Three Works /Ubu’s new ”Publishing The Unpublishable” series; the first piece in the series also deals with accusations of degeneracy within a more explicitly political context, circa 1990. In any case, it is telling that you decided to take me to task, rather than my source, for the darkest moment in the satire, which I based on both on Fenza's remark that "theorists sustain a parasitic lifestyle" and because of his list of poets and theorists injurious to the republic (Fenza’s list is cited in full, and attributed, in the parody). As Christian Bök notes, the bee imagery in Fenza's piece -- deployed with a deadpan that makes Mike Freakman look giddy – casts poets like me as destructive to natural processes.
    And, then, here is Fenza, all on his own: "But other theorists and a few postcoherent poets stand among the greatest pretenders, hypocrites, and ineffectual advocates of liberalism, the humane virtues of literature, and aesthetic renewal. They have abused books and authors. They have tortured our poor mother tongue. And perhaps their abuse has contributed to the decline of the English major and audiences for literature."
    And you think Freakman’s the one who's escalating the negative rhetoric?
    To rebuke me for rejecting Fenza's troubling rhetoric is depressing. To then attribute to me the views my parody specifically repudiates is, indeed, Orwellian.
    Our exchange reminds me of the story of the man who reports a wife beating to a neighbor. "Then stop beating her," the neighbor replies. “But it's not my wife!,” replies the good Samaritan, becoming agitated. "That's even worse!" says his neighbor.
    I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
    Yours, truly, & in hopes of happier conversations ahead --
    Charles

  10. January 30, 2008
     Henry Gould

    I think it's important to point out here that Mr. Bernstein has perfect right, and is in fact legally REQUIRED - under an obscure British statute known as "Crown Perquisites Regarding Proper Improper Nomenclature Under the Cambridge Ossifer of 1793, Issue # 1213" - to trivialize, and I quote, "all mannereth of thingth, irregardless of weight nor volume with regard to His or Her Majesty". In more accessible english : Mr. Bernstein is called upon to Trivialize Everything. In 1994 he procured the title of M.O.T. (Magister Omnium Trivium) from the House of Lords, as well as a Garter of British Hemp - which, I might add, is embroidered with the following inscription : Quod Erat Midas Aurum, Ego Trivium Est (ie. "What Midas was in Gold, so I am in Trivia").
    I'm hoping to join his august company someday myself. I've corresponded with the Queen about it on several occasions (one way correspondence, I should say - letters dated 11/12/93, 10/14/94, 5/8/96, 2/9/02, along with several postcards whose dates I can't recall. Still awaiting royal response).

  11. January 30, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Reginald,
    The Language/post-avant scene has been running low on "official verse culture" targets to attack for a while now, so you can't really blame Charles Bernstein for getting a bee in his bonnet and jumping all over that AWP-fellow's impolite article.
    It wasn't too long ago that "avant-garde" poets and critics would rail and sneer at academia and the MLA; now they ascend to high academic offices. They used to demonize "mainstream" journals like The New Yorker, APR, Poetry, and so forth; now they get featured in their pages and even write blogs on the latter's website. True, they still pop jokes about the AWP from time to time; however, younger (and older) "post-avant" poets--many of them Creative Writing students or teachers in programs under the sway of "Language" aesthetics--attend the conference *by the hundreds* to read, panel, and network there.
    So I don't think "avant-garde" poets really have any more contempt for the AWP than the Democrats have contempt for the Ways and Means Committee. They just want to take it over. You better believe Charles Bernstein does, the Nancy Pelosi of the U.S. poetry nation.
    Kent

  12. January 30, 2008
     Jennifer Bartlett

    Reginald,
    First, your panel sounds fabulous. I wish I could go. I don't have a 'golden ticket!'
    I am conflicted about AWP. It mostly sounds like fun. The only people who bother me are those who spend the first have of their career bashing academic poetics -- and how can the AWP be anything else but -- and then line up to be part of the AWP. Poets who have been around for awhile, might recall the Eliot Weinberger contraversy. And it's still happening in my generation, to be sure.

  13. January 30, 2008
     Jennifer Bartlett

    Note: I like Eliot! I think he's a great writer. I'm just making a historical observation,

  14. January 30, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Reminding Charles Bernstein of a Cardinal Rule of Satire:
    Having cast scathing humors upon others, refrain, in all cases, from acting hurt when people call you on it.
    Kent

  15. January 30, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Thanks to everyone for their comments, and thank you, Charles, for further trying to clarify what you were trying to do.
    Let me now take the opportunity to clarify, for at least the second time, what I was doing. I have neither the desire nor the energy (given the physical and psychological burdens that my chemotherapy treatments place on me) to have an extended contretemps over this.
    I don't particularly agree with Fenza's piece. I have found theory to be quite useful as a writer (I discuss this at length in the first piece in my just-released essay collection Orpheus in the Bronx, which appears in abridged form in the current issue of Poets and Writers). While I do think that theory's been over-used and mis-used, and even in his hyperbole he made some good points, Fenza's was not a particularly informed critique.
    Nor do I have any objection to satirizing AWP as an institution, though Fenza as an individual (even as director) and the organization and its events are not the same thing. I noticed no presence of his complaints or viewpoint at last year's conference, my first, which was very diverse ethnically, racially, sexually, and aesthetically. (After all, John Barr ostensibly runs the Poetry Foundation, and yet he'd be appalled by some of the people and things on the Harriet blog and on the foundation's web site in general. Kent Johnson makes this point in his comment.)
    My only complaint about Charles Bernstein's piece was its evocation of Stalinism and, especially, Nazism and its rhetorical equation of AWP with these wholly incommensurable phenomena. I have said this over and over again--I don't know much more clear I can make that.
    I have the greatest respect for Charles Bernstein as a thinker and, whether it's apparent or not, his critical work has been very important to me as a writer. (I listed his essay collection Content's Dream in a post on my web log listing the critical books that have been most influential on me as a poet, and I have taught A Poetics.) So I was particularly upset by what I saw as the intellectual irresponsibility of using the strong even if only implicit Nazi/Stalinist rhetoric and imagery. Respect does not preclude disagreement. But I have no wish for us to be adversaries
    I enjoyed the AWP conference I attended last year and, as I wrote above, I found it to be very diverse racially, ethnically, sexually and aesthetically. I can understand why some people harbor resentment toward AWP. But I don't think that resentment is always reasonable or reasonably expressed, that it's always based on an accurate impression of AWP, or that AWP is its proper target. I also think Kent Johnson makes a very good point that many of those who were on the outside are now quite thoroughly insiders, and that many people now cultivate a sense of outsiderhood who have never been anywhere but in the middle of the in crowd. Paul Hoover asks in a very interesting post on his blog regarding the question of whether the post-avant, "postmodern American poetry" as represented in part by his estimable Norton anthology (the book's publisher tells volume about the shifting sands of "mainstream" and "alternative" literatures) is the new mainstream, "Would it matter if Christian Bök and Kasey Mohammad had tenure-track positions?" Unless I am misreading their bios, both have not just tenure-track but tenured academic positions. On the other hand, I do not, though I have been labeled by Ron Silliman as a member of the “School of Quietude” (and apparently not the best example of the mangy breed). The boundaries of "inside" and "outside" are much more porous and unpredictable than most people believe, and they are constantly being redrawn.
    At the risk of sounding like Rodney King asking “Can’t we all just get along?”, I would like to point out that the enemy, if an enemy is required (as it seems to be), is not other poets, however different their aesthetic and social dispositions, and not even an organization like AWP (which is indeed a legal corporation), but a culture and an economy of scarcity–of money, of resources, of attention, of recognition professional and personal–that pits people in the society as a whole and in any given social endeavor against one another in a zero sum competition for crumbs of a shrinking economic and social pie precisely in order to prevent them from cooperating in changing the reward/withholding/punishment system some profit from, some rail against (some of these are actually suffering and some just don't want to admit that they're profiting), and most are actively harmed by.
    Those engaged in the constant turf wars with which the poetry world is rife might do well to recognize that their battles and mock-battles in tempestuous teapots are the direct result, indeed can accurately be described as symptoms, of the economy of scarcity. The energy expended in those gladiatorial contests might be more productively used elsewhere and to other ends, ends that might obviate the need for such catfights. (Forgive my mixed metaphors.)
    I have said all I have to say about Charles Bernstein's AWP parody, more than once, and won't address the topic again. I will also point out that my post brought up many other topics that have been overshadowed by my comments on Bernstein's piece.

  16. January 31, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Dear Jennifer and Kent,
    Thanks for your very smart and incisive insights. When I went to the AWP conference last year (I am about to get on a plane to go again), almost everyone I knew, met, or talked to there was an avant-gardener of one variety or another. But many people have trouble recognizing that the landscape has changed, and that a lot of things that used to be weeds are now treasured flowers. I have noticed that these days there are a lot of very comfortably ensconced people, older and younger, complaining about how marginalized and excluded they are. It reminds me of what my friend and former teacher, the wonderful poet Michael Anania, once said to me: if you continue nursing a sense of grievance once you've become successful, then you just become an a**hole.
    Take good care. Maybe I'll see some of you at AWP. :-)
    peace and poetry,
    Reginald

  17. January 31, 2008
     Curtis Faville

    As a fan of parodies, I must insist here that great parody exists within a kind of limbo, against which all cries of foul must be resisted. Parody may--as a form of criticism, or entertainment--be comprised in unequal measures of both contempt and admiration. Critics of parody may justly estimate the value of a parody by measuring its success as inspired ventriloquism, or as implied repudiation.
    The first requirement of successful parody is that it impress us with its (comic) verisimilitude. Secondarily, we should be entertained or disturbed by the shrewdness of its deconstruction of the model--both in style, and content. Beerbohm's parodies accomplish precisely these goals.
    To give a specific example, E.B. White's parody of Hemingway, "Across the Street and Into the Grill" not only mocks the tone and method of Hemingway's style--as exhibited in his novel Across the River and Into the Trees--but it lays bear the unconsciously comic presumptions upon which that style is based. Nevertheless, we cannot take the Author of parody to task for somehow being "unfaithful" to the politics or philosophical assumptions of his model. Swift or Orwell may make scathing indictments of despised power, for which they take full responsibility in the open marketplace of ideas, but parodists are under no such obligation. They can be fully incorrect, irresponsible, disrespectful, and glib, without violating any of the ground rules of their form.
    Your attack upon Bernstein's supposed exaggerations assumes that the parodist has a duty of accuracy and fidelity to accepted standards of decency and fair play. But these are the very "rules" which parody must necessarily "violate" to succeed.
    Bernstein appropriately takes you to task for assuming that the "Author" of the parody holds positions which the parody itself presents as a specimen of its type.
    Your criticism is, as Bernstein claims, truly Orwellian.

  18. January 31, 2008
     Arthur Durkee

    Strikes me that this debate runs headlong into the so-called intentional fallacy, in which one tries to deduce what the author intended in their text (poem or otherwise). The flip side, of course, is when the author rises up to interpret, explain, or defend their text against misrepresentation or mischance.
    Both sides of this have real problems, in my opinion.
    The truth is: Once you put your text out into the world, you no longer "own" it, and it can become subject to others' varying interpretations whether or not you want it to. We can try to "control" what we mean, but even then there are limits to what can actually be achieved. Forcing an interpretation is probably just as bad as being a doormat and allowing anyone to interpret it any way they want to. You can have an intention, but you have to live with the fact that your intentions are not always subject to your control, after it's out of your hands.

  19. January 31, 2008
     Jennifer Bartlett

    Hi Reginald,
    I was at AWP today, it was fun. I want to be sure I make myself clear because I'm confused how your comment relates to mine.
    I have NO bones to pick with AWP or academia. I am slightly annoyed by people (as described on my blog) who DO pick bones with workshop poetry -- and then get a booth at AWP. This strikes me as inconsistant.
    I don't consider myself marginalized or ensconsed. I'm a comp teacher (one that clearly can't spell). What I have said many time is that people with disabilities are marginalized. In poetry, in jobs, in life, more than any other minority. I think it would be hard to disagree with that.

  20. January 31, 2008
     Jennifer Bartlett

    Afterthought: For proof, one doesn't have to look much further than the Poetry Foundation Blogs which (unless I'm wrong) have voices of gays, African-Americans, mothers, women, Hispanics, and avant-gardists -- but no "disabled voice" to be found. -- I could be wrong.

  21. February 1, 2008
     john

    Bernstein's defense that he didn't actually say "Hitler," "Stalin," "Nazi," "Communist," or "McCarthy" is anti-poetic and anti-literary. It practically condemns itself as a tone deaf poetics.
    Reginald was saying that alluding to Nazism and Stalinism in Bernstein's critique of Fenza was excessive. Bernstein's defense is . . . what? That Fenza really is Nazi-esque or Stalinesque, or that, by not saying the words "Nazi" or "Stalin," Bernstein wasn't accusing him of such?
    I'm sorry, but either choice is pathetic. As is Bernstein's plea that we not judge him by the persona he speaks through.
    It's almost as if Bernstein wanted to exemplify the point of Fenza's critique of the theoretical de-naturing literature. OK, fine, sure, there's nothing "natural" about reading, but producing a text and expecting it to be read in a method and a mode that contradicts the practice of the common reader -- viz, "ignore allusions," and, "speaking through a persona exonerates the writer from the consequences of Godwin's law" -- and then calling people Orwellian for not reading by the unstated, uncommon rules . . . ai yai yai.
    Fenza's rhetoric of parasitism is obnoxious, but it's a traditional complaint against critics, and, by extension, theorists. "Assassin of my orchards!" It is true that Hitler and Mao called their enemies parasites too, but Frank O'Hara wasn't calling for the extermination of the reviewers, and neither have any of the other grumpy artists vilifying theorists and critics.
    I can't imagine a critique of Fenza that would verify his obnoxious views more thoroughly than Bernstein's did.

  22. February 1, 2008
     Ben Friedlander

    "Fenza's position does not just emerge out of thin air or sheer malice."
    "I was particularly upset by what I saw as the intellectual irresponsibility of [Bernstein's] using the strong even if only implicit Nazi/Stalinist rhetoric and imagery."
    Dear Reginald:
    Although I generally enjoy reading your notes for their thoughtfulness, I find your thinking here quite skewed. Comparing two texts that employ more or less the same rhetoric--one the official pronouncement of an officer of an educational institution, the other a self-identified satire disseminated by an individual--you find the instigating text justified in some measure and the parodic reaction irresponsible. Granting that Bernstein exaggerates Frenza's rhetoric (which is what parodies do, of course), the unpleasant implications are already there in the original.
    Moral of the story:
    Free speech doesn't give you the right to shout "Soup Nazi!" in a crowded restaurant--but you can still whisper it at high table.

  23. February 1, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    A moment of gratitude that these conversations even take place.
    One example:
    Sayed Pervez Kambaksh

  24. February 2, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Ben Friedlander said, criticizing Reginald Shepherd's "skewed thinking":
    "Comparing two texts that employ more or less the same rhetoric--one the official pronouncement of an officer of an educational institution, the other a self-identified satire disseminated by an individual--you find the instigating text justified in some measure and the parodic reaction irresponsible."
    These things do get overdetermined, don't they?
    I, for one, understood Bernstein's piece as an aggressive, position-taking parody, a kind of "pronouncement," as Ben has it, by an "individual" who is very much a well-placed "officer of an educational institution" (an Ivy League one, at that!), angrily targeting the pronouncements of another "individual," also an "officer of an educational institution."
    The main satirical effect produced by the coupling is ideogrammatic, so to speak: something secreted by the excited combination of the anxious pronouncements of the two official officers. And by the poignant, post-coital protestations of the poorly appreciated post-avant parodist...
    Something unintentional, but no less enjoyable for that.
    Kent

  25. February 2, 2008
     Ben Friedlander

    Kent:
    Parodies *are* aggressive, and they're also a way of taking a position; and Bernstein has an authority as a writer--based on his work, validated by his job--that gives his parody a little extra substance. But that doesn't change the fact that it's skewed to condemn the parody and forgive the original for something the two hold in common. Hell, it's skewed even to call it something the two hold in common--but if that can't be seen after all the previous comments, I don't think another explanation will help.
    Now, if someone wanted to say: "The rhetoric of the original was unfortunate, and that lets the parody score some easy hits--but I still agree with what the original was trying to say," well, that at least would have some logic on its side. Of course, it would still be wrong...
    (insert ideogram of smiley face here)
    Tschüss!

  26. February 2, 2008
     bill knott

    I don't see why Po(Chi)Mag even permits any PostAvant
    School-of-Noisiness personnel to use this site in the first
    place . . .
    they have tons of their own venues to spread their genius on . . .
    they don't allow SOQs onto their webcabals, they don't give
    Mainstream poets free space to propagandize–
    so why do you furnish a forum for them?
    what the heck do you at Po(Chi)Mag represent, anyway:
    what's your position–
    where's your Editorial spine?
    I can't believe John Barr and Christian Wiman are in
    favor of this reckless laissez faire eclecticism . . . it negates
    everything they stand for.
    Your magazine (and website) can try to be all things to all
    parties and nothing to none, if that's what you want.
    But I don't see why.

  27. February 3, 2008
     Don Share

    Hi, Bill.
    Just to clarify things, Harriet and the Poetry Foundation website are not run by Poetry magazine, though that doesn't answer your critique. The magazine is (obviously) edited, and therefore any eclecticism in its pages is not, presumably, reckless; the blog, being a blog, isn't edited, hence the laissez and the faire. Is this not as it should be?
    One of the things that the magazine folks and the Harriet folks do have in common, though, is admiration for your work and for your own blog.
    Yours as ever and respectfully,
    Don

  28. February 3, 2008
     Gregg

    I have read Reginald's piece here--it is pretty clear that he objects to Charles Berstein's implicit comparison of AWP to group think found in Orwellian critique, Stalinism, and Nazism. He feels that this goes too far. Because someone makes a parody, it does not absolve them from responsibility for their parody. The same critique, by the way, has been leveled against Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy." Was it really that bad, some Plath readers wonder, while others say yes, and most probably do not think about it.
    The justness of an analogy is quite the subject for writers, especially critics. These days when I read pre-20th century poetry, I increasingly notice how much justness and thought is being put into metaphors and analogies. To me this is the difference between wisdom and the information superhighway.
    People can grumble about the AWP and Language Poetry. As I heard presidential candidate Mike Huckabee this morning on NPR, what America needs more is weapons of mass education returning arts and music to the schools. The real problem in America today is the indoctrination of a go-along, get-along culture that is accepting a society of scarcity (including health care scarcity), and total indifference to their fellow citizens. Meanwhile the government is run by professional cleptocrats who stole the 2000 election-and this is well documented; have instituted torture; domestic spying; imprisonment without trials; blanket secrecy from the press, public, and congress; a war with changing rationales; and privatizing government functions through awarding contracts to political supporters; all funded by massive deficit spending.
    From my point of view, to be inarticulate in the face of this is to let abandon speaking truth to power. These things also affect academia, because this is the context within which people teach. For instance, I am sure every year students read Emerson, Whitman, or M.L.K. in a literature or history class and wonder if they are meant to take these voices seriously. That is the power of the book.

  29. February 3, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Dear Jennifer,
    I think that you may have misunderstand my reply to your comment. I am in complete agreement with you regarding the hypocrisy of those who participate in and benefit from AWP or any other organ of "official verse culture" and simultaneously complain about how corrupt or compromised it is.
    And though it is not something about which I'd thought before, you're also quite right that the voices of the disabled tend to be absent from many discussions about "diversity." I don't know whether this is a question of people being actively excluded (though I tend to doubt it at this point in history) or of disabled people, for whatever reason, not speaking up as you did.
    Take good care, and thanks for reading and commenting.
    all best,
    Reginald

  30. February 4, 2008
     john

    Dear Mr. Share,
    I, too, like Bill Knott's poetry, and while I can't boast a familiarity with his typical positions (I see him comment on Silliman's blog), I read Knott's comment as tongue-in-cheek.
    For one thing, as Knott knows, Silliman is happy to entertain the comments of SoQ defenders in the comments of his blog. For another, Knott's vocabulary here seems satirical -- "personnel," "webcabal." Thirdly, it's hard to imagine anybody (not even Fenza) seriously suggesting that Charles Bernstein shouldn't be allowed to defend himself in comments here. (Indeed, Fenza should be pleased that Bernstein's defense digs his hole deeper. Fenza and Bernstein seem to deserve each other, which we would not have known so well if Bernstein had not presented his absurd defense; Kent Johnson's last comment strikes the right note, as does Gregg's.)
    I could be wrong.
    Ain't language tricky?

  31. February 4, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Ben Friedlander, you rascal. My characterization of the animus and nature of Charles Bernstein's AWP parody as "aggressive and position-taking" (i.e., of a piece with the animus and nature of the AWP officer's tirade) is *obviously* obvious, and meant a bit to frame, ironically, the irony of your attempt to draw such "principled distinctions" between the competing angry polemicists: How you seem blind, that is, in the passage I quoted, to the deeper institutional relation, even identity, of the mutually parodied parties: prominent representatives of dueling Official Verses--one "mainstream," the other "avant-garde"-- poignantly locked in angry struggle for dominant position within the "educational institution."
    [insert frowny face here]
    Kent

  32. February 4, 2008
     bill knott

    in response to "John"––
    there's no cheektongue in my words above––
    (if you read through my blog, you'll see I'm
    only saying here what I've said
    extensively there)
    I reiterate:
    the web-bases controlled by LangPostAvants
    do not allow or encourage dissent and
    disagreement,
    (the example you give, Silliman's blog,
    screens (ie, censors) all comments
    before they're published: when's the last
    time you read a serious refutation there?)
    so why should any Mainstream Poetry site
    let Them have a free say?

  33. February 4, 2008
     Jennifer Bartlett

    R.
    Thank you for your nice letter.
    Of course, excluding PWD is an oversight, but one that needs to be examined.
    Perhaps, one day, I'll find a note in my inbox from Harriet asking me to blog about poetry and disability. If not me, there's plenty of good poets to chose from.
    Take very good care.
    Jennifer

  34. February 4, 2008
     john

    Dear Bill Knott,
    I am sorry to stand corrected on the rest, but Silliman does allow refutation. More than one commenter here has criticized Silliman plenty in comments on his blog.
    Since you have recommended your blog to me, allow me to reciprocate. At my blog is a link to my band's web site. You will find my last name there, since you seem to care. You may be interested to know that you are only the third or fourth person to have shown evidence of caring, the first having been Ron Silliman. The other time(s) happened in comment sections of poetry blogs too. Which makes sense, poetry since Ovid having, among other activities, staged a competition to etch one's name permanently in the sands of time.
    Best wishes with that sands of time thing.

  35. February 4, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Bill Knott said:
    >I reiterate: the web-bases controlled by LangPostAvants do not allow or encourage dissent and
    disagreement...
    Bill,
    Though there are a few poetry blogs that welcome unfettered debate, what you say about the control of dissent in the "post-avant" blogosphere and listserv arena is true--most theatrically, perhaps, in the Flarfosphere area, where any kind of sustained critique or pointed parody most often results in some manner of collective smear campaign of the dissenting voice, conducted both before and after the uncomfortable presence is banished from the blog or list in question. Sometimes, in the case of blogs, this involves the disappearance of the person's previous comments there, too, along with comments by those who were unwise enough to defend the offender--a convenient erasing, in that way, of any record of the critique. This, in fact, happened to me and others early last year at a moderately prominent poetry blog, something I write about here, with some amused resignation:
    http://www.blazevox.org/072-kj.htm
    As far as poetry listservs are concerned, the most notorious example of thought-surveillance is the Poetics List, owned by, as chance would choose, that parodist of "Official Verse Culture," Charles Bernstein. The history of censorship and exclusion there began quite spectacularly in 1998 (which I also have written about here http://www.flashpointmag.com/skanky0.htm ), and continues--albeit at more modest levels afforded by a now-evolved self-policing culture at Poetics--under the guise of "moderation," with ongoing, vindictive proscriptions of individuals (even though all posts have been screened before approval for years!) and selective but telling rejections of polemically minded posts that are deemed inappropriate for the subscribers (including, recently, posts by the excellent poet and blogger John Latta, pointing to my above article on the Poetics List meltdown of '98!).
    However, Bill, it's not really accurate, I think, to say that Ron Silliman doesn't allow strong challenges to his views. Actually, and whatever other criticisms one may have of Silliman, something that he certainly deserves good credit for--and which sets him leagues apart (aside from his age) from the clique-ridden realms of the younger post-avant crowd--is that he doesn't seem to be at all gun-shy of criticism, or even satire. True, he seems to almost always ignore it when it's given, and that's another form of control, but at least he offers his blog as a space for direct challenge. So far as I can see, anyway.
    But the genearal problem you describe is in avant blogoland is perfectly and disturbingly real.
    Kent

  36. February 4, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Dear Kent,
    It's true that Silliman does allow criticism of him to appear in his comments section. It's also true that he rarely responds, except to occasionally express his sense of being aggrieved or victimized. But he doesn't need to respond, since he has a whole phalanx of rabid attack dogs ready and more than eager to assault in the most vicious and personal way (knowing, of course, nothing about the person) anyone who dares deviate from the party line. You have commented on his blog (including on comments I have made), so I know that you know what I'm referring to. That, and his arbitrariness and intellectual dishonesty, is the reason I no longer read Silliman's blog--the atmosphere is just too poisonous, and I have no desire to subject myself to unnecessary ugliness. And if Silliman is mentioned unfavorably on another blog (say, mine), his attack dogs will migrate there to try and make a kill. Though I have no problem with reasoned disagreement, even when vehement, I also have no problem deleting personal attacks, which I have received on more than one occasion.
    all best,
    Reginald

  37. February 5, 2008
     Ian Keenan

    Reginald, I posted the comment that you deleted from your blog on the Silliman’s Blog thread of June 5, 2007, so that people can decide for themselves whether it contains a personal attack against you, as you’ve had a tendency to mischaracterize statements after censoring them as you’re doing here. It contains a factual statement about public policy and two quotes of yours that I reprinted without commentary.
    One was the one where you first accused of Ron Silliman of “intellectual and personal dishonesty” which you’ve done again here. You pretend to be concerned about personal attacks, but you are nonetheless using the Poetry Foundation web site to repeat the “intellectual dishonesty” charge against Ron. Best wishes, Ian

  38. February 5, 2008
     john

    I agree that charges of dishonesty are serious and should be backed up.
    It never occurred to me that Silliman might be dishonest, but his anti-SoQ polemic is intellectually incoherent. Robert Bly SoQ? Like or dislike Bly, his poetry and translations taken as a whole cannot be characterized as Quiet, or Quietist, or Quietudinarian, or Quietsesquipedalian. Intellectual incoherence might be hard to distinguish from intellectual bad faith and intellectual dishonesty, but they aren't identical.
    I got to this post from Ron's blog, a little squib-link inaccurately stating, "Misreading Bernstein." It's touching to see Ron standing up for his pal, but he's wrong.

  39. February 5, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Dear John,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that intellectual incoherence is not the same as intellectual dishonesty, though I don't think there's a difference between between intellectual bad faith and intellectual dishonesty. To be in bad faith is by definition to be dishonest, as when one makes a promise in bad faith.
    The charge of intellectual dishonesty is indeed serious, and I can back it up. I would also point out that "intellectual dishonesty" refers to someone's way of thinking, not to them as a person. It is a criticism, but not a personal attack. As I have written, there are those (not you) who cannot distinguish disagreement or criticism from personal attack, either for others or in their own behavior.
    An example: Silliman discussed some time ago on his blog the anthology American Poetry Now. (Full disclosure: this anthology was published by my publisher, edited by my editor, and includes my work. These facts, however, are not relevant to my critique of Silliman's discussion.) He complains that the book presents no principles of inclusion or exclusion, but the second paragraph of the first page of the book's introduction explains the criteria by which work was chosen for the anthology. Silliman claims that the book doesn't include the work of Muriel Rukeyser as listed on the back cover. However, it does, in the place indicated in the table of contents (which is not the same order that the back cover presents). This indicates to me that Silliman didn't even bother to open the book before writing his discussion. He complains that Odysseas Elytis is not included in the book, but obviously, as a Greek poet, there would be no place for Elytis in a book called American Poetry Now.
    Silliman goes on to call the writers included in the book a "cabal." He asks, even if they don't know each other, aren't in contact with one another, and don't support one another, "How is this not a cabal?" My Merriam Webster's dictionary defines a cabal as "the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government)," which would refer to the activities of a group, not to the group itself. But if it were to refer to a group, a group of persons can't not be secretly united in a plot (what plot is Silliman imagining, anyway?) if they don't know one another and don't support one another. In other words, the way it's not a cabal is that it's not a cabal.
    Silliman is obviously too intelligent not to know what a cabal is. Applying such a deliberately sinister term to writers not in his club or whom, as writers or as people, he just doesn't like, is just a slur, like his constant use of the tiresome phrase "School of Quietude," which I have never seen in print, but only online.
    In one of his blog posts, Silliman refers to Rafael Campo, twice, as "the Anti-Pound," in reference to a piece in The Washington Post which merely and in passing contrasted Campo's more personal, familial approach to history with Pound's grander, large-scale approach. There was no comparative evaluation of the merits of either approach, nor any attempt to set Campo against Pound.
    In another link, Silliman smears gay poet Henri Cole with the fact that he was positively reviewed by a political conservative, as if he were responsible for who reviews him, or as if there were some obvious and direct connection between poetry and politics. According to Silliman, Cole and his work are right-wing because a right-wing person likes his work.
    The post that actually started me on my own blog (my first post was originally meant to be a comment on Silliman's blog) agrees with Bill Knott's characterization of poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg's aesthetics as "fascist." Besides the fact that I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, and I despise this kind of pseudo-politicization of literature with every fiber of my being, Silliman conveniently ignores the fact that, in the blog post he refers to, Knott calls both conservative and avant-garde poetry "fascist," because both are difficult and elitist.
    For a more personal example, Silliman wrote about me not long after I started my own blog that "I think Shepherd’s doing exactly what he ought to be doing--he’s defining his poetics and defending them. That makes total sense to me. Do I agree with him? Probably not. But I don’t think he needs to write my poems any more than I think I need to write his. Each of us, I trust, will write the poetry we need." He concluded by saying that "Shepherd would appear to be one of the poets who has gotten over that [idea that other poetic traditions don't exist in the United States], which is great." I was very pleased that Silliman seemed to understand that my criticism of him was not an attack.
    A little while later, in a personal correspondence, Silliman affirmed that just because we disagreed there need not be any antagonism between us. He also told me that he was pleased to see some poems of mine in the then-current issue of Conjunctions. Then he wrote a post on that issue, which he had clearly barely read (he admitted as much in the post). In the course of his constant categorizing, he attached a label to every contributor to the issue. I was labeled as a "School of Quietude" poet (the issue's only one), and furthermore dismissed as not a good example of the type. Given what he had written earlier to me, and what he had written on his blog (which would make me specifically not "School of Quietude," if such a thing existed), I took this as a piqued response to some of my criticisms on his web log.
    These are some of the grounds on which I can say that Ron Silliman is intellectually and, yes, personally dishonest. I have not previously discussed the more personal incident, but apparently it is necessary to do so.
    As for Ian Keenan, he is best ignored, but I will simply say that he is being disingenuous, as he engaged in an intensely personal attack on my character in the comments section of Silliman's blog last year, which for some reason he chooses not to mention here. But I have no desire to have an interchange of any kind with him.
    Take good care,
    Reginald

  40. February 6, 2008
     bill knott

    whoa . . .
    if Shepherd had bothered to read my post firsthand instead of Silliman's
    canted version of it, he would have seen that I myself didn't call
    Schnackenberg fascist . . .
    that quote came from a British critic . . .
    it's too boring to rehash, but if anyone is interested in reading what
    I did say in that extensive piece from last year, just google
    my blog / Schnackenberg / Geoffrey Hill
    to find it . . .
    I don't know if Shepherd "monitors" the comments on his
    blog, but Silliman does;
    the comments on my blog are not screened or censored.

  41. February 6, 2008
     bill knott

    sorry, I dashed that last note off too quickly,–
    I apologize for my accusation that Mr. Shepherd didn't
    read my original post . . .
    he's right about the "elitist and difficult" part. that sums
    up some or perhaps most of what I said in my lengthy
    post. . .
    the British critic I quoted specified Schnackenberg–
    I didn't . . . I didn't mention her at all, though I see
    in hindsight that my general agreement with his thesis
    might look like it indicates that I also endorsed his
    opinion of her . . . I should have expressed
    my doubts on that particular point re Schnackenberg,
    but I was addressing his overall theory–
    and in fact the single poet most in question there,
    pro and con, was Geoffrey Hill . . .
    in any case, if anyone wants to see what I actually
    wrote, they can google

  42. February 6, 2008
     Ian Keenan

    John, Bly attacked the tradition of Pound, Williams, and Eliot in the 1960s in a manner that had a strong impact on the SoQ thereafter, pitting the great poets in translation against them in an unfortunate manner, taking ideas from the Surrealists while saying they 'had no heart.’
    Reginald, Predictably your quest to disparage Ron’s honesty has not been held back by an inability to find any dishonest statements but you cite a few examples, such as your implication that he willfully misreported the Muriel Rukeyser non-error. I publicly agreed with you about Ron’s quips about 'Rafael Campo the anti-Pound’ being a provocative exaggeration of the views stated, but like your retort to the Bernstein piece this is a component of what seems to be your crusade against humor. Ron honestly noted the Washington Times praised Cole, perhaps suggesting that a poet that more forcefully challenged their views wouldn’t get such a citation, but not stating in any way that Cole shared that paper’s views. The 'personal attack’ you refer to was my response to your charge of Ron’s dishonesty, in which I noted how the avant-garde poets you demonstratively stated admiration for were almost all affiliated in some way with your graduate programs.
    What interests me most though, is your statement in response to Ron’s commentary on American Poetry Now, where here you say “Silliman is obviously too intelligent not to know what a cabal is. Applying such a deliberately sinister term to writers not in his club or whom, as writers or as people, he just doesn't like, is just a slur, like his constant use of the tiresome phrase "School of Quietude," which I have never seen in print, but only online.”
    Interesting because when you listed the Nine Critical Works That Helped Shaped My Thinking About Poetry, you mentioned Silliman’s The New Sentence and Bernstein’s Content’s Dream, which are very specific about the charges you claim to find tiresome, dishonest, and never to have seen in print.
    The New Sentence (1987) says: “The marginality of this oppositional tradition has both been attested to, and reinforced, by the studied silence accorded it by the apparatuses of a seemingly large literary “center”: the universities, journals, publishers, libraries, writers and readers of the hegemonic culture. For good reasons, those who participate in the legitimating mechanisms of the dominant literature have seldom perceived themselves as bearing an explicit relationship to any social or historical movement..... This perspective is further buttressed by the dominant literary community’s sense of its own completeness. Through systematic token representation, it can include and contain all types of differences.”(171-2)
    Content’s Dream (1986): “Let me be specific about what I mean by “official verse culture”- I am referring to the poetry publishing and reviewing practices of.. .all the major trade publishers, the poetry series of almost all the major university presses. Add to this the ideologically motivated selection of the vast majority of poets teaching in university writing and literature programs and of poets taught in such programs as well as the interlocking accreditation of these selections through prizes and awards judged by these same individuals. Finally, there are the self-appointed keepers of the gate who actively put forward biased, narrowly focussed and frequently shrill and contentious accounts of American poetry, while claiming, like all disinformation propaganda, to be giving historical and non-partisan views.”

  43. February 9, 2008
     Curtis Faville

    Mr. Shepherd:
    I should report to you, as a former frequent participant on Silliman's comment box, that Ron does indeed censor posts, even by those whom you might characterize as his confederates. He has censored several of mine, for reasons that would cut both ways from your political direction. I mention this to provide perspective on the issue of using "approval" of comment streams to control debate. I would assume that you think I'm one of Ron's "attack dogs" who stray over to your blog to make mischief. The fact is that I seldom agree wholeheartedly with Ron's assertions, and frequently tried to distance myself from him on the spectrum of sentiment. Though I have many quibbles with Ron about the "Quietude" debate, nearly everything he imputes to reactionary establishment poetics rings true to me. I don't see it as having an historical basis all the way back to Poe, but what he complains of was true in 1950, and continues to be true, with some augmentation, today. Agreeing with that proposition doesn't make me radical, or avant-, or left, or post-Modernist, or one of Silliman's toadies, or anything.
    I strenuously object to being censored for political reasons, something Silliman has done with increasing frequency lately. Recently he deleted posts of mine aimed at Jeff Clark, and Barack Obama. There was nothing in the least offensive, scatological or rude in either of them. Judging from the tenor of comments he has allowed over the course of the last year, I could only conclude that they violated his parameters of political taste. He even went so far as to say that he could not allow certain posts because they would make "enemies" for him, a speculation which I found absurd--and which suggests that he conceives of his blog as having a coordinated effect through the control of responses. Censorship of this kind strikes me as inappropriate in the internet blog-world. There are no "rules" that govern such editing, but I have come to feel that if one seeks to present a controversial, or iconoclastic site, one should not use censorship to control the ranges of response or difference of opinion in reaction, which is like getting to moderate your own debate. Anyone guilty of excluding posts simply because they present an opposing point of view is intellectually dishonest, period. It's theatre, not real argument. If you have also engaged in this practice, shame on you too.
    Curtis Faville

  44. March 5, 2008
     Will Smith

    Fenza recently was quoted as saying at the AWP meeting that creative writers would need to teach more reading -- because non-creative ordinary English professors went out of their way to "humiliate literature" in their classes. (Chronicle of Higher Education 15 February)
    Can you imagine the President of the MLA saying something similar--that "creative writers," for instance, were lazy, whiny colleagues with an average grade in their comically named "workshops" of A-? I think not. So why is he so rude and paranoid?

  45. March 10, 2008
     Matt Burriesci

    A rousing discussion! I encourage everyone to submit a proposal for AWP's 2009 conference in Chicago! (Especially Mr. Bernstein!) The panel proposal process is an open one––open to members and non-members alike–– and AWP encourages all sorts of different viewpoints to be represented. The deadline is May 1. You can submit a proposal online at www.awpwriter.org. Guidelines to help you craft a proposal are available there as well.
    On a personal note, because I've worked at AWP for 10 years, and because I've witnessed the expansion of the conference to become one of the largest annual literary events in North America, I'm sorry to hear that some feel we're exclusivist, or wielding some sort of aesthetic hammer. We really do feel that creating a large public space for literature once a year isn't such a bad thing. Other artistic disciplines (dance, theater, music) have a much more sophisticated and well-financed national infrastructure, which they use to showcase their work to the public. I can name at least a dozen regional theaters off the top of my head with budgets several times the size of AWP's. We just feel that literature shouldn't occupy an ever-shrinking space in the public arena. If we were capable of orchestrating a conspiracy to ensure that outcome, I assure you, we would!
    We welcome your ideas, and we look forward to seeing your proposals!
    Matt Burriesci
    Associate Director
    AWP