This seems like as good of a time as any to re-introduce myself as a Harriet citizen, so here I go:

Hi.  How's it going?

As many of you know, for the past eleven months  I've been a contributing writer here on Harriet and editorial consultant for  This month, I've started work as the new associate editor.  I hope to live up to the great work the site has done in the past, and I hope we can head out in new and interesting directions together as well.  The to-do list is long, but I'm quite excited to get started.

First up on the to-do list?  Comments!

Let's talk about the comments.

First of all, thanks to everyone for their suggestions and input over the past week in response to Cathy’s post, “A Few Harriet Statistics.” The response has been instructive in many ways, and we're grateful to have had it here.

As Cathy stated, we're constantly trying to strike the balance between lively, engaged discussion and roller-derby free-for all on the site (Harriet wouldn’t be Harriet without a bit of both).  To that end, we’ll be implementing new design features in the coming weeks, the first of which is multiple comment threads.  Commenters now have the option to either reply to the general thread of a post, or to reply directly to a previous comment.  As Annie noted, some of the seemingly digressive streams are incredibly generative, so we encourage you to thread deeply and often (that sounds like some kind of innuendo, but it’s not, I swear!).

We’ve also posted the comments policy for all new users to see as they sign up.  It reads: welcomes comments that foster dialogue and cultivate an open community on the site. We reserve the right to delete comments that contain offensive language or personal attacks. Repeated violation of this policy will result in restricted use of the site. The first time a person comments on the site, his or her comment must be approved by the site moderators. Subsequent comments will appear on the site automatically. Please note: We require comments to include a name and email address. By submitting a comment, you give the Poetry Foundation the right to publish it.

It follows that once you have been approved, the burden is on you to meet these standards.  Most everyone does, and for that we are extremely grateful.  There are, of course, exceptions, and so it's worth repeating: We reserve the right to delete comments that contain offensive language or personal attacks. Repeated violation of this policy will result in restricted use of the site.

Commenting on Harriet is not an inalienable right.  If you cannot adhere to the stated policy, then your use will be restricted.  When and if this happens, it will be after one of the site administrators makes a subjective decision. We all have different standards of decency, but this does not mean all standards of decency are valid in this particular forum.  There are plenty of places online and in the world without such policies; Feel free to take your comment somewhere else.

And while it's true that Catullus existed, and language is a great mutable thing we should celebrate in all its various forms, we have certain standards here, and we hope they help foster and encourage conversation, and so we're going to enforce them.

We also hope that Harriet continues to be a valuable place to discuss poetry online.  Thanks to everyone who helps make it so.
Originally Published: April 29th, 2009

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. April 29, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Well, it appears that we've fallen right into Jack Conway's trap.\r

    Who really gets the last laugh here, re: 'censorship'?\r

    What is that now,, eight sites you've completely trashed? I can't figure out if you're actually fighting for freedom of speech or working for the 'thought police'.

  2. April 29, 2009

    Thanks to the Harriet staff for making the policy transparent. The approach to moderation seems eminently . . . moderate!

  3. April 29, 2009
     michael robbins

    Censorship is an action of the state or other agents who can actively suppress speech. The Poetry Foundation cannot do so. There is no "right" to post anything you want on the Poetry Foundation website. That's not what free speech means. If the PF deletes what you wrote, you remain free to write it & distribute it elsewhere. Likewise, I do not think it "censorship" that Joshua Clover does not accept comments on his blog. I am allowed to start my own blog & write whatever the hell I want. That means that there is no censorship issue here. Why on earth don't people understand what the word "censorship" means? When police agents seized all copies of Howl, that was censorship. When someone deletes some idiotic comment that insults people on a poetry blog, that's just an insistence on certain norms of civility that remain untouched by questions of government interference in free expression.

  4. April 30, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Okay, then, Michael...not 'censorship'.\r

    Let's just say suppression, repression, elimination, abolishment, silencing.\r

    Jeez, dude.

  5. April 30, 2009
     michael robbins

    Well, it isn't any of those things, either, for the reasons adumbrated above. No one's "silencing" or "repressing" you if you can go around the corner & say whatever you like.

  6. April 30, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Well, I know I can't win this one because I'd be closing in on hypocrisy territory. I get very indignant when authorities tell private pub owners that they aren't allowed to permit smoking in their own establishment when the anti-smoking crowd could simply go elsewhere. I guess the same principle applies here.

  7. April 30, 2009

    "Censorship" often has connotations of being implemented by the state, but no one has suggested that state-sponsored censorship is taking place here.\r

    Not to be totally rude, but since you're stressing out about people not knowing the definition of a word, I'd suggest opening a dictionary and finding that the word "censorship" can really just be any instance where there is "suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive".\r

    Sure, the PF has no legal obligation to allow you to say anything,\r

    but then I have a little more egalitarian view of "free speech", rather than your pretty libertarian one, so this may be where the disagreement lies. Saying someone is not being censored just because you can leave a large public forum and whisper whatever you have to say on a personal blog that no will read just seems a little disingenuous. But then I'd agree that Gary's comment was a little dramatic.

  8. April 30, 2009
     thomas brady


    "Howl" was not censored. There was merely a smut trial brought by the U.S. Post Office, which made Ginsberg famous. \r

    The same thing happened to Joyce's "Ulysses" when it was being published by Margaret Anderson in her "Little Review." \r

    This was before Sylvia Beach, who typically gets all the credit for "bravely" publishing "Ulysses." Actually it was Margaret Anderson, publisher of the "Little Review" who took the real risk when she was arrested for obscenity via the U.S. Post Office. The London editor for Margaret Anderson's review, who got "Ulysses" in the magazine was, you guessed it, Ezra Pound.\r

    Getting your book banned for obscenity is probably the surest way, everything else being equal, to get into the canon.\r

    Getting banned from a poetry site, however, does nothing for one's reputation, because implicitly the sense is that you have NOT been banned by prudes from the middle class, but by poets who read Allen Ginsberg in the bath.\r

    Those who say Harriet has the right to censor because they are private and can run their salon any way they wish, sure, of course, no one is disputing that, or has ever disputed that.\r

    "There is something that doesn't like a wall." There is a spirit (and not always an unpoetic one) that hates all rules, by principle, and that will 'have its way,' no matter what. This spirit can be good or bad, but there it is; it will always exist, and when it finds expression it can be extraordinarily wonderful, or it can be horrible. "A lilly that festers smells far worse than weeds." Keats said, "Though a quarrel in the streets is a thing to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest man shows a grace in his quarrel." \r

    Is politeness a rule, or a state of being? You have been rude to me, Michael, ever since I arrived here. I thought, "cool, there's freedom, here." Because I wouldn't want you to suppress your true feelings. I found your expression of rudeness here to be virtue, beyond my personal feelings of: 'ugh, someone's being rude to me.' I found your rudeness somewhat alarming, but the pain I felt was mitigated by a sense that freedom of expression was OK here. So when you wrote, more or less, "Don't listen to a thing Thomas Brady says, he's a fool," I thought, if I've created some electricity merely by putting forth aesthetic ideas, perhaps I'm doing well. \r

    However, I'm prepared to accept that I'm wrong, and that I wasn't doing well. You did not convince me that my aesthetic ideas were wrong, but perhaps Harriet is correct that rudeness is unacceptable and that it is never a good thing.\r

    The whole subject is mostly perfunctory. \r


  9. April 30, 2009

    The anti-smoking crowd? You mean the not-wanting-to-breathe-toxic-cancer-causing-chemicals crowd?

  10. April 30, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Yeah, that's right...the up-tight, namby-pamby wusses.

  11. April 30, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    Drama R us. Gee, maybe that's why I'm a writer. :-)

  12. April 30, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    So, Matt, you resent having to go into a bar or a club where cigarettes are being smoked? Would you go into a gay bar and demand that everyone become straight? No, of course you wouldn't. If you weren't gay, you wouldn't go in, would you? So, if you want to avoid the "toxic-cancer-causing-chemicals", DON'T GO IN!

  13. May 1, 2009
     thomas brady

    "Commenters now have the option to either reply to the general thread of a post, or to reply directly to a previous comment."\r

    I'm trying to get my head around this. So there are two options? 1. reply to general thread of a post? 2. reply to a reply? Will #1 and #2 sometimes be the same? Can the #2 option break apart and have multiple 'replying-to-themselves streams' or just one stream?\r

    Is there a site which has this feature that I can check out?\r

    By the way, Gary, I did finally find the Silliman discussion you were talking about. One day I'll engage those Silliman creatures. I'll turn my Socratic ray on those silly post-avants. They won't know what hit them! That should be fun.\r

    And Gary, you do make an interesting point re: smoking bans in bars. That's a case where a private establishment is told what to do.

  14. May 1, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    I think you'll get a kick out of my most recent comment on Silliman made last night. I kind of like that term...the 'CoI'. It was inspired, of course, by Silliman's SoQ.

  15. May 1, 2009
     Catherine Halley

    The "reply" button is in place now. Different threads of conversation are separated by dark green lines. We're working on the design of this to make it clearer, but for now, you can either:\r

    1. hit reply and respond directly to the person whose name appears on the dark green line to the left of the word "reply" (your post will then appear directly below theirs), or\r

    2. just add a comment in the box at the end of the conversation, and your post will appear at the bottom of the comments as it always has.

  16. May 1, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    What we really need here is a 'day after' delete button. I would call it the 'sober now' button for when you review your posts and think "Jeez! Did I really say that? How snockered was I, anyway?" :-)\r

    Besides, who could complain about self-censorship?

  17. May 1, 2009
     thomas brady

    Thank you, Catherine!\r


  18. May 5, 2009

    I sincerely hope that commentary that is legitimately critical of the work of poets that are featured in or affiliated with POETRY will be allowed (and perhaps that POETRY itself doesn't place itself above criticism of its loyal patrons). \r

    Because I have serious issues with the past few issues: *snores* (except the manifestos were really good... except for AE Stallings' one which read like something in an elementary school poem contest... regardless of one's opinion on rhyme. i realize she is POETRY's token formalist, but is there no shame?).\r



  19. May 5, 2009
     Travis Nichols

    Of course commentary legitimately critical of poets, POETRY, and will be allowed. That's part of the fun!

  20. May 6, 2009

    Michael Robbins wrote: \r

    "When someone deletes some idiotic comment that insults people on a poetry blog, that’s just an insistence on certain norms of civility that remain untouched by questions of government interference in free expression."\r

    Ouch, Michael, that's a 180 from your earlier (rather embarrassing) attack on Kasey Mohammad for deleting Kent Johnson's relentlessly idiotic comments from Lime Tree, isn't it?

  21. May 6, 2009
     michael robbins

    Ouch, whoever you are, what part of "norms of civility" & "insults" don't you understand? I don't think Kent's posts were "idiotic," but I'd never suggest that comments be deleted simply for idiocy. A number of sarcastic remarks occur to me on this subject.\r

    Go read Kent's posts for yourself - oh, wait, you can't, since Kasey deleted them (& all posts in Kent's defense).\r

    Here's Kent's account of it: It's bracing reading.

  22. May 6, 2009

    Well, Michael, I read a number of those comments Kent made, back in the day, and as much as I find myself searching for more accurate descriptions than "relentless" and "idiotic," nothing quite seems to fit as snugly.\r

    That Blazevox thing is almost as sad as your pointing to it.

  23. May 6, 2009

    Mr. Nichols says: "Of course commentary legitimately critical of poets, POETRY, and will be allowed. That’s part of the fun!"\r

    And who exactly determines what is legitimate? What exactly is the divide between legitimate and illegitimate? It is a fair question, especially since, a new protocol is now in order.\r