Zachary Bos, who founded the Boston Poetry Union, is also an administrative coordinator at Boston University. His sense of reason is mind-boggling... perhaps the worst of the worst encountered. Ideologues are always reason-challenged. Boz dismissed all of the editor's freedom of speech grievances by essentially arguing that I was a “malcontent crank.” In essence, for him, anybody questioning and challenging authority, literary, academic or whichever, was a "malcontent crank," unless of course that authority countered his ideological preferences. Sadly, the shoot-the-messenger non-argument retort seemed to have become increasingly common today. Following the dialogue de sourds I had with Bos is a poem by Timothy Bearly... regarding Bos.
I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Et si personne ne t’a toi-même censuré, c’est parce que tu es inoffensif pour le pouvoir en tabarnak ! [If nobody has ever censored you, it’s because you’re inoffensive to power, for chrissakes!]
I'm fairly sure, George, that you have no idea how out of control your hostility and lack of respect are.
—Zachary Bos, Founder of the Boston Poetry Union
The big taboo in poetry was thou shalt not criticize the poets and their organizations and publications. Any rare criticism usually came in the form of unquestioning and unchallenging hagiography, as illustrated by the Washington Post columns of its poetry editor Elizabeth Lund and the New York Times columns of David Orr. But was that criticism?
My premise was simple: the poetry establishment ought to open its doors to real vigorous debate and freedom of expression, cornerstones of a thriving democracy. And yet establishment poets either couldn’t understand it or just didn’t give a damn about it or both and certainly would not stand up for those principles.
I don't have the inclination; and haven't been persuaded that it is necessary; and have other, more pressing work to do.
Their principles, whatever they might have been, were not my principles. I was a dissident poet against establishment poets. I certainly couldn’t “win”! So, winning was certainly not my goal, which was to exercise my basic human right of freedom of expression… and to denounce those who attempted or succeeded in stifling that right, as well as those who just didn’t give a damn when someone else’s freedom of expression was annulled.
Zachary Bos, founder of the Boston Poetry Union, leader of Boston Atheists, and Boston University Administrative Coordinator, was clearly one of the latter. The above “I don’t have the inclination” line was from him. To really give a damn was to endanger one’s comfort zone in the establishment, and always there was “more pressing work to do.”
Bos had sent out an email: “send suggestions for news and comment…” Somehow, I’d gotten on his spam “mailing list” and so sent a few comments, not exactly the kind he embraced. Bos was quite robotic in his responses—always avoiding, deflecting, or denying, and in that sense lived up to his administrator title. How had he and so many other poets become so indoctrinated and closed-minded, pushing the same moribund, gutless, democracy a-pathetic poets year after year, from Pinsky to Gluck to Simic to Wright, while knee-jerk rejecting any uncomfortable criticism unexpectedly arriving before their self-confident faces? No wonder poetry didn't really matter in America today. Yet it sure did matter in the former Soviet union, China, and Cuba, where poets were incarcerated if they failed to toe the party line.
Bos responded, first excusing himself from “what is obviously a defensive tone; this follows from the antagonism—perhaps a manifestation of exasperation?—in your message.” He argued that somehow Gluck was not one of the gutless ones: “I know her, and know this not to be true.” Of course, I had to wonder how Bos defined “gutless”? Regarding my poetry didn’t matter comment, he lamented:
I'm sorry you feel that way. In some areas, it matters quite a deal—perhaps we move in different circles! I hope you don't find yourself affected by the cynicism and artlessness, the unfeelingness, of the people around you who don't recognize the matter of poetry and other forms of art.
Bos would misinterpret just about everything I wrote. And I didn’t think it was at all purposeful. “This cynicism is my enemy”! Likely, he’d voted for Bill Clinton. On a positive note, nevertheless, Bos and I had begun a most unusual spurt of vigorous debate in the normally closed world of establishment poets. Surprisingly, Bos counter-argued point by point, though again often missing the point. Regarding my wondering how poets got so “closed-minded,” he queried, “Is there some text or author that you know we refuse to consider for promotion?” Well, that of course was an easy one to answer! Clearly, he and his Boston Poetry Union would not “promote” my writing or The American Dissident, a Journal of Literature, Democracy, and Dissidence. Would they publish this essay? Of course not! Bos then rationalized the closed-mindedness he at first had denied existed:
You know, I've read several issues of your journal. […] I’ve read it, and no, I wouldn't recommend it to others. My reason for that is aesthetic, not political; though you might find me at fault anyhow: die ethik ist die aesthetik, etc.
Bos' aesthetics argument reflected the wrong-taste and wrong-tone argument I’d heard for the past several decades. The tone, for me, was the message… was the tone. In essence, if the message were not the right one, it was automatically the wrong tone and lacking in aesthetics. The reason Bos would not recommend The American Dissident was clearly “political.” Aesthetics was clearly political. Acceptable aesthetics meant think and write like us. Moreover, Bos was quite political. After all, he’d annulled the membership of John Lauritsen from his Boston Atheists club because Lauritsen had expressed politically-incorrect thoughts, suggesting Trump was not a Frankenstein. Those thoughts were only expressed because his fellow members were overtly expressing their praise for congenital-liar Hillary. Lauritsen’s account of his expulsion—would Bos determine that it was not expulsion because the definition of expulsion was something else besides being booted or kicked out?—would be published in an issue of The American Dissident. Would that add to the reasons why Bos and fellow poet supporters of censorship and banning would want to keep the journal off of their lists (Poets & Writers, NewPages, Arts & Letters, Poetry Foundation, etc.) and off of library shelves? Likely! Lauritsen was an atheist with not-the-right-kind of aesthetics and perhaps he was also, as Bos had characterized me when rationalizing the rejection by libraries and listers of poetry journals:
Having their time wasted by a malcontent crank, I imagine is their fear.
Yes, “a malcontent crank”! Of course, that was a rather banal example of the kill-the-messenger-avoid-his-message ploy. Part of the indoctrination of poets like Bos was the seeming objectification of “aesthetics,” a subjective term. After all, what was aesthetic to Bos and his poetry establishment was clearly not aesthetic to me and other such dissidents… and vice versa. Poetry itself was inevitably subjective. Deciding that somehow a poem or poet was objectively great or brilliant was part of that indoctrination. In any case, the Boston Poetry Union was political. Why not simply admit it? Why not admit it would never publish my poem, “The Fall of Hillarius, the First”? Why the need for the rationalization guise of insufficient aesthetics? Well, Bos couldn’t or wouldn’t say. Ah, but he could say why he loved Pinsky, Gluck, and Wright.
I can think of lines from each of these poets that will stay with me all my life. That's my personal criterion for quality, following the suggestion of Alissa Valles as quoted by Stephen Burt in a review he did for Boston Review: "I admire the 'startling new voice' / and the 'linguistic tour-de-force' / but how about something to read before an operation? / How about a few lines to engrave on a ring or a stone?"
Evidently, Bos “personal criterion for quality” was subjective. And no matter if the entire poet establishment agreed with his criterion, it was still subjective. I hadn’t read the poetry of those poets. Why should I have? They were not dissident. They were establishment. They didn’t give a damn about censorship and ostracizing in their milieu and would simply deny and deflect. Bos again deflected the general issues I evoked as somehow just examples of my own little personal problems.
What I did say was the choice people make not to listen to you is not an example of censorship. You're failing to take the idea OF censorship very seriously, with this view. It isn't about your reputation; it is about genuine freedom of expression and publication. Your concerns are entirely small.
And yet if those people had wished to respond to my criticism, I would not have hesitated to publish their responses in The American Dissident. They of course would not do the same regarding my criticism. Quality and political content often became quite synonymous. Quality was aesthetics was tone was politics. Bos and Burt, the Harvard poesy professor who liked to wear dresses that his wifey picked out for him, though he wouldn’t wear them while teaching his poesy classes, had their idea of quality, while I had mine.
As for exasperation, well, certainly! After all, how not to be exasperated when poets, Bos included, proved absolutely a-pathetic vis-a-vis the fact that their Academy of American Poets had censored my comments and banned me from participating in its online forums. Who knew how many other poets had been thusly censored and/or banned? Bos’ response was an example of semantic diversion.
I'm familiar with the case; from what I read, it doesn't look like it was an act of censorship, but of social exclusion. That is to say: within their rights.
Familiar with the case? Well, that was surprising. How had he learned about it? He certainly wouldn’t have read about it any of the establishment literary magazines from Poetry to Agni to Ploughshares. He wouldn’t have read about it in The American Dissident because his university and the Boston Public Library wouldn’t subscribe to it. Well, I’d never know how he knew. In any event, “within their rights” had nothing to do with it at all, though I wan’t convinced it was “within their rights.” Bos responded:
The Academy is not a public entity; they can ignore you if they like. The local library is government-funded, but it is also charged with discharging their mission according to certain regulations. These rules do not instruct librarians to subscribe to every journal
available, but to exercise their discretion. It seems to me that your journal was overlooked not because of its political content, but because of its quality.
And yet the Academy received lots of public taxpayer money… thus obligating it to indeed abide by the First Amendment! And yet it and those like Bos were poorly educated in (thus had little respect for) that fundamental principle of democracy. As an example of that ignorance, a former colleague of mine at Bennett College, had responded to the removal of my flyer, critical of the Humanities department posted on the Humanities bulletin board, with a mind-numbing: “It’s as much their right to tear it down, as it’s your right to post it!” When I informed Bos about that, he responded in full agreement with that colleague:
I do—I myself tear down a good number of flyers.
No matter what I wrote, Bos could simply not grasp the very simple point made: a poet had his comments censored, then was banned by the largest poet organization in the country, and Bos didn’t give a damn, or at best tried to rationalize why he didn’t give a damn! Willful ignorance was usually self-serving! As for the library, Sturgis Library, which would not subscribe, hell, I eventually had offered it a free subscription, which it then rejected. Bos further opined:
But... you can't expect that everyone has a responsibility to listen to you, or to subscribe to your magazine to support your message. You may speak, as you are free to, but you might be ignored. That seems to be what's happening, insofar as I have an accurate view of your situation.
Bos’ modus operandi was to knee-jerk dismiss the principles I’d evoke by arguing that somehow it was only about me. Thus, being banned, ostracized, and censored was dismissed as “you might be ignored.” Well, it was not simply a question of my being “ignored,” but rather a question of my being banned, ostracized, and censored! Now, the library’s written collection development statement, borrowed from the American Library Association, had clearly stipulated that “libraries should provide material and information presenting all points of view”? Should it not abide by its own statement? How did subscribing to Poetry magazine, but rejecting a free subscription for The American Dissident, which offered an opposite viewpoint, abide by the ALL POINTS OF VIEW statement? Ah, yes, I “might be ignored.” That explained it all!
The Academy had destroyed my comments and banned me from posting further comments, yet somehow that had nothing at all to do with censorship? For the willfully ignorant like Bos, “Censorship is the suppression of free speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.” (Wikipedia)
Dismissing and diminishing a clear act of censorship (destruction of comments) and banning as “social exclusion” was a lowly semantic diversion. Any point I made, no matter how factual, Bos felt obligated to reject it.
"Banning" implies some kind targeting, which I don't believe is present in the examples you give.
Well, if I wasn’t targeted, then who the hell was? My flyers were banned from the public library. They were targeted because other flyers were permitted there. Then I was banned from speaking to library staff about that banning. Then I was permanently banned from the public library itself. But somehow, I wasn’t targeted? The Academy banned me from commenting on its site. And yet somehow I wasn’t targeted?
Even if, it were a mere instance of “social exclusion,” should the largest organization in the country devoted to poetry be in the business of “social exclusion” of poets it didn’t believe possessed the correct aesthetics and otherwise limit discussion and debate about poetry? Should taxpayers be funding such an organization? Well, Bos responded, though again without really responding at all:
Poets are concerned with the precise use of language. To whit: the act of censorship implies systematic suppression. That your comments were removed from one website, does not mean that the Academy took any action to prevent the same speech from appearing at a hundred others. You're communicating with me, now. You aren't being suppressed—you’re just not being agreed with.
Sadly, “precise use of language” seemed like the only thing poets today were concerned about. Well, perhaps political correctness also seemed to be their concern. Of course, that lack of concern for the principles of democracy kept those poets comfy in their safe spaces and enabled them to rationalize their cowardice, inaction, apathy, and groupthink. Moreover, censorship did not imply “systematic” at all! Censorship could be and often constituted a single instance. Remove one book from a library because it had the word “nigger” in it was an act of censorship, whether Bos wanted to admit it or not. Bos continued to toy with the term, ever deflecting away from the reality: a poet’s voice stifled by the Academy. When I argued that the arena of debate should be open to critics of the establishment, somehow Bos reasoned:
It is. You just have to get people to listen to you. Good luck with it. It just isn't warm to you.
Well, likely, the enforcers of Glavlit state-censorship in the former Soviet Union also believed the arena of debate to be wide open to all poets. How nonsensical to equate BANNING with “isn’t warm to you.” Hadn’t Bos written that poets seek accuracy in terminology? In essence, he shut out the facts (banned by the Academy, etc.) because the facts upset his narrative that all was fine in the establishment. It was really amazing what those who favored censorship would say or write in an effort to justify it and/or to avoid getting involved and otherwise rallying behind a censored poet.
Why are you conflating the impact of our email, with the effects of the AAofP [sic]? That's like being angry at a zookeeper outside the lion cage, because a house cat refused to let you scratch it five years ago in Pismo Beach.
What a mind-boggling comparison, though certainly with sufficient aesthetics and clever wordsmithery! Protect and shield the poetry establishment at all costs, especially at the cost of reason, freedom of expression, and vigorous debate. Well, Bos' university employer did not seem to respect those principles either (see thefire.org/spotlight/schools/2515). When I asked how poets like Bos and Pinsky could accept campus speech code restrictions at their university, Bos replied “I'm against them. Should I be otherwise?” And yet, if he were truly against them, why hadn’t he decried them? Had both he and Pinsky helped enact them? Well, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they had. Bos noted that he was aware of them. So, I asked it he, as a BU administrator would get off his ass to protest against them. His reply was, “yes.” Well, that was positive. But he refused to provide any proof of such protest. And then again, Bos sought to rationalize that somehow I had not been censored.
How are you censored, if you are free to write, speak, and publish? I think you're actually rallying against two, separate challenges: exclusion—the choice some private citizens are making not to associate with you, or to listen to your speech; and discretion, the
choice some public figures (e.g., librarians) are making against diverting scant resources to support your endeavors (as against someone else's) via subscription enrollment, etc. This may feel like censorship; but it is a different kind of beast.
Well, the incarcerated Cuban poets and journalists were surely also “free to write, speak, and publish” in their jail cells. Besides, one could certainly have been censored, while still being free to write, speak, and publish! Why could Bos not understand the meaning of censorship? Evidently, ignorance was self-serving. The question Bos could not grasp was simple: should poets be excluding other poets or should they be inclusive, open-minded truth seekers? Should librarians, who professed to be open to all points of view not present all points of view, for whatever reason they came up with? Exclusion, discretion, choice, or whatever, it all came down to censorship, banning, and ostracizing, like it or not!
How not to be exasperated by that, not to mention that PEN New England refused to respond to my grievances regarding the censorship/banning/“social exclusion,” that the Massachusetts Poetry Festival refused to simply list The American Dissident with other journals listed, or that Boston’s National Poetry Month refused to allow me to speak (Oh, director Harris Gardner knew who I was!). Yes, highly exasperated regarding the knee-jerk ostracizing of the rare poets amongst us who actually dared criticize the poetry establishment and the icons it pushed ad nauseam. Aesthetics or rather viewpoint discrimination? Bos did tend to respond in absolute lock-step with what one might expect from an establishment poet. It was quite revealing and oddly surprising to see his modus operandi in writing and so clearly stated.
You can't seriously expect most people to admit to your right to criticize them and their initiatives, and also hope that they invite you to a place at the table. That's the same table you've repudiated. Not an uncommon problem among iconoclasts, right? Once you've
epater-ed le bourgeois, you become, what, the new bourgeois for someone else to epater? You might have to be satisfied with the status quo, if you don't want to part with your outside credentials.
That response incarnated the establishment problem: scorn for democracy’s cornerstones— vigorous debate and freedom of expression. An establishment poet like Bos would likely have no problem at all living and writing in Cuba or Iran. I had a difficult time grasping: Why the hatred for and fear of outside criticism? I just could not understand. Hell, I not only brooked, but encouraged such criticism. From it, I was intellectually stimulated and from it I created writing.
I'm not interested in reading the criticism against a journal; I subscribe to journals for their literary contents. Publishing the criticism seems rather like publicizing one's persecution, no?
And yet such criticism was definitely part of literature and had been throughout the ages! For Bos and his ilk, creating from criticism just wasn’t an option. Instead, they’d simply get angry at anyone daring to upset their little self-satisfied, backslapping, self-congratulating, and self-aggrandizing status quo and thus be compelled to ostracize and otherwise belittle anyone critical of it.
What I mean is, you can't very well attack the establishment and then complain about not being welcome there.
Well, why the hell not? To denigrate valid criticism as complaining was a common ploy of the establishment. One ought to expect more from the latter. I certainly did… well, at least in the beginning. Again, I possessed ideals and principles. But apparently the establishment, Bos so embraced, did not. That was something I had a difficult time dealing with. Theirs was almost always the same predictable response-tactic to criticism: silence and/or ostracizing and demonizing. In fact, the silence was a form of censorship. Exclusion was a form of censorship.
If you subscribe to a minority view, you are apt to be denigrated by the majority whose interests you attack. Perhaps you could take the time you spend lamenting this (and the resources you expend peddling that lament), and just work toward change? You aren’t going to shame people into revolt; as a liberal person you should be seeking to persuade them.
Well, actually I was not “lamenting.” I was criticizing! Also, I did not think it possible to change anything vis-a-vis the army of Bos-like poets. Again, my purpose was to exercise my basic human rights, including freedom of expression. Also, I thought it was positive to hurl a grenade here and there, now and then, into the poetry ivory tower just to shake up the backslappling self-congratulators, even if but for a brief moment. Sadly, poets and their organizations did not encourage outside criticism. The grant/invitation/publication machine encouraged uniformity and conformity (i.e., aesthetic-correctness).
All the poets I know are wildly critical. Who are you spending time with?
Evidently, I wasn’t spending time with any of them! How did “critical” (complaining and lamenting) suddenly become good when pertaining to them? Bos evidently existed in a state of denial. Yes, “wildly critical” of Trump! But that was not what I was implying. Critical of the hands that fed them? Highly unlikely! They were “wildly critical” when it wouldn’t affect their pocketbooks, sinecures, invitations, and publication opportunities! Poets should encourage vigorous debate and not ostracize those who sought to engage in it.
About poetry? They do. Where have you been hiding, that you don't see it?
If indeed, they encouraged vigorous debate, how to explain the censorship and banning and poet apathy to it? Where had I been hiding? Well, I’d been ostracized. So it wasn’t a matter of hiding, but one of not being permitted to express myself on various poet websites, at the Boston Poetry Month, etc. It was a matter of not being listed on NewPages.org or PW.org, etc. Banned and ostracized! Why could Bos not understand that? Was it his aberrant thought that poets were so wonderful and important that they’d never ban or ostracize another poet? It was one nutty statement after the next, each diverting away from reality.
I am not aware of any mandate that poets be more concerned with supporting democracy than, say, plumbers. The business is words, not votes, not liberties. I may be a poet AND a political person (that happens to be true), and my poetic experience happens to have informed my political views, but I may also be an honest and a decent poet without a scrap of political spirit; and an honest and decent philistine who is utterly devoted to regime change. They are not linked.
Actually, they were linked! Moreover, I’d never written that poets were mandated to do anything. My thought was rather that I wished poets would be more than “the business of words” and cherish and fight for the freedoms that enabled them to write!
If poets were to be placed on pedestals as societies had tended to do since ancient times, then perhaps they ought to at least attempt to live up to the grandeur. “An honest and decent poet” is not someone who doesn’t give a damn when another poet is deprived of his basic human right to freedom of speech… and in my case civil rights because I am not permitted to attend any cultural or political events held at my neighborhood library because I’d committed a speech crime. For Bos (certainly not for me!), “honest and decent” were the many poet ostriches in his milieu, who could have been the ones Martin Niemoller wrote about in his famous poem:
When the Nazis arrested the Communists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Social Democrat.
And so for Bos, who likely couldn’t possibly understand the depth and implication of that poem, I created an additional verse:
When they censored and ostracized the dissident poet,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a dissident poet…
Faithful to his m.o., Bos continued to twist with a touch of semantic inanity anything and everything I wrote into something I never wrote.
If you feel overlooked, George, it might be because you're not making the best case possible for your cause—or that your cause isn't what you imagine it to be.
So now, ostracizing, censorship, and banning had become a mere feeling of being “overlooked”? Wow! How he excelled at railroading reality! There were general key principles involved! It was not simply a question of me, me, me! But that was Bos’ ploy. Kill the messenger— depict him as an insane egomaniac—and thus avoid the pertinent general principles the messenger put before your blind eyes! How to respond to this: “It is not my evasion, to point out that you didn't make an argument.” And yet the argument was crystal clear: poet censored (i.e., “socially excluded”)! Well, I was dealing with an establishment poet, who would never be able see clearly.
Now, I did not like bourgeois art for the sake of art (l’art pour l’art). Bos evidently did. I could never find a poem interesting of that kind. He and I were simply vastly different. BUT the arena of ideas and debate should be open to him AND to me. But it was closed to me, and as long as he and the poet establishment wanted it closed, it would remain closed. And thus their poetry “table” would inevitably be surrounded with like minds—a veritable diversity and inclusion club of uniformity and “social exclusion.” What kind of debate could one possibly have during a club meeting (i.e., poetry event)? Well, one would have the kind of non-debate Bos and like-minded poets cherished— backslapping and self-congratulating. And so for them, a poet like me, who would indeed stand up for the freedom of speech of poets I didn’t, could be nothing more than a “heckler.”
Sometimes the best response to a heckler is dignified silence.
As for Bos’ "epater" (shake up the bourgeoisie) comment, I informed that I was not trying to become a bourgeois or even to replace bourgeois like Pinksy, Gluck, Wright, or Bos himself. I was simply trying to express myself openly as an individual with individual ideas and thoughts and maintain my human dignity by doing so. Evidently, Bos and I were very different. He was an insider, while I was an outsider. And I did not want to become an insider. Again, I wanted to express myself, not PC nor any other poesy dogma. Bos liked to make suggestions.
Could you be persuasive without being polemical? This might be something to focus on. For what it's worth, I encourage that course of action.
Trying to persuade Bos or someone like him would simply not be possible and so was never my intention. Encouragement from someone like Bos was worth little if anything at all for someone like me, for whom “polemical” was positive, not negative. In fact, polemics constituted a form of literature, whether he liked it or not. Pamphlets and broadsides were, by nature, polemical, and a form of literature! I sent Bos an article I’d written on PEN, for which I was paid $150… quite rare for someone like me. Clearly, the tone of my writing would keep someone like Bos from ever publishing anything like it. Bos responded:
It is too negative, and too polemical.
Contrary to his opinion, everything should be permitted in the arena of discussion, including “polemical” and “negative,” and regarding art and poetry, not simply those things he and like-minded others deemed permissible (aesthetic), especially when public taxpayer funds flowed into their pocketbooks. Bos queried, regarding his esteemed poets:
Do you know of a good, open-minded reason why I should reject entirely the complete writings of Pinsky, Glück, Wright, and other writers whose aesthetic misfortune it has been to secure a publishing contract somewhere along the line? I am open-minded enough to consider your reasoning.
My argument, however, did not even suggest rejecting those poets or their poetry. Instead, I argued for real inclusivity, as opposed to “social exclusivity.” Open the doors of poetry to include critical poetry and critical poets who wrote it. Open the doors of poetry to include hardcore criticism of poets, poet organizations, and poetry events. That was my argument! Bos, like other establishment poets, could not comprehend it, despite its simplicity. Bos suggested:
A healthy skepticism does a body good; but a corollary is: not everything is suspect. If some authors or texts have been advanced and lauded and published and established, we might be skeptical of our own skepticism, and make sure we don't dismiss success out of hand as disqualifying one for literary greatness.
Now, contrary to Bos’ opinion, I’d have to say just about everything regarding the poetry establishment was suspect in much the same way as the political and academic establishments. And regarding “gutless,” I certainly didn’t think experimental wordsmithery was courageous. By gutless, I clearly meant unwilling to bite the hands that fed. Bos argued:
But surely one should have a reason to bite before striking. You seem so far to be arguing in principle for the readiness to criticize those in power; but not for practical reasons that they must be challenged.
For academic poets like Snyder, for example, courageous would mean standing up and questioning UCal’s dismal Free-Speech record, as noted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the same went for Espada RE UMass’s dismal record and Gluck RE Williams College’s dismal record and, as mentioned, Pinsky RE BU’s dismal record! Those were gutless poets revered by the Bos establishment-ilk. As long as poets remained highly gregarious and inbred, ladder-climbing careerists, as opposed to truth tellers, they’d never make waves, buck the system, or go against the grain. They’d simply remain safe and secure in their sinecures. Now, I recalled Pinsky had been scheduled to do Fitchburg State’s graduation ceremony. As a professor at that college at the time, I wrote him a letter of protest, noting how corrupt that institution had become, that I’d even been evicted mid-semester without due process from my office. Now, of course I tried to get the local Sentinel & Enterprise to publish an account of that, but it simply refused. In fact, I couldn’t even get the student newspaper to publish that a professor had been ousted from his office mid-semester! Oddly, Bos responded:
If the newspaper coverage of this is accurate, then your description of events is not.
And yet, I insisted there was no newspaper coverage!
Hmm; I'm fairly sure I read about this in a newspaper. I may be mistaken. It was a while ago.
As for Pinsky, he’d simply remained cowardly silent, preferring to collect his honorarium. Like a slick-willy political hack, Bos twisted and turned to defend his man.
I read about that case, yes. I can only say that perhaps he was unpersuaded by your letter, and wasn't actually just taking the money in full view of institutional corruption.
Now, where did he read about that case? He certainly didn’t read about it in any of the poetry journals he subscribed to. “Gutless” had come to incarnate the establishment poet today, whether Bos liked it or not. And per usual Bos spun like one of Obama’s hack press secretaries:
Whatever you mean by this, it doesn't change the quality of the poem. And that's what I'm concerned with. People are imperfect; a poem can be made that's more free from those imperfections than any of us can hope to be as persons.
How to disassociate the freedom-of-speech a-pathetic poet from the poem he or she created? A cowardly poet who created a courageous poem had really just created a cowardly poem with the appearance of courage. Poetry in America generally moved nothing, challenged nothing. Our poet laureates were generally nothing more than shadows of the Chamber of Commerce just like the politicians and usually with safe-space sinecures in some academic ivory tower. Sure, there were rare exceptions here and there. Bos responded with a typical comment, reducing me to a common egotist. And yet that had nothing to do with it.
Yes; that is actually the job description. Or are you insisting that you be made PLOTUS [Poet Laureate of the United States], so you could shake things up even while you collect the paycheck?
Thanks to the establishment poets, poetry was hardly a weapon at all! On the contrary, it had become a convenient soporific.
There's a principle in Buddhism that suggests you not intervene to alleviate suffering, if your intervention would increase net suffering. Translated here, we might ask: whatever do you hope to accomplish my [sic] protesting at a poetry reading, other than establishing your reputation as a crank, a malcontent, and an attention-seeking picket martyr? There are effective ways to bring about change -- I don't think your form of protest is one of them.
Criticize an establishment poet and be called “a crank, a malcontent, and an attention-seeking picket martyr”! Kill the messenger, avoid the message. Certainly kill the debate. That summed up Boston Poetry Union nicely.
What I mean is, you can't very well attack the establishment and then complain about not being welcome there.
And yet, in a democracy, one ought to expect much more from the establishment with that regard. In the beginning, as mentioned, I certainly had.
What would satisfy you? If you were allowed, without penalty of censorship, to stand up at the lectern at an Academy event, what would you say? I don't see how your message—in these emails, elsewhere online, in your journal—carries much content BEYOND its complain [sic] about not being allowed to air its grievance.
Clearly, I did not expect to be given voice at an Academy event! What I did expect was to be permitted to voice my opinion on its online forums. Nevertheless, in that hypothetical situation, I’d denounce those at the Academy who banned me from participating in its forums. I’d speak on democracy and the responsibility of the poet to speak truth. I’d make certain to piss off the high and mighty academy chancellors. I’d ask why they tended to do nothing against the speech codes entrenched in their respective universities. As for my paltry “complaint,” which Bos also had belittled as the expression of a “persecution complex,” again, Bos could not comprehend. Open the doors to all points of view! Open the doors to the First Amendment! Yes, that was some paltry complaint indeed.
Now, back to square one, that is, rationalizing poet apathy when an unaesthetic poet is censored or in Bos’ term, “socially excluded”… In conclusion, Bos concluded: “You haven't presented an argument, George. I'm glad to read one if you would.”
By TImothy Bearly
And, having read that poet's work, Timothy, would you be inclined
(or even authorized) to evaluate his work as successful or unsuccessful?
—Zachary Bos, Boston Poetry Union, Editor of The Pen & Anvil Press
Having received my Master of Xeroxed writing degree
from the Boston factory of ersatz "poets"
and upon graduation day, my demigod professor—
who I yearn to please—
said to me, "Timothy, you are now authorized,
go forth and be an arbiter of taste".
Well, I did help found a "poetry union"
and, like a labor union uniting against the exploitative employer,
our poetry union is uniting against the obdurate individual,
the Individual, who will not yield like the rest of us
and write poems about daffodils and springtime foliage.
I have been published in No Substance Quarterly (NSQ),
The Conformist, The Prudent Pedestrian, The Sycophantic Review,
and many other "esteemed" literary journals.
I have also earned the acclaimed "Most predictable" and "Safe" writers’ awards
for the past three years.
Most recently I won the writers’ competition held by Vacant Verbosity magazine
(winning the 500-dollar prize along with a contract).
I have an uncanny ability to write 10,000 word short stories,
without really saying anything (via diaphanous metaphors).
And because of the very fact that my writings say nothing,
I have few, if any, critics at all.
I like it this way, and moreover so do the editors and judges.
And of course, I am also a managing editor.
Yeah, it is safe to say that I am not only "inclined and authorized,"
but I also help determine who succeeds and who does not!
Now, would this hurt my chances of getting published by Pen and Anvil?
If so, I could just use a pseudonym and write about daffodils and the springtime foliage.