The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence


Suffolk University Poetry Center—Free Speech in Peril

Dostoevsky was made by being sent to Siberia.  Writers are forged in injustice as a sword is forged.
            —Hemingway  

 

In the free pile at the library in Hyannis (MA), I picked up a copy of the most recent issue (spring 2012) of Sanctuary, The Journal of Massachusetts Audubon Society.  In it were two poems, one by Robert Cording and the other by Fred Marchant, who once upon a time I’d briefly met while protesting in front of the Concord Poetry Center in Massachusetts. 

 

Fred MarchantMarchant was predictably closed-minded and otherwise disinterested in my protest.  After all, he was not only a poet but also a tenured academic, entrenched at Suffolk University, where he directs the Creative Writing Program and had established its Poetry Center, which unsurprisingly refused and refuses to subscribe to The American Dissident or even invite the editor to speak to students on poetry as dissident expression. 

Marchant’s poem was predictably soft, and shamefully so, since the issue was devoted to environmental activist Rachel Carson.  Indeed, why feature the work of two rather flaccid, see-no-evil, hear-no-evil academics in such an issue?  Well, for one reason, the journal’s poetry editor, Susan Richmond, is a friend of Marchant's and is clearly not a proponent of dissident poetry. After all, she is a founding poet of the Concord Poetry Center. But why not step out of that mind-trap for a moment in honor of Carson and instead feature several tough, dissident poems written by environmental activists instead?  Why does poetry have to be so inoffensive, smiley-faced, and bourgeois-friendly?  Richmond, to whom the editor sent this page, of course, refuses to respond.  She wears fluffy earplugs, just like Marchant.   

“To a branch my black bead eyes/ missing nothing wanting nothing more than the sound of this/ that is all I am, be patient lord O be” constituted the last line of Marchant’s “O Be” poem.  Amen!  But Carson was not patient.  She pushed and shoved and dared go against the grain, something Marchant would never do.  What really pissed me off regarding his and Richmond’s ilk is not so much the fluffy nature, but rather the closed mindededness to and scorn for points of view that went against the grain.  Certainly the very large majority of academics sinecured in the nation’s English and Creative Writing departments fell into that piteous category.  Over the past two decades, the editor has been contacting them.  Only one ever agreed to invite me to speak to his students on literature, democracy, and dissidence.  In fact, he’d contacted me.   

Scores and scores of English professors simply choose not to respond, steadfastly opposing vigorous debate, democracy’s cornerstone. They do not wish to expose their students to other alternatives, as in writing against the established-order grain to which their professors eagerly sold their souls.  The only explanation for their refusal, as far as I could figure, was that my questioning and challenging would inevitably make them look bad in the eyes of their students.  Indeed, far too many writing professors rarely if ever questioned and challenged the hand that fed them so nicely, preferring to turn a blind eye in an effort to climb the academic/literary latter to “success.”  They were not "forged in injustice as a sword is forged," but rather in comfy writing communities and poetry centers.  Marchant, Richmond, and so many others favor keeping voices like the editor's out of the arena of debate—out of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, out of the Concord Festival of Authors, out of the Concord Poetry Center, out of Sturgis Library, and out of Suffolk University Poetry Center, for example. They do their students a grave injustice by refusing to introduce, by refusing to encourage them to engage in risky writing and otherwise follow, not in the obsequious footsteps of their professors, but rather in the courageous footsteps of Villon, Neruda, Solzhenitsyn, Thoreau, Orwell and others.  They do the nation a grave disservice by forming a hermetic wall of political correctness.   Finally, the question needs to be raised:  What kind of poetry center would willfully prohibit certain poetry and ideas regarding poetry?  Surely, a most intellectually corrupt one! 

Concord Festival of Authors

Concord Poetry Center

Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Sturgis Library