The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Oil of Vitriol

What a blessed world of snivelling nobodies we live in!
Oil of vitriol must be applied.
          —Ralph Waldo Emerson

For Oil of Vitriol, a 60-page chapbook of highly critical poems, please send $10 to the editor.  Selected Poems.  Petroglyph Press.  2009.

The Canon
A group
of men
Mister X
to be the
finest writer
of the past
few decades.
That group
with quite similar
tastes and aesthetics,
as well as parallel
apathy to engagement,
both social and political,
draws others to it
like chicken to feed,
pigs to troughs,
or cows to bales of hay.
Its opinion
permeates increasingly
like an oil spill into a harbor
or fumes into a town or city
propagated by a member
of the chamber of commerce.
Its opinion
hardens more and more
like adipose deposits in arteries
or a viagara-induced erection
until it appears as if objective
and none dare otherwise contest it,
well, almost none…

Oil of Vitriol
Besides excellence—oh, but of course!—,
the editors often boast, in chorus, how open
they are
to style, theme, and subject matter.
One of them, however, wrote with evident
scornful implication and close-mindedness to
my chosen theme, if not style, that there
was a difference between
vigorous debate and vitriol or slander.
Yet nobody had ever sued me for defamation;
while for the other denigration, a Chief Justice*
had argued convincingly that the First Amendment
was designed to invite dispute, induce a condition
of unrest, and even stir people to anger.
But unlike the First, that editor’s magazine was,
in the Chief ’s own words, fashioned as a vehicle
for dispensing tranquilizers to the people.
* Chief Justice William O. Douglas also noted that the “prime function” of the First “was to keep
debate open to ‘offensive’ as well as to ‘staid’ people.”

Lovers of Poetry
The nation is overrun with editors
and vast quantities of poetry magazines,
one indistinguishable from the next,
few at all having a distinct focus other
than poesy for the sake of poesy,
as if the genre’s intrinsic purpose
were to entertain and divert the populace.
Yet Villon, Saro-Wiwa, Jeffers, and others
—not that many, of course—would have
argued poetry to be potentially much more
than wit and verb in the court of power.
You champion an important topic, but forget
there’s a whole world out there full of people
who just love poetry, argued an editor.
Yet his actions and the reality of his fairly large
publication prove the topic not pertinent for him.
Nor have I forgotten that indeed a whole world
of people out there love anything
the giant media corporations decide to spin
from Brittney Spears to, of course, poetry.
Our Leaders
These masters of
and other
convoluted jabber
convincing at all.