The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Poets House—Free Speech in Peril

Literature should not be suppressed merely because it offends the moral code of the censor.
          —Chief Justice William O Douglas
The selector begins, ideally, with a presumption in favor of liberty of thought; the censor does not. The aim of the selector is to promote reading not to inhibit it; to multiply the points of view which will find expression, not limit them; to be a channel for communication, not a bar against it.
           —Lester Asheim, “Not Censorship but Selection” (Wilson Library Bulletin, 1953)
Marie HoweAll censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of all censorships. There is the whole case against censorships in a nutshell.
           —George Bernard Shaw

The two cartoons below were sent to Poets House staff (see correspondence).  Not one staff member deigned to respond.  It is more than apparent that satire directed towards established-order poets and their organizations is taboo.  Should that be how a democracy operates?

Bill MurrayFrom: George Slone <>
Sent: Friday, September 25, 2009 9:13:52 AM
Subject: Dissidence, persona non grata in Poetry House?
Dear Lee Briccitti, CEO of Poet’s House:

Today, I read the NY Times article on your house of poetry.  $11 million… just for the interior decoration!  Wow.  Can I ask you to consider subscribing to a rare literary journal, one that criticizes established-order poetry, poets and machinery?  The viewpoints it offers are likely not offered in Poet’s House.  I’ve been contacting professors for the past decade.  Only one, Dan Sklar of Endicott College, has been inviting me to speak to his English classes.  The others respond mostly with deafening silence.  A one-year subscription costs only $20.  Even though I have the 501 3c nonprofit designation, I cannot obtain one penny of public funding, not from the NEA, not from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, not from the Concord Cultural Council.  Librarians prefer subscribing to Entertainment Today and Mademoiselle.  The Academy of American Poets blatantly censored my comments and banned me from further participation.  What is going on in poetry today?  How did it get so dainty?  Why the fear of non-established-order ideas and comments?  Trying to open the doors of the established order to vigo rous debate, cornerstone of democracy, has been a near-impossible endeavor. 

Evidently, you form part of that order.  Are you too hermetically sealed?  On a final note, how not to laugh, though sadly, at all the POETRY MANAGERS in your organization:  the Managing Director, Office Manager, Chief Financial Officer, and Community Relations Manager.  Sadly, that is indeed poetry in America today... highly managed and safe enough for children and those in power.   I copy this to the other managers of poetry in your house in case you decide not to respond and one brave or sufficiently indignant individual amongst you does. 

From: George Slone <>
Sent: Fri, November 20, 2009 7:27:32 PM
Subject: No response
Dear Poet House Staff:
Not a single response from any of you!  Has poetry today gotten that bad, that inbred, that safe?  Must it fit within a certain bourgeois politesse and aesthetics?  Horrible!  Wow!  Well, attached are two cartoons I've completed on Poets House.  Would you please make absolutely certain that not one of your visiting poets and poetophiles gets to look at them... in the name of vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy?  Thank you.