The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Generator 21 and Stone Soup Poets (Cambridge, MA)
All truth passes through three stages.  First it is ridiculed.  Second it is violently opposed.  Third it is accepted as being self-evident.

Corruption in academe perpetrated by academics, as well as gross indifference to that corruption by other academics, politicians and community pillars, provoked me to write and, in particular, “the rude truth in all its ways.”  Emerson came later and gave me that expression, but not the urge or rage.  Others too have backed my will and sense of purpose, mostly the dead, for it seems the very large majority of living writers today do not rage, are not angry, and rather fancy curtseying before presidents, their prima donnas and cultural councils. 

Rather than seek the attention of those complacent writers, or that of their literary circles, national poets associations, and sycophant reviews, I seek instead the attention of Dylan Thomas (“Do not go gentle into that good night rage, rage, rage against the dying light”), Thoreau, Twain, Mencken, and Orwell, and continue to “go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all its ways,” while ineluctably broadening my banishment from the literary, social and academic worlds.  

As a writer expressing the rude truth, that is the truth felt deep within and not self-censored by a strangling superego, and actively submitting essays, chronicles, and poetry to editors and publishers throughout the country, I have found myself periodically confronting, with Emerson’s dictum, other writers, poets, editors, and publishers.  Responses have been interesting at times, though perhaps all too predictable, given the symptoms of the malady afflicting America in the light of her blinding economic prosperity.  In the field of writing, that malady takes the shape of a ‘literary malady,’ which has been adversely affecting the craft for some time now.  The following is a glimpse of that malady taken from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast:
It is strange now to remember thinking of Scott as an older writer, but at the time, since I had not yet read The Great Gatsby, I thought of him as a much older writer.  I thought he wrote Saturday Evening Post stories that had been readable three years before but I never thought of him as a serious writer.  He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them salable magazine stories.  I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoring.  He said it was whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books.  I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent.
So much for F. Scott Fitzgerald and his diluting for money.  But the carrot of fame and riches continues to pervert the vast majority of writers in America today, most of who are highly dominated by a firm superego created by mother capitalism.  Few can escape from under it and few even attempt to do so because of the cultural affliction, denial.  Often it takes a close encounter with corruption to open ones eyes to the rude truth and begin writing from the gut.  Unfortunately, most writers will never have such an encounter because most have learned, all too well, the game of success, literary networking, and team-playing. 

Encounters with occasional writers, editors and publishers sufficiently incensed by my letters or submissions have often proved to be fruitful for my writing and thinking, eliciting thoughts or essays I would not have normally possessed or written.  In fact, one such encounter with Rod Amis, editor of the online Generator 21: The World's Magazine (, which had actually published four or five of my essays, incited the idea for this essay.  After a barrage of so many humping and pumping marketing hyped e-mails from that zine, I finally requested that my name be removed from the mailing list.  Several weeks later, I decided to explain myself to the editor, since he had not bothered to ask for an explanation.

“I think you're fooling yourself.  You cannot be a dissident, a critical, unique voice, while at the same time seeking fame, dollars, recognition, and mass acceptance.  The two cannot coincide.  Indeed, something has begun to ring falsely at Generator 21.  Fast, faster, hype, hyper, hypest.  Something of the soul must inevitably be cast aside when seeking to follow in the footsteps of a review that prefers famous names to well-written, critical essays.  If you print this letter as a letter to the editor, it will surely meet with hatred, denial, rationalizing argumentation and the usual American refusal to perceive the Emersonian rude truth.  ‘Stand upright and speak the rude truth in all its ways.’  This is what I do and this is why I am unemployed and probably unemployable.  This is what my review, The American Dissident, does.  This is why it will never have a large circulation.” 

The rude truth is of course not difficult to pronounce when evoking it over yonder, in China or at the White House, for example.  It is difficult, however, to proclaim when the corruption or other deceit in question is immediate in time and place, and especially where there may be consequences for speaking out.  Criticize the literary crowd, for example, and the consequence may very well be ostracization and rejected manuscripts.  Whereas in some countries, dictators have feared and hated writers (e.g., Nigeria’s Saro‑Wiwa, Chile’s Neruda, and Spain’s Lorca), in America the oligarchs and plutocrats tend rather to seek their company (e.g., poet laureates Pinsky, Hass, Dove, and Angelou).  Established literati in America will indubitably react like the dictators of foreign countries, however, vis-a-vis writers not speaking the literary party line, though sans physical violence.

In response to my missive, the editor of Generator 21 wrote: “Do we want to build a larger audience and be read?  Most definitely.  I don't think you would have submitted to G21 or have even *heard* of us if we didn't try to attract an audience.”

Per usual, I examined underneath the statements where most simply did not wish to look.  “Trying to attract an audience” and changing oneself to attract a larger audience, for me, were two different things entirely.  I too was trying to attract an audience for my small review, but refused to alter myself, that is, my integrity, to do so.  I was also a firm believer that power (e.g., a larger audience) did not corrupt (e.g., less and less rude truth).  Power only permitted corruption, already present, to express itself.  A writer, editor or publisher of integrity would rather reject the power of a larger audience, than his or her integrity.  Machiavelli’s dictum rather serves as an excuse to be corrupt. 

“Writers don't work in a vacuum of self‑righteousness or the gem‑like quality of their souls:  writers write to be *read,*” argued the editor. 

That statement was disturbing, though sadly quite true.  Indeed, too many writers write to become well‑known and well‑published almost always at the expense of their very souls and ideals, that is, if they had any to begin with.  Corporate America manipulates fame and fortune like flypaper to defuse writers and poets as sources of dissidence.  Surely, it has learned from the example of the dictators.  Pitifully, so many writers, legions of them, do not seek to uphold Emerson's ideals because they’d much rather seek Faustian deals.  Public education, the media, and perpetually loose, as opposed to tight, job markets have succeeded all too well in shaping their minds.

“As to the rude truth, we've never been accused of avoiding it—but we also take pride in our reputation for being balanced.  Balance is a good thing, as the Buddha often pointed out.  And we certainly don't see the virtue of being offensive for the sake of offense,” wrote the editor. 
As mentioned, there can be no straddling of the fence when it comes to the rude truth, which will almost always encounter anger and/or mockery.  People will ineluctably call the truth-teller “self‑righteous,” “being offensive for the sake of offense” (the editor’s words), “bitter,” “angry,” “confrontational,” “argumentative,” and “opinionated” (other words used to designate my writing by other editors, writers and publishers).  Unfortunately, “being balanced” can never be speaking “the rude truth in all its ways.”  “Balanced” is not necessarily a good thing.  “Balanced” more often than not means selling out and being an agent, willing or not, of the capitalist engulfment and destruction, slowly but surely, of American first principles and ideals of the nation's founding fathers. 

As for Buddha, I strongly believe that the American variety of his teachings as marketed by the likes of Ginsberg and fellow beatniks, including academe’s Naropa Institute, seems, more than anything else, to sadly serve those capitalist endeavors.  The truth that Ginsberg failed to consider was how he had perverted Buddhism into a literary clubbiness and moneygrubbiness, as illustrated by the recent Sotheby’s beatnik auction.  Any other teachings, for that matter, that urge moderation (“balance”) must inevitably be pro-capitalist in the negative sense, that is, enhancement of the gulf between the rich and poor, adversity towards full employment, exploitation of third-world peoples, and pro-authoritarian hierarchy.  The editor decided to terminate correspondence, thus did not respond to these comments. 

A second interesting encounter of the writer-poet-editor-publisher kind that I’ve experienced also illustrates and underscores the precariousness of Emerson’s dictum in the world of literature.  It involves my interaction with a literary society, Stone Soup Poets of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  If I had heeded the French poète-chansonnier Léo Ferré’s words, perhaps I never would have enjoyed that interaction.  “L’embrigadement est un signe des temps, de notre des temps.  Les hommes qui pensent en rond ont des idées courbes.  Les sociétés littéraires sont encore la société.  La pensée mise en commun est une pensée commune.”  [Indoctrination is a sign of the times, of our time.  People who think in groups have crooked ideas.  Literary societies are nevertheless society.  Group thought is ordinary thought.]

Indeed, Ferré’s words ought to keep all serious poets far from poet societies, dead or living.  But I was curious and wanted the experience, which was offered to me by a large man, who curiously called himself Buddah (Spelled ‘ah,’ he’d said, not ‘ha.’), who approached me while I was protesting alone in front of another literary society, the Thoreau Society, in Concord, Massachusetts.  Despite his being a member, he appreciated my placard: THOREAU WAS A DISSIDENT, NOT A SOCIETY MEMBER OR SHOP.  He asked me to read at Walden Pond with a group of other poets, mostly Stone Soup Poets.  He was also a member of that society.

Several readings down the road after that one, my fraternization with Stone Soup Poets Society terminated.  One Saturday morning, I drove route 3 North, then entered the mill city of Lowell, a satchel full of my first issue of The American Dissident, flyers, and several other items.  A huge billboard in the sky greeted me: “Support the Homeless Elderly.”  How refreshing, I thought, for a city to even admit such a phenomenon existed.  As I drove down the main street I noted a church topped with prison razor wire, then a man wheeling a shopping cart stacked with bottles, a huge bar, El Rincón, several people sitting by themselves on benches, and finally a tough boxer-looking Hispanic riding his bicycle directly at me without looking.  I jammed on my breaks.  As he passed, he gave me a mean look, perhaps of the reverse racial hatred-type nobody likes to talk about.

No matter, I arrived at the Lowell public library with my satchel, walked inside, up the stairs and into what looked like a small gymnasium.  Immediately, a fellow in a white suit with curly hair came up to me and imperiously demanded:  “WHO ARE YOU!”  When I told him who, he said:  “Oh, hmm, I think I remember you.  Weren’t you at that reading at Walden Pond?” 

Evidently, the curly fellow had not appreciated my reading, yet remembered it because I had lambasted poets for their disengaged, ineffectual verse.  Anyhow, I set up my books, then sat down.  The event was the Small Press Book Fair at the Jack Kerouac Festival.  Few non poet-publishers would show up.  It was sort of embarrassing, but I was convinced I’d get writing material out of the experience. 

The curly fellow walked slowly past my table, eyeing my collection of items like an FBI agent.  Buddah who sat down to talk, informed me that the curly fellow was co-organizer of the event.  A few minutes later, the Stone Soup Poet Society director, co-organizer, whom I’d met before, walked up to the table, looked down with pouted lips upon my book of cartoons without even saying hello or inquiring about the American Dissident.

“Do you think they’ll accept this?” he said standing there for a full minute as if frozen, then walked away, leaving me with the feeling of criminal intent.  Indeed, the FBI agent had ratted out my cartoon book, Welcome to Massachusetts: The Fuck You State.  Three hours later, I decided to leave because the event turned out to be a fiasco.  I hadn’t even handed out a flyer.  Before I walked off, however, I approached the Stone Soup Poets table and said to the director: “Why are you poets so incurious?  It seems quite un-poet-like to me.  You came over to my table, gave me a dirty look because of my book, and didn’t even ask about my new review.  You seem more concerned about the nefarious Authorities, than free speech.  Aren’t you aware that the word ‘fuck’ is legal in the state?”

To my surprise, the director came out with a confession:  “Well, our poets don’t like you.  You humiliate them.”  Was I dreaming?  No, I was having my nose rubbed into the reality of the poet world.  Then out of the blue, he said, though scarcely even knowing me:  “You never do anything.  You’re all talk.  When was the last time you picked up a cigarette from the street to beautify a town?”  Then he scuttled off chuckling nervously, evidently wanting to avoid debate, to seek the comfort of fellow poet admirers in another corner.  What I had learned, well, I had already known: “Speaking the rude truth in all its ways,” including criticizing poets was a no-no in the literary world.  I was now banished from Stone Soup Poets Society.  Was I disappointed?  Not in the least, for besides finding poetry readings highly dissatisfying, I wholeheartedly agreed with Léo Ferré.

As of late, I have been trying in vain to find a literary review to publish several essays highly critical of academic literary reviews and poetry.  As part of the experiment of those essays, which I update periodically, I have sought out academic and quasi-academic literary journals, whose response, more often than not, has been no response, that is, the typical, unoriginal form letter.  Indeed, one might assume that academic editors, with their nine to 12-hour teaching loads, are so very busy that they don’t have time to write a 30 second note with maybe a little critical advice; after all, aren’t academics in the business of teaching and helping? 

So far, I’ve received one personal note out of about 14 reviews, regarding my essay, “Poetry in America Today:  Hype and Entertainment as a Means, Fame and Diversion as an Ends, and the General Corporate Takeover of Literature.”  The editor of Mid-American Review (Department of English, Bowling Green State University) wrote:  “I think this essay begins with clear valuable assertions.  I like that.  But after that it seems to continue to be a tissue of interesting assertions.  I need more specifics.  Poems. Mags. Analysis.  Sorry to disappoint.”  Unfortunately, I have been through the not-enough-specifics-too-much-specifics runaround a number of times, especially regarding my state-college whistleblowing essays.  Indeed, the NEA’s Thought & Action editor, for example, had requested I revise one such essay on academic corruption by adding specifics.  I had eliminated all names in the hope of getting the item published.  Now, I was being asked to add the names.  Needless to say, I resubmitted a revised version, and never heard from the editor.  A year later when I queried, the editor sent a form rejection. 

In any case, clearly, the editor of the Mid-American Review was not interested in my resubmitting a revised version with specifics, for he would have made that request.  Clearly, he was not really interested in my “valuable assertions,” no doubt being concerned about his audience and perhaps even the university president.  As all academics know, university and college presidents do not like to see their academic charges  “go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all its ways.”