Poetry in a Safe Space--In Defense of Free Speech.
Rarely do I ever receive criticism of an issue and/or the editor, despite the fact that I overtly ask for such in each issue. Dana Stamps, II, however, kindly took the time to write a critique. Unlike most other poets, I create from such criticism, as opposed to being offended by it. I was tempted to send Dana the following, as a joke, then wait a few hours to inform him that it was a joke.
Hi Dana, I read your critique. You will no longer be published in The AD. Thank you. T
Because I do not really know Dana, I decided against it. Instead, I wrote that I was going to send the joke. And it is heartening to know that Dana too has a good sense of humour.
Hi George, Your would-be joke made me LOL anyway. I know that you have actually received such rejections before. Some people do not have a sense of humor; you clearly do. Keep up the good fight. Find Beauty, Dana
In any case, the following are my comments regarding his "one-note diatribe" critique and presented not to be mean-spirited but in an effort to promote, as Dana helped to do, vigorous debate, cornerstone of a thriving democracy.
It is as if, for some reason, small press poetry journals exist in some protected safe space and therefore must not be criticized. Indeed, are there any English professors out there who direct their students to write harsh critiques of, for example, their college poetry magazine? In fact, it is as if poetry and poets in general exist in spaces protecting them from outside criticism. Criticize them, and thou shalt be ostracized. That has certainly been my experience!
Rather than use the term criticism, Dana uses the term "put down," which belittles and essentially ignores the actual critique. As for "offending," I am never offended. Is the satirist always offended, or is he rather attempting to point out absurdity, hypocrisy, and falsity? And indeed, I simply highlighted those themes in last issue's editorial to emphasize just how silly (absurd!) poetry themes can be... in essence, anything but rude truth apt to offend poets, their magazines, and organizations. Yes, let's all write poems about Crayola crayons. For me, that's not simply infantile in its egregious innocuousness, but downright mind-boggling... and offensive, though, as noted, I generally never use that term. For some reason, Dana does not mention the Crayola theme.
Moreover, I did not and would never argue that such themes should be prohibited. After all, I am not a flaming hypocrite, but rather an ardent free-speech advocate. On the other side of the spectrum, the bulk of poets and poetry magazines do implicitly ban criticism of poetry organizations, magazines, events, and poets. Try getting a critique of an issue of Poetry magazine published in Poetry magazine, as I've done. Try reading poems critical of poetry event organizers, as I've done, and find yourself never again invited! Do it and become poeta non grata. Free speech is definitely in peril in the milieu of the academic/literary establishment. Well, I'd rather be poeta non grata than trying my damnedest to "find beauty in themes" like Crayola crayons or rolling waves, and trying, ever trying, to be high-brow witty!
Well, I definitely agree with Dana's point on flag burning. Whatever gave him the idea that I wouldn't or don't? But try burning an Antifa or BLM flag at Berkeley... w/o a gun and concealed weapon permit! Or how about wearing a Trump hat at Evergreen State? Do that and you'll really find out just how much free speech is in peril at places like them!
Again, I must emphasize that The American Dissident exists because no other literary journal will publish harshly critical poems and essays, especially regarding the academic/literary establishment. What other journal will permit, in the name of free speech, criticism of itself and its editor in each and every issue? Agni? Ploughshares? Blue Collar Review? Left Curve? Exquisite Corpse? Definitely not! I've tried them all. Criticize NewPages, Poetry Foundation, or Poets & Writers magazine and be permanently banned from their poetry magazine listings! For them, The AD simply does not exist. Period. Of course, I'd much rather criticize what needs to be criticized than be listed.
Moreover, I do not "attack" for the sake of attacking "the small press community." I criticize what is rarely, if ever, criticized because something is either false, hypocritical, stereotyped, double-standardized, PC-only, or whatever. Always a concrete reason incites my "attack." How can the poetry establishment possibly improve if it prevents criticism with its regard? Ah, well, for it, there is no need for improvement at all. After all, its icons are demi-gods and their verse, deific.
The words Dana chooses are denigrating, thus tinted with negative subjectivity and, in that sense, serve to deflect away from the reality of the message. Instead of "criticize," Dana uses the terms "attack," "put down," and "one-note diatribes." Those terms would be justified, but only if the criticism were not justified and did not point out an uncomfortable truth or hypocrisy. Without a precise example of alleged "one-note diatribe," I cannot direct attention to why what was written is not a "one-note diatribe." Often, I receive such criticism, which is really nothing more than ad hominem or implicit ad hominem, as in he who writes "one-note diatribes" must surely be an asshole. Ad hominem seeks to kill the messenger in an effort to divert attention from the message. Labeling the message a "one-note diatribe" does precisely that. No need to present a point-by-point counter argumentation to a particular message. Just call the whole thing a "one-note diatribe."
Dana argues that I "complain." Yet I am simply stating fact. It is not a "complaint," but rather a simple fact that "literary journals have ostracized" my opinions and criticism, though banned would be a more accurate term. And again I am not complaining about that. I am simply stating that if one criticizes, one can end up banned. "Unfair"? I wouldn't and have never used that term with regards what happens to me. I am a staunch individual, who speaks overtly. Is it "unfair" that I am thus punished for that? In an autocrat/apparatchik world, it is not "unfair." It simply goes with the territory.
If no other small press journals will highlight free speech, why is it an "ugly requisite that free speech be the only worthy theme" for The American Dissident? I don't get it. If the latter opened up to all the other themes, Crayola included, then what would possibly make it unique? Wouldn't it simply become just another small press mag boasting vacuous uniqueness on NewPages and P&W mag listings? And how might that "attract rather than repel people to his cause of defending free speech"? Poets, in general, like to think of themselves as somehow special. Yet they are not at all special when they do not possess the courage to stand above the silent Joe professors and Jill poets in an effort to speak "the rude truth in all ways" (Emerson).