Poetic Justice?

ONE REACTION TO THE AILEY O’TOOLE PLAGIARISM ISSUE

Ailey-OToole(Photo from The Rumpus.)

THE BIG NEWS in the U.S. literary world over the weekend was the accusation of plagiarism against young poet Ailey O’Toole. The past couple years O’Toole was incessantly networking a host of interconnected literary journals, becoming known within that well-protected, well-screened community as one of the art’s rising young stars– culminating in this interview at The Rumpus. Much drama there expressed. A troubled individual, no doubt.

NOW it’s discovered, by those who published and promoted her, that O’Toole was plagiarizing not just one writer, but a lot of them.

ANOTHER discovery has been less acknowledged– that Ailey O’Toole was an enthusiastic member of the so-called Poetry Cops. She worked hard at having fellow poet Rachel Custer removed as a reader at a lit journal called Barren Magazine— and blacklisted throughout the poetry world. (In this day and age, many literary journals actively support the idea of an ongoing blacklist of journals and writers.)

IS it poetic justice then for Ms. O’Toole to end up in effect banned herself?

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Is there a lesson in this?

IT MIGHT BE that more important than a writer’s perceived political stance is the quality of character. That when a poet is spending half her time trying to get other poets fired or blackballed– dissing and diming them out; instead of focusing on the art– it might be a sign of a lack of that long-forgotten quality.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

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Power Grabbers of Literature

HISTORY DOES repeat itself, but in vastly different ways. The patterns are there if you look for them.

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The ship of culture– even of literature– floats placidly along, but below deck revolution is taking place. All is conflict. The takeover of the ship is of a Gramscian variety– one room at a time.

SIMULTANEOUSLY occurs a struggle within the revolution itself, the pertinent question there being: Who controls it?

It’s a truism that in revolutions the communists devour the anarchists. (See Russia 1918; Spain 1938.) Philosophically, this is happening in the English language poetry scene– Control Freaks taking over, seeking to eliminate all who hold the opposite viewpoint. To shut down those who believe poetry– art itself– is imaginative commotion. Who think the way to attain this is through unrestricted expression. A vanishing attitude being squeezed between Left and Right. For the Control Freaks– the Poetry Cops and their go-along-to-get-along acolytes– this casual attitude is dangerous.

(The P.C.– Poetry Cops– are extremely casual about the poetry itself– but not about what it says, or who says it!)

DIFFERENT patterns from the past occur throughout the ship. One is a last gasp reaction of the (academic) aristocrats, similar to what happened in Russia during the civil war of 1919 between “Reds” and “Whites.” It’s what the noise of Jordan Peterson, Claire Lehmann, Quillette Magazine and their allies is about. This is doomed to failure. You can’t reimpose an ancien regime.

The question remains–

WHO CONTROLS CHANGE?

Old power structures are beginning to crumble, and a new paradigm in which a multiplicity of voices and identities hold authority is emerging. 

This is a quote from an article at Dispatches Poetry Wars, one of the new literary outfits struggling to get to the forefront of radical change in the poetry field. The key to their mindset is to “hold authority,” because that’s what the poetry wars they promote and document are about. Publicly denouncing alleged abusers like Joseph Massey is a means toward that end. It’s not about the poetry. For thirty years or more it hasn’t been about the poetry– which is why an Anders Carlson-Wee poem in The Nation won’t find too many defenders, because in truth it’s not very good. It’s political posturing more than poetry.

IT’S NOT SURPRISING that most if not all of the writers being attacked or taken down by MeToo advocates the past six months or last few years have been on the Left– because that’s all who inhabit the scene. (Not surprising that both Joseph Massey and Anders Carlson-Wee have had poetry in the faux-Leftist magazine The Nation, which publishes short examples of the dwindled art on their site, in-between splashy ads for hyper-priced Alfa Romeos.)

What a Dispatches Poetry Wars is about is the total politicization of the art.

I’ve read their manifesto. I have to say, I agree with much of it. It could’ve been distributed fifteen years ago by the Underground Literary Alliance and no one would’ve been surprised. But let’s understand why these fellows are using activism– for the same reason the ULA used activism: To increase their profile. To upend the literary scene and become a credible player within that scene. With DPW however I smell a trace of phoniness– in that they don’t really want to liberate “autonomous” zones (safe spaces). They don’t actually support unruly, “wild poets,” because otherwise they wouldn’t be joining the chorus of Poetry Cops eager to remove from the scene the work of all those who scribble or act outside the lines of acceptable behavior. (A Rachel Custer, say.) But they do see in which direction the parade is headed. They call for Robespierre-style denunciations and more denunciations.

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–we’re appalled by the silence emanating from institutions that have supported this person and granted him platforms from which to extend his predation.

A LITTLE CHECKING reveals that Dispatches Poetry Wars is run by two older white guys, Michael Boughn and Kent Johnson, who have ties of their own to the established poetry world. Boughn (if it’s the same Boughn) seasonally teaches at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson’s old stomping grounds. Kent Johnson (if it’s the same Johnson) has received grants from the heart of the cultural establishment, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a PEN grant.

I suspect their position is analogous to that we outlined here of Boston Review editor Joshua Cohen. Unleash the mob and it may someday turn on yourself!

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(Titanic paintings by Karl Beutel and Henry Reuterdahl. Portrait of Maximilien Robespierre by Labille-Guiard.)

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Should Literary Editors Ever Apologize?

IS AMERICAN LITERATURE BECOMING A CENSORSHIP HORROR SHOW?

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Some days it seems writers spend as much time taking down other writers as they do creating their own work.

WE HAVE the instance of The Nation magazine apologizing for publishing a poem. (Covered by us in “Political Correctness Backfires.”)

NOW, the Anders Carlson-Wee poem is one we wouldn’t run ourselves. It’s mediocre, poorly thought out, even goofy. The poet is blatantly pandering to his audience (literary editors, not readers) and his performance in (as Mother Jones described it) “blackface” has backfired. Anders is a writer who’s fair game to be criticized. Who begs to be criticized.

AT THE SAME TIME, The Nation‘s haste to apologize for running the mangled thing was a tad unseemly. An embarrassment– running, rushing, gushing to apologize. Their action sets a regrettable precedent for literary editors everyplace.

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Writers, editors, and publishers fought for many years– decades, centuries– for the right to publish anything. ANYTHING. Have the battles over Ulysses, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, “Howl” and other cases become lost from historical memory? Today, after a wave of sensitivity trainings, we see editors and writers afraid to upset anyone in any way.

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A CASE IN POINT is that of poet Rachel Custer, whose poem “To the Woman in a Plague Mask Outside the Living Room Window” was accepted by Ohio State University’s The Journal literary magazine for their Spring 2018 issue, then taken down by editor Kelsey Hagarman after she received complaints not about the poem– but about the poet. (Blackballing?)

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The two complainants used terms like “good literary citizen,” “negative individuals,” “negative online behavior”– which invites the question: What does this have to do with art? They also told Hagarman “–the community will be here to support you”– a statement which reeks of the mindset of a herd. Half-a-step toward the totalitarian.

(The role of the artist over the centuries has been, as often as not, to stand against the herd.)

FYI: The Rachel Custer’s poem was restored by an Ohio State administrator after Rachel threatened legal action. Afterward Hagarman emphasized to one of the complainants that it was “an administrative decision, not an editorial one.” So much for the editor backing her writers and their art!

What makes the affair more inexcusable is that both complainants, Hannah Cohen and E. Kristin Anderson, are editors at other literary journals. A quote to Kelsey Hagarman from Anderson:

“I’ve probably worked with problematic folks in the past and I’ve taken to just googling everyone.”

Problematic? Just know, writers, that when dealing with a host of literary journals you’ll be judged more for who you are, or for past statements and actions, than for your art.

(Meanwhile other literary editors have continued to attack Rachel Custer on twitter.)

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WHAT’S HAPPENING is a mob mentality, where the hungry crowd, having achieved victories, needs to be satiated again. And again, and again, growing ever larger and more narrow in viewpoint. In the name of tolerance, more intolerant. In the name of the marginalized, further marginalizing already marginalized writers. The literary art becoming more and more homogenized.

We first noted in “Death of the Alt Right” the phenomenon in regard to projects like Casper Mag (later Fluland Mag), whose anonymous editor changed his project’s name and his ideas to accommodate critics, but after too many battles closed down anyway.

TODAY’S LITERARY SCENE from top to bottom is becoming more about politics than about creativity and art. We say, fight your battles in the sphere of politics. (We’re an anti-political literary site.) One area which must be exempt is the arena of art. I could find every day examples of movies, paintings, stories, novels, poems, songs, and plays which offend me. Even anger me. Being offended is part of living in a free and intellectually diverse society. Controlling one’s anger is a key part of becoming an adult. We expect it of a five year-old.

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History shows that artistic breakthroughs come from outcasts and outsiders. Sometimes from unpleasant individuals whose work violently upsets somebody. Genius is one step from madness. Creativity is taking your brains and emotions beyond the bounds of normal or acceptable behavior.

Tomorrow’s masterpiece is UNacceptable today. Throw open the doors. Air out the stodgy museums. Allow new voices of every kind and style to have their say.

Author James Joyce and Publisher

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS