OPEN LETTER TO JOEL BROUWER

SpeedR Title 3SpeedR just Reviews

SpeedR jusy label

Hayden Carruth Grab Title

Hayden Carruth Grab LabelKeep the Spot Grab Title

Keep the Spot Grab Label___________________________________________________________

Dear Joel Brouwer.

You’re a fine writer and a very positive presence on Blog:Harriet, both in the articles you write and in your participation in the discussions.

The “Keep the Spot Sore” article was your first as a Contributing Writer, and I admired you both for the humility with which you presented it and the challenge you offered — fantastic! Indeed, you must have been astonished by the diversity and passion of the responses, but little did you realize that the fate of your three most enthusiastic respondents, Desmond Swords, Thomas Brady and myself, was hanging in the balance. Indeed, all three of us have now been banned from Blog:Harriet, and it was in the context of your first article that Travis Nichols made it clear we were no longer wanted.

Nevertheless, despite the shadow, there were 103 comments, and a great deal was accomplished. I personally loved it.

Your 2nd article, “Hayden Carruth,” was an even greater hit with 255 responses, including a most interesting tussle over the meaning and value of anthologies — not strictly on topic but worth every minute of it. What you may not have realized is that that was the first thread under Travis Nichols’ new Like/Dislike voting function, which wrecked havoc. I was very embarrassed to see dozens of posts closed down so that you had to “click” even to see them!  I’m sure you were aware of that, but what you probably didn’t realize was that the sole purpose of the function was to bury one poster, Thomas Brady, and boy did it ever.

I myself was simply placed on “awaiting moderation,” and because I live so far away and it took up to 3 days for my comments to get passed by the censor, I was effectively out of the discussion.

Yet I still enjoyed it!

Now you are posting articles in a very different environment, and there’s no longer any passion at all, just shop talk. 10 comments on “SpeedReviews (TM),” no hits, no runs, no errors. P-c. but cliquish, full of little fetishes and in-jokes — just a pale shadow of what you engaged with before.

So what has happened to Harriet, and why are you, such a good writer,  now addressing such a small, introverted, parochial community? What about all those passionate amateurs, those unpublished poets and poetry lovers that are also avid readers all over the world? For what Thomas Brady (Boston), Desmond Swords (Dublin) and myself (Chiang Mai) all have in common is that none of us have a professional or academic relationship to poetry, so a topic like “SpeedReviews (TM)” is unlikely to engage us. “How many review copies of poetry books do y’all receive?” you ask. Well, nobody has ever sent me a book to review in my life what is more reviewed one of mine. So how many people are you talking to beside the small circle of colleagues in the poetry profession? Does that make poetry in America?

10 comments you have here and, I wonder, how many readers? I go back and look over “Keep the Spot Sore” and “Hayden Carruth” just for pleasure, and each time I’m enriched. Yes, “SpeedReviews (TM)” is still a fine piece of writing, Joel, but it’s not enough to make Blog:Harriet universal or interesting. Indeed, no blame, but I’m afraid it’s mostly just cynical!

Christopher Woodman

12 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    September 24, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Joel B. in SpeedReviews quoted a poem in one of his ‘reviews’ and now it’s gone. Did someone complain?

    I agree, Christopher, that Joel B. is a fine writer, but this thread is childish and naive–the brief review, or the brief notice.

    There’s not much to chew on, here, and there seems to be this assumption that no one has thought about this before.

    Everything on Harriet now defaults to either blurby, ho hum praise of this or that poet, or the raised eyebrow, super-self-evident remark.

  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 25, 2009 at 4:58 am

    A SpeedReview(TM) just posted on the Keats Lives (for awhile) thread:

    Good on you, Gary,
    Terreson

    -2 Vote recorded. Thank you.
    POSTED BY: TERRESON ON SEPTEMBER 24, 2009 AT 8:16 PM

    Joel Brouwer might want to include a Like/Dislike function in his SpeedReview software because it would also speed up the whole process of the reader’s evaluation of the critic — a real thought saver!

  3. thomasbrady said,

    September 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Good one!

    Harriet has its own SpeedReview!

    There’s nothing like that odd Like/Dislike Function which quickly ‘reviews’ in strange ways, but very quickly.

    The dislikes have out-numbered the likes on Harriet in the month of September by a substantial margin: the SpeedReview on Harriet itself is a big thumbs down.

    I wonder if Joel B. is aware of this little irony re: SpeedReviews?

  4. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 27, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Joel,
    I do know how you meant this article, and it’s a good one too, but still it’s built upon the assumption that Real Poetry People get piles of poetry books for free in their mailboxes, for whatever reason. Real Poetry People are deep in the loop, and everybody wants to be read by them — because everybody knows that unless the publicly recognized RPPs blurb you you don’t stand a chance.

    Here’s the bottom line. The object of the reviewing exercise in America is not to get read by the Wider Poetry Audience but to get creds. That’s all. Indeed, everybody knows there is no WPA, that nobody reads poetry in America, period. On the other hand, people like Kent Johnson get 100 books in their mailbox, and Kent Johnson is near Stephen Burt, so it is said, and has access even to Helen Vendler, maybe, so that’s why your book is in his mailbox. Of course it’s not there to be read.

    So we have the comment by Jim Murdoch. He gets “not so many,” boo hoo, and freely admits he’s a little jealous too, but nevertheless he knows where it’s at. As he puts it, everybody hopes Ron Silliman will blurb them, because that’s all it takes.

    Here’s what Mary Alterman says, and I’m going to quote all of her comment because she is so honest and leaves nothing unsaid:

    “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire

    Joel,
    I am an “amateur” who dabbles in reading and writing poetry so don’t know if you want to count your more general audience. Having now discounted myself, I would like to add that I was impressed with your speedreviews, really, delighted and learned from reading them. We’re not all scholars out here in the world and frankly, some of the long reviews I’ve attempted to read leave me blank. So I enjoyed your short pieces. Must be nice to be so smart and talented a writer!

    -1
    POSTED BY: MARY ALTERMAN ON SEPTEMBER 25, 2009 AT 10:06 AM

    But, Mary, I’m not so sure you really believe that. Yes, of course it must be nice “to be a smart and talented writer,” but do you really believe the way you can tell that is by counting the free poetry books piling up in somebody’s mailbox?

    Because I don’t believe you, Mary. I can hear the humor in your note, in fact, I can tell you’ve already seen through this charade. I mean, look at that -1 vote. Obviously you’ve hit the nail on the head, and somebody’s punishing you for it. And I’m thanking you!

    Realpolitik it’s now called, Mary — and Machiavelli explained ages before that just how it works.

    Christopher

  5. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    My dear Woodman,

    It is strange, isn’t it, how every once in a while on Harriet, now, there’s a frail and fragile flower in the cement, a polite, guarded counter-remark meant to make the Harriet ‘business-as-usual’ stop and think, though fearing censorship, these remarks, these objections, are crafted as passive hints, lest they incur the wrath of Harriet management?

    I wonder what people like Annie Finch and Martin Earl and Bill Knott think when they look in on the wasteland that is Harriet, now, sprinkled with the occasional whisper of ‘but don’t you think…?’

    I remember towards the end of my stay on Harriet, there was a thread began by Finch on a 1984 conference in Alabama, with Helen Vendler and Charles Bernstein and Gerald Stern and Louis Simpson and Denise Levertov and Marjorie Perloff, and Annie linked to a transcript of the last panel discussion, and a lot of interesting things were said in that panel; I printed out the transcript, made comments on pertinent things said by all the participants, wrote a long post, added it to the small number of comments on the thread and–got no response. No one wanted to discuss that conference, in which various school of poetry were articulating their claims and positions in a lively debate. This was as that thread was sinking down, as they do, and it was when the wagons were already circling against Thomas Brady for daring to (shudder) speak up occasionally. Annie’s post was up for a long time, and I hadn’t touched it for a week, and not one person wanted to talk about the conference. My involved comment was too late.

    Just amazing, isn’t it? In our short stay here on this earth there are so many who want to put a cap and a cover on life and reduce everything to polite little sound bites?

    I wonder what Annie Finch and Martin Earl and Bill Knott would say if they saw what Harriet is now?

    Yours,

    Brady

  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 27, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    What’s also interesting, Tom, is that there’s not a peep from anyone anymore about where Harriet is now, what is more where she is headed. It’s as if Harriet were recovering from a terrible brownshirt crackdown in which everyone still alive feels guilty — as survivors so often do. Everyone feels complicit!

    I mean, did you ever see a comment about all those deletions and bannings after we were removed? There was such a lot of fuss while we were still there which, of course, Travis Nichols quite publicly encouraged. Is it really possible that no one was interested after we got dumped, not even Travis? Was it all that simple?

    Or were they just frightened, realizing the terrible thing they had done? Frightened at who they were, ashamed that their bullying had actually triumphed!

    Self-evaluation was an on-going concern on Blog:Harriet the whole time I was there — as of course it ought to be among intelligent, highly conscious, striving individuals. Indeed, it’s what separates almost more than anything a developing society that’s organized vertically in a top-down power structure, Thailand for example, from a more mature, horizontally organized one in which citizens look each other straight in the eye, a Norway or Denmark, for example, or a Canada.

    Someone who I think must be hurting now is John Oliver Simon. He was so hurtful to me, indeed he accused me over and over again of being just a sock-puppet, do you remember, your stooge? Then he apologized to me personally and profusely all of a sudden, but by then it was much too late. He had done me fatal damage, and he knew it. [Click here for a taste of that — you can follow the dialogue both up and down to see how the tragedy unfolded.]

    John should have known better with all his Latin-American experience.

    So sad.

    Christopher

  7. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Dear Woodman,

    There you and Simon are, befriending each other in those comments which turn into upright sticks because of the ‘reply’ function, introduced to allow digressions in threads, but which only created confusion and horrid spacing problems. What’s wrong with digressions, if they are intelligent and interesting? And if you don’t find them interesting, skip them!

    Why grown-ups act like children when it comes to reading a comment thread, I’ll never understand…so not only did we have the absurd like/dislike function, we had the reply function, too, as if adults can’t read a comment stream without all sorts of elaborate outside interference…both of these functions came into existence after we joined Harriet…

    And now no one posts on Harriet, so it’s like a small person wearing a too large pair of ridiculous pants.

    I’m still reading that book, ‘The Program Era,’ by Mark McGurl (reviewed by Louis Menand in ‘The New Yorker’) which I mentioned on Harriet–but it never really got discussed–and the Southern Fugitive/New Critics are mentioned constantly in this book–New Critics like Brooks, Ransom and Warren were not only influencing poetry, and fiction, and fiction and poetry writing programs all over the country, they were at Iowa, too, on the ground floor, with Paul Engle and Flannery O’Connor, and they were at the drama workshop at Harvard earlier, it all chimes in with what I’ve been talking about, and this is why John Oliver Simon thought I was a “loud bore;” because I was discussing something that is true and is being investigated by the next generation before it hits everyone’s radar screens–and it will. I showed ‘The Program Era’ to the critic James Wood, and he was very interested in it, and told me there is a doctoral student at Harvard doing a thesis on Paul Engle and the Iowa Workshop and the C.I.A, and how graduates of Iowa went on to start workshops all over the country. This isn’t discussed much, but it’s huge, and Harriet was lucky to get the news, and of course that’s not all I talked about, but building from themes and motifs is a good way to discuss matters so that one can keep a handle on all the connections…I’m just bewildered why this is so offensive to people like John Oliver Simon, who, really, wasn’t nearly as upset with me as he appeared to be; as soon as I asked him a quesiton, he was all too happy to give me theories and themes, and we had a productive discussion.

    Why these sorts of disagreements were not allowed to take their natural course, and why we had to be banned, is so sad and pathetic.

    You and I are so different; how could anyone have thought we were the same person? They hated you for liking me, because they needed their fear of me to be legitimized. They demonized us.

    Are we demons?

    How child-like Harriet’s fear of us seems!

    Yours,

    Brady

  8. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Also, Tom — I was a little embarrassed to note AFTER I put up my last comment on this thread just above. I mean, I was so rough on you in it, my good friend Thomas Brady!

    Indeed, in the famous “cow pats & hammers” post that so angered Nick, Noah Freed, and, so disastrously for me, Travis Nichols, I was also suggesting that what you had just said was shit! [click here if you still haven’t seen that remark, and click here for how Travis Nichols, the Administrator of Harriet, threw it right back in my face!]

    I find your writing thrilling, Tom — everything you put up is a delicious cup of coffee, and I don’t mean an espresso, a ground breaking, ceiling shaking, little lightning bolt from the gods. I mean a great big café au lait, un grand crème on a broad shiny counter in a big green bowl with 2 spoonfuls of sugar, a cigarette, a shot of calvados and a croissant. Exactly like that!

    Because I find your writing so thrilling, I have no patience at all for people who dismiss it because of their own limitations, navel-gazing, self-righteousness, and just plain old jealousy. I also love the way you take risks, and I’m not at all afraid to tell you when something you say pulls a punch or goes completely off the rails (I almost said hay-wire!).

    Yes indeed, how child-like Harriet’s fear of us is. When they asked us in the middle of July to write shorter posts and less frequently, we did — and as Desmond pointed out, I mean Desmond Swords(!) pointed this one out, the limitation was actually helpful. Nevertheless, 6 weeks later we were all banned without notice, God only knows for what.

    So why didn’t someone try contacting us again if the length restriction wasn’t sufficient, if there was something else that was troubling the management? Why didn’t someone with a feeling for others like Don Share, for example, or Catherine Halley sit down and write us a letter explaining how we could be more constructive? Why leave it up to Travis Nichols with his grotesque, red and green, obscene little, get-at-Thomas-Brady hammers?

    What a joke, Travis’ hammers. Truly what a TRAVESTY!

    Christopher

  9. thomasbrady said,

    September 28, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Christopher,

    I don’t usually revisit old threads, but…wow…that Robinson Jeffers thread on July 7-8 is just…AMAZING.

    Who the f– is this Nick?

    He got the hate going.

    He merely disparaged the thread in a grumbly snit, having the nerve to say, “I don’t intend to reply on Jeffers,” after you said something nice to him, and yet suddenly everybody, including Travis, was begging him to not to “leave” and taking the attitude, ‘oh we’re sorry this thread doesn’t please you, Nick!’

    Jumpin’ jimminy cricket.

    Then Simon with his nasty accusation that we were the same person…

    And Robbins came in, arguing for less posting…

    And Krista was especially nasty, too. Whoever Krista might be…

    What really seemed to get people upset was that I was ripping Jeffers.

    Looking back, I don’t think Travis was knocking your cow patty hammer remark…he was more upset with me, I think…they all were..

    Thomas

  10. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Of course they were after you, Tom — it’s just that with someone else finding you interesting and replying seriously to what you said it was impossible for them to say you were destroying the site. So they had to get rid of me first before they could isolate you.

    That all happens on this thread — and I saw it all coming too. You might be amused at my cockney rhyming-slang joke on “hat right out of the rabbit”/”bat-shit right out of Harriet” (click here). My statistics on the thread right at the end are pretty good too (click here). I was put on “awaiting moderation” specifically for these offences — I had hi-jacked the thread, Travis said, just like Motet on Pw.org and Chrissiekl on Poets.org! And he, Travis Nichols the Administrator, had actually mocked me for the metaphors I had suggested to “keep the spot sore!”

    For those of you who don’t know the whole story, “Keep the Spot Sore” was Joel Brouwer’s title for the whole thread, and the topic was Robinson Jeffers!

    Christopher

  11. thomasbrady said,

    September 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    We (and others) were talking Jeffers and people were coming on with nothing to add to the topic, and literally saying ‘shut up.’ And Travis was wringing his hands, saying to them, ‘don’t leave! we’ll make it up to you!’

    And now we’ve been shut up, and look at Harriet! Dead.

    Is that what they wanted?

    Don Share was a voice of reason; he knew Jeffers was winning, not me; he knew the discussion was worthy, and you knew this, too, and you drove everybody nuts with your graciousness and openness.

    The unruly, jealous, cantankerous twits, won!

    Jeez….

  12. thomasbrady said,

    September 29, 2009 at 2:33 am

    Purely by accident, during the course of the discussion, and because of the discussion, I discovered an interesting piece of information.

    Margo, Simon, and Tere were all writing feverishly, and granting Tere’s feeling for Jeffers’ sublime–admitting the sublime contained a certain misanthropy, perhaps–I wrote:

    I can’t get past Jeffers’ misanthropy. The flat style, combined with the agenda of miserably misanthropic bombast, is abhorrent to all that I love (excuse my bombast).

    “The heartbreaking beauty will remain when there is no heart to break for it” = M.I.S.A.N.T.H.R.O.P.Y.

    In fact, I’m not sure that Jeffers is not, in fact, highly reactionary, like Eliot, and the two share a misanthropy which I highly mistrust. Eliot’s hatred of emotion, his hatred of Shelley and the Romantics, Jeffers’ love of stones and rocks…is it somehow related? Who represents the people? Shelley! Who represents the tyrant? Eliot! Who represents Empire? Eliot! Who represents revolt against the Empire? Shelley! Who represents Love? Shelley! Who represents Priesthood? Eliot!

    Now, I use the Force. (I google) I type, with a strange foreboding, ‘TS Eliot and Robinson Jeffers.’

    And then the horrible truth flashes upon my soul!!

    “Jeffers’s breakthrough collection was TAMAR AND OTHER POEMS, which appeared in 1924. It was praised by T.S. Eliot and established his reputation.”

    Then, unfortunately, you and Gary had that spat, and the bizarre Terreson decided someone on Harriet had tampered with one of his posts (click here)…and then we really did enter Alice’s Wonderland….and the thread lost its force

    Yes, my dear Woodman, that cow patty hammer thread is one for the ages…