SHELLEY’S BIRTHDAY, or “Real Life in Poetry with Don Share & Joan Houlihan:” exclusively on HARRIET


This article builds directly on Thomas Brady’s last comments following the previous Delmore Schwartz post [click here], and indeed tries to pull all the pieces of Scarriet together. What it is not is negative, and certainly not toward Blog:Harriet which has given its authors such pleasure. It’s sole target is the very poor taste and mismanagement of Harriet’s editor, Travis Nichols, who we feel should be fired point blank.

Toward the underlying controversy itself, Scarriet is tolerant — we feel the issues involved are so close to us they are difficult to unscramble. Indeed, our position is like the two sides of our poetry’s coin, and denying one or the other would be fraudulent.

Our position is that having banned one side of the coin Harriet is now bankrupt.

Don Share wrote the original article called REAL LIFE [click here] with great sensitivity and insight, and we are sure gave everyone pleasure. Don Share is not being attacked in this post — he is simply a piece in a much larger puzzle that without him would not yield its whole picture. But his side is GREEN, lots and lots of it, and indeed in his person Don Share embodies the ‘ruling’ position — no blame, but there we are. What is undeniable is that that position gets all the votes — and of course, in less than a month from this very moment Thomas Brady will be banned from Blog:Harriet altogether.

Yvor Winters is a matter of taste, and he’s dead. He’s an important figure in the original article which draws him in here, but he doesn’t speak, and nobody is voting for or against him, or at least not directly. On the other hand, he’s a crux in Thomas Brady’s literary historical argument — a true eminence grise casting a shadow over all of us, and making it hard to read Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Some birthday — indeed, the only warm light comes from the poet’s funeral pyre!

Joan Houlihan is drawn in because she is Sheila Chambers in the penultimate comment, and another large piece of the puzzle. Not only does she get +14 GREEN votes for one very small offering, she expresses most starkly the attitude that lies behind the extraordinary ill-will that Thomas Brady gets buried in (look and see for yourself!). She’s the very Avatar of RED in her compulsion to demonize the opposition, and insists that hooligans like Brady are not to be tolerated anywhere within the pale. She’s angry, dismissive, and will stop at no limits.

Joan Houlihan attacks Thomas Brady specifically for his phrase, “the machinations of the grooming process,” and she should certainly know about that because she runs one of the most expensive “grooming” consultancies in the poetry business in America. Called the Colrain Manuscript Conferences, her outfit offers sophisticated weekends in white mansions in the Berkshires during which you get to meet hot editors and publishers like Jeffrey Levine — available to anyone with an unpublished book to be groomed and an extra arm and a leg. So she’s really passionately opposed to this discussion on Harriet, because Thomas Brady is threatening not only her purse but her cachet. She wants him stopped, in fact. Period. And ditto Christopher Woodman — as he was on Pw &

The comments that follow form an uninterrupted sequence from Thomas Brady’s initial thanks to Don Share for the REAL LIFE post to Joan Houlihan’s cat out of the bag. It’s a shambles, a shocker of the first order, a disgrace to The Poetry Foundation and to all poets and poetry. Indeed, it should make us all blush to read it (but you can’t really read it, of course,  because the whole opposition is closed down, like in Singapore!).

We have decided to post typescripts of the first 3 exchanges because they express the gist of the argument, and need to be read carefully (don’t forget that both of Thomas Brady’s comments are closed in the original — some dialogue!). We also provide a typescript of Joan Houlihan’s and Thomas Brady’s last comments at the end — and, of course, Thomas Brady is closed there too with -23 Dislikes!

Enjoy, we’d like to say. But that would be nasty.

CLICK HERE to read the most important part of this article.


  1. thomasbrady said,

    October 19, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    It was amusing how Shelley’s birthday (Aug 4) blew up in the face of Don Share’s love-fest for Yvor Winters–a John Crowe Ransom-connected founding member of the Program Era, and a crackpot who hated Shelley.

    It sure wasn’t something I planned.

    I wrote, “Reviled by many a great Modernist. Happy Birthday, Shelley!”

    Matt wrote humorlessly, “Are you kidding? You can’t even wish someone a happy birthday without sniping about the modernists for the millionth time?”

    To which I retorted: “Matt wants more icecream!”

    On Don’s thread I gave the following low-down on Winters:

    ” Yvor Winters was not a true advocate of formal education, but rather a soldier in John Crowe Ransom’s little army which snuck into the academy when few were looking; Winters was part of the coup which usurped disinterested scholarship in the name of ‘professional critical/creative writing’ based in the university, (i.e. teach yr friends) as laid out by Ransom’s essay, ‘Criticism, Inc’ in 1937; Winters was one of the first Creative Writing Program directors in the country; he began as an early Fugitive, one of Pound’s early imagist/modernists, was considered part of the New Critics as Ransom devoted a whole chapter to him in ‘New Criticism,’ gradually became ‘neo-classical,’ and was always at heart the same as Pound & Eliot, not a disinterested scholar, but a Manifesto-ist, with extreme views, rejecting all of Romanticism and Poe with pointed viciousness. This is crazy. Hating Shelley is crazy, and yet thanks to the work of the Manifesto-ists, today it’s perfectly acceptable, and is done with no apologies.” –Thomas Brady

    If you think “crazy” is too strong a word to describe Winters, here is Winters himself from the very letter Don Share linked for his readers:

    “I am one of the best-known poets and critics now living, and I have a pretty high reputation for this kind of teaching. I have taught a great many exceptionally brilliant students. I am also an Airedale fancier. In my capacity as a teacher, I correspond, I suppose, to a professional handler at a dog show. Cal is one of the most promising specimens I have ever handled, and if I were his owner I would consider myself infinitely fortunate. But he needs training.” –Yvor Winters, to father of Stegner poetry Fellow, Cal Thomas

    (!!!) “I am one of the best-known poets and critics now living. ** I am also an Airedale fancier. ” LOL

    Is this crazy enough?

  2. thomasbrady said,

    October 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Then Sheila came on the thread, not to add to the discussion, but merely to rebuke me and tell me how I didn’t understand the difference between teaching and publishing. (The same person never does BOTH, you see.) She didn’t support her argument against me with a single example; she simply presented me (and Harriet) with an ill-tempered screed.

    My reply to Sheila was polite in the extreme.

    Then Margo B., dripping with censorious condescension, came on:

    “Sheila, it’s a no-win plan. Better/best to vote with one’s feet and walk away/change the channel. Neither reason nor well wrought argument clothe the obsessed. Personally I’d rather listen to this other Thomas:

    by Thomas Merton:

    Pardon all runners,
    All speechless, alien winds,
    All mad waters.

    Pardon their impulses,
    Their wild attitudes,
    Their young flights, their reticence.

    When a message has no clothes on
    How can it be spoken.


    Here’s what I wrote to Margo:


    “Pardon?” Who are you “pardoning?” And do you think “pardon” means to give up and walk away, as you advised Sheila to do?

    And again, what is your specific issue? Is this the sort of rhetoric to which you aspire? Vague rebuke? Wouldn’t it be quicker and easier to hit ‘dislike’ and steal silently away?

    Sheila is obviously upset. She claimed poets were INVESTIGATED.

    This is simply not true.

    Contests were INVESTIGATED.


    I would NEVER, EVER condone such a thing. If I ever seemed to do so, that was NEVER my intention, nor will it EVER be my intention. No one has EVER pointed out such a thing to me, nor am I aware of it. When consumer protection is greeted with mere hysteria, does it make you ever wonder?

    As you and Sheila must both know, the contest is quite a special thing.

    If, like Harriet Monroe, you have the sagacity and the drive to start your own poetry magazine, you can publish anyone you want in that magazine. The key there is to sell enough copies, or, to raise enough money, to keep the magazine afloat. Then, you as editor can do any thing you want, and publish any poet or any type of poem you want. If Ezra Pound is dominating the editorial tone of the magazine, the public can see that, and can step away–or not.

    The manifesto-ism of Pound failed in the marketplace, but, thanks to enterprising and brilliant friends such as Allen Tate, Pound’s manifesto-ism gained a foothold in the academy, and has been there ever since, quietly canonizing what the public has never accepted.

    Poetry has never seen such wide divergence between popular and critical interest; poetry considered critically meritorious has gone begging; history has never seen anything like it.

    John Crowe Ransom published Robert Lowell’s poems in the ‘Kenyon Review’ many years ago, and this fact was used by Dana Gioia to illustrate how wonderful & open things used to be. The ‘Kenyon Review’ was one of the nation’s leading magazines of poetry criticism, and wasn’t it great, Gioia exclaimed, in his famous essay which attacked the insularity of po-biz, that Ransom, a critic, was beneficent enough to publish poems by Robert Lowell? Lowell and Ransom??!?? This needs no further comment. This is one of my many hobby-horses–but I do ride my horse in the zone of facts and truth.

    But, as I said, the poetry contest is something a little different.

    The contest is indeed a special thing. I shall not speak further of the contest’s necessity–the public does not buy poetry, so revenues for publication of poetry books must be raised; this is well understood.

    I shall only summarize briefly the importance of contests–and this too, should be well-known by now:

    Contests furnish credentials for academic resumes, furnish credentials for further publications, sometimes furnish credentials for the canon, and also directly raise funds for those entities involved in contest governance. Contests rob Peter to pay Paul, Peter being the contest hopefuls who send manuscripts of poems with submission fees, Paul the contest winner who reaps all sorts of tangible and intangible rewards, including book publication–paid for by the losers’ submission fees.

    None dispute the above. Also, none would dispute the importance of the poetry contest being clean and fair. This goes without saying. “Clean and fair” is not always easy to measure when it comes to the subjective judgment of poetry, but difficulty of measurement does not lessen the importance of what is measured: “clean and fair.” This, too, goes without saying.

    I don’t know if you and Sheila are following what I have written so far, but this is what I look for in writing: a wee bit o’ truth and a wee bit o’ clarity.

    Now, one can argue and disagree with specifics, and I welcome dispute, as all true intellectuals do. Please, disagree specifically, if you wish. Or, remain silent. Or, remain silent and hit ‘dislike.’ It is all good.”

    –Thomas Brady

    You may agree with me, or not–but I do lay it out. I don’t snipe. I’m not vague. I don’t hide behind condescending attitudes and airs.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    October 19, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    What was also creepy about that interesting-in-many-ways Don Share thread was how Seth Abramson was treated.

    Don made the work of Seth Abramson an important part of his post, and then when Seth Abramson himself wrote comments in a purely informative manner to Don’t post, they were removed from the thread by Harriet’s like/dislike function.

    Harriet management encouraged anti-social behavior in a variety of ways, and this was just one of them: ‘Thanks for your comments, Seth, but we’d rather not read them!’

    There’s nothing wrong with expressing like/dislike, I suppose, but it would have been easy for Harriet to ensure that a mere 7 dislikes did not make the comment go away, for it was obvious right from the beginning that marvelous comments were being zapped unfairly.

  4. poetryandporse said,

    October 20, 2009 at 3:52 am

    It’s difficult not to get distracted into focussing on what isn’t of real poetic gravity and importance: the eternal fame elegance, eloquence and an all round excellence in Letters bring, Tom.

    I assume Don reads this, as other editors of only contemporary ‘importance’ do: as secondary protaganists in the futurity unfolding itself before the eyes of tommorow’s unborn reading this, and who apportion canonicity to ‘us’ of we the recently dead and performers whose immediate influence in the mix of eternal present, though now we can exagerrate it from the Socratic ideal of eloquent inconsequence, to seemingly awesome in the eyes of our here and now comrades, rivals, friends and enemies: the 90% ‘there’ of us whose importance, History indicates, is inversional.

    We the 10% sincerely believing ourselves the contemporary torch bearers of an (the?) ancient, unimprovable and original (stone-age?) poetic: after we are gone and the Live dynamic evaporates into zero-effect, Chuck B, Don Share, DS, Henry, Vendler, Ken and ka ka ka Kent, Keston and his third-gen Cambridge crazees: all of us Dons in a Ron da Silly school, Paterson and Dunn, Heaney and Fenton, Raine and Hill, Bono and Dylan, George and John, makkers and ditty-jocks stock-taking measures of one another’s intelligence, whose only worth is as fixed-form entities whose certainty limits at Kerouac’s foregone ‘rags of growing old’, knowing only this is and thus: the poem of our time, masquarading for we of the futurities yet to be; as a datum of our soul, the ‘US’ who was thus y’all inflated up from us the dons heard: reporting in what heads y’all here, of a neutral fixer up whose frame and context, a contemporary ‘we’ too of the hypocrite lecteur!–mon semblable,–mon frère! hypocrite reader!–double–brother! friends of dons on a rag, where lots of moaney stirs the current fitting up the hare and hounds with straight stare, unblinking in the play, ‘we’ pretenders to the abracadabra, in Poundian hoodoo, without a clue who ‘Fresh blows the wind / To the homeland’ Mein Irisch Kind where do you linger.. the greatest of their ‘we’ kind wrote, in the throes of marital and mental breakdowns, whilst off work: their recent doctoral student who didn’t turn up for the viva voce, His final spoken conferral (or not) of what it was Tom was after knowing as he floated round Europe, head all hee haw and one the y’all possess in B and S, chuck and don in airy spells what cranes wrote invisibly in wind.

    Mad sense Graves, the intelligence lit a way to out-wit ‘their’ virgin chaps pining in a qaud for what may never be there, to possess a dream that ‘we’re best – again – as the world turns until all our hot air gone, kaput: dons – who? no bells? corrupted ‘our’ blog Harriet Don referred to on this 149 response thread, before it turned off into a tuneless grimace of whacked-out newbs, tuned to numbskull by a green play ridder, by an Eliot manque: one who’ll be forgotten, not remembered, never even there perhaps, when ‘we’ of time present not yet here, make ‘this’ time to be in futurity – past, and present me and no bells, will be for art that isn’t thus, a comrade-double ‘I’ of the kind y’all don’t have, because the eye of John and ‘I’ wave in trees from Aintree to Speke, circuiting round the rim of the Heavenly cafe in a square so temple, its bar’s an eight way fix and one true poetic, buried in what y’all seek, as plastic versions of me the ‘I’ moi, soir who is, only a memory of time not present but past: scrying silent in what is relevant then, not now. Stood next to by a they we share, who is


    all that’s left in words on a page, that bring to what spirit of intelligence we direct into elequence; the eternal fame we crave when living – elegantly or not – intelligence and spirit, History reading, itself.

    shamina shavina shallow eye ay