One purpose of poetry, and of all artistic endeavor, is the discernment of truths. Once politicized lies begin to replace truths, a discussion group loses vitality and falls, having gone off the path of rational discourse and intellectual exchange. When that happens at a poetry forum, some participants have their poetic license revoked.
Charles Southerland, an excellent emerging poet, recently had the bad luck to encounter such a clique within the poetry world. I refer to the group who call themselves Eratosphere, and their hangers-on. These people have their own very limited version of the truth, the darker side of which is evidenced by their shabby treatment of Southerland and others. Should you cross them in any way you will suffer immediate expulsion at a minimum, with sporadic denigration to follow. In fact, Eratosphere is probably the only poetry forum that has more ex-members than members.
All of us are in big trouble any time we surrender reason to propaganda. Discussion will turn sour and competitive, losing its original purpose. Those who object become targets of blistering attacks fueled by a mix of power-lust, image-maintenance, virtue signaling, and desperation. What might have been an open forum becomes a castle with a raised drawbridge, within which rancor and ambition are nurtured under the cover of lies and conformism. Eratosphere is managed by a coterie of long-term left-wing members who unofficially police the place, ridiculing and eventually driving out anyone who takes a “non-progressive” line.
I prefer to associate with those like Charles Southerland, and others who live in the real world. I see no point in forcing my thoughts to fit the Iron Lady of political correctness. Conformist craziness can only end in a long march over the cliff with the rest of the lemmings.
I would rather wander the fields of imagination, divergent opinion, or any sort of honest discourse, seeking an exchange of ideas. I have always believed that the prime reason for taking a class or joining a workshop is to seek out help in improving one’s work in the technical sense, and not to attend a political re-education camp. That is apparently what one of the best poets I know thought he was doing when he joined the group described in his essay at The Pennsylvania Review titled “McCarthyism Comes Full Circle At Eratosphere.”
Charles Southerland, a polite and articulate gentleman, was deemed to be a useful idiot by the nasty bunch at Eratosphere. To their dismay, he turned out to be intellectually independent, and therefore fit only to be ridiculed, generally trashed, and driven off the premises. His crime? He had written and posted a poem about a political incident from a certainly more factual point of view than either that of the mainstream progressive press or the Eratospherian loudmouths.
During his period of membership at Eratosphere, Southerland was unaware that he was there on sufferance, and looked upon as their pet Deplorable, good only as a conveniently soft target to be attacked. But it turned out he was a bit too “uppity” for the plantation owners. Southerland gave as good as he got, and wasn’t intimidated by patronizing lectures.
Because they had already tried this game on me, I watched with a sense of déjà vu as this incredibly short-sighted and resentful little corner of the poetry world attempted to thwart Southerland’s steady progress in poetry. They had not changed their mode of attack, and I immediately recognized the relentless slicing, dicing, and decimating of a poet’s work just for the malicious fun of it. I still recall thinking that the Eratospherians’ time might have been better spent trying to write better poems. When Southerland received a coveted nomination for the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Prize, the agonized silence at Eratosphere was palpable.
As Charles began to move further in the direction of formal poetry, and receive greater recognition in conventional venues, his success made him more independent. You would think the Eratospherians would have been pleased, and have tried to take some credit for his growth. (They have an annoying habit of congratulating each other profusely on all minor publications.) But no—instead of engaging him in reasonable discussion, they became frightened of his success, and banned him from serious consideration. Inevitably the silly “Rules Committee” met in some dark corner and consulted the many regulations they had created for the good of the rest of us. It’s impossible to succeed without our help! Conform or die! This is the basic mentality of Eratosphere. Charles Southerland had to go.
It hardly matters. Some very fine poets are doing quite well without their help.
For about ten years, I was the subject of a similar crude onslaught from a related clique who overlap with that of Southerland’s tormentors. My journey into the Land of Weird began with a short opinion piece written at the request of the late Paul Stevens, an editor without fear, because (as he told me) he “wanted to shake things up.” I surmised that he had caught a whiff of some sulphur in the air. He published what I gave him, unchanged, in one of his Australian poetry journals.
Together, we were successful beyond our dreams. My short opinion piece caused an immediate barrage of largely manufactured international huffing and puffing. Once I recognized a few key names, it was easy to follow the tracks back to you-know-where. Having begun to publish in respected journals, I had no idea how much I was hated and held in contempt, much less the reason why.
The plot thickened when Joseph S. Salemi, editor and publisher of TRINACRIA and guest editor of The Raintown Review, had the temerity to select me as featured poet for an issue of the latter journal. Somebody dropped a match, and a heap of snide insults by some Eratospherians and other similarly inclined types started a raging bonfire of prissy, worked-up objections. What right, after all, had I to write those poems and think that way? Overnight, I had become someone to remove. My opinions had to be silenced. The Raintown Review was their playpen, and what right had I to defile it?
I began to wonder who had appointed these people to be the Poetry Police. They advise you how to think, format, write, and where to take a politically acceptable stance. Since many of them have a spot in the masthead of a poetry site, or on the faculty of some English department, you will find it easy to get published. Everyone will be briefed on your importance (or lack of it), recognizing your name for good or for ill. Very impressive, indeed. But if you were looking for honest advice on writing, you might as well have stayed incognito and read some poetry instead.
Political progressives all, they are dedicated to informing you where you should be, what you should say, and how you should act. Contemporaries such as Southerland, Salemi, and Yankevich are well-equipped to recognize these pompous phonies, as I am now. Each of us has suffered such stings over the years, and learned how to deal with disdain, duplicity, and the insufferable pretension of hypocrites for whom the discussion of poetry has to be spiced with spiteful gossip and political posturing.
I gradually became aware that many fine poets whom I had admired were on the official far-left non-person list, and all this hysteria began to make some sort of sense. I simply had been another singled-out victim. And honestly, I was amazed to see them still doing the same old song and dance ten years later with Charles Southerland. Like elephants, they never forget; and they remain equally elephantine in the gratuitous attacks, insults, and various interferences that continue to come my way.
How Paul Stevens would laugh if he could know that all of this happened because he had offhandedly asked me to write something that would generate genuine free discussion! But then he was an excellent editor, and had no time for malicious baby games.
Still, the Eratospherian beat goes on. After a few years I thought the ashes of this concerted attack had grown cold, but the bigoted slugs were again awakened when I happened to write a poem praising John Whitworth—a fine English poet whose coattails are continually being grabbed at by many of the Eratospherian gang. I soon acquired trolls when, in the course of praising Whitworth, I happened to use examples of what he doesn’t do—blather on like Walt Whitman, or be obscure in the manner of William Carlos Williams. My poem was published by Evan Mantyk at the Society of Classical Poets website. It didn’t take long for the piece to immediately generate page after page of venom and insult.
Talk about keeping up a vendetta! The usual boring outrage-machine was once more wheeled out, cranked up, and another straw man was set on fire. Oooh, I was really scared!
Southerland speaks of how these far-leftists began their attack on him out of snobbery, but hiked it up to a ridiculous level once they discerned that he was steadily moving ahead on his own steam. He had refused to throw his reason out the window in order to conform to their leftish “progressive” views.
In my case, what began as a contemptuous attack on one who dissented from accepted orthodoxy became trolling worthy of a gang of grade-school bullies. Jibes came from previously friendly colleagues, who were pressured to follow the party line. Though I hardly ever think of these simpletons anymore, by dint of repetition they have finally convinced me of their desperate need for attention. And so I am giving them some today.
To this day, no one has ever been able to tell me exactly what awful deeds I committed so long ago. Through a storm of insults and lies, my sins remain unidentified, only railed against. But then, facts are nowhere near as much fun as the thrill of the hunt. And I have come to realize that my major crime was a disinclination to share the attitudes, mindset, and left-liberal pieties that govern Eratosphere and its lemmings.
Charles Southerland and I are by no means the only ones abused and vilified; we are just two of the more vocal ones who are willing to bring the asininity of it all out for a much-needed public airing But it is frightening when you think that many of our attackers are teaching in colleges and universities! No wonder our Millennials are so stupid, self-absorbed, and incompetent.
How efficiently things run once opposing opinion can be shut down! And with what deliberate and painstaking smoothness! Isn’t that precisely what the National Socialists were about? Today’s self-styled “progressives” are the intellectual inheritors of this Gestapo-like oppression. No matter how piously they present their case, their basic interest in in conformism, and the stifling of heterodoxy.
If you deal constantly in lies, eventually you will become a compulsive liar. I cannot imagine the mental contortions required when trying to reconcile art with political opinions. And by promoting lies and misdirection, intellectual prohibitions and favoritism, those with agendas only make themselves prime candidates for a place in the dust-heap of history.
As for myself, I refuse to sacrifice my reason, imagination, and integrity to the specter of Saul Alinsky or his disciples at Eratosphere. Recently one the moderators at the site posted a plaintive inquiry as to why participation at the forum had fallen off so much. Perhaps if she went back and perused some of the browbeating and leftist bigotry at the site, she wouldn’t have to ask.