Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Jessica Smith's post regarding the potential vitriolic nature of comment streams, not very many people have mentioned what is for me was a truly dangerous political statement. Most people have addressed her claim that after receiving a positive review on Silliman's blog she felt she endured psychological damage due to some of the comments to that blog post. After she received that mention, and sold 200 copies as a result of that singular post, some people said hurtful, vengeful things in the comment stream, making it near impossible for her to write poetry or partake in the poetry blogging community. She suggested that poetry bloggers consider rethinking having comment streams.
But I don't want to focus on all that. What I want to focus on is a particular statements made in passing during this controversy: in her discussion of how a particular small press possibly lost its momentum to publish as a result of comment stream defaming their reputation, Smith writes:
"I cannot stress enough how important chapbook and zine publishers are to the growth of experimental writing and how much time, money, and effort go into publishing a single issue or single chapbook. If you are not such a publisher, you have no right to complain about anything related to publishing. If you think something ought to be done differently, do it yourself– with your own time, money and sweat."
What I find most disconcerting here is the anti-intellectualism contained within this statement. I have nothing against Jessica Smith; she seems like a very nice person. But to advocate for a critical passivity simply because you don't know the complicated ins and out of publishing makes me nervous, and the fact that so many people seem to be complicit in advocating for this sort of repression makes me sad and anxious.
On this blog, I do go out of my way to focus on unknown authors and small-press books. One of my goals is to find unknown or lesser-known poets and small press books and give them attention (So often the books that receive gay awards are at least from university presses or there is a direct line of inheritance from the writer to a huge figure in the field).
Another motivation for me is to offer critiques of major poets who I feel need to be reassessed for failures in regards to politics. This is why I haven't talked much about D.A. Powell or Henri Cole on this blog: they are supported by significant presses and almost always deserve the attention they get.
My attitude in life is that it's pointless to love someone/something who everyone else wants. I focus my love on people who haven't been fully appreciated (or at least not yet). That's how I prove to myself how amazing of a critic I am: I can see what most other people fail to notice. Everything is ultimately about me, thank God!
I suppose I have violated Smith's comment when I gave a somewhat unfavorable review to a book that was released by the amazing Lethe Press. I have liked (a lot) a number of their other titles. But I did feel this particular book was lacking and said so. For me not to do so as a reviewer, even though there was some considerable anxiety in being unable to advocate for the book, would be an unethical decision. As a teacher, I see the review as a pedagogical tool--first, for my students who inspired me to create this blog. How can I expect my students (or anyone else) to think critically about a book if I tell them to silence themselves because they haven't produced a book themselves? Also, if, when your writing is out there, you don't want to be open to criticism-- even if it can be, yes, sometimes unkind and thoughtless-- I'm not sure why you're in this profession.
Presses are responsible for what they introduce to the world. Smith may not realize she's condescending to the very presses whom she supports and publishes. To ask us to safeguard small presses simply because they're small presses is a dangerous form of pity.
What her comment fails to realize is that breaches of etiquette are usually a symptom of larger institutional and individual inequalities. It is unfortunate that so many wonderful (and even not so wonderful poets) can't get published. If your book is read --let alone sells 200 copies as a result of a singular blog post, as what happened to Smith --you've been loved, with all the puzzling, questionable, horrible things that come with it.
New interview at Poetry International
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