Thursday, February 01, 2007

American Dissidence?

I got an interesting rejection notice in the mail last week, and I thought I'd share it with whoever chances upon this blog. I'd sent a few moderately political poems about Iraq, the President etc. to a magazine called "The American Dissident" run by a gentleman called G. Tod Slone. Here's what he wrote back to me:

"As a poet (untenured!) myself, I hate to tell you this—or maybe actually I love it—but your cover letter listing your miraculous publications credits + your poems mirror many other professional submissions I've received. In other words, it is an easy thing to criticize afar, while a RISKY and tough thing to criticize near as in the English Department [...] Capiche? Dwell, reflect, the try me again if you have any COURAGE. Careerism vs Truth and Real Excellence!
Best, G. Tod"

After getting this remarkably self-congratulatory missive, I revisited the submission guidelines for "The American Dissident," and found that the journal is intended, to "amongst other things, provide a forum for examing [sic] the dark side of the academic/literary industrial complex". Well, I thought, no wonder he is so delighted to have the opportunity to reject my work! That's the whole point of the journal, it would appear—to reject work by poets who make a living as teachers, and who manage to find things outside the "academic/literary industrial complex" that are politically relevant. I just wonder what "other things" Mr. Slone wants his supposedly "engaged" publication to deal with, besides his personal grudge against the academy he no doubt feels has somehow snubbed him. My big mistake, clearly was in overlooking his (entirely reasonable if somewhat peculiar) demand that poets who submit to his journal should include a "cover letter containing not credits, but rather personal dissident information and specific events that may have pushed you to reject indoctrination..." By indoctrination, he seems to mean higher education, since for him the "academic/literary industrial complex" apparently acts as "Ministry of Information and Entertainment for the nation's ruling families, Republican and Democrat, white black and Hispanic." Pretty paranoid stuff, I think you'll agree, and possibly motivated by the fact that (as the flier he included with his note complains) "The NEA, NEH and Massachusetts Cultural Council have all refused to accord the American Dissident grants." Sad, no doubt, but sadder to see another self-professed poetry lover confuse official rejection with political relevance or artistic integrity. My advice to Mr Slone, should I write back to him (I'm still debating that) would be (and I borrow his majestic all caps): "GET OVER YOURSELF!"

Nevertheless, I was moved to read over the enclosed flier touting the journal's agenda and immediately composed a haiku using some of Mr. Slone's favorite epithets:

Happy-faced fascists
hogging the copy machine;
God, I'm radical!

That seemed like a rather thin poetic offering for this month's blog, though, so I'll tack on another Iraq poem, sort of a sequel to last month's offering. I'm not sure if it has COURAGE or not, but here goes.

Saddam Hussein at the Gallows

I approve of the noose you placed around my neck.

It has long been anticipated.

I approve of the trial you offered me,

where I could match your lies with mine,

where I could shout, “Long live the nation!”
and “God is great!” as you read out my sentence.

I approve of the fact that you captured me,

and I offered no resistance.

I approve of the speed with which you convinced

yourselves that you had defeated me,

and then forgot the power I will possess in death.

Everything you thought were my mistakes

were moves in a much greater game

than you could possibly understand.

You will notice that I am the only one

on this platform without a mask.

Everything has been explained to me;

I will stand where you want me to stand

and test the strength of your rope with my weight.

If it holds—and why should it not?

I trust you are not quite incompetent—

I will die in the manner I would have chosen

for myself some time ago, if given the chance.

Perhaps my approval will give you pause,

and make you question your vengeful ways,

but do not stop the procedure now;

I would be less prepared to go with each interruption,

each show of human decency,

and I might even begin to pity
those who are doomed to execute me,

and that would scarcely befit a man

such as you have made me, such as I will become.


Anonymous victorschnickelfritz said...

I looked at the American Dissident tonight. While I have to say that many of his critiques are poignant, I guess I would also have to say that he may have done you a favor by not including you among his sanctioned brood of poets. The poems he has linked to on his web page are rather spectacular in their ability to generate disinterest.

I suspect that his fetish for what is PARRHESIASTIC (a word that I admit I had to look up) excludes too much. While I agree that too often what is published in the highest profile magazines is light entertainment to pacify the middle class educated, this does not give one the license to champion anything that doesn't aspire to that aesthetic and call it the true aesthetic. This kind of writing in the slicks is annoying to a great degree. It is the kind of poem that I have begun to label as "the beautiful image and the redemptive turn (at the end)."

Someone should inform Mr. Slone that he is not the only one who has leveld such charges before.

But what Slone (the editor) invokes as personal risk seems to be much sound and fury. The poems too often focus on their dissidence to remark on how that dissidence is a part of the human experience related in the poem. In other words, the poems endorsed by Slone seem to be using the poem as a vehicle to settle a score. I suppose this is aesthetically liberating, but I think it's a lot more effective to just drive nails in a guy's tires.

Could you do this without the Secret Service noticing?

I doubt whether I, too, have invited enough personal risk to satisfy Mr. Slone, and I am one of those disaffected types he champions. Perhaps if I fling poo at some neighbors wearing elbow patch jackets, then Imight be welcome.

It's hard to write what is an edgy piece and then find out it's not quite edgy enough for someone else's taste. Their credentials as dissident trump yours. Yes, Virginia, the dissidents have their pecking orders too. I've always worried that if I moved to Berkeley I might fit in with the more circumspect set.

I also think though that his comments about critiques of academia were not prescriptive as much as they were trying to give examples. I doubt if he would only accept poems you might write about calling out the head of the department or the chancellor.

He wants poems that have a personal involvement in fighting the good fight. This does not include a clear-eyed critique at a distance. But your poems tend not to do this. So he was askign your poems to what they were not intended to do. As an editor it is so hard to meet the poems on their own terms (with so little time at one's disposal).

10:44 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

I suspect you're right, im, but I did foow up after all, and got a few interesting replies:

reply #1: You completely ignored my response, so why should I waste time looking at your blog? You did not take the time to read the guidelines. Your letter was like a 100 others I've received from academics, which is why it shall be reproduced in next issue. Each issue contains at least several such letters.

reply #2: what I don’t like about academics is much more than what you imply. BTW, I too am a professor. Generally, the many academics I have met are cowardly, ind ifferent to matters of free speech, and I could go on. So, I speak from experience. That said, perhaps you are not cowardly, perhaps you actually dare write columns in the student and local newspapers, challenging the academic status quo at your institution, challenging academics who want to hire like minded cowardly persons like themselves, challenging the institution of three letters of recommendation, and I could go on. Call my critique whatever you like… most likely I’ve already heard it before (“single-minded”). BTW, I just had two columns published, one in the student newspaper and one in the News-Star ( Monroe , LA ). Check out the latter (you will probably agree with Hha’s response):

reply #3: Good. Let us both try our best not to belittle each other with derogatory names. That is step one for communication.
Always it is MONEY!!! Never have I witnessed a faculty up in arms RE anything else. Free speech issues are ignored in great silence. Contrary to your assertion, MONEY and professors is a GREAT SUBJECT FOR POETRY! The problem is not MONEY! It is free speech and lack of encouraged free speech. The suppression of outside criticism of the professorate. “Rant” is a derogatory term for something usually CRITICAL and used by those who don’t like the critique.
I have written about 1,000 pages of essays on my higher ed experiences, most unpublished. In fact, I just had two more essays published on the subject, one in the local paper and the other in the student paper.
If you did not understand my discourse on RISK, the professor and the poet, you might wish to look at:
Sorry, I’m not big on blogs. I don’t like to register and all that stuff.
As for 3 letters of recommendation, I’ve also written on that. Essentially, the three letters serve as a certification that a potential professor is SAFE (i.e., unlikely to criticize the colleagues and institution). They certify like-mindedness and collegiality, as opposed to risk-taker and exerciser of free speech. The institution of three letters is corporate-based and certainly part responsible for the demise of academe in the USA .
BTW, many times I have received submissions like yours from academics. Rarely do I ever receive a response when I criticize them for not reading the guidelines and not writing about what they know best (e.g., the corruption under their noses in their own departments). So, thanks for writing.
PS: The three letters above all else certify conformity.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a rejection letter is really mean and shitty, I usually write back that I was glad to get it, as a bigger publication wants the poems now.

Cheers -James Lee Jobe

3:55 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

I like that idea a lot, James. Though it would help if journals included a SASE so you could reject their rejection, or something to that effect.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Ian Thal said...

I have had my own conflict with G. Tod Slone (still-ongoing.) That began when I noted that he had refered to Andrei Codrescu and Lawrence Ferlinghetti as fascists in one of his cartoons. When I noted that it was an extreme statement to make and that he should substantiate his claims before saying such things. his response was to call me a "Stalinist" and to make me his "rogue of the month" with my own cartoon.

I ended up writing my own account of the exchange with a critique of the cartoon. Slone even posted to my blog, however, when the latest print edition of American Dissident came out, he was rather selective about what parts of the exchange of which he was willing to inform his readers.

Ironically, Slone does teach at university and has a PhD, and keeps trying to get grant monies.

5:15 AM  
Blogger Jenne said...

Glad I'm not in the literary academic set, and my academic aspirings will keep me far away from most English departments. Then maybe my attempts at poetry will not be scorned due to my academic qualifications.

Strangely, I fell into the world of poetry writing again. It seemed to start with my mother telling me about attending your poetry reading in Stockton and sharing the link to you blog. Combine that with my jumbled emotions and angst over some recent life experience, and poetry started flowing. I could have pushed it aside to get more sleep each night, but instead I put my thoughts on my blog. And now a month later, I have 4 poems written, when the last one before that was in my high school days.

My first poem of this new set contained enough angst and dissidence that on a whim, I submitted to the American Dissident, of which I hadn't heard of before reading about it here first. I have yet to hear back, it will be interesting if I even receive a response. Thankfully, it won't be the initials at the end of my name that hold me back, or maybe they will?

Regardless, thanks to you miracle shirker for inspiring me once again to put my feelings into poetry.

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really glad to hear that, Jenne! It makes having a blog worthwhile...

I'm assuming this is Katie's cousin Jenne, is that true?

yours, Brad

11:05 AM  

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