The Whisper Network

The Unreliability of the Whisper Network

Having been a victim of the Twitter Shame Mob and knowing what it is like to be chased across the virtual landscape of the internet by an outraged group of crazies hefting their pitchforks and torches, I wanted to touch on what I believe to be the main and inherent flaw of this form of internet activism, and that is how it’s based on a grievous and perilous perversion of the truth. The people involved in these gang-shaming activities do not rely on factual information. Instead they rely on what they refer to as their “whisper network.” This is information that is shared between individuals on a secretive basis, and then networked out between them through private dialogues that no one else gets access to. They say they do this to protect the original sources of the information, but what ends up happening is the accusations become more and more exaggerated, and the original subtext or context gets lost in transition, until all that remains is outlandish and scandalous accusations that spread like wildfire through the Twittersphere and elsewhere.

Anyone who has ever played the game Telephone as a child knows exactly what I am talking about. You don’t even have to have played the game to know the basic concept of it, and how it works. Someone whispers something in another person’s ear and tells them to pass it on. It could be something as simple as, “Billy thinks Susie is cute.” But by the time it has been passed on by twenty to forty people, the message that is spread by the fortieth person is completely different, having morphed into something that could be as outlandish as, “Billy put his tongue in Susie’s butt.” As a game played by children this is funny, but when rumors and gossip or serious conversations are spread this way by adults, the results are quite unnerving. And this is why the Whisper Network fails and should not be trusted.

I have personally witnessed the horrific effect this type of information sharing has had on others and have witnessed its effects on a personal level. Having differences of opinion on hot-button discussions quickly had me labeled “asshole,” and then “troll,” and then “misogynist, sexist, racist,” and then “serial harasser.” All of course bullshit, but on the internet people use these labels in an effort to delegitimize their perceived opponents and to silence them. The heavy-handedness and weight these labels carry make them nearly impossible to combat, because they are loaded with such vitriol and disgust, a person finds themselves immediately trying to disprove the label placed on them, rather than being able to stay on the original topic. As such, throwing one of these labels at someone is the ultimate distraction from a contested topic, especially if it is a topic of debate that is un-winnable.

This was most recently apparent in glaring fashion with another internet outrage fallout that took place over an acquaintance of mine, Rachel Custer, having the Twitter Shame Mob go after her and get her work removed from two separate journals. When I defended her, this time, the editor of one of these journals went so far as to call me “Everyone’s favorite rapist.” This was clearly a distraction tactic, and it worked to a degree, because I was so incensed over being called a rapist, that I focused on trying to get that accusation taken down from facebook/twitter for several days after it happened. And despite this outlandish term being hoisted upon my name, not one of the proponents of the Twitter Mob and protectors of the “Literary Safe Spaces” stepped in to condemn the editor for their obvious misstep by slandering me with such a falsehood, despite none of these people ever setting foot in the same room with me, having no knowledge of me whatsoever other than a petty literary feud and some occasional mudslinging. The excuse I got from one Mob Member on this was, “Well, I don’t know you aren’t one.” This is another extension of how the Whisper Network version of Telephone works to distort perception. Since the editor making the statement, Topaz Winters, was an 18 year old POC, I was supposed to just not say anything about it, and to demand an apology and a retraction from her was somehow supposed to be bullying, despite the extreme nature of the slanderous term she attached to my name.

This is all a game to these people. And why not? No one gives a fuck about poetry except poets.

What had I done this time to deserve their vitriol? I had defended another writer. Rachel Custer is another writer who has been wrongly vilified by the Twitter Mob, in much the same fashion as I have. It’s the same group of people who repeatedly go after writers such as her every time their work gets published somewhere. It’s like a group of mad ravens that start dancing and cawing every time a worm pops its way out of the ground for a peek at the sunlight, and they all start fighting over which bird is going to gobble up the worm until it decides to go back into hiding and leave them back at their starvation unto cannibalism ritual. As far as I can tell, Rachel has done nothing to any of these people that deserves such hatred. Much like me, her encounters with this group of indie publishing Nazi hacks have all occurred online, in much the same fashion. She friended fellow writers on facebook. She had arguments with writers over issues like politics, police brutality, immigration, the presidential election, etc. Her beliefs are different from a lot of poets in that she is an evangelical Christian and a conservative. So naturally, her ideas about some topics like, abortion, healthcare, feminism, they are going to be leaning in a slightly to more moderately different direction, and this caused conflict. Her ideas about police brutality for instance, which was a hot button issue after the Ferguson riots and other similar situations at the time, had her defending the police force while everyone else was saying “fuck the police.” I remember clearly that many folks were calling her a racist for her views. And it got so old to her she started sarcastically replying, “So what,” or “I’m not even arguing with you about this, you want me to be a racist, fine, I’m racist.” This was clearly her way of trying to point out that calling someone a racist over a difference of opinion about a complicated topic was a copout, a way of getting frustrated and ending the argument, taking the ball and running away from the game instead of trying to finish it. It’s simply self-defeating and polarizing rather than working toward any kind of common ground.

The other BIG problem people have with Rachel Custer is that she supports Donald Trump. I can’t defend that stance because I don’t understand it at all, but politics is a complicated arena and people have many different reasons for supporting the candidate they choose to support. Not everyone is a single issue voter, though many people are. Personally, I don’t see how anyone can still support Trump given everything that has happened since he took office, but there is a lot of misinformation spread, and many people buy into it rather than try and own up to the truth. At any rate, Rachel wrote a poem that got published in Rattle that supported Trump, and basically the internet mob lost their fucking shit over it. It was like the culmination of three big taboos in one atomic bomb explosion of an event. You had Rattle, already hated. Rachel, already hated. Trump, very hated. A perfect storm of social outrage. An unprecedented VIOLATION of the literary safe space! It was unconscionable. It was an OUTRAGE. The Twitter Mob has never forgiven it.

There was also the big blow up around this time of Rachel getting kicked out of the secret Facebook group, the Binders of Women and Nonbinary Poets. See how complicated all this is? It’s like layer upon layer of high school cafeteria cliques, a metaphysical onion of seedy gossip and nepotism and self-righteous corruption. It just goes and goes and goes.

I don’t want to go to much into the Binders of Women and Nonbinary Poets, but it is the source of the Literary Gestapo’s power. It’s a facebook group of something like 20,000 women where they have networked and share opportunities and spread these stories of gossip and outrage so that it only takes a few hours for one of these posts about an event that they disagree with to go viral and have a veritable mob of angry keyboard warriors rioting to take down the poet who dared infringe upon anyone’s perception of safety. The admins of this group are E. Kristin Anderson and Kenzie Allen, and they have strict policies in place about keeping their work and their discussions in this group secret. No screen shots. No taking anything said in the comments of the posts or the posts themselves public. The only time any of this abuse of power was ever tried to be taken public was when the editor of Thank You For Swallowing, Cat Conway, started an anonymous Twitter page called @problematicpubs. On this page she had a list of everyone she considered to be problematic for whatever reason. I was on the list. As was Rachel. As was several other people and magazines like Rattle and B O D Y. Also on the list were actual people accused of actual sexual assault. There seemed to be no real metrics by which one was considered to be problematic. The violations ranged from being accused of being an actual rapist, to simply being an argumentative troll in facebook threads. The list had no real legitimacy, but people in the Binders believed it and added all the people to their personal “do not publish” lists for their magazines that they ran, and they told other people not to publish the perpetrators on the list. Eventually there was conflict over this Twitter feed, because obviously it promoted censorship, and it attacked people who had not really done anything wrong. The page was eventually taken down, but now you have Cat Conway once again posting threads of lists of “problematic” people and publications on Twitter, and you have things like Vida forcing publications to take their “Safer Lit Pledge” much like they force their vision of diversity through the publications of their pie charts every year.

And now, all this feels like it is reaching a point of peak hysteria. Luckily, amid all this insanity, one of the journals who removed Rachel’s work apologized to her and had it reinstated to their online archive. That journal was from OSU, and being a publicly funded university, it actually has to abide by federal discrimination law, so it could not just remove someone’s work due to their political beliefs, unlike the other journal being run by an 18 year old child. So, where does this all end exactly? I feel like we must be coming to a fork in the road where important decisions about the future of the literary landscape will need to be made. Either writers and poets will need to take a stand for TRUE FREEDOM of expression, or they will decide to do nothing and succumb to the will of a few very outspoken bullies, preaching from their pulpits of conformity. If we do nothing, I wonder just how far we can slide down this slippery slope of fascist thought-policing in art. The political landscape has certainly shown us how easy it is to let things slide past points of no return. Much like our politics, if we keep allowing the bullies to decide the rules of the game, it won’t be long until the game is rigged for just the bullies to keep winning time after time, and freedom of expression in the arts starts disappearing from even our memories, as surely the canon and any offensive work made by any problematic human will be stricken from the history books and the collective human consciousness, leaving us with only what is approved for consumption, what is safe, what is sterile, what is trigger-free, where nothing hurts and everyone is happy, or at least convinced they are in their emotionless world. Ask yourself if that’s the future you want to live to see.

Some Notes on Literary Outrage

Offensive poems, annotated

I was on the radar of the Twitter mob before I ever published a poem they considered offensive. The chief members of the mob, the ones who exert their control over independent publishing through rigid conformity standards and an idealist notion that “safe spaces” must exist in which ideas that infringe upon their perceptions of safety are to be removed from the public sphere, were connected with me on Facebook. I, like most writers trying to build a network of publishing connections, or at any rate most writers who think networking on social media is a necessary evil of the modern age, had befriended all the editors and writers on social media that I could locate, and had connections with almost 3,000 people at one point.

I was placed on the radar because I dared to disagree with some of them on issues they posted about that showed up in my feed, or about issues they attacked other writers on. A few of the key disagreements that I remember are:

  1. I thought the work of Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith was thought provoking and brave, they thought it was racist and rallied to get their work and their careers destroyed.
  2. I disagreed with the growing popularity of Trigger Warnings and their applications in academia.
  3. I believe out of sheer principle that the work of the VIDA count is flawed because it presupposes an arbitrary standard that all publications should be equally split among the genders, that despite an unknown base of submissions somehow the quality pool should still equal at least 50% of what’s published going to women authors. This is based on assumptions that patriarchal standards still control the publishing industry, when in fact those standards have been handily reversed and (in the field of poetry anyway) women control the majority of publishing opportunities out there.
  4. There was a poem published in Jawline Review by J. Bradley that was found offensive because it was seen by this group as promoting violence against women. They rallied to boycott the magazine and get the work taken down. Jawline Review refused to take it down. I disagreed with this and was very vocal about my disagreement, which got me called a misogynist and a woman hater. The magazine has since folded, due I am certain in large part to their boycott.
  5. The magazine B O D Y published a poem by Bobby Parker that caused an outrage titled “Thank you for swallowing my cum.” Once again I found myself defending the poet and the magazine and their freedom to publish the piece while this small vocal group caused a shit storm on Twitter and Facebook and tried to get the poet blacklisted from publishing anywhere again and tried to get the magazine shut down, because to them the poem in question signified objectification of women to the male gaze, while in reality it was a poem about someone who had never experienced true intimacy with a woman and didn’t know how to react to it.
  6. There were prominent cases of accusations of sexual abuse against celebrities and so forth well before the #MeToo movement was ever conceived, and I had a few discussions about them with some of these people. The overarching rule of the day was that these folks stated again and again “believe women” no matter what. I just find this mentality to be a bit naive. No one deserves to be judged as guilty of something without any more proof than a verbal accusation. Once you start accepting verbal accusation and guilt by trial of public opinion, the power inherent in the justice system and due process becomes irreversibly undermined. In fact there were prominent cases of rape accusation that had to be rescinded once held under scrutiny around the time of the conversations that I used to back up my opinion. One was against Conor Oberst. And another was the huge deal with the college student who carried around a mattress on campus in which Rolling Stone had to publish a public apology. My opinions on this matter once again earned me the title of misogynist.
  7. There was a very large debacle around the publication Rattle, which has now made Rattle this group’s public enemy number one. The gist of it was the editor Tim Green refused to be bullied by a writer he had rejected and said something to the effect that maybe the writer should stop trying to blame his rejections on his racial identity. People were outraged he would say such a thing and he apologized, but then someone else brought up that Rattle had produced an entire issue dedicated to New York poets that somehow had no persons of color in it. Even though this accusation was provably false, and even though the magazine doesn’t judge work they receive based on racial identity at all, they in fact read work without even knowing the identity of the author. The truth of the accusations had no basis in reality, but that didn’t stop this group of people from becoming a shame mob. During the fracas I was one of the prominent defenders of the magazine, even though I had never been published by them at this point. The result was basically I was called a racist by this group.

That is basically it. Given this history of contact, when I published work that was indeed meant as a criticism of this type of thought-policing and bullying through gang-shame pile-ons and manipulations of the truth to push an agenda-fueled narrative, I was an easy target for their perversion of justice.

I published three poems they found offensive in the outset. One poem was in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. In it, I pervasively pictured the deities of all religions, but especially the Prophet Muhammad, as it was the violation of the Prophet Muhammad that was the root cause of the attacks in France. This poem was meant to take a stand against censorship, meant to say no religion is free from critique. It was published in Revolution John Magazine.

The next poem was also critical of Islam. It was a response to members of ISIS destroying historical relics in the Middle East. The poem juxtaposed Islamic phrases of peace taken directly from the Koran with images of violence. This poem was published in Crab Fat Magazine. The Twitter Mob gathered and bullied the editors into taking it down.

The final poem that culminated in solidifying my status as a publishing pariah, was the poem SCOWL, also published in Revolution John Magazine. I have already said, and much has already been said by others, about this poem. But let me just say concisely one more time, this poem was a critique of the mentality that allows thought-policing in literature through a stringent application of identity politics cultivated in MFA workshops, and my final stanza of this poem was meant to show that empathy and understanding of each other’s pain works as a better method of expressing our common humanity than trying to pretend we can censor offensive ideas out of the fabric of existence.

So, a couple years of dealing with the fallout of being a target on the radar of the Literature Gestapo, and I published a series of poems responding once again to all of this. The way the series of poems came into being was a complicated and convoluted path of me trying to process the way all of this made me feel, while at the same time make a lasting statement about how true artistry can never be censored. There’s a lot going on in the misogyny poems that people refuse to acknowledge due to their knee-jerk, surface level reactions to the work. Really, that is the point though, as shock value in art is supposed to create a gut-level reaction that has to be dealt with before anyone can start to see past it to the depths of true artistic intent, and what meaning can be derived and applied to the environment from which the work was created. My biggest critics attempt to ignore any of that with a blanket accusation that the poems were written about real women, and they call the collection nothing more than a book of “rape fantasies.” If anyone actually took the time to read the book, they would see how ludicrous that is. Rape is barely mentioned in this book! Although it appears, the brief references to rape are generally allusions to other stories. One key example is an allusion to the horror film Don’t Breathe. In a way, this collection of poems was my own collection of horror film poems, a response series to a group of poems published by another of my critics, a former friend who turned on me simply because I had an argument with his finance. The real irony here is the things I am being critiqued for, are a key component of what he does with his bizarro literature, another reason the outlandish accusations against me and my work should not be taken seriously at all. The critics of Jay Sizemore will roundly disparage his name and ask everyone else in the literary world to forget they ever knew him, while they commit their own versions of heinous atrocity, stabbing each other in the back without a second thought just to get a bigger slice of the poetry audience pie, maybe a step up the ladder of the slush pile, maybe a name more prominently remembered when judging poetry contests, maybe one day as famous as Rupi Kaur.

It’s all a joke. Don’t take any of this shit seriously. The pretentiousness and sanctimonious nature of in-house back-biting and circular logic are why most people say they just “don’t get” poetry. Can’t we all just make art, express ourselves, and let what will be…be.

new poem

mantra

and so, i awaken
nosferatu, cthulu, leviathan
set of broken teeth chattering

my face a chimney
lungs now pews of worship
set before the unknown

i am become death
warden of bones
valium for wounds

beset at the gates
where the hinges scream
and twist like candy

loosing demons within
called by your spell
of snake charm poison

i become, crucifix of nails
paladin of noose
heart of a razor blade

i am what you made
i am what you made
i am what you made

Just Released! Fukushima Franco!

I am going through my portfolio and releasing all my poems in collected volumes over the next few weeks. I am doing this to get all my work out there so I can move past wanting to publish these volumes and focus on creating new material.

The first volume I am putting out is called Fukushima Franco: the social media poems. It is a full length collection comprising a long series of poems that I wrote utilizing my social media feeds as direct inspiration. This was an interesting experiment and actually resulted in a good number of highly intriguing poems. I hope you will check it out and leave a review letting me know what you thought of it.

Poems place with Blue Fifth Review and RATTLE.

The past couple weeks I have had the good fortune of placing a couple of my poems in Blue Fifth Review and in Rattle Magazine (online).

You can find my poem “Grave robbing a life” in the Spring Issue of Blue Fifth Review. It’s a stunning issue of work, and I am glad to be in it. My thanks to Sam Rasnake for including my poem.

Two days ago, my poem “Gun of a bitch” was published with Rattle as part of the Poets Respond series. This is my second appearance there. My gratitude goes to Timothy Green, for publishing a poem that was bound to get negative responses, which it has, though mostly due to my name being attached to it. If Danez Smith wrote this poem, no one would have blinked I am sure. Anyway, make your own judgments about the work. It responds to George Zimmerman attempting to auction off his weapon that he used to kill Trayvon Martin. It is an uncharacteristically short poem for me. I’m usually long winded.

As always, thanks for checking in, and thank you for your support of poetry.

gun of bitch

My Short Story Collection

For those who may not know, I have released a short story collection. It is about 270 pages. I’m calling it, It’s Not All Bad, because not all the stories in it are horror. If you’ve read my poetry and are interested to know what else I write, this could be up your alley, especially if you like work influenced by Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Ray Bradbury, and Clive Barker. Please consider giving it a shot, and if you like what you read, give it a review. I’d be most appreciative of your support.

not all bad

Writing updates!!

My heartfelt thanks to the editors of the following journals for publishing my work this month:

Rat’s Ass Review, for taking the poem “Think of an eclipse.”

Indiana Voice Journal for taking three poems.

Five2One Magazine for taking the poem “A litany.”

Eunoia Review for taking five poems.

And thanks to New Verse News, for taking my poem “An Ode to Justice Antonin Scalia.”

The poem that will not die

This is my last attempt at setting the record straight on a topic that has come to seem like it is haunting me. Last June I wrote a poem. In August that poem was published. There was a lot of outrage and controversy, and still, people keep bringing it up (as recently as last week). Someone tweeted at me that they had read it, and they hoped all people would avoid touching me with a ten-foot pole. Because they didn’t like the poem. One site has published response poems to it, even going so far as to appropriate the first page of my work and do an erasure, without crediting me as the original author. Even after I asked them to credit me, they ignored that request, in a blatant and antagonistic show of disrespect. Another website used me as an example of a horrible literary citizen. All because they did’t like ONE of the hundreds of poems I have written in my short-lived literary escapades.

Publishing this poem cost me a lot of friendships with fellow writers. People I had known for several years severed ties with me, and have since refused to respond to any messages I have sent asking them why, or how I could repair the friendship. These are people I thought held a mutual artistic respect, a peer network that I worked hard to establish online and in real life. And now, because I wrote a poem, these people want nothing to do with me. One poem. Many of these people are editors. Many of the harshest critics of this poem stated that they hoped I would never be published again, and that I should be ignored until I disappeared.

I understand how criticism works. I understand the theory that artistic intent is meaningless once work is released to the public. However, I also understand the separation of art from artist, and art from reality. Because a woman is raped in a movie, that doesn’t mean the actor involved or the director of the film are rapists. When a character is a racist in a novel or a film, that doesn’t mean the author or the actor are actually racists. When acts of violence are committed in fiction, on canvas, on page, that violence does not transfer to the real world, despite certain people’s claims that it does, calls for R ratings, calls for Explicit Lyric warnings, calls for boycott or bans. But, I also understand the concept of confirmation bias, and how once something is suggested that a person already feels should be true, the suggestion is confirmed in their mind without evidence. This is why the Anti-Vaxxer movement gained such momentum early on. This is how nationalism works, and how racism refuses to die. This is even why religion continues to thrive in an age of technological advancement. People believe what they want to believe, with or without evidence. When unfounded beliefs are allowed to run rampant, they become dangerous.

When it comes to evidence, I already have a long list of publications and a life lived consisting of 38 years on planet Earth, full of events and stated opinions on events, that show I am not a person who hates other humans for reasons of gender, race, or religious preference. My best friend on this planet, whom I have known since the second grade, is an ordained Baptist minister, and he conducted my wedding ceremony, despite his knowledge of my atheism. I have long been a proponent for equal rights, including marriage equality, gender equality, and racial equality. I have voted for candidates who support those positions in elections and publicly stated over and over again my contempt for actions of injustice committed against oppressed people. The thing is, life is complex. Life is nuanced. A person should be capable of holding within them conflicting ideas about things, and be free to express these ideas without fear of being condemned. This is one reason to use art as a means of expression. It is perfectly within reason to be a supporter of feminism, and yet, see how certain aspects of feminism are used in a perverted fashion to do the very thing that feminism purports to fight against. It’s so easy to fall prey to the temptation to silence others to elevate your own voice. This is no different from being a member of a political party, and recognizing that certain factions of that party are out of bounds with their agenda.

People are more than free to think I am worthy of condemnation, that I should never publish another poem or story, that I should never be allowed to achieve success in something that I love, because I wrote a poem that they thought was disgusting, for the most part I could care less what anyone thinks of me or my work, but when those thoughts are based on misinformation that threatens to hurt my future in something I’ve worked hard to establish, I find myself needing to speak up, wanting people to know they are thinking that regardless of the evidence. A few people made a conclusion about a poem, and shared that conclusion with conviction that was believably passionate. This conclusion played into a preconceived notion, and was thus held up as truth, without evidence. And then that conclusion was shared and spread.

It isn’t true. At all. I did not steal another person’s abuse story. I did not purposefully single out someone as a means of attack. I do not hate anyone even remotely that much on this planet. I may have once hated my father that much, but that is a resentment I have dealt with my entire life, and truly, I have exorcised all those demons already. I especially do not hate women, and I think it is bordering on absurdity to suggest that a work of art counts as an act of violence. The poem in question, if approached with a mind ready to see sarcasm and hyperbole, can be seen as a list of allusions to actual events (in section 1), taken so far over the top that it should not be in any way seen as serious. Honestly, if you can read lines like “ballerinas dancing on the head of Charles Bukowski’s cock” with any illusion of seriousness, I wonder how you’ve managed to read or sit through any performances of artworks without going completely insane. And yet, there are those out there who contend that the entire poem exists WITHOUT IRONY and is the voice of an ANGRY MAN. To those people I have to ask, did we read the same thing? Taking such a work, and then turning it into something it isn’t, like a personal attack, seems to me more of an attempt to discredit the point of the work, and also to turn the attention to claimed victimhood, rather than allow the work to stand on its own merits. This is a trend in the arts that only continues to grow, and works to erode much of what we have taken for granted as freedoms of expression.

I don’t know why I’m putting this out there, yet again, but I have noticed so much in the wake of this poem’s release, and how many friendships seem to be damaged from a perpetuated falsehood, that I felt a desire to try one last time to see if anyone would actually listen to what I had to say about it. If it makes any difference whatsoever, I am deeply concerned that people took such personal offense to my work, and felt hurt by it, but I can never be sorry for expressing myself or putting out work that challenges notions of acceptability. It feels like an empty gesture for any artist to apologize for their work, as reactions are something beyond their control, because art is purely subjective. I have received many positive remarks on the offending work as well, some from women who stated they were too afraid of backlash to state their public support. Imagine what the creative environment must be like for such an atmosphere to be present, where people have to hide their opinions of other artists to protect their own reputations! It does pain me though, to think anyone I knew was actually upset and angered, or in some form anguished, over something I have written. Again, I did not intend to hurt anyone, I intended to prove a point, one that I think, despite all the fallout, was proven. One should accept that it is possible for a writer to write things they do not personally feel, even in poetry. I am open to more questions and conversation, if anyone cares to ask them.

Thank you for listening.