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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.

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