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.

A Dumpster Fire Speaks

Trash fire
for VIDA

“You can have it all,
my empire of dirt.
I will let you down,
I will make you hurt.” ~ Trent Reznor

I used to be fierce, but now I am afraid.
I’m afraid I’ve lost my ability
to tell the truth, to know
what it is I stand for.

Everything I sought I saw stripped away
when it was just out of my grasp,
like some award I felt entitled to
or the keys to a new car
car of my dreams
with its paint so shiny
and reflective
it almost seemed liquid,
or the girl at the basketball game
with the supermodel body
and the pornstar fuck-me eyes
who dared me to approach her
with her lips wet and slow
sucking a Blow-Pop and staring me down
like she wished it was my cock,
who when I finally worked up the nerve
to walk over and say hello,
just curled like a leaf
into the shoulder of her guy friend
laughing, her and her friends laughing
at how stupid I was
for thinking someone like her
would ever be interested in someone like me,

and I felt myself slip
just a bit closer to the edge
of a cliff I’d stared off of many nights alone,
down into a darkness that seemed to have no bottom,
I felt another filament of light spark out
inside myself and this time I wasn’t sure
if I’d find another bulb to replace it,
but of course I did,
and somehow I added another layer
to my person suit, zipped it up
over my previous self like a fresh baby skin,
and I managed to move on,
to find small measures of happiness
over the years, people who loved me
and then stopped loving me
only to be replaced by someone else,
and that’s how it goes
if you don’t manage to fuck everything up
beyond your scope
of seeing a way to rebuild it.

This poem isn’t even my own voice.
I should know better than to write
after reading someone else’s books,
but sometimes that’s when I’m most inspired,
I see the genius of others
and my mind starts trying to duplicate it,
to find in myself
what I found so captivating
while living in another writer’s mind.

And by now, you’re thinking I’ve lost the thread.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a poem about Truth,
you’re probably thinking to yourself.
Truth, that comically noble notion—
hold your horses, lady or gent, I’m coming back to it.
You see, when I first started writing,
I had a rabid desire to protect
the sacrosanct freedom
that I saw coming under attack:
nobody poets telling other nobody poets
what they should or should not be writing,
what was offensive and infringing on the safe spaces
of literature, what was appropriating other cultures
through the oppression of colonialist patriarchy,
what was objectifying women
treating them as totems or victims
of a fetishized male gaze,
misogyny, sexism, violence, homophobia,
transphobia, racism, ablism, Islamophobia,
agism, all these things signaled a problematic author,
someone entrenched in an outdated worldview,
someone who was probably a trash fire
and didn’t deserve to be read or even to be alive,
even if they didn’t believe what they wrote,
even if they just considered these elements
to be part of a complex reality
that needed to be seen in order to be critiqued,
they were to be shamed and shunned,
driven from literature like lepers
forced to live in caves
on the outskirts of civilization.

Fuck Bukowski. Fuck Hemingway.
Fuck Browning, fuck Carver, fuck Lowell,
fuck Ginsberg, fuck Stafford, fuck Collins.
Fuck David Foster Wallace and Brian Easton Ellis.
Fuck Chuck Palahniuk and John Updike.
Fuck Junot Diaz, Sherman Alexie, Joseph Massey.
Fuck Kenneth Goldsmith and fuck you if you like him.
Fuck William Shakespeare.
Fuck Whitman, Thoreau, and Emerson.
Men are cancelled.
Fuck the Canon. Fuck the Patriarchy.
BURN IT ALL DOWN.

I started writing poems specifically aimed
at pissing these people off.
They demand Trigger Warnings?
I’ll write the most triggering poem I can imagine,
and I’ll mock trigger warnings in the process.
Fuck your trigger warnings.
They say you can’t write about rape?
Challenge accepted.
Fuck your coddled victimhood mentality.
Don’t use racial slurs in poems.
Watch me.
Fuck your book-banning stereotypes.
Don’t mock the Prophet Muhammad.
We’ll see about that.
Fuck your precious religion.
Accuse me of appropriating someone’s abuse?
I’ll put my accusers names as titles
of the most offensive poems of all time.
Fuck you.

And this is how I lost the truth,
by fighting a battle that wasn’t mine,
in which I ended up defending myself
more than I defended the cause,
by becoming the villain
of a story that has too many villains,
attacking my attackers,
becoming a scapegoat
for what’s wrong
with white male writers,
someone no one would defend
for risk of their own credibility,
someone even a good friend
couldn’t or wouldn’t stand beside
any more
without putting their own neck
in the path of the guillotine.

Welcome to the world of internet poetry,
where years of work
building a name
can vanish over the course of three days,
where it has become commonplace
for gangs to demand
publications to remove the poems
that dared to cross imaginary lines,
and then for that poet’s work
to be scrubbed from the archives
as if they never existed
or ever wrote poems at all.

I often wonder how many of these poets
whose books I have purchased over the years,
and who I reached out to in email
or through social media chats
to express what their work meant to me,
ever bothered to buy one of my books,
or to even read the books I mailed to them
just to show my appreciation,
how many of my books
have never even been cracked open,
were just moved from padded envelopes
directly to dusty bookshelves
to begin collecting their own sheens
of shed skin, the sloughed off cells
of the poets coating the covers
of the work of a friend or a peer
they never respected enough to begin with
to give their work even the fleeting chance
of a few precious minutes
of their own attention.

In the end, it doesn’t matter,
everyone thinks they’re burning down the world,
but they’re just dancing
in their own fires,
and once the flames have all burnt out
there’ll be no one left
who cares enough
to sweep up the ashes.

unremarkable

An unremarkable truth

For the poem, I’d put my teeth in the page,
pretend I’m an apple
with worms in its core
best fed to the hogs
who would eat their own shit to survive.

For the poem, I’ll lay down my cinder block soul
on the bed of crucifixion nails
and wait for my weight
to silence the blood in my ears
always asking for apologies.

For the poem, I’d abandon my friends
to find myself in the valley
where steam rises in the dusk
like mirrored reflections giving up their ghosts
from a lake of icy depths
incapable of holding such fiery extinctions.

For the poem, I will lie to myself
about my own integrity,
it’s the only way to prevent my suicide,
the shadow of the noose
is a shackle, an eclipse, a doorway
closing around my throat.

For the poem, I’d sacrifice so many lives,
so many splintered paths
tree roots, the veins of bodies
each feeding different versions of the self
in a future I’ll never see,
cut off from my footsteps
with every choice of line break and verse.

For the poem, I will suffer anonymity,
just another voice unheard,
another unremarkable infant
birthed into a population of unremarkable infants,
each one told
they are more important than the rest.

Censored reviewed by Robert Peate

CENSORED: a Review by Robert Peate

Jay Sizemore is a poet who has been through a lot of grief for his poetry. In 2015, he wrote a poem called “Scowl”, riffing off the format but not the substance of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl”, and some readers objected to his word and persona choices as he critiqued American society, particularly censorship and shaming. Mr. Sizemore suffered so much abuse for this poem that he decided to show his critics both how they had made him feel, turning the tables to illustrate poetically what he felt they had done to him, and how wrong it was to treat anyone in the ways they had treated him—by amplifying his persona into what they had accused him of being, as if to say, “You think I’m a monster? Here is a real monster, and the real monster is you [this is what you did to me].” He then released Misogynist, a collection of poems critiquing the Patriarchy via the persona of a man who hates women. To say this subtlety was misunderstood would be an understatement. Mr. Sizemore, for playing only too well the part his critics had assigned him, was then assumed to be even worse than they had thought and accused of every abuse under the Sun except perhaps murder. His career was adversely affected as well-meaning fools ran to “warn” the poetry community against him, when poets are the ones who need protection from lynch mobs both real and virtual. Not only were they wrong, they raced to behave in exactly the censorious ways Mr. Sizemore had critiqued. Due to the outcry of those who felt “threatened” by his using their names on his poems, he was even forced to change his poetry names by Amazon. His work polarized even as his points were missed, and to comply with Amazon’s request, he re-released Misogynist without the names as CENSORED. This is a brilliant work maligned by those who cannot see the forest for the trees, and its entire message is that of nonviolence. It is amazing how people can understand just enough not to understand something and run with the misunderstanding, but as Jane Austen said, “Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief.” The vanity in this case was the presumption his critics understood what they did not.

This book is a classic indictment of the Patriarchy employing satire, satire that at times has been misunderstood as serious.

Mr. Sizemore has said, “The point of the poems is although the poems are violent and offensive, and the people who want to see such work censored from the public think they are acts of violence, no actual violence has been committed, and their reactions to the work prove the inanity of their response. And thus the mindset that goes into advocating for censorship.”

From “A Modest Proposal” to All in the Family, satire has always been a risky business, yielding responses from those who took the satire as serious. The risk is compounded when one’s tone is not insouciant but brooding and menacing to add to the performance, to illustrate the wrongs that need to be righted. This is why some thought it a good idea to eat homeless orphans, that Archie Bunker was a hero, or that Jay Sizemore was the monster he depicted, though no one ever accused Stephen King of being “It”. This is why Mr. Sizemore himself, having experienced the initial wave of hatred and angst when Misogynist was misunderstood, saw fit to write in big letters in the front of his revised work, “THIS IS A WORK OF SATIRE. SATIRE!” To be fair, with poetry titles such as “Kill All Women”, it is easy to see why his work of all works would need to come with such a notice.

“Kill All Women”, the first poem in the set, lists the ways in which a world without women would be different. The narrator seems pleased to list reasons why we don’t need women, problems with relationships and responsibility we could do without, and what we do with possessions we no longer need or want. He says the woman of the future will not exist, “having gone the way of the cassette tape/and the fond memory of the brothel/where you once got a blowjob with your cup of coffee.” The patriarch narrator seems at the end to remember at least carnal pleasure if not the satisfactions of romantic love, but the entire poem, from beginning to end, is an indictment of the Patriarchy treating women as commodities. The narrator imagines that women are the problem, but it is clear that his attitude is. This is intentional. Yes, a world without women would feature far fewer of the problems he cites, but the ultimate larger problem of loneliness and alienation, only marginally acknowledged by the narrator, would outweigh all else. His slight nod to the fond memories of the past, the short shrift he gives to any sort of human relationship, however, serves to show there is much more left unsaid. While it is easy to see how a less-than-careful reading of such a poem could yield misunderstanding and outrage, it is easier to see that a careful reading yields a critique of the ownership of women. The actual message of the poem is that to kill all women would be to kill all joy. Without explicitly stating how undesirable a world without women would be, the narrator’s realizations and lack thereof speak for themselves.

In the very next poem, “Not a Metaphor”, the Virgin Mary attacks the narrator as if a vampire. He defends her and himself, saying, “You are not a metaphor for all women, as I am not the tyranny of evil men.” Hearing these words and remembering herself, Mary is then liberated from her god and church, from the Patriarchy, free to be herself, “as we fuck like dogs/who enjoy raping one another/in the most animal sense of the word.” The narrator is liberated too, from the burden of being associated with the Patriarchy that enslaved her and all womankind. This represents a positive triumph over society and tradition, as Mary and the narrator overcome all else for the pleasure of self and the other. “The most animal sense of the word” does not include human concepts of informed consent but implies, rather, the completely carnal instinct that uses the partner as a vehicle of release—without subjugation. Amazingly, some read this poem as advocating rape, when what it does is advocate freedom from the Patrarichy for both men and women. It becomes harder to see how this could be misunderstood. One can only imagine that preconceived notions have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. We see what we wish to see.

Titles such as, “How to Make People Hate You”, “Hate Me ‘Cause You Ain’t Me”, “How to Gut a Panda”, and even “How to Make Love (by Jack the Ripper)” make it hard to see these poems as anything other than sardonic/sarcastic/facetious witticisms encapsulated in time-release forms, yet some manage to do so.

The fact is, there is violence in these poems, but as in Shakespeare, the violence serves the message of peace, and there is much more going on in them than violence. It takes but looking to see what is there.

In some of the poems, the poet adopts a violent persona, in others he defends himself against violence. But each poem represents a battle, a struggle, with a different outcome. To dismiss this collection as trash is to reveal one’s own ignorance and prejudices. It is nothing of the sort. Jay Sizemore is a Rich White American Straight Man employing the powers of his privileges to fight injustice by holding it up to the scorching white light of criticism in the form of satire. Not everyone has the stomach for such challenging art, and Mr. Sizemore’s nouns, verbs, and adjectives are not for the faint of heart, but his work is first rate.

Where I come from, if one person says, “You misunderstood me,” the other person asks how. In this case, we have readers who dare to say, “No, I didn’t.” The author explicitly states his work is misunderstood and explains what it means, yet readers say they know better than the man who wrote it? We are to condemn him as violent, not those who deny the author his agency and right to declare his own meaning and intent? What kind of backward world is this? These same critics claim to oppose the denial of agency while denying Mr. Sizemore his? Oh, the hypocrisy.

We read for knowledge and hope wisdom will come on its own. Books cannot provide it. Writers hope readers will bring wisdom to the table, but they don’t always. Jay Sizemore’s poetry is a bold, provocative statement to a world that is often not ready. Shakespeare advised writing to please the one person of discernment in the back row who knew better than the rabble. That is what Jay Sizemore does. Let us hope it does not get him killed in the end.

In “How to Make People Hate You” Mr. Sizemore argues that the way to make people hate you is to tell the truth. Honesty is apparently not always the best policy. When you tell the truth, you bleed from the wounds you suffer, but because you told the truth, you are yourself to blame. “You see, you have been biting your own hand/and then complaining about the pain.” If you are punished for telling the truth, you should not complain. The reception to his poems proves that he knows of what he speaks, and while he does not complain of fair criticism, he certainly criticizes the unfair.

“Shambella Cinderella” is the first poem in the collection that contains flaws worth mentioning. It is borne of a great idea, critiquing Cinderella’s role in the Patriarchy without blaming her: “Cinderella, you once were beautiful just how you were/but the mirror convinced you you deserved much more/You sold your soul for a castle in the distant clouds.” This is a great indictment of the Patriarchy, and her fate is accordingly cruel to add to the indictment, but there are minor details missing: what is her cause of death, and who were the culprits? I think a stanza on the Prince’s motivations would have been helpful. As it is, we are left with the ephemeral “They dumped you ruined, in the forest alone.” Others might not mind the lack of detail as much as I did; that is just how my mind works.

I could survey each poem in the collection, but I will end with the dystopian vision of “Immaculate Ejaculation”. “This is the fate of an entire gender,” the poet explains, “to exist for another’s pleasure/her body parts displaced/and used to build some elaborate machine/that even Lovecraft would cower in fear of.” This machine, the Great Masturbation Mechanism, possesses women’s severed heads rotating on “the cocks of Patriarchy”. Certainly no one could take this as praise of the Patriarchy but an accurate description of how the entire world has created a fearsome female-enslavement machine. Does it really need explaining that if even Lovecraft would cower in fear of it, it is worse than Cthulhu? I have seen very few works that encapsulate the Patriarchy with such an effective nightmarish image. Of course, most readers seem not to have reached this breathtaking vision. Most readers seem to have stopped after the first two stanzas, in which the anonymous narrator announces his intention to create the machine because the woman’s “usual holes ripe for fucking are all used up.” When he announces that a woman’s “life means nothing”, he means on this evil Earth.

Mr. Sizemore should be hailed as a saint for taking on the Patriarchy with such ferocious criticism. How would the Taliban like to hear they live for masturbation, employing women as sex devices? What would they do to anyone who said that?

It should be mentioned that in the first version of this book, Misogynist, Mr. Sizemore named some of his poems after his real-life antagonists. Naturally, this did not go over well. Strangely, some of them felt threatened enough to complain to Amazon, which forced Mr. Sizemore to rename his poems and book. Mr. Sizemore explained regarding the poetry-name issue: “The names I used are first names of people who have targeted me and worked to blacklist me from a secret Facebook group. The poems themselves of course have no real connection to anyone, but I used those first names knowing those people would find them and assume they were about them, because of what they accused me of in the past. They used that accusation to ruin my writing career, so I hoped they would believe I wrote about them as a play on their previous accusations. It was a sort of purposeful martyrdom for free speech.” He tricked and taunted them to show what haters they were, and it worked. Unfortunately, this came at the price of suffering fools with pitchforks.

Some mention is made of people feeling threatened by Mr. Sizemore sending them his book. He says, “For the record, I only sent two people a copy of the book, and they were supposed to be my friends. Also, I had sent them all my books. And I had told them I would finish the book despite everyone freaking out and that I would send it to them when done, so it wasn’t like a threat, just a fulfillment of my project.” It is clear there has been much misunderstanding of Mr. Sizemore, his work, and his intentions. As someone who has been misunderstood himself, though not to the same degree, I can relate to this.

The best art challenges us to discuss, understand, and fight evil, often by highlighting abuses. Jay Sizemore’s recent poetry collection CENSORED is in this category. It is strong, not for everyone, but it is not anti-women. It is pro-reconciliation. Or, as another acquaintance said, readers who can’t read worry me.

P. S. For writing this review, I was told I was “trolling the lit community”. For saying I was a member of the global community of writers and artists, I was told, “I get that you write, but that doesn’t make you a ‘member’ of anything but Jay’s fan club.” Such a statement would be laughable if it weren’t such a frightening attempt at intellectual tyranny.

An irrational fear leads to irrational deeds

Fear of words

I’m afraid of words, and what they might do.
Rape, as a word, cannot be trusted,
with its r it uses as a rivet
to shackle thin wrists and twist,
its a it ambulates over frantic mouths
like a palm to smother and stifle screams,
its p it puts between legs and pries
so the e can explore
like an ether or ejaculate that enters
where it is most unwanted.

Kill, maim, murder, lie,

all must be made archaic,
must be stricken from our tongues
to prevent future harm,
such grievous perils spoken
can never be undone.
To even whisper them
renders them powerful,
like a trigger in a gun
tethered to loose lips
just waiting to be sprung.

A poem is so heavy now,
it can never be lifted from the page.
There are libraries filled with obscenities
sinking like cities built upon damp paper streets.
We must put a torch
to the pyre before it burns us,
before it makes us feel
what we felt before as pain,
these words, these words shouldn’t exist,
shouldn’t open doors we want locked in our brains,

so pass the gasoline and pass the blindfold,
pass the blank white sheet
of our sterile refrain,
and come closer.
We can’t see our breath now,
but it’s cold, cold, cold in our bones,
so stay where its warm, here by the flame.

Donald Trump’s Severed Head Held High

To assassinate the president

place a mirror at the bottom
of his hot tub or
the bottom of the Dead Sea.
Dip his phone
into a petri dish
cultured with necrotizing faciitus,
watch his face get eaten off
by invisible briars
after another slobbery kiss.

These days there are no theaters
where a President might
open their skull
like a lily to the bullet of a bee,
so you must be cunning,
a drug smuggler
in an airport full of bloodhounds,
hide like a mole with a pistol
in the cave
of his daughter’s vagina
and wait for the next
inappropriate hug.

Tell him sulfuric acid is the best cologne,
worn by all the smartest men
who wish to smell like newly minted bills
rolled into straws
by the thin, nimble hands
of the sexiest super models.

Remove all warning labels
and watch him mistake bleach for champagne.
Only the best champagne
burns the nostrils, he might say.

Become a comedian with a switchblade.
Become a journalist with a Twitter account
and a sharp tongue for truth.
Become a desert sands enema
delivered by Shop-Vac
powered by solar panels
at the center of another
World Climate Conference,
administered by a gaggle
of angry scientists
flapping their lab coats like swan wings.

The dagger must have a razor’s edge.
Only the best knife will do.
There will be gristle, bone, tough tissue
tearing and spouting blood
like black cherry Kool-aid.
Sever the jugular.
Sever the cartilage and fibrous piping
of the trachea gasping in mid-scream.
Twist.
Twist.
Twist.
Raise the head of the devil,
and toss it to the writhing mob.
Who is laughing now?
Who controls the future?

~dedicated to Kathy Griffin