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.

The poem that vilified me

SCOWL
~after Allen Ginsberg, for Sarah

1.
I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by narcissism, believing their own hype,
that they could rewrite history on a social media feed, standing on their armchairs
with eyes rolled back to the whites, sharks gnashing at invisible meat in the white sea foam,
teeth chipped and cracking from clacking bone against bone,
who understood that feminists don’t swallow come, they peel back the layers of skin
from the hard cock, like dissecting a flexed muscle, using dull tools like fingernails
buffed to an acrylic shine, no anesthetic applied, find every fibrous layer of meat
and snip snip snip
who tore pages from the Vagina Monologues and stuffed them into their vaginas,
ingesting false gods into the real god, the birth hole of Christ,
who reclaimed Anne Sexton from the narcoleptics, only to fuck her corpse more quietly
in the tool shed, using male tears for lubrication of every opening,
who shouted TRIGGER WARNING from every window of every church in the city,
any time a thought entered the mind
TRIGGER WARNING: anal sex, a fist covered with shit, rectum flotsam and jetsam,
TRIGGER WARNING: another woman turning herself into a come dumpster,
a slave to the lustful male gaze, breast implants and rouge,
TRIGGER WARNING: another cis-gendered white man thinking about fucking you,
TRIGGER WARNING: the leaves are turning bright red in the fields, burning
like an empire at the end of its reign, burning like menstruation,
Christian Grey with a bloody tampon between his teeth,
who dismantled the patriarchy with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch, an email inbox
stuffed with slimy testicular secrets and empty scrotal sacks,
who made themselves invisible and made every man a rapist in a bathroom stall,
standing in solidarity with the wind, the wagging tongues of dogs,
redacted, redacted, redacted
who wrote petitions to have women stop eating themselves, to stop the search
for the perfect wife, the ballerina dancing on the head
of Charles Bukowski’s prick,
who wrote petitions and blogs and Tweets and petitions about problematic appropriations,
the systemic oppression of not having a seat at every table,
who said Jay Sizemore is a piece of shit, Jay Sizemore is a fucking troll, I’ve blocked him
on all social media for thinking he’s a victim,
who got a teacher fired for reading a Ginsberg poem to the class, for daring to allow
a poet’s words to occupy his mouth longer than the taste of his lover’s come,
who wore a mattress around their neck for performance art, carrying the weight of
a rolling stone, of an abortion scar, of a sex tape gone wrong,
the world is a condom kept past its expiration date, the wrapper creased with white wrinkles,
a Dear John letter torn to pieces and meticulously recrafted with Scotch tape and tears,
the world is a liar, half-drunk, urging you into the alley with the barrel of a pistol
wedged at the bottom of your spine, the world is a garbage truck for dreams,
removing couches from curbs, black bags stuffed with loose foliage from tree trimming,
the world is a dog food factory with an undisclosed source of meat,
who said, you can be anything you want to be if you just never give up,
until cancer became the number one killer and Charles Manson died of a broken heart,
who built the MFA factories of the damned, churning out carbon copy creatives
with hatred for articles and a keen love of the ampersand,
who said a prostitute should be called a sex worker and never a hooker without a sense of humor,
never a come guzzling whore working her way through college,
who requested the vampires to sparkle, for lead female characters to only crave attention from
cruel, callous men, a sexual tension building to a broken bed,
who protested the syllabus for its inclusion of Ovid and tales of Greek mythology
for their content, the triggering post traumatic stress of fictional god rape,
who was offended by comedians, driving them away from their campuses
with pitchforks and flames, threats of litigation, thrown beer bottles to the stage,
who counts the gender of every writer in every magazine, counts the gender
of every editor, counts the gender of every facebook like, counts the gender
of every bookstore owner, counts the gender of every cat on the lap,
who asked the world to stop reading men, to #killallmen, to lift the skirts
of every pixelated page and check for smooth plastic parts,
the new rainbow is sterile shades of gray,
every person lives in their own segregated digital box or cell,
every person the warm nucleus at the center of their solipsistic self,
the cluster of stars at the beginning of the universe, around which it all revolves,
the zero model in the first line of impressionist clones
where political correctness is the low-hanging fruit, the bulbs of overripe outrage
dangling like exposed testicles,
the plague of man-spreading subway riders taking up extra seats,
the epidemic of non-empathic man-splainers with affinities for actually’s.
who said Sansa Stark should never have been raped, that it was time to boycott HBO,
that George R. R. Martin should be castrated with a letter opener,
who rage quit the Academy Awards, the Pen American Awards, the Grammy Awards,
too many kids on the playground trying to climb on one swing set,
who watched Michael Brown get shot in the back, watched Eric Garner get choked to death,
watched Tamir Rice lose his life in two seconds, Walter Scott shot unarmed,
who makes tragedy about themselves rather than the tragic,
putting picket lines around funerals, shouting God Hates Fags,
who put a glass dome over the North American continent,
waiting for the cannibals to come out of the closets,
the hunger pangs manifest like concrete blocks thrown off rooftops,
the sun is unmerciful with its lunacy,
each room needs an oscillating fan, rattling with white streamers,
the streets become Dutch ovens with sky for a lid,
brains boil like cabbages, making thoughts dark with a dismal stench,
churches are slaughterhouses and prayers are self-flagellations,
the beds are devouring the dreamers, but the dreamers never know it.
who decided what words should never be said, offended by the word cunt,
with cunts capable of being used like Chinese finger cuffs,
cunts used like pencil sharpeners, grinding dicks into hamburger,
shitting blood all over the pages of the Constitution,
check your privilege,
who was offended by the word nigger, calling for Huckleberry Finn to be banned,
calling for Tom Sawyer to be eradicated from the classroom,
as if the past were a curtain to be drawn, as if nigger isn’t shouted
every other word in every other pop song on the radio,
check your privilege,
who was offended by the picture of the prophet Muhammad and shot up the printers,
who said the artists deserve what they got, that action creates consequence,
that stirring a hornet’s nest is the best way to be stung,
check your privilege,
who was offended by Gone With The Wind in a Twitter feed, filed a petition
to ruin a career, starting with one position of influence,
and then protesting at every scheduled performance until there is no safe place
for poetry or art at the edges,
check your privilege,
who was offended by the word motherfucker, and demanded an R rating,
counting the number of fucks within every two hour span,
going home and fucking the Bible like a dildo shaped from Jesus’ head,
who was offended by gay sex, by the male genitalia, by anything other than missionary,
wanting to protect the children from escalating teen pregnancy
by making sexual identity and sexual freedom a mark of shame,
overthrowing the Supreme Court to protect the idea of selling women
for two goats and a plot of land, waving the Confederate flag,
who was offended by lack of Christian faith, forcing candidates to say they love God,
the word atheist like a dirty sock in the mouth,
religion that opiate the drunk mob force feeds like fire
to their children made of cutout paper,
who was offended by Jared Leto playing a transgendered male on film,
wanting all actors to stop acting and start only playing themselves,
check your privilege,
who was offended by a rape joke, offended by a duckface, offended by a blowjob,
offended by a staggering lack of privacy, with all emails made public,
offended by another man fetishizing the female body,
offended by rape drug-detecting nail polish,
offended by any singular comment that strikes a bad chord,
offended by the notion of equality of opportunity trumping equality of outcome,
offended by Caitlyn Jenner being called a hero,
offended by Caitlyn Jenner having more money than most identity-struggling teens,
offended by the Nobel Prize,
offended by Coca-Cola forgetting your name,
offended by anything that exists outside the solipsistic self,
who observes such freedom of expression with an indignant scowl,
anamorphic time travelers, clothed in Puritan rags,
scowling from the wilderness before it was named,
scowling from the pulpit of haloed light,
scowling from the mirror and the stranger’s face,
who can’t breathe amid all this strangulation of ideas, this tightening lynch knot
around the throat of the free, the burdensome gaggle of lampreys
clinging to the body of the immortal giant, the leeches feeding
on the blood of their own making, a new form of vampiric anorexia,
the streets are gorged with this silent war, hands turned into lenses, eyes turned into mirrors,
all windows are LCD screens, the skyline is a flickering continuum of YouTube viral video,
we are running out of drinking water, reservoirs turning yellow as urine, nothing but bleached sand,
the California forests are a tinderbox, a funeral pyre for man,
while PornHub raises money to see people fuck in outer space, to see semen float in zero gravity,
while elephants are getting their heads blown apart,
the white rhino has seen its last days,
half the world living in denial of man-made climate change,
vilifying the homeless taking baths in public restroom sinks,
ignoring the scent of car exhaust cloaked alleys, of unlaundered sweat-stained fatigues,
of sewer steam drifting ripe through rusted grate, of garbage left untilled in a landfill,
ignoring the taste of the spoiled, rancid meat, the rotted fruit clouded with flies,
the salt in a lover’s sweat, the last cup of coffee ever served,
the future is a butchery,
the tabletops run with the blood of the poets,
tongueless mouths open and gargling a strangled yawp,
splattering droplets of crimson rain,
no words are sacrosanct,
no bone is immune to the hammer and saw,
who will stand in front of the armored tank, placing a daisy in the cannon’s black maw,
who will join hands in a circle that becomes a net, a mesh of forgiveness
cushioning the fall of humanity, and saving our truest selves,
the meteor of guilt caught like a bird in a cage,
taught to fly and hunt only for worms, instead of feasting on the carrion of decay,
the unbalanced wheel of life resuming its perfect spin,
with every voice taking part in that harmonious song.

2.
Reflections aren’t capable of cracking skulls, aren’t capable of pinning tongues to the roofs of mouths, of painting windows shut, sealing doors with hammered nails.
Hail Satan! The deceiver. The Morning Star. The white man.
Nightmare made flesh, made lover, made king of everything on Earth.
Hail Satan! The torture device! The wireless router! The justice system!
Satan, whose year-end bonus is the world’s salaries combined,
Satan, whose wristwatch is made of human kidneys,
Satan, who put a padlock on the clitoris and declared rape children miracles.
Hail Satan! The cellular phone! The dick-pic! The Saudi Arabian prince!
Satan, who invented the high-heeled shoe.
Satan, who invented fast food!
Satan, who started the Industrial Revolution with steam.
Hail Satan! The pharmaceutical giant! The income gap! The minimum wage!
Satan, who enslaved the world to the concept of ownership.
Satan, who made addicts to happiness, who made sadness a sin.
Satan, who invented the concept of race.
Hail Satan! The holocaust! The red wedding! The abortion clinic!
Satan, porn industry mogul, shrimp boat captain, the new Pope.
Satan, who refuses to free the nipple!
Satan, who condemns assisted suicide!
Hail Satan! Member of the Academy! Congressional lobbyist! Child molester!
Satan, who teaches creationism in the classroom.
Satan, who builds the bombs.
Satan, the river of time.
Hail Satan! His cliched red horns! The mustache! The American Native!
Satan, who murdered the buffalo for their tongues.
Satan, who forced Chinese feet into a golden lotus.
Satan, who built the railroad.
Hail Satan! The Masque of the Red Death! The Raven! The Hellbound Heart!
Satan, who clips the birds wings.
Satan, who sets the emission standard.
Satan, the military recruiter who wanders the halls of high schools.
Hail Satan! OPEC! Warmonger! President of the United States!
Satan, whose furnace is fed with coal.
Satan, whose teeth shine slick with human fat.
Satan, who turns the Grand Canyon into a mall.
Hail Satan! MLB! NFL! NBA!
Satan, reinventing the slave with a leather bound ball.
Satan, claiming ownership of the sun.
Satan, charging a fee to breathe.
Hail Satan! King of the coral reef! Toxic waste dump! Graveyard tyrant!
Satan, who arms the rebels.
Satan, who trains jihadis to fly.
Satan, owner of Fox News.
Hail Satan! The police state! The carpetbagger! The candidate!
Satan, who bailed out the banks.
Satan, who killed the electric car.
Satan, the blindness of human palms.
Satan who stands on the backs of the divided, cracking his whip, breaking the bodies made of water, captain of the slave ship carried by multitudes of hummingbirds strung to the sails,
floating above everything, so that people are no more significant than ants,
but when the giants fall, it’s the ants that eat the bodies.

3.
I’m with you, Sarah,
in your bedroom when your daddy knocks on the door.
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you wake up naked on the floor.
I’m with you, Sarah,
when the world starts to spin like an out of control ferris wheel.
I’m with you, Sarah,
when he says you can trust him, when he lets you leave a toothbrush at his place,
when he makes you late for work with another blackmail blowjob,
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you have to flip the mattress to hide the blood,
I’m with you, Sarah,
in New York City, where you got those bruises on your arms,
like purple handcuffs, like clumsy tiger stripes,
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you wash your hands for the hundredth time a day,
when lotion burns in the cracks of your skin,
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you post another selfie, asking for faceless approval,
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you touch yourself and imagine being raped, being dominated
by a force too powerful to feel anything but lust,
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you cry yourself to sleep,
when you smother your screams into the cotton pillowcase,
I’m with you, Sarah,
when you feel like it’s you against the world,
when no one believes your story,
when the police officer looks at you like you asked for it,
when the layers of your clothing still leave you shivering underneath,
I’m with you, Sarah,
and I know you are strong enough to make it on your own,
but I’ll put my arm around your shoulders
if you’re ever tired of feeling alone.

Own this work.

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.

Strike while the iron is hot

Inspired

Ever wake up in the skin of a pig?
Maybe you forgot to pay the water bill,
feeling like a river that flows to both ends.

Feeling like the threads through a button
sewed into a stranger’s coat.
Carrying the new scars of the frantic dog
who just wants to be loved the same way.

These women wish you would just die,
they’d like to feast on your white meat,
a fine pork twisted and turned over the spit
until it drips its clear delicate juices.

I am not god any more than another acoustic guitar
leaned in the corner of a corporate junky,
and you are a voice in the walls.

One more mountain on the moon,
one more interstellar collision
sending ripples through the cosmos
like a heart attack numbing the left arm.

I love my enemy and their unflinching resolve
to break me open
like a fresh stick of Dr. Tom’s deodorant,
smelling of green mint and death.

I’m a feminist and a dental hygienist,
you are a serial killer of words,
you are the reason I keep writing them down.

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.

A poem about self-delusionment

How we convince ourselves we are right

My pain is no more important than your pain,
and your pain is no more important than mine.
What is this life, but a thin veil of inconsistencies?

You turn yourself into a platitude for justice,
a self-replicating viral meme
of the latest in social outrage.

These are the screws turning in your wrists,
pinning you to the cross of self-indulgence,
to the pyre of broke down birdhouses,

this kindling made martyrdom appealing
for the self-righteous holy ghosts
wanting nothing but to die for vanity.

It’s fallacy and fallibility made into sacrament.
The human condition leaves little room
for another consciousness inside its skull.

Where does the truth lie?
Somewhere, out there, beyond this moment.
This history is impermanent.

So, make your police reports out of jealousy.
Build your narratives out of decay.
Nothing will last, not even words like these.

There is no pain like yours, as there is none like mine.
We are living the same dream outside our bodies.
We just want the same things we can’t have.

My feminism

My feminism

You didn’t ask for these words,

but neither did I. 

My brain is tattooed with memories

even a laser could not remove.

My mother dragged from my room.

My sister put back in her bed,

his belt buckle still open

and clinking like a monster’s teeth,

a monster made of hairpins and bottle caps.


Here is his fist. Here is the bruise.

Here are the bruises you cannot see,

living inside me like incessant ocean waves.


I feel like my face lives behind your face,

a face you’ve carved out of shadows and malice,

a face you created with your fingertips

in your blindness, searching for your father

or your rapist, or your college boyfriend

who let you drink too much

on a Thursday so you wouldn’t remember

where you left your panties.


I am not that face. I am the face of my eight year old self,

boiling with rage after a stranger

smacked my sister on the school bus,

the stranger who wore a black eye for weeks after

only because I was too young

to break his bones, and a grownup

rushed from her trailer to pull us apart before I could

make his mouth fill with blood.


I’m the boy chased from the playground

day after day, tripping over my own feet,

and being kicked by the rough boot heels

of those with a ferocity outpacing their growth spurts.


I’m the man becoming a boy becoming a man,

standing at the edge of personhood

and wondering where to step,

which way leads to the abyss

and which way leads to the light

that might illuminate these futures

and show my face to the world.