The Silenced Generation

I want to comment briefly on a special phenomenon I’ve seen and experienced with regard to Ron Silliman‘s blog. It seems that to some degree, poetry’s youth is being trampled, discouraged and undermined with a potential long-term detrimental effect on Poetry.

First I want to point out that Silliman’s blog is not, in and of itself, the problem. Silliman does the Good Work of discussing, reviewing, pointing to, and otherwise engaging with some three generations of living poets– everyone from the the last remaining elders (over 70) to Language and Post-Language poets to us more fledgling poets (in our 30s) and our juniors (those just emerging from college).  He can’t write about everything, but he does try to assemble and disperse information about poetry and he comments in depth when he can. One can disagree on a scholarly level with the way he engages with poetry– everyone has their own interests and ways of engaging, and Silliman has been criticized, for instance, for inventing names for “movements” and “groups” of poets that don’t necessarily exist or accurately describe poems. But overall, Silliman’s blog is undeniably a major and constant source of information about experimental poetry.

The problems with Silliman’s blog and its effect on contemporary poetry are in the comment boxes. Now, as we all know, comment boxes are notorious for being a place where a few self-appointed “experts” on any subject can whack off listening to their own voices. Comment boxes are more often frequented by men, and they’re usually angry, aggressive men looking for an argument. This is true everywhere on the internet, not just on poetry blogs. A few years ago, Silliman’s comment boxes were especially poisonous; I’m not entirely sure what changed, but they seem to be less active now. However, when active, they are still poisonous.

To be reviewed or simply mentioned by Silliman is double-edged. On the one hand, even a mention can increase web traffic and sales. On the other hand, a positive mention brings furious backlash, both in the comments box and in other venues. I experienced this when Silliman reviewed Organic Furniture Cellar. On the one hand, Silliman was probably single-handedly responsible for selling about 200 copies of the book in a short period after the review came out. On the other hand, in both his comment stream and in other reviews, people seemed irrationally angry about Silliman’s review and turned their fury on me instead of on the book.  I know it sounds wimpy and whiny (to such people) to say this, but the experience has made me disengage with the poetry community (not write, not publish, not participate actively in a wider conversation). When newbies to the blog/poetry scene show up fresh-faced, craving a few words of positive feedback or attention, I want to warn them about just how awful people can be. If you succeed at all, even in one person’s eyes, you’ve unwittingly set yourself up as an object of cruelty. It’s like the cyber-bullying one reads about high schoolers enacting upon each other, but in the case of poetry and Silliman’s blog specifically, the bullies are grown people who, through some lack of ability to empathize, will lash out at anyone who receives attention they think they themselves should be getting.

I am not, of course, the only person who has experienced this with Silliman’s blog, and although I am not in any way “authorized” to defend two other objects of comment box wrath, I will. The less recent example regards Amish Trivedi’s Museum of Vandals, published by Cannibal Books. The gist of the criticism was that the format of Museum, a folio designed by Cannibal Books, was an inadequate way of showcasing the work. Like most small press publishers, especially chapbook publishers, the Cannibal Books editors spend an inordinate amount of their own time and money designing and hand-making their wares. Like most young publishers, these editors do not publish because they have scads of money and time to spend on pet projects; they do it out of a love and need to publish poetry. (I cannot stress enough how important chapbook and zine publishers are to the growth of experimental writing and how much time, money, and effort go into publishing a single issue or single chapbook. If you are not such a publisher, you have no right to complain about anything related to publishing. If you think something ought to be done differently, do it yourself– with your own time, money and sweat.)

Like most publishers, Cannibal Books has faced its share of diva poets and criticism, the kind of whiny self-indulgent bullshit that poets seem particularly likely to inflict upon their editors. So I cannot say that the negative public commentary on Silliman’s comment box was the last straw. But I imagine that it was probably a contributing factor to the message that now, sadly, heads their blog:

Cannibal no longer takes submissions of any kind and will complete the books it has in its catalog before disbanding at the end of 2010.

Although the Cannibal editors will probably continue to be active on other projects, the death of Cannibal as a publishing platform is a substantial loss for poetry. Besides celebrating the work of their elders, the publishers have printed the works of many fledgling poets and have been at the forefront of introducing the world to these younger voices.

The more recent example of the negative effect of Silliman’s blog stems from his recent review of Joseph Massey’s work. Silliman’s attempt to favorably review Massey’s poetry and place it in a larger critical context is admirable; even if one disagrees with the critical commentary, one cannot fault Silliman for reading and thinking critically about the poetry (one can only hope for such a reader). But some of the comments, which are largely from Silliman’s usual suspects, are positively putrid, and reflect very poorly on their authors.

Let’s keep in mind, however, that most of Silliman’s usual suspects are simply (and possibly clinically) narcissistic sociopaths and that there’s no real point in engaging with them or acknowledging their (usually insipid and underinformed) claims. The real problem is how their commentaries affect their object, who in this case is Massey. Good poets are a sensitive, melancholic people– not to reinforce a stereotype, but we have to be sensitive in order to be observant in new, interesting ways. To be the object of unmerited scorn and immature but hurtful comments (that are evidently made by those with little experience with the work itself) is psychologically detrimental to a poet, as it would be to anyone with a modicum of respect for other human beings. I’m not saying that Massey’s reaction to such commentary would be as extreme as mine, but I do think that no one escapes unscathed from these brutal and inhumane comment box wars. If a talented young poet like Massey is turned off of writing for even a few days or weeks as a result of being skewered by a few robotic-hearted cyberbullies, even that brief interlude is a loss for Poetry.

Something that Massey, Cannibal and I have in common is that we are all fairly young, relatively unknown operatives in the poetry world. Like all young poets, we need and deserve the occasional positive or constructive feedback, and we are discouraged from doing our work by such floods of negative feedback. Although an apocalyptic statement such as “Silliman’s comment boxes may silence an otherwise important group of upcoming young poets” may seem hyperbolic, I worry that it isn’t.


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101 Responses to The Silenced Generation

  1. While the comments — most of them — are irritating, they wouldn’t — couldn’t! — stop me from writing. The work is the work and has nothing at all to do with its reception. The noise is disruptive but pretty transparent — and I’m already over it.

  2. That’s good; the work you do is important. Even so, people should try not to be such total assholes when responding to creative work because it can be stifling. Negative reviews and constructive criticism are two things, but the kind of rampant meanness, unwarranted, underinformed and unjustified, that happens on Ron’s blog needs to be called out. That such comments can impede writing and publishing among younger poets is tragic. But regardless of how we react, the actions of some of Ron’s blog commentators are unconscionable.

  3. Ron Silliman says:

    Actually, it’s worse than you imagine. I routinely delete a half dozen blatantly homophobic, sexist and anti-Semitic comments every day. I may be more careful in the future about when I allow comments and when not (e.g. not when I’m reviewing a living individual).


  4. Thank you for monitoring such comments, Ron; I know that your efforts to make your comment box more critical/mature and less … insane? seem to have paid off, as in the mid-2000s they were especially noxious. But I also know that monitoring blog comments can be a big time commitment in itself, and I think we would all rather have you writing poetry and writing about poetry than spending your time babysitting! Surely if your blog commentators cannot understand the potential negative impact of their behavior on unestablished poets (or don’t feel any guilt about their impact) they could at least understand that their behavior detracts from the time you can spend reading, writing, and otherwise engaging with poetry.

  5. Thanks for posting this Jessica. As one of the publishers of Cannibal, I wouldn’t say that such vitriol directly caused our decision to shutter the press at the end of the year, but such mean spirited feedback certainly has a way of slowly wearing at my soul, no matter how much I tried to push it out of my mind. Too often it seems such hateful critics believe our pursuit is less than pure — that our motivation is somehow for money, attention, vanity — and I wish that anyone who jumps to such a conclusion actually took time to look into the press and the way it operates before jumping to any such conclusions. Last summer I actually had the opportunity to write about why I make books and how: Making books for me is a passion, a way to defy the digital age, a way of fostering a community.

  6. As a blogger who has a pretty active community hanging out in the comments and a few challenges throughout the year that attract big crowds, I totally understand both sides of this coin. It’s tough to bring poets together without having a few troublemakers in the crowd. I try to police as well as I can and have occasionally had to “lay down the law” as it were with stern warnings. Plus, I came under very personal and direct attacks as part of the Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere voting earlier this year. After the initial shock (and yes, pain), I reminded myself that negative attention (unfortunately) comes with success. So please keep that in mind, Jessica: These people who launch these attacks are not attacking you; they’re attacking your success. Just plug your ears and keep walking (or poeming or whatever).

  7. Kent Johnson says:

    As someone who contributed in “contrarian” mode to the discussion under Silliman’s post on Joe Massey, I can’t help feeling a bit targeted by Jessica’s remarks. I hope Jessica will allow me, in fairness, a few words.

    I’d like to say I don’t think *anything* I said fits Jessica’s description. The only thing in my commentary there that might be construed as in any way “negative” is the claim, sincerely held and proffered, that Roger Snell’s poetry is the strongest, most impressive expression we have within so-called New Minimalist writing. In making that proposal, I said that Snell was to my mind a stronger poet than Massey *and* hallowed post-avant figures like Armantrout and Foust. I realize that’s not a widely shared opinion, but people make evaluative statements like this all the time. They’ve been widely made in American poetry since, say, 1800! (Ron Silliman himself, for contemporary example, is quite prolific with these kinds of judgments.)

    Why is it wrong to offer such an opinion? I offered it because I think Snell’s little-known poetry is extraordinary, and the comparative frame (vis a vis highly and justly admired poets) was meant to emphasize that. And I made a point of saying that such opinion does *not* imply that I hold the work of poets like Massey, Armantrout, or Foust in low esteem. And I don’t.

    Anyway, I wanted to offer this for consideration. And I wanted to say too, to Ron’s comment above, that he is most certainly justified in deleting any commentary that is racist, anti-Semitic, or sexist in nature. Let’s be clear, though, that what we’re talking about here has not one iota to do with the nature of that!

  8. david hadbawnik says:

    As a friend of Roger Snell’s, I was most grateful for Kent’s kind words about his poetry on Silliman’s blog. It’s unfortunate that it might seem to have come at the expense of Joe Massey and his book. However, as Kent points out, it’s also appropriate that such mention was made in the letters thread, since Roger and Joe’s poetry will inevitably be thrown into the same ‘minimalist’ basket. If anything, I felt that Roger came in for some very inappropriate mud-slinging and critique in a way that will only reinforce his reluctance to engage with online forums. Plenty of viciousness to go around, unfortunately…

  9. A couple of related blog posts:
    From Jennifer L. Knox:
    From Shanna Compton:

    @David and Kent: I’m not sure if positive mentions of Snell’s work are the most egregious thing at hand here. And I am not pointing fingers at specific blog comments but at a general trend: people are wont to forget that the comments they make in blogland affect real people on the other end, sometimes with greater consequences than the original rush of passionate commentary intended. Similarly, this doesn’t only happen at Ron’s blog (I chose to talk about his blog because it’s such a centralized place for discussion and these three specific events have occurred there) but has happened at other major poetry blogs like Harriet (a valuable meeting place that has removed itself from the game partly because of the inadequacy of discussion, if I understand correctly; cf. Jen’s blog post above).

  10. david hadbawnik says:

    jessica — that makes sense and i appreciate your stance on this. i think as robert says above you have to take the good with the bad — increased exposure means increased vitriol out of envy, spite, or sheer idiocy, all of the above. am preparing a long blog post on a related question. but i don’t know what the answer is, other than try to meet as many people as you can face to face — it increases the ‘humanity’ of the various sides and deepens the mutual understanding

  11. @David, I understand the reality of taking the good with the bad, but I don’t understand why the bad (the pure bad– the insulting, the irrational, the non-constructive) remains justifiable. It seems like some reactions to “hey why can’t people just be a little nicer” are along the lines of “you should be tougher” or “you’re being whiny” or whatever. But there has to be a line, hasn’t there? between critical commentary and bullying. In the Massey case, there are comments that are obviously intended to offend and then those that are just insensitive to the fact that Massey is a living, breathing person. I would like to do away with the first type altogether and have people be more sensitive to the second type. As you say, meeting people face to face would surely quell some of that behavior.

    The dynamic regarding how one reacts to negative public blog commentary reminds me of gender power relations: if I go outside in a dress, I’m likely to get some kind of comment that reduces me to a body. I’m “asking for it” because I’m wearing a dress, and if it offends me I should “just ignore it.” But how many of those comments does it take before I just don’t want to go outside anymore? And why are those comments assumed to be ok– why is it a weakness on my part that other people harass me? The logic is flipped inside out. I should not have to be on the defense; people should refrain from being on the offense. Again, I understand that this is idealistic and not how things go in reality, but just as with gender relations, blog commentary should strive for a more ethical plane.

  12. Kent Johnson says:

    Incidentally, I just remembered something that fairly proves what I say about having good regard for Joe Massey’s work, regardless of my greater enthusiasms for Roger Snell’s. Three years ago Massey wrote to ask me to blurb his forthcoming chapbook from Kitchen Press. I did so, though after sending it to him I requested he not use it, as the blurb didn’t seem very good to me. But anyway, here is what I wrote:

    >In Joseph Massey’s best writing, as in the best of Oppen’s, Creeley’s, or Santoka’s, say, there is a proffering of language that seems at once painstakingly precise and instinctively quick. The seeming paradox is both answered and not answered in the final, compacted luminescences of his poems, which, deftly, refuse any finality, giving off spokes of surprise at sudden velocities, even while their darker, enfolded bodies move slowly–discretely, and in serial interlockings–into subtle, undertow measures… There is a significant young poet here, on the road, let’s hope, of a still-long work.

    Kent Johnson

  13. Susanna-Cole says:

    Sometimes one must wonder the number of marvelous artists whose talents may have been squandered by the slinging of thoughtless insults, when the fostering of even an inkling of their potential, could have been a blossoming into greatness.

    Do we forget how impressional we are in youth or even in adulthood? (At nineteen, I straddle the line of being in both worlds). I write, because I read, because it runs through my veins, because I like the craft, (even if it all does all but make me go mad, sometimes), still, as you said, we are sensitive souls, and had there been an onslaught of negativity, in regards to my writing, instead of generous heaps of encouragement, would I be where I am now? I am doubtful.

    No one should have to be subject to the constant clashing of scorn-sharpened swords Who of us, as humanity, can thrive under continuous criticism and scrutiny? And the web is a space ripe with opportunity and outlets for careless cowards. Few things have ever unsettled or unhinged me in the way that seeing someone, in innocent eagerness, striving for something, heart on their sleeve, and being torn down by everyone around.

    I’ve come to the end of this, only to see I’ve, more or less, merely rambled on rather pointlessly … but let me at least impart to you that these are all good thoughts in your post, clearly they’ve made me think (and type) a good while.


  14. Kristy Bowen says:

    Jessica, thank you for this. I pretty much avoid the temptation to click on the comments field anywhere, but especially over at Ron’s blog. I usually just read and run. I went through a nasty bout of poetry-related cyber bullying last summer and have mostly lost interest in engaging in any sort of discussions that might develop into something similar, and like you, I’ve found that it definitely has dampened my desires in regard to community, or even really, to talk about poetry related things on my own blog for fear of attracting such unpleasantness. I also no longer get any sort of voyeuristic thrill watching others go at it in the comments all makes me feel sort of icky.

  15. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I’m the one who complained about Museum of Vandals. I lost it (Trivedi’s poems, the insert with his seven poems on it) because it wasn’t glued in (as similar productions are); it fell out, got into a box of documents and dang it I thought the poetry wasn’t done right, that’s how I felt and I piped up about it. I paid my money, and I can say it. For goodness sakes, look at the range of things I write about poetry, in comments and elsewhere.

    By the by, although I think Trivedi’s poems in the fold-out may be serial, I’m particularly charged by “Rowboat Over the Atlantic.”

    Elisa Gabbert, several months ago, wrote fairly critically on Amber Tamblyn’s most recent poem-book. I thought it perfectly fair, and while I disagreed a bit with it, it was sharp-edged. I like to read stuff like that. And sometimes I need to write stuff like that too, if I feel strongly about something. But don’t people write like that about other things, all the time? About movies. About baseball players. About this or that band’s new album. About . . .

    (Obviously, homophobic, racist, sexist tripe is a separate world, but — thank Ron for this — that’s not in his box at least.)

    A writer’s and/or poet’s creative (and thus full) life is very difficult because their almost by necessity will be those evaluate and judge out loud. A most beautiful explication of this — and a good lesson in how this is the way it has been since day one — are the hundreds of factoids and quotations In David Markson’s last four poem/novels, in which he sets out what critics and writers themselves have said about other writers throughout the years. It’s incredible, what big name writers said about one another (it ain’t nice). Markson makes clear that such stuff is a predominate reality of the creative writers’ life (at least that’s what I take from his inclusion of hundreds of such things across the four books). In that way, I don’t think it has anything to do with age, gender or anything other than the nature of the creative act and (per Duchamp) the response to it.

  16. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Here’s my last paragraph again, without (I hope) the typos and mistakes (sorry):

    A writer’s and/or poet’s creative (and thus full) life is very difficult because there almost by necessity will be those who evaluate and judge out loud. A most beautiful explication of this — and a good lesson in how this is the way it has been since day one — are the hundreds of factoids and quotations in David Markson’s last four poem/novels, in which he sets out what critics and writers themselves have said about other writers throughout the years. It’s incredible, what big name writers said about one another (it ain’t nice). Markson makes clear that such stuff is a predominate reality of the creative writers’ life (at least that’s what I take from his inclusion of hundreds of such things across the four books). In that way, I don’t think it has anything to do with age, gender or anything other than the nature of the creative act and (per Duchamp) the response to it.

  17. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    All the above said, I’ve in the past, recent and otherwise, very much taken to heart criticism of things I’ve said in one or more blog-comment boxes, or otherwise, and this post here makes me think. I do miss the mark, plenty.

  18. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    And I also am not worried about a silenced generation. That’s not happening, nor will it. Small presses (and poets) come and go all the time, it has always been that way, and there are lots of complicating factors, (e.g., starting a family).

    But the main point is that there are thousands of poem-books published (hard copay and on the web) every year, by the young, not so young, and old, and there always will be (counting the web). Poets, no less than people, are strong. No, that’s not right. They are STRONG. Look at Bowen in Chicago (the s-storm hurled at her, and she continues to write and publish and create through (incredible creative verve, it seems to me, given the storm and the quality of the books that come out, her own and Dancing Girl, and I’ll bet they continue too). Or what Massey said at the top of this thread.

  19. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Speaking of Dancing Girl, many of the new (2010) titles are really good and the one that just smokes for me is Carol Guess, “from Doll House Studies.” An intense set of paragraph-length prose poems based on (what I now have learned) are an equally intense set of crime scene dioramas done decades ago by Frances Glessner Lee (as photographed by Corrine May Botz). The poems stand on their own: they are spooky and a bit scary and incomplete (the vignettes, or responses to them, are open, not closed, and thus forever). I can’t stop reading ’em. I want to write about them, and I hope somebody beats me to that (not that it’ll stop me, but because they should be more

  20. Steve, people should not have to be “STRONG” all the time. It’s wearying to have to deal with mean people. Sometimes, poets should be able to just fucking write (or publish) poems and even– gasp– be complimented on them! without being harassed. Again, my point is that people who make bullying comments on blogs (and the line between criticism and bullying can be blurry, so one should err on the side of the humane) should think twice about their behavior because it may have unintended and even unforeseeable long-term effects.

  21. I guess I didn’t mention, that while Cannibal Books itself will not operate, we are by no means pulling out of participating in poetry. Matt continues to edit Typo, his first full length collection will be out next year from Black Ocean, and I’m designing book jackets galore. I agree that a certain amount of criticism is healthy and necessary and I welcome dissenting voices, I just think too often the dissenters are commenting in ways that aren’t helpful and that sometimes the motivation is not sincere.

  22. And indeed we have started a family and there are definitely financial restraints — we have to both hold down full time jobs to make rent, pay bills, etc.

  23. David Need says:

    Your post led me to think during the day about internet chat/social process. It seems to me we are still, slowly and awkwardly, figuring out how to relate over the internet, how to handle the pace/patterns of information. I get on a bus, someone bumps into me, I kind of know how to scale my response, what is worth a sharp bark, what I’d rather pass by. I don’t yet have as good a feel for when to bark/when not to bark on the internet. We get messages haphazardly, and often when we are a bit vulnerable/at loose ends. I reached this post on your blog because I clicked a face-book link that came up through a friend. That takes me, in the middle of the day I am doing something else back to something unresolved I have associated with you, Jessica, in this case because the one time I met you I felt insulted, etc. Suddenly a lot of feelings are going on and that has to be processed. On a bus I get a cascade of hormones, I’ve developed a clue about how to deal with that–on the internet, I don’t have as well-processed a sense. I think this goes on all the time, and I suspect most people aren’t even doing/can’t do the therapy I am doing & we are all poets to boot who are already handling hormone cascades a little different anyway.
    I don’t know if this is more or less silencing than any other social process though. Social process almost always involves some kinds of silencing–I don’t know if it has to, but the patterns there, and gender is a good example, are definitely pretty deep grooves. I know I feel silenced.
    I think it is good to think about how we speak on the internet. I was talking to someone the other day & they spoke about a study that showed people need something like five positive messages to soften/smooth over one negative one.

  24. Nicholas Liu says:

    Jessica, I wish you *would* point fingers at specific comments there. It would give us all a better idea of what exactly it is that you object to so strongly. If you don’t wish to name and shame, perhaps you could just describe the qualities of such comments? Because to me, it looks you got a whole bunch of interested and mostly positive comments, a few impersonal criticisms, and one or two nasty ad homs–which many other commenters, including Ron, called out, and very vigorously, too.

    Help me see it your way. Where do you draw the line, and what sort of claims cross it?

  25. Hi Nicholas. I don’t really have time for another extended blog post right now, but happily I think that many people are able to police their own behavior when reminded that their audience may be alive, listening, and sensitive to negative commentary. It’s more of a conceptual thing than something I can give you specific rules for, and although I don’t think that it would necessarily be useful for me to go through Ron’s comment boxes calling people out line by line (indeed I think this would create a more hostile web environment), I will if you really need the tutorial.

    I think this comment stream is getting positive feedback because it speaks to a lot of peoples’ experience. That is both positive and negative. On the one hand, I’m glad to have been able to voice a frustration many are feeling and to engage in a dialog about it. On the other hand, it’s a shame that so many poets have been subjected to blog comments that offend them and undermine their work. A second reason for the mostly humane commentary in this box is that I do have personal relationships with most of the commenters, so we can discuss this problem without playing the blame game and reach a new level of awareness.

  26. Nicholas Liu says:

    Say I do need the tutorial. I’m not under the impression that you owe it to me, of course.

    I’m not trying to be contrary here. When I look at the comments on Ron’s review, I really do see a stream of mostly very appreciative remarks with a few nasty, personal ones, coming from three people, thrown in. I want to know what I’m missing out.

  27. horatiox says:

    Note that Silliman starts by mentioning all the little beatnik squabbles about obscenity, and then alludes to Ezra Pound, and praises Pound’s vision, including, apparently his ….rants in favor of Il Duce, which would never have made it on any contemporary lit-blog.

    In other words, a Pound can….say point out zionist racketeering (tho’ usually he tied to English royals, American bankers, etc), call some dame a whore, but any normal dweeb who dares offend the Silliman moderation criteria will never appear on his lit-pimp blog. So much for …like free expression (and the writing of many other countercultural writers–say Bukowski–would be nixed a priori as it were).

    In fact, Fatso Silliman sounds about like one of the old judges trying to bust writers for obscenity in the 50s. If not J-Edgar Hoover. J-Edgarette? Another lit pussay. Amusing how nearly all supposed literary blogs have implemented similar snitch-moderation standards. Maybe like just post a CIA link.

  28. I’m allowing this comment to be posted because it is a perfect example of internet bullying bullshit and thus provides a great tutorial for Mr. Liu. For instance, Silliman’s deeply considered, moderated blog, which is an extension of decades of work he’s done in poetry and poetics, is not a “lit pimp blog” (“pimp” is an offensive term because it relates to sex trafficking… if you need an explanation of why that’s offensive you’ll have to go elsewhere). To then refer to Silliman as “fatso” reduces any interesting argument the author (an anonymous commentator– the worst kind) may have had to an ad hominem argument. And these two rhetorical moves by this author illustrate four things typical of blog troll behavior:

    1. Blog trolls are generally woefully underinformed about the thing they’re commenting on. For instance, on a poetry blog one might insult a poet or his or her work based on a few examples rather than considering a “project,” poetics, or body of work.
    2. Blog trolls like to be as anonymous as possible. This anonymity could be accidental– the author is simply some unknown person who is using the blog comment box as a way to attract attention. Or it could be purposeful– the author disguises his identity in order to make comments he wouldn’t dare make without a mask.
    3. Blog trolls insert incendiary terms (like “pimp” or “fatso”) to rile people up and attract attention to themselves even if the underlying content of the post is insubstantial.
    4. Blog trolls like to reduce all arguments to the person or ad hominem level because it is easier than discussing things with an adequate knowledge base of the subjects at hand.

    It is also interesting to point out that here, the troll has used Pound and Bukowski, two notoriously sexist poets, as positive examples. These names, along with incendiary words like “pimp” and comparison of Silliman to “pussay” show the author’s backward attitude toward gender power relations and his desire to align Silliman with what he would seem to consider the lesser term, the female. These flags signal that the issue of blog comment bullying might be addressed as a feminist issue.

    On Silliman’s blog, the “usual suspects” are most likely to fall prey to tactic 1: insulting a poet or press based on a single example (single poem, single book) rather than investigating further. But sometimes tactics 3-4 are used. These are less often used on Silliman’s blog by his core round table discussants and more likely to be sprinkled in by random hit-and-run trolls but can be just as harmful, even if they stem from a lack of mature/deep thought on the specific poet/topic.

  29. horatiox says:

    Yr in the wrong business, Jessica–this isn’t sunday school. For that matter, Miss Philosophaster, after you master the informal fallacies–start yr course in Dissent with Hume on the fact-value distinction (or Machiavelli for that matter). We are not obligated nice. Did S-man’s beatnik heroes play nice? Nyet . We are not obligated to be in the democratic party, respect Hillary Clinton-ism, or even play fair. Most interesting writing’s not nice, and is full of ad hominems and generalizations, even funny ones. Unlike yours.

    You don’t know jack about authentic writing

  30. Thanks for providing excellent examples of blog comment bullying. I will not be needing your services any further.

  31. Thanks for this. I really find it a shame so many poetry blogs are turning off their comment streams since, at their best, they were a place for some great discussion and interaction. This unholy marriage of Internet troll and poet was something I’m not sure the world needed. And it’s a real shame when it has such a negative impact on talented poets like yourself.

    I am troubled because sometimes I feel the meanness becomes an excuse for excluding tough and fair critique. Which is not to say this is what you’re doing, but it makes me think about it when I line this post (and Silliman’s response) against a couple of other similar online conversations lately. I don’t find the tendency to pass over in silence better, and I sometimes think that in addition to attracting trolls the Internet is exacerbating cliquishness.

    (& I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that “Good poets are a sensitive, melancholic people.” It’s the kind of stereotype that makes me want to kick a kitten. And normally I rescue kittens. But this is a minor quibble.)

  32. Matt says:

    “We are not obligated nice. Did S-man’s beatnik heroes play nice?”

    This idea that keeps coming up, that we “don’t have to be nice”—I just don’t understand why people who are supposedly lovers of literature would be proud of this way of going through life. Thriving on aggression as if it’s healthy. Why do you think this is a healthy way to live, horatio? And what is with people always citing precedent—oh, writers attacked each other a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago, so that automatically means it’s okay to do now. Like saying, “Oh, people have been committing murder and rape and robbery for thousands of years. Why don’t you just get over it, silly murder victim?” Has the idea of trying to be civil never even crossed your mind? Why be satisfied with such a low standard of behavior?

  33. Christian Roess says:

    Well, I see that Silliman’s Blog has closed down its Comment’s stream which is a difficult trade-off to make because there was much to learn there and I was able to follow-up with many of its comments and links to get a better handle on the issues informing our current (let’s say) “conjuncture”.

    I stopped posting comments to Silliman’s Blog in September 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. I was stationed in the Army down there in Lousiana, and soon the post where I was stationed got hit by Hurricane Rita, and the flood of “refugees” from these areas came our way and we dealt with this devastation first hand, as we had “housing” and food available.

    At that point, I stopped leaving comments on Silliman’s blog. I was doing it anonymously as a way of hitting back at the whole Kirby Olson-Curtis Faville-Jim Behrle endless cycle of hit first or be hit. But really I was doing it because I thought this was what I should do to target these kind of “fiends” who I thought were responsible for ruining my belief in the possibilities of poetry. I also told myself that I was defending others who were “too afraid” to enter the fray. Baloney of course. I was doing this “anonymously” or using a “pseudonym”.

    Yes, you are right: especially for young poets or new poets, reading BOTH Silliman’s Blog and its Comment’s stream is DEVASTATING. I had to learn to look past the stupidity to get to the nuggets of gold (and some diamonds in the rough) to recuperate my belief in the “current” state of poetry within the charge of “ideological apparatuses”.

    BUT thisprocess took YEARS, I was hurt, and from about 2002 (Silliman’s Blog and its inception) and finally meeting Ron at the Summer Writing Program at Naropa in 2006 would be the time span of how long it took me to come to terms with this kind of “pseudo-militant” behavior on the blog (I hope I can recognize real, “authentic” militant interventions…especially as I am reading and thinking alot about Alain Badiou these days).

    In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 when I went on Facebook (from my sleeping quarters in Baghdad, Iraq where I was stationed during my tour with the US Army) that I have come out of my shell enough to now always post my comments using my real name and not hide. Christian Roess. (I did to a small degree back in the 1990’s at the listserv before I joined the military).

    So yes, I was terrified of coming “out” as a poet and you are correct and Silliman’s blog only compounded the problem (how was I a credible witness to anything that really matters if I was part of the US Goverment’ts “killing machine”, how could I point finger’s at other “fiends” when I was there myself?).

    But I knew I must eventually be those writings I “affixed” my signature to. Anonymity was not the way to go. I didn’t want to disengage to that extent. It is difficult to figure out if Silliman’s Blog “ruined” my initial foray “out” into the public eye (some 6 0r 7 years ag0) or if it is also tied into “mirrors”, my wanting (not: but I did want) to look in the mirror. Was I not equipped (still not) with the “encouragement”, the mentoring, the models (“influence”/anxiety) the “instructions” I needed to look into the mirror? (Michael Palmer, from memory: “do not mirrorize/ do not be civil guard”) to look into them? Still trying to.
    Consider for example what Peter Seaton is doing with the mirrors, sex and/versus ersos; and “territorializing” and “police” actions/ judgements or “fiends” and “faces” and “names” and “models” here:

    “And finally, vagabond vice persons taking editorial charge of life in any form. Paper ropes rot and set men in the current of American sensation names mirror memory merges with world readers with the same kind of grip indicating sex judges as the judge in the city judges the story of a poet stirring. Demanding episodes, the
    old eloquence arrangements, crystallizing in the extension into territory.”

    Silliman’s blog nearly ruined me to making any public “stance” or “pose”. This took years of fighting with solitude, isolation, and “mirrorizing”. But still I have to make a decision every day I wake up, that I am not going “consciously” let any disgusting “fiend” take editorial charge of my life. Including those who may judge me because of my involvement with the US military, although I still don’t have the guts to display this involvement on my Facebook profile page: that I’m a member, paid in full, of that terrifying killing machine (sure this sounds disingenuous, of course it is) . Will it destroy my chances of writing and reading the poetry that is a matter of survival to “me and my santity”?

    I am still frightened of the backlash if I “come out” to much, and the bullying on the comment’s stream of many blogs can enforce this fear, can perpetuate it (I have a story of a poet stirring in me), that I’ll have something stolen from me again, and that I won’t be able to make my way as a poet. I have my own “Guilt Project” to work out without needing “editorial” assistance from the “fiends with faces” who will “judge”. Many of them if they can look in the mirror are terrified of the poet stirring in them but they are “sociopaths” as you point out. They just can’t “come out with it”.

    Good luck with your own “projects”, whatever form(s) they take. I hope my note here hasn’t overly intruded on further “stirrings” from you, now or “later”. Look past my own “fiendish” behavior if you can.

  34. Bronwen says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jessica. Sometimes I consider writing about poems or books, but I think the comment mayhem tends to send me back to, well, strawberry barley scones. Also good, and less controversial, but it would be nice not to have this anxiety.

  35. Nicholas Liu says:

    Jessica, thanks, but I’d still like to know: how many horatiox-type comments, and commenters, appeared on the Silliman thread about your book? By my count, only three. Is your count different?

    I am not of course suggesting that there is any minimum threshold for “nasty trolls per civil commenter” that should be exceeded in order for the victim to “legitimately” claim bullying or whatever. People are different and experience things differently. You felt bullied, therefore you really were; I don’t dispute that. But where you extend your claim further to suggest that swathes of poets are having similar experiences, I am not convinced. As a young poet myself (well, a junior poet, by your classification), I would have felt extremely affirmed and encouraged had I been the subject of that comments thread. Many were appreciative and positive. Quite a few people showed a great deal of curiosity about your work, and in your explanations of your work. Some expressed polite criticism. And some, granted, decided they’d rather just slander your character and piss all over your work–and the first two groups confronted this third group over their douchebaggery. Overall, a big win by my lights, and evidence of broad generosity and interest, not hostility and silencing, from older members of the community.

    Again–and I sense that something about my tone has set off some troll alarms in your head, so I want to clarify this well–I’m not saying you’re wrong about that incident, nor even that three trolls per thread is an acceptable number. We all set our own acceptable numbers, and if yours is zero, fair enough. I’m just expressing doubt that a great number of other younger writers experience these things as “brutal and inhumane comment box wars”, let alone ones which might silence them or give them a day’s pause. Your account is no doubt right for you, but it doesn’t speak for me, or for many poets I know.

  36. Nada says:

    Well, and to be fair, Jessica, you have to admit that you don’t always say sweet things about people in public, either. To what extent might you be using your female privilege here to sort of “protest too much”?

    My comment streams will remain open, but moderated. Certain people understand that they are simply not welcome on Ululations. I understand Ron’s decision, and don’t envy him his former task of comment moderation, but I think that his blog will be a less lively place for it.

  37. Maggie says:

    Hmm. I think there is alot of grandstanding going on…forget the trolls now…anyone in their right mind must make a choice when it comes to posting the comments they receive and they have to take responsibility in that act. Has Ron really done that?

    He didn’t with me. He facilitated perhaps one of the worst gang bangs (against me who happened to be away from my screen in another country at the time) in Sillimania history. I returned to find all sorts of rot going on after merely stating that I appreciated BJ Reyes’ looks more than her poetry which I still regard as very poor poetry. Very poor and even exploitative of the notion of ‘race’.

    I was utterly horrified at the variety of comments I read although none of the ‘nice’ people that you yourself would regard as ‘nice’ seemed to notice…against muslims and against me in particular. I then proceeded to uncover the facts about the BJ regime which Mr. Silliman supported lock, stock and barrel. Those weren’t pretty and showed both Ms. Tabios and Ms. Reyes to have misrepresented themselves as objective, anti-racist sorts of gals. Personally I think alot of what they said and did was fired by their consumption of alcohol when posting in comments streams..probably is the cause of alot of that sort of thing you know.

    I then became a bit mean and supercilious about it all. You know, you have to put the big girl panties on at some point and fight fire with fire.

    In my estimation, Ron’s initial post about Massey was another confusing excerpt which is characteristic of his type of ‘criticism’ which isn’t really as much criticism as it is book selling. No harm in that you know however, in my perception, he did not praise Massey’s work himself. He also did not follow through in his goal of identifying “three” axes in which Mr. Massey is a precisionist….and perhaps the better word was identified later (in the comments section) as “compression writing”…an ultimately more accurate descriptor. He posted a rather bland poem (I went looking for better examples and found some and discovered that Mr. Massey is actually a very witty young man) in order to ? I would guess, find some support for Language school poetry inside of Massey’s work and indeed, the poem he presented there echoes the identified goal of Language school which is the mandatory ‘close readability-ness’ of a poem. In that I think he did Mr. Massey a great disservice. And he is allowed to do that on his own blog and he is a human being who is allowed also the right to be wrong as much as he is one who possesses the right to be right.

    It is however…just poetry. That must be kept in mind. It is sad that Mr. Silliman feels this step is necessary because his comment section is a very important means of other poets being able to meet each other, converse (for good or bad) with each other and for some of us to attempt to learn something about poetry and what it means to ‘be’ a poet.

    I can understand his position in this and having been a seriously victimized person by this ‘process’ (and to some degree it still bothers me)….and ironically to have been victimized in such a manner while many people feel I was the agressor (victim blaming)…I have to say… is the nature of the beast called poetry. Not flarfists of course because they get along with everybody or at least try to…
    …but is that what poetry is supposed to do folks? Enamour and intoxicate poets and readers alike with the status quo?

    I don’t think so.


  38. Maggie says:

    Oh and one more thing….the idea that living poets were channelled by Mr. Johnson (typical style) and Mr. Silliman also….assists in the mudslinging harangue. No doubt about it…although I thought it funny, it should not be allowed. If a poet cannot stand up for what they have put on the page AND published, they have to suffice with the discussions their work will elicit from the ‘gate keepers’ (er…peer pressure) of pobiz.

    It’s kind of like allowing special priveledges to movie stars you know… sets up a double standard which really, in my estimation has absolutely no place in poetry which does in fact belong to common people.

  39. Ed Baker says:

    I am in-and-of the school of I JUST DON”T KNOW
    both in Poetry AND Life.

    as my friend, Cid Corman, frequently said (and he did say/write many things…continuously):
    ” life, I’m in it for the poetry”

    as for any public rejection or acceptance .. it is not about me even when it is it is about the poem or piece AT HAND

    rejection is NEVER an issue with me OR the poem Or the drawing, sculpture,painting
    as one who has always been largely ignored
    I can tell UHAUL that being ingnored is an advantage
    ciaoo, Ed

  40. Editorial Note: I don’t have time to moderate comments all day, so I won’t be doing that. You’re welcome to comment, but if it doesn’t post immediately it’s because I have other things to do and you are a new reader to the blog who has not been pre-approved. If I scan your comment and find it offensive to me or to someone else (this includes incendiary language, finger-pointing/name-naming, name-calling, comparisons to fascist regimes, and most comments that say something like “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen,” because as I’ve said, I don’t think people should spend their time trying to burn one another), I will “moderate” it (disallow it to be published). Is this censorship? Perhaps. But it’s my blog. You’re welcome to use your own blog for such posts.

  41. Wow, “Horatiox”s comments are absolutely awful. Jessica isn’t in the wrong business, you are.

  42. Ryan says:

    I’ve noticed that if Ron praises anyone under the age of say 45, people get angry. This seems to be a general condition in poetry.

  43. Michael Robbins says:

    I guess I don’t get it. People like horatiox are so obviously subliterate bottom-feeders that I can’t imagine anyone being offended by their moronic “contributions.” It’s like having your feelings hurt by a cold sore. And I certainly don’t understand allowing them to keep you from writing or publishing or participating.

    That said, I don’t feel anyone has an obligation to allow comments of any kind. I haven’t even looked at those on Ron’s site in years. The masturbatory oneupsmanship is so laughably transparent that there’s nothing to be learned there, & this is true of most comment streams. (I say all this as someone who thinks that Ron is about as wrong as it’s possible to be most of the time.)

  44. Nicholas Liu says:

    Sandra: Ha, sounds like he’s in exactly the right business for him. (It isn’t poetry.)

  45. Mabool says:

    That guy was makin more noise than ten dozen mechanics beatin on iron.

  46. Sandra Simonds says:

    Well Horatiox wrote this on my wordpress site.

    “chinga tu madre, judio-basura”

  47. Sandra Simonds says:

    An anti-Semite and a woman hater. Bravo!

  48. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Bertolt Brecht called Thomas Mann a “half-wit.”

    Whitman was “an escaped lunatic,” wrote an early reviewer of Leaves of Grass.

    “God-almighty rubbish,” said Leo Stein, early on, of a Picasso painting that most everyone today would consider a masterwork.

    “So much trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature,” a reviewer wrote of Moby Dick.

    “Schoolboy drivel.” Edith Wharton called Ulysses.

    All the above taken verbatim, or fairly adapted, from just a few pages of one of David Markson’s final four poem-novels, which in toto probably have a couple hundred similar tidbits, from the very oldest times to examples from very recent years (Markson just died, and published his last book just a couple years ago). Markson himself gets off a couple of burning-zingers on fellow writers and artists too, I will note.

    It seems beyond doubt that like it or not to create = to receive a response, and that sometimes the response received, including from peers, will be harsh, dismissive, and hurtful.

  49. maryrose says:


    I’m glad you’ve brought this up.

  50. Steve, I’m not sure whether those comments are in some way comforting or just disturbing. Although it may be true that “It seems beyond doubt that like it or not to create = to receive a response, and that sometimes the response received, including from peers, will be harsh, dismissive, and hurtful,” it also doesn’t seem necessary for that to be the case. I’m not asking for a world of kittens and rainbows, I’m asking for more considerate comment boxes. I also think it’s different to attack a work than it is to attack a person, although uninformed attacks of a work are basically equivalent to attacking a person (like the person who called Massey’s work “Starbucks poetry” or whatever who apparently had no background with Massey’s work or its background but simply wanted to come in and distribute insulting little slogans).

    Nicholas, Sandra and Michael, re: Horatio, the problem with stuff like Horatio presents is that it’s so crazy/vile that more subtle, passive aggressive, etc. comments (that are more hurtful because they seem to be reasonable) pale in comparison. We can all agree that Horatio is just off his rocker and that’s fairly obvious– and I don’t think poets, no matter how sensitive, are really that affected by trolls who’re that over the top– they’re more clownish than anything (but they do cost moderators of large blogs a lot of time).

    Regarding the “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” argument which has been the underlying argument of a number of comments I’ve now “moderated” (read: deleted):
    1. I stand my share of heat. I live fairly publicly in the poetry world. I run a reasonably well-read blog. I get a fair number of detractors (although I try to shield myself as much as possible). It’s easy to say “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” if you’re in the backyard in a breeze (you’re not getting attacked).
    2. The logic of “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” is “blame the victim” logic. I hate to use the word “victim” or compare internet bullying to emotional/psychological abuse because I know it will open a new can of worms, but the patterns are very similar. People simply should not have to put up with that kind of behavior. Do they have to? Sure. Should they have to? No. Do we live in a world where people put up with the status quo even when it hurts them and those they love (and attack those who refuse to)? Sure. Should we endeavor to change patterns that hurt us? Yes.

    I also wanted to pipe up regarding part of Ron’s post today:

    One thing should be clear: many of the new entrants to the scene have no interest in old conflicts or in the idea of conflict in poetry under any terms. One might see this as an ordinary enough result of the gender rebalancing of the scene over the past five decades. But it’s also part of a deeper critique of society that no longer valorizes the self-destructive credo of the poet-as-addict. Or envisions the poet as warrior in a world in which real warriors leave so much devastation in their wake. It’s a different world. Dysfunctional male behavior is not glorious. It is in fact pathetic.

    Although I like this paragraph, I want to point out that it’s not that there’s no conflict in poetry. There’s always going to be conflict in poetry– conflict is Life (in the Derridean sense). “Conflict” is not innately bad. However, 1. Some conflicts are interesting while others are not, and 2. Different generations (and demographics) are interested in different kinds of conflict. So for instance, I’m interested in gender power conflict. I’m interested in how language works to make and remake the way we see the world. I’m not really interested in “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” or (to refer to an old thread on Ron’s comment stream) the size of anyone’s dick. I don’t think that comment boxes are necessarily the best place to have interesting conflicts. Maybe in 10 years they’ll be something different. But right now, I don’t see that a lot of profitable intellectual discussion is going on in this medium.

  51. Pingback: Poetic Lives Online « Brian Spears

  52. Mabool says:

    After I made my comment above, I went over to the Scarriet Blog where it is alleged that horatiox is ‘J’ of the comment stream on Silliman’s blog. I don’t know. I’ve always liked Silliman’s blog and I commented there for the last six months or so. Most recently, about two weeks ago, I put up a comment to the effect that W.H. Auden was a wasp of a certain stripe, unquote. I would post at Silliman’s using my blogger ID which shows the Hebrew original for Mabool, Strong’s number H3999. Mabool is scriptural Hebrew for flood/deluge. It is not my name. It is a pseudonym given to me by someone on the web. Anyway, J picked up on the wasp thing and left a comment asking if I would like my Hebrew identity slighted in a similar way? He was not threatening, or even off color. I replied that the Hebrew is not my name. However it appears that J/horatiox has posted some pretty toxic stuff in various comment streams. Some of it was right here which the moderator deleted.

    I was struck by Silliman’s remark above to the effect that he was eliminating half a dozen bad submissions every day on his blog, stuff that never got by his approval process. That’s above and beyond the call of duty.

  53. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Hi Jessica,

    The examples from Markson make me conclude that harsh, poor-mannered (impolite, rude) remarks on literary matters are as natural and inevitable as winter snow in Buffalo, summer fog in San Francisco, or any other similar fact of life. It always has been, and will be forever, a part of the creative life.

    The internet does encourage more, or even ruder, such remarks due to the ability to remain anonymous. It’d be smart and a good (if limiting) step for a blogger to permit comments only from fully identified people that s/he really knows. (P.S. on that: J = horatiox here, obviously.) I sort of regret that here and a few other sites I (Steven Fama) post under a handle, although I do like it as a way to honor the wonder of the book from which it comes.

    Of course, real people will write things that are harsh and even rude. But as much as I disagree with (just referencing the Massey thread) that (for example) everyone ought to only write poems about the oil gush or the war, it is a view that some apparently hold, and they can say that. And stuff such as “Starbucks Poetry” is going to happen too, and ditto “no talent,” and that’s life, just as is Denby in the New Yorker writing that the summer blockbuster movie is a “folly.”

  54. @Mabool, I imagine that deleting a half dozen over-the-top comments is probably an understatement, and Silliman also has to “moderate” the less obviously awful ones (that is, keep an eye on what’s going on). I got something like 8 comments from J/Horatiox in 24hrs (they’re now going to the Spam folder) as well as various other comments that were just snide or passive aggressive. I mean, I wrote this post and I’m reading the comments that are attacking me– why the heck would I want to publish those? On my own blog?

    Silliman was generous enough to post comments on his blog regardless of who they attacked (him, his readers, the people he was writing about) but the supposed value of allowing free speech on a blog must be weighed against the potential negative impact and the amount of time you, the author/moderator, spend reading/moderating a bunch of nasty comments. That’s “life” time– that’s part of one’s life that one is simply wasting mired in poisonous conversations that end up turning people off of poetry/community because the poetry blog world is such a vocal/vibrant part of poetry community. I’m not sure the supposedly implicit value of enabling “free speech” on one’s blog is really all that valuable when weighed against the time/impact that those kind of comments take/make.

    This is a tangential tirade, not really meant to address your comment, Mabool, but most poetry blogs are personal ones, not High Journalism (as if journalism actually held itself to higher standards of impartiality) — unless your mission as a blogger is to provide a totally neutral and impartial space (which is well nigh impossible), there is no duty to publish every comment or even to allow comments at all.

    Allowing your blog to be a public space for debate and spending time moderating comments is (has been) a favor that someone like Ron does for our poetry community, not an obligation.

  55. Kent Johnson says:

    Michael Robbins, a prolific and often insightful contributor to many comment boxes, makes a sweeping, dismissive remark above about the comments archive at Silliman’s blog. He’s correct, of course, that a lot of fluff and drivel was to be found there, among the many thousands of contributions. But it’s also the case that a good many thoughtful, good-faith comments and exchanges (some of them quite rich and lengthy) had appeared under numerous of the posts– often with participation of serious poets and critics and often in eloquent challenge to Silliman’s own partisan readings and critical assumptions.

    I put the above in past tense because it would *appear* that Silliman has not only decided to deactivate the comments function of his blog (something he clearly has a right to do), but to also conceal from view every single one of the thousands of comments appearing there over the past eight years (a different matter altogether). And *if* a massive textual disappearance of this kind is his intent, I wonder how people here would regard such a move, in context of this post by Jessica (with whose arguments I don’t exactly concur, but whose frankness I respect) about writers being “silenced.”

    Hopefully, the cancellation of the record there is only a temporary glitch and that archive will shortly be restored to direct access, now and for possible future readers who may wish to consider it, for whatever reasons they may. One wants to believe (I wrote Silliman to ask him about it, though without reply) that it *is* only a temporary erasure: because it seems inconceivable that someone would void, at a stroke, a secondary but voluminous archive that is very much a part of the life of recent American poetry– even if that archive is, legally, at his disposal.

    We’ll see what happens. As a friend wrote to me this morning, the deletion of that public record, with all its good and bad both, would be nothing short of–from an ethical and literary standpoint–a stunning instance of malfeasance.

  56. Kent, just out of curiosity– because I don’t know– what’s the link to your blog? An easy way to avoid being erased when someone disables comments or deletes his or her blog (as I have done before on purpose and Ron has done before by accident) is to maintain one’s own garden.

    I think the problem of all those comments disappearing is partly a Blogger problem. On WordPress, and I assume on Blogger too, one can disable comments on future posts while keeping comments on old posts active or displayed. This may just be a technical issue.

  57. Nicholas Liu says:

    I don’t know Blogger that well, but logging in to my now-inactive account, I can’t seem to find a way to close all existing comment threads without hiding them. It’s possible to turn off comments on all future posts by default, and also to manually close comments on old threads without hiding existing ones, but if there’s a way to apply the latter action in bulk, I’m not seeing it, alas.

  58. Mabool says:

    I meant to say that your blog and Silliman’s are better because you disallowing the horrible stuff you are getting. All you have to do is go over to Scarriet Blog to see what can happen if you don’t. The Cat Stevens thread there.

    But there is a downside to keeping stuff out. Horatiox has some ad hoc scholarship in that thread which you don’t often find. It is fragmented, but it is surprisingly diverse and accurate. More than he could get just from surfing Wiki. A kind of a crossword puzzle quality which I like.

  59. aka Dick says:

    SGT(?) Christian Roess,

    I can totally commiserate with your posting and Jessica Smith’s sensitivities as well. I too was villified when I posted something in Mr. Silliman’s blog. It was not the argument that was criticized but rather the originating agency. If I remember correctly I think the post was something like, ..”.What would a soldier know about what going goin on in Afghanistan. You weren’t in a position to see the whole picture…” And other statements which weren’t actually that bad compared to what was allowed to go on the comments section of that blog at certain intervals. It does seem that personal attacks are the norm when those making them lack the skills to discuss thier points coherently.

    I had been initially inspired by Mr. Silliman’s blog to launch my own blog but was then discouraged by the realization of having to deal with such comments. I hadn’t thought about just turning them off though.

    It comes to mind though that such comments come because they are allowed to. If the author of the blog can edit the comments or censure the commentor and does not isn’t he as well culpable for such behavior?

    Or sometimes might he or she inadvertantly create the environment for such behavior by coining such terms as “Quietist” and then using them as perjoritives? Wouldn’t this just set the stage for various commentors to do likewise?

  60. Jessica/I too, along with Kent Johnson and, I am sure, a HUGE number of poetry’s 10,000 clowns , am shocked at the possible loss of the vast–on the whole, wonderful– Silliman comment archive, and I too emailed Ron about it, without reply as of yet. To say a person can preserve their own conversational efforts from obliteration by also publishing them elsewhere, does not much help those who’d like to re-visit the whole wild buzzing word-mountain whenever they so wish (though it’s admittedly not very easy, perhaps virtually impossible, to re-find certain great moments one remembers if one hasn’t written down the date–like the post where someone re-dubbed the so-called School of Quietude and the so-called Post-Avant “I Was Walking My Dog” and “[ ] Toytruck Fascism!”, respectively. (I don’t remember the full 2nd replacement-name at this point, alas, and I can’t now look it up, thus the brackets ; the commenter’s point, perhaps I should clarify, was that this was the sort of phrase one might find in an avant-garde poem, not that experimental poetry is Fascist. There’s a second point I want to make about all this, but I’ll leave it to another post.

  61. Hey Stephen,
    I’m sorry that you and “a HUGE number of poetry’s 10,000 clowns” will be disappointed, but Ron’s comment archive is not something I control. I’m sure a lot more thought went into his decision than the effects on me (and many others, especially young poets) by the supposedly “on the whole, wonderful” comment fields at his blog. I think Ron probably has better things to do with his time than moderate comments all day and would personally like to see his energy devoted to his own poetry and poetics projects instead.

    I have trouble believing that Ron’s comment streams are a great loss for the poetry community. How many of those commentators actually write poetry or even read the poetry they comment on? Few are poets in their own right and only the smallest percentage seem to have actually read the books (or know the history of the aesthetics) they kick around. Maybe not having access to comment boxes will give those people more time to read entire books of poetry, write longer blog posts of their own that analyze those books, go to poetry readings, read in the history of poetics, etc.

    Whether or not Ron’s comments remain off, it might be good for the former contributors to his comment fields to remember that communal interaction on a blog is always a privilege, not a right, and that respectful behavior may be key to preserving that privilege.

  62. Kent Johnson says:


    Really, you seem to totally miss the issue in your most recent comment above. Or you seem, at least, to be conflating two entirely different ones. Stopping a comments function (perfectly fine) has nothing to do with concealing a whole archive to which thousands of people contributed in a great range of valuable ways and to which some scholars in poetry have already begun referring.

    And it’s an archive, by the way, which hardly needs to be “moderated,” by the way, so long as no further comments to that archive are permitted…

  63. The other thing I want to say is that there is are various sorts of rudeness and roughness and cruelty, or sometimes just disappointing events that one interprets in those terms, not just rude-boy rough commenting, that one has to struggle with if one is active in the poetry “community”, as in other human environments. Like meeting well-known poets [of either gender, I shouldn’t have to add, but when one is reading remarks about “dicks”…] who agree, or sometimes take the initiative to propose, that they will take a look at one’s poetry and get back to one if one sends them some, and then one never hear from them. Like prominent critic A totally ignoring ’emerging’ poet B who prominent poet C is trying to introduce to her at the MLA. Like dear Ron S. listing only some of the contributors to “projectivist” journal House Organ whenever he cites a new issue in Publications Received, whereas he will list entire similarly-sized contributor rosters for other magazines, as if to tell the editor of H.O., hey can’t you get more selective, buddy. [Full disclosure: I am one of those who have be affected by this]. My basic point is that there’s lots of “pettiness that plays so rough” as well as there is “fighting in the captain’s tower”, and one has to somehow make one’s way.

  64. @Stephen, Being ignored by prominent poets is a totally different thing than being publicly raked over the coals. Sorry, but it is.

    @Kent, I’m attempting to address multiple concerns here, but as you say, losing an archive and disallowing new comments are different matters. It’s a shame that the archive must be lost to disable future comments but as I said, that may be a Blogger glitch (and thus something Ron doesn’t have much of a choice about– if he wants to shut down comments he may be forced to do so entirely, without the tech option of showing old ones).

  65. Kent Johnson says:


    I’ve granted in my comments that it may indeed be a temporary glitch, and I’ve expressed my hope that it is. I still want to believe Ron would not carry out such a vast act of archival extermination. One that would constitute (I’ll repeat the term) an act of malfeasance, from the perspective of literary history and scholarship…

    But I’ve noted that other bloggers often close their comment streams under particular posts while still keeping extant ones in view. In fact, Ron seems to have done this for a couple days under the (decisive) Massey post.

    I guess we’ll have to see. In the meantime, there is a parallel discussion around this developing at John Gallaher’s very good blog.

  66. Nicholas Liu says:

    Like I said, Jessica, he could easily disallow comments on all future threads while retaining the old ones. What Blogger won’t let him do is also lock all existing threads, except manually. As Kent says, though, there isn’t much need to lock existing threads anyway, since hardly anyone comments on old posts.

    But all this has little to do with price of tea.

  67. @Kent Thanks for mentioning the Gallaher post, which I liked (it’s not over the top, just thoughtful). I decided to spare myself the comment stream (having my own muddy little polluted stream of unpublished comments to monitor, I have an idea of the things some people are thinking of me right now– but then I have also gotten a lot of positive, secretly backchanneled feedback from the kinds of people I originally wanted to stand up for) … but the post is good.

    Here’s the link:

  68. Kent Johnson says:

    Just to note, for double-take’s sake:

    Nicholas Liu, a young poet who knows a lot more about blogging details than I do, states above that the Blogger platform allows an owner to deactivate the comment function on threads *without* hiding the already-existing comments under them.

    I suppose, then, that the one hope left would be that RS has temporarily canceled view to each and every comments string while he readjusts the “block” settings. Certainly, one wants that to be it.

    Hello Ron? No comment? No clarification?

  69. Mark L. says:

    This comes by way of my girlfriend, who is an archivist, and from the context of the Larry Rivers stuff–an archive is not an unmediated assemblage of archival materials, but rather a carefully selected and organized, mediated, entity. That the archive is this completely open, omniscient, un-tampered with record of each and everything that happens in the past with no human intervention is simply false. What an archivist does, the reason for their very existence, is to decide what gets kept and what gets destroyed. Every single archive is mediated, “moderated,” if you will…

    Just a PSA; I really have no opinion whatsoever concerning this information; I just know that Rachel gets livid when the term “archive” is misunderstood.

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  71. Kent Johnson says:

    I just received an email from Ron Silliman. The situation appears to be more disconcerting than I’d imagined.

    In regards to the disappearance of the archive of tens of thousands of comments sent to his blog over the past eight years, many of them grouped in extensive and sometimes insightful discussions around various themes and authors, and many of them contributions polemical, anecdotal, bibliographical, idiosyncratical, etc., from dozens of poets and critics of note, and many others of them from dozens of poets likely to be of greater note down the road:

    That he hasn’t “thought about saving them.”

    This is truly, breathtakingly, extraordinary.


  72. Kent Johnson says:

    And just to note, in response to Mark L. and Rachel:

    The personal archive of a Larry Rivers is a very different thing from the one we are talking about here, that being an open and active record of many-voiced poetic thought and debate.

  73. Mark L. says:

    Ostensibly, what someone who was archiving Ron’s comments would do, would be to determine which material was historically relevant (records of actual discussions) and what was less useful- flame wars, spam, nonsense, etc. This would obviously be a huge undertaking. So long as the data remains somewhere, somebody sometime may get around to doing it. Generally speaking, archives aren’t made public until they’ve been processed (after the person in question dies, mind you)–for this purpose, the archive of the blog would be considered Ron’s personal material and he’d be the arbiter of what gets done to it, until such time as he gives the records to somewhere or dies, in which case the estate would determine what to do with it, I guess. At least that’s my understanding of it.

  74. Good post, Jessica. I actually stopped reading Ron’s blog after the nasty attacks on Barbara Jane Reyes. Some of it was absolutely beyond the pale. The comment stream on Ron’s blog often went off the rails back in the day, and it was quite discouraging to read, so I pretty much stopped going there all together. It took the joy out of poetry.

    Now, I’ve discovered there are plenty of poets out there who love to cyber-bully others who they consider shameless self-promoters, have received too many good reviews or are having their profiled raised by other poets when their work isn’t up to snuff. There is a passel of poets out there who are sociopathic, narcissistic, self-loathers who get their jollies and a shot of adrenaline by attacking other poets. I’ve been the victim of it myself, so I’m well aware.

    I actually just posted yesterday on my blog that I could give a good goddamn about most of what is being discussed in the po’biz world right now. I just want to read poetry that moves me without having to dodge the minefield of other poets who think they are owed something and resent others who they think are getting too much attention.

    I guess we really never do leave the playground behind.

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  76. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Dear Collin Kelly,

    I don’t understand why you’d stop reading something because the comments were lousy. The comments are optional, they are hidden and never need be opened or read. Ditto the comments to stories in on-line newspapers (e.g. SFGate, the NYTimes, the LATimes) which by and large include things that are rude, harsh, and beyond what is put up at Silliman’s (even though the daily papers moderate heavily). Have you stopped reading the papers? You can choose to just read poetry, not criticism, that’s of course fine. But I don’t understand deciding not read Ron because of words (the comments) that you never needed to see.

    And allow me to follow up on that part of your comment in which you guess that “we never leave the playground.” You are partly correct, I think, but it’s more than that:

    Paraphrasing Kenneth Rexroth: “people are but small children grown larger and stupider.”

    And paraphrasing (and in part quoting) Sancho Panza (and thus Cervantes): “we are all as God made us, and often a good deal worse.”

  77. Maggie says:

    Indeed, such an extinction is not only extraordinary but it is also a bit self righteous. Or maybe alot.

    Mr. Silliman who accepts some comments and not others on a usual basis suddenly decides that all must be expunged? And how is it that the poor troll gets all the blame in this? How many comments have not made it to the surface? Could there be comments that are even more deleterious to the ‘reputations’ and ‘success’ of the poets revealed on his blog? One has to wonder.

    Shouldn’t he take responsibility “once again” for his poor judgement? Although I truly appreciate the fact that he serves an important role in the discussion of poetry and provides the platform (willingly until now), it isn’t the first time that he was responsible for an online battle and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time…all the same, I think he has acted in haste and has acted in a manner that demonstrates a serious about of split personality over the issue that may even signal to some that his ethical framework is a rather shakey ladder in the first place. And make no mistake, this is an ethical issue.

    At this point, I doubt he can go back on his word and another blog should be nonimated for the best place to go and share the vibe, for better or worse.

  78. On “Ethics” and “Freedom of Speech”:
    1. “you can’t just go screaming that you’ve been repressed every time someone makes a personal decision that happens to violate your vastly over-inflated sense of entitlement.” (so well-said.)
    2. malfeasance and a preservation of any asshole’s “freedom of speech” apply to governments and other organizing bodies (in the case of malfeasance, those who are under contract to provide a service) not to individuals in personal interactions. Certainly not to personal blogs.

    Every blog comment Ron has moderated so far, or neglected to moderate, has been a gift to its author (whether or not it was a “gift” to the person or book it attacked is another matter). He has no ethical obligation or legal duty to publish or archive anything. It’s neither an ethical nor a legal issue.

  79. Jessica–

    I’m confused. Are you talking about there was actual hate speech directed toward you or vile criticism? Just trying to tease out what this rhetoric actually was.

  80. @Steve, in the original comment stream following Ron’s review of my book? Just juvenile bullying, not hate speech (nor “criticism” in the mature, thoughtful sense) but the kind of playground taunting that makes one wonder what kind of poetry community one lives in and why the heck one would want to write for/engage with such a community. But please also note that 1) hate speech *was* common on Ron’s blog and 2) I was certainly not the only one subjected to either kind of attack. … I wrote this blog post because I noted a trend, that other young poets besides myself were suffering unnecessarily from attacks of various degrees of cruelty. One downside to Ron shutting off comments (for which I don’t blame him) is that there’s not a lot of evidence of what that playing field was like now, and those coming to the discussion who were not previously familiar with Ron’s comment streams may not understand what there was to complain about (if I were allowing every comment to be published on my blog, you might get a taste of it, but I’m not as generous as Ron).

  81. Maggie says:

    Freedom of speech is not the issue Ms. Smith. Not at all. I for one believe in decorum which is a different animal.

    The ethical issue which Kent has pointed out here is the idea that the archival worth of the comments stream is brushed off by Ron as inconsequential. One must wonder, inconsequential to what? Is it truly in the best interest of the poets he touts? Is it in his own self interest i.e. his own mental health?

    There is little doubt in my mind that moderating such comment streams is a job in itself and involves some deep philosophical choices. I laud him for pointing out that the chemically dependent poet is held in high esteem when they destroy their life ‘for their art’ or commit suicide. I laud that mentality but honestly, in this case, what was the alledged crime that would precipitate the elimination and/or sequestering of a body of information that I am beginning to believe is in the public domain so to speak.

    He himself admits he makes a choice to reveal or conceal and has done so routinely in the past.

    But don’t confuse freedom of speech with this paternalistic action….”protecting us” from ourselves and each other.

    It is contrary to much of what Mr. Silliman (and his generation of origin) supposedly stands for.

  82. Maggie says:

    Ron has committed in the past to the ‘unknown’ poets of the world, championed them even and in this instance, decried the absence of ‘archival’ proof of the existence of poets more than the standard 30 (this particular excerpt) poets for whom we itch to know a bit more about their personal correspondence. That the correspondence (to “co” respond to something) is a public activity nowdays goes beyond saying…it is so.

    So it is a kind of hypocrisy now to hide it all away….not such a kind of, it’s a big one. Very.

    I went back into my own archives to find out if I had documented some of the nonsense and found that in most cases, I merely posted a link to something going on ‘over there’. Now, it is as if he has not only cut his own nose to spite his face but cut the rest of our noses as well.

    Hmm. It’s as if one whole and very large volume of indexed information has suddenly turned up missing….all the while, what is truly wrong in the history of the world is the proof goes missing…from religion to politics and beyond.

    This is one area (poetry) that is very much one of exposure, revelation, argument and hopefully one day, resolution of conflict be they merely conflicts of aesthetic value or those of a much more profound nature.

    It’s a serious cop out Jessica. I was on the side of oh ‘it’s his right’ and all…but I think no…..he has a duty to put his money where his mouth is on the ‘quietude’ issue.

  83. iain says:

    you can find the comments to that particular thread right here. The Way Back Machine can be used to recover old states of many webpages. you can also use google’s cache function to find that same thread. just search for the url you need on google, and click “cache” under the desired result. for the most part, nothing on the internet every really disappears, even if the content publisher deletes it (which is probably just as scary to some people as the idea that some content can be lost forever).

    on the other hand, Silliman has no responsibility to archive comments on his own blog. it’s a little hard for me to see why anyone would assume that someone else has the obligation to archive something you want to keep. you would archive a letter that you sent to someone. you would never send the original (and only) copies of your poems to a publisher under the assumption that they’d keep track of it for you. anyone who wants conversations that happen on the internet to be saved needs to be archiving for themselves, and then backing them all up somewhere else.

    really, we should be writing to blogger (the blogging service Silliman uses) asking them to introduce a function where individual users can archive their own comments. many sites offer this function, blogger does not.

  84. Maggie says:

    I appreciate that idea however I doubt it satisfies the actual dilemma which is about the interconnectedness, overconnectedness and nonconnectedness of the world of cyber poetry.

    It is absolutely appropriate for Mr. Silliman to claim his own destiny but in that, he may be claiming what it is that is deserved afterall and that is, less attention.

  85. Dave Bonta says:

    I just want to point out, in reference to aian’s comment above, that the Wayback Machine does not save every post on a blog, just most of them.

  86. Kent Johnson says:


    I humbly admit I didn’t know the comments to Silliman’s posts were still available some clicks away in Cached version. I’m still a bit unclear on this, though, even after reading the explanation at your blog. How long do the pages remain available in this form? Is it “permanent” in the sense that they exist at least as long as their blog source exists? Or are there limits and what would those be? On the other link you offer, I gather from comments at your blog that it is incomplete and unreliable as archival instrument.

    In any case, the RS comment materials, as I’ve argued, constitute a massive record, full of all kinds of stuff. From lots of garbage, to insight­ful analy­sis, to help­ful bib­li­o­graphic data, to reveal­ing polemic, to sur­pris­ing anec­dote, to funny and unfunny per­for­mance. It’s a messy mix, but the fact is that rich, valu­able stuff often comes out of repositories that have lots of dross in them. And the good stuff is more often than not fortuitously stumbled upon. That’s why–even if they are preserved elsewhere–I believe they should remain on the blog, as part of the record of its life and as unmediated resource for use. They are, in a secondary but real sense, as well, organically tied to the ebb and flow of Silliman’s own thinking in his posts, something which he himself has acknowledged on different occasions. And obviously, too, many future readers will never encounter the comments materials in the cached version.
    From a technical standpoint, the issue seems to be this (and maybe it all comes down to this, in the end): Does the deactivation of a comments field mean that the existing record has to be hidden? I’m the last person you’d want to consult on the technical aspects of Blogger, but what I’ve heard from a couple folks familiar with the service is that extant comments in old threads *can* be preserved when one moves to a comment-block function. Is this or is this not the case?

    If everything has been removed as result of a default quirk *about which nothing can be done*, and if the cached materials are as complete and available in time as they would be were they on the blog itself, then I’ll modify my position to a request that Ron put up a clear sidebar that helps people navigate to the cached comments. And I will suggest, as well, that he proffer, sometime soon, a public appreciation (and maybe even sense of regret) to the hundreds of people who contributed there, over the years, in often illuminating ways.

  87. To yesisaid…

    For me, reading the comments is an intrinsic part of the blog experience. In my opinion, blogs exist to create a dialogue. Once you’ve read an interesting post and see other people are commenting, my natural instinct is to see what others are saying and, if so moved, join the conversation.

    I knew there were some nuts at Ron’s blog and I thought he was judicious in his moderation, but after the nastiness with Barbara Jane Reyes – a poet I admire and respect – and some of the comments that were left to stand that ridiculed her personally, plunging far off the rails of criticism, that I just stopped going to Silliman’s blog.

    Of course, I admire Ron and his blog is a beacon of news from all corners of poetry. Now seems like the perfect time to go back and make it a regular read, although it’s too bad that has been prompted by a few zealots who mistake insult and personal attacs for criticism.

  88. And I apologize for my sloppy grammar in that post.

  89. iain says:


    the google cache will only last until about three months from now. whatever’s on the wayback machine will be up “permanently”. but anyone who’d like to archive any part of those comments should get on that, not expect anyone else to do it for them.

    blogspot’s user interface does not allow Ron (nor the rest of us who use it) to turn off the commenting function without hiding the comment history. it very well may be possible, but it would require editing the blog’s code, and i’m not even sure that part of the code is open to editing. someone would have to figure that out and let Ron know.

    for now though, it’s a limitation of the available technology, not a “malfeasance” on Ron’s part. and as i understand it, the backlog of comments is not actually gone, merely hidden.

    i do agree with you that comments are an integral part of any blog, but i think we can disagree with Ron’s decision without inventing ways of viewing him as a deviant. it seems fairly clear that he’s trying to make his blog as a fair place for as many people as possible. it’s an admirable if impossible task, but certainly not something he has any obligation to do.

  90. Aren’t you guys tired of this discussion yet? Go read a book or play in the park or start your own blog or something.

  91. Kent Johnson says:


    Well, OK, given what you clarify about the limits of Cache storage, everything I said about the disappearance/non-accessibility of the comment archives is still very much there.

    As to Blogger: According to Nicholas Liu (see his two comments to this effect above), who used to use Blogger and went back to his old account to investigate a couple days back, it is possible to turn off the function for *future* comments through default, while *still retaining* full visibility of old threads. Someone else wrote me with the same information. You seem to be referring to turning off the commenting function for the whole blog, which is what Silliman did, obviously.

    So to restate the question, from my position of blogging-tech ignorance: Is it possible to turn off the commenting function from a select date forward so as not to hide the past history?

  92. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Hi Jessica,

    This post here has but one-fifth the comments that have been received on your “win[ning] and los[ing] a Scorpio woman” (499 comments and counting). People get interested in things. Consider it a compliment that you’ve sparked an interest, and have provided a forum for people to exchange ideas.

    And best wish!

  93. Chris L says:

    Some of the responses to the query about the comment archives miss the point. First: there is a goldmine of information and links in the comment section, now lost. Second: writing in a comment stream isn’t the same as writing a paper letter; the expectations may reasonably be different. Third: Ron could leave comments “on” so the archives that he has put so much effort into moderating remain and simply not enable the comment facility on new posts from this time forward.

  94. Kent Johnson says:

    Good to see Chris Lott’s comment above. In direct relation to points he raises, here is a guest post I wrote on the Silliman archives issue, posted a couple days ago.

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  97. Ched says:

    You’re wrong.

    Just kidding. I think you make some excellent points.

    I wish more people would heed your constructive commenting protocols.

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  99. Charlie Jensen says:

    Thanks for this! A fair and measured look at the shortcomings of our community….

  100. Brian Dean Bollman says:

    I understand and a agree with your concern, and am as baffled by the meanness of some comments as I was by the meanness I encountered on the playground in first grade. But what I’m most concerned about is the prospect that you have backed away from writing. I enjoyed Organic Furniture Cellar and looked forward to future poetry from you. Don’t be silenced!

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