Please note that this post refers to an essay of mine that was published at Queen Mob's Teahouse titled "An Analogy So Stupid You Will Think My Heart Isn't Breaking." That essay has been pulled from Queen Mob's in its entirety due to forces beyond my control. This post itself has been redacted due to those same forces.
I am not done talking about this shit. I will never be done talking about this shit. There is no silencing me.
[we had some big fights on social media about this big thing i can't say anything about anymore.]
So I wrote an essay (ETA: yep, broken link, the essay was retracted). And I sent it out. And out. And out. It got rejected. One rejection came from a feminist site that explicitly asks for pieces that marry the high and the low, that use pop culture to understand feminist issues. Well, why not my piece about HGTV and the fights in literature, then? Another site, one that explicitly set out to create a space to have the tough conversations and be a place for longform, careful thought that engages with the issues--and that isn't the cesspool of Facebook--responded to my essay with a conspicuously long silence. Again, if you want to have the tough conversations, why not publish my essay contextualizing the fight over [redacted]? So, those responses were kind of hard to stomach. The worst rejection was probably the one I got after I withdrew my essay from consideration because it finally found a home (at Queen Mob's, because P. E. Garcia is everything everyone told me he was): a condescending note telling me I was a good writer (srsly, dude, shut up) but my opinion was wrong. And the implication that rejection carried was that because of my statement, in public, that my allegiance was to survivors, my piece was not fit for print at this particular website.
And I thought, oh, I understand. I said I stand with [the survivors], and everyone who runs websites these days is friends with [redacted]. This is how power protects itself. Which isn't even to say that I think editors were purposefully trying to shut my point of view out of a conversation--or, more sinisterly, shut down the conversation altogether--but just an observation that when you are a powerful editor and someone accuses you of something terrible, your friends are likely to also be powerful editors and gatekeepers. And they're your friends, so they will protect you.
It's been pointed out on a number of occasions that criticism in poetry is kind of dead. Like, no one publishes bad reviews. And of course they don't. For one, poetry is super small. If you publish a bad review, you are hurting either a friend or a friend of a friend. And for another, you are probably hurting yourself by crossing a press off your list of potential publishers. Not to mention how a bad review makes poetry, an already unpopular art form, sound even worse.
All this glad handing has larger consequences, though, because it extends to how we treat one another. No one wants to bad mouth anyone because the community is so small and we should all be nice and polite. Gossip, of course, we do that. But actual discussion of poets behaving badly? Not so much lately. (You'll note that I'm part of the problem, too, because I will not name the websites who rejected me outright or ignored me.)
And lest you think I've got some kind of huge ego (which of course I do, that's why I'm a writer) and think that I'm special in my rejections up there, I don't. Or, I do, but I'm not the only person I've seen this happen to. Elizabeth Treadwell just posted an essay (in which she is critical of another poet) she couldn't find a home for on her blog. This is what she says about her quest for a platform:
I sent this essay to the Boston Review and Stephen Burt suggested it needed to be three separate essays. I sent this essay to the Volta and Joshua Marie Wilkinson said he’d run it if Arielle Greenberg would respond. I said, sure, and suggested that we ask others to respond as well. We are all here to learn and speak and listen. Arielle wrote me privately saying I had written my essay all incorrectly, and also too quickly: it is not academic enough for a poetics journal, there is nothing new in what either she or I have to say as pro-porn/anti-porn feminist stances, it will just seem like feminist infighting, and besides aren’t we friends.
And then, in the wake of Vanessa Place's racist Gone With The Wind project, as her defenders share criticism written by white people defending her project, people of color who have written thoughtful and no doubt damning critiques of the project cannot find publishers willing to take on the risk. The risk? Just, fuck this. Fuck this silence and complicity.
So what do we do when terrible things happen? Or someone is accused of committing terrible deeds? How do we create spaces where we can disagree and be critical and call out bad behavior? Because not publishing bad poetry review is one thing. But strangling a conversation about confronting bad (or criminal) behavior in our community is another.
Which brings me to the part of this overlong blog post where I implicate myself. When I put together the rape culture series at Delirious Hem, I got a submission from one of alt lit's outed abusers. I didn't publish it. I really struggled over that decision. I talked to everyone else I'd published, and they agreed that DH wasn't the right forum and this person had other outlets and they didn't want this person's work published along with theirs. Many of my writers were victims of sexual assault and rape, and I stand with victims. Always, I stand with victims. So I wrote an email rejecting the submission and including an offer to link to it in a link roundup. Should I have published it? What is the line between protecting your friends and closing down discussion? For the record, I think I was right not to publish this particular essay. Maybe if it had been a different essay . . . I dunno. But the line between protection and suppression remains a problem we do not know how to handle.
I suppose I will add this to my list of fantasy projects: a platform for debate that is, if not safe, supportive and productive. Because we've only got more of these fights about injustice and oppression and white supremacy and misogyny and the patriarchy to duke out. I have no idea how to do that--yet. So if you too love quixotic projects, hit me up.