Friday, December 25, 2009

Free speech re LA poetry of the 2000s: how it disappeared.

Here's a post from a poetry listserve dating back to August 2006. The context is that someone on the list posted something spectacularly insulting (and far too personal to repeat) to a local poet. Upshot: the poet running the list, instead of using his power to judiciously ban the insulter, instead posted this (name and listserve omitted; I've highlighted one particularly egregious passage):

[Poetry listserve] exists primarily for the promotion of [host's reading].I've left it un-moderated to allow folks to feel free to promote other projects, converse with each other and be mildly annoying, as we all tend to be on e-mail lists, in our attempts to be humorous,intelligent or clever. This has strayed, far too often, from far too many people into the arena of pain causing personal attacks, slander,insults, unpleasantly argumentative 'discussion', and generally an atmosphere of embarrassment for me at being the host of such a thing which has served more to damage community than foster it.Any future posts here which, at my sole discretion, even hint at this kind of unpleasantness again will cause the poster to me immediately removed from this list, no second chances, thanks bye. [Host]

Some disclosure needs to be offered here: I offended the host in question, was dropped from the listserve earlier that year and later was semi-forgiven.

The reason I'm dredging this up again is: If there's anything that's been lost in the 2000s, it's the right for poets to occasionally risk offending each other by speaking in public forums about issues in local poetry. And there are politic ways to do so most of the time. But sometimes, offense to persons or sacred poetry cows must be risked (short of revealing embarrassing personal details about someone or making actionable threats).

But I've found out that people have a greater tolerance for unpleasantness when poets have some power in the community. The poet which sparked the host's desire to be Chief of Civility Police was allowed to stay on the list presumably because the host (at that time) wrote for the poet's then-broadside (though the host resigned not too long afterwards). An unpleasant loudmouth (I'm saying this tongue-in-cheek) like myself, with little clout, could be easily removed. And the stupid, destructive myth that any minority opinions counter to consensus
"damage community" was allowed to continue (and it's safe to conjecture that some locals still believe in it today).

The host still has his listserve; it returned to being unmoderated since most of the posts are now announcements for this or that reading--with no unpleasant ideas or conflict to be neutralized--apparently meaning that speech can be free and unmoderated as long as it is popular.

And as 2010 approaches, whatever discussion of local poetry that remains will hopefully continue to migrate to community sites such as Facebook.

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