The Real Scandal At The Virginia Quarterly Review

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/23/10


  One of my website’s fans forwarded me a link to a recent New York Times article with the tabloid title, A Suicide Leaves A Literary Journal And Its Editor In Limbo. As I have a popular website and traverse through 15-1600 emails per week, I actually get many, MANY links to online stories about the absurd, the literary, the artistic, the scientific, the scandalous, the political, etc., and sometimes several of these formats are in one tale. The story detailed the editor of a university literary journal’s supposed bullying one of his underlings into committing suicide. The story, as the phrase now goes, went viral online, and within a few days there were literally tens of thousands of hand-wringing accounts about the ‘incident.’ On many literary blogs the editor was personally condemned as cold and unfeeling, even as his ‘editorial prowess’ was praised as visionary, even within the original article. But, in scouring many sources online, the basic thrust of the story is as such: one of the staff members of the journal committed suicide, either because of one or both of two salacious reasons: a) he was a ‘victim’ of the tyrannical editor’s workplace abuse, or b) he was imputed to be a lonely, aging homosexual, albeit most of the references were not so bold as to come out and state that, using weasel words, instead, to impute the dead man.

  Naturally, in the real world of mortgages, job losses, rising insurance costs, global warming, the war in Afghanistan, etc., this is the sort of non-issue no one outside of the arts and academic communities cares about. Yet, especially to those involved in any arts scenes, in the real world or online, is there anything in the least bit odd about the scenario? Lonely artsy fartsy wannabe ends up killing himself because his life is not where he wants it to be. Think Romantic Poets, Van Gogh, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Ernest Hemingway, etc. No, we’ve all known such types, and most with far less talent and ‘reason’ to live for than the aforementioned artists. But, most of us keep going, be we greatly talented or not. But, one thing really stuck out about the ‘scandal’ that no one else, in the dozens of online mentioned I perused, nor the thousands that recapitulated same, was able to get to the ‘real scandal’ of the situation that was mentioned early on in the Times article. Let’s see if you are a sharp enough reader to get it. I quote that article’s first four paragraphs:

  Ted Genoways was just 31 when he took over as editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review in 2003, determined to propel the storied but old-fashioned literary magazine at the University of Virginia into the 21st century. Three years later he made good on his promise. The tiny journal won two National Magazine Awards and six nominations — up against perennial glamour titles like The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine and Vanity Fair — and Mr. Genoways was hailed in national literary circles for his spunk and vision.

  But by this summer, things had gone dangerously south. Mr. Genoways had become alienated from his small staff, some of whose members repeatedly complained to the university president’s office about his absences and his attitude. His initially warm relationship with the university’s English department — whose renowned creative writing division includes novelists and poets like Ann Beattie, John Casey, Rita Dove and Deborah Eisenberg — had cooled after he sought a position there and was summarily rejected.

  Then on July 30, the review’s managing editor, Kevin Morrissey, took a gun to a coal tower on the outskirts of town and killed himself, an act that some of Mr. Morrissey’s friends and family attributed partly to stress in the workplace — even going so far as to lay that stress publicly at Mr. Genoways’s door.

  Now the 85-year-old review is in limbo. University officials have canceled the winter issue and closed the offices until an investigation into the staff’s complaints is complete. Mr. Genoways is fighting for his job, his reputation, his $134,000-a-year salary and his legacy as the editor who helped put the review on the literary map far beyond the “academical village” founded by Thomas Jefferson, where William Faulkner, a pipe between his teeth and a Tyrolean hat on his head, once strolled as writer-in-residence.

  Ok, did you see it? Did you discern the scandal I’m writing of? No, it has nothing to do with the death of Morrissey, and everything to do with this fact: editor Ted Genoways was making $134k a year editing a journal that could not even make a profit on the open market. This is the equivalent of all the hated Wall Street Golden Parachutes that CEOs of failed companies would give themselves before they either retired, or had their companies head into bankruptcy.

  Now, take a breath, and look that over again: $134k a year. For what? To edit a college literary magazine? And this is important because the University of Virginia, which publishes The Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR) is a public university, funded by the taxpayers of that state. Now, it’s bad enough that many universities, public and private, lavish six figure sinecures on professors of dubious worth, not to mention granting residencies to scholars, writers, and thinkers, whose main job it is to just lend their patina to such places, but Genoways was and is a relative nobody. Even his own employer did not want him in a teaching position, according to the story, so this salary was ALL to just edit a magazine that came out four times a year, not even a monthly, much less weekly magazine. Yes, he’s been written up in multiple university presses, which then feed their PR to places like the Times, but, in reality, the number of people, outside a few thousand MFA types, who would recognize his name, would likely not number 10,000. In fact, later in the Times piece comes this information:

  “If the subject matter was dark, to me it was never presented in an air of despair,” he said, acknowledging that the magazine’s subscription numbers, which now hover around 2,400, were falling about the same time. “So were everybody else’s in the country. I didn’t see those things as related.”

  Yet, Genoways is credited with having boosted the magazine’s circulation in his tenure, which likely means he started with about the same number, raised it to maybe 5k, at its height, only to see it plunge. Now, you do the math. At $14 an issue, even at 5000 subscribers, that means the journal made, at most, a gross profit of only $70k a year. Now, subtract from that Genoways’ salary, and the magazine is operating at a net loss of $64k a year. Add in the other four members of his staff, at, let’s just say, an average of $40k a year, and now the journal’s net losses are almost $225k a year. Add in the printing and distribution costs, at about $5 an edition (I know this to be the likely figure having had many acquaintances in the literary journal field over the years), and there’s another $25k or so to the net loss, making VQR, at a minimum, a quarter of a million dollar per annum taxpayer sinkhole that the public university is wasting. It’s no wonder the Times piece also included this:

  Mr. Genoways also said he was increasingly worried about the magazine’s finances. The endowments, heavily invested in the stock market, have suffered, he said, and a fund of about $800,000 had been spent down by more than half as Mr. Genoways invested in the kind of long-form journalism and color photography that contributed to its rise in the magazine world.

  But, the Times may even be underestimating Genoways’ fiscal incompetence, as this source, if true, paints an even worse picture of Genoways’, and his staff’s, monumental financial greed and idiocy:

  As if to add insult to injury, this spring, Genoways was denied a tenure-track slot by the English Dept.
  His compensation package is $170,000. Morrissey got $80,000; VQR's webmaster $70,000.
  VQR's annual budget, close to $600,000.
  Plus, in his seven years, Genoways spent down VQR's endowment/cash reserve from $800,000 to $300,000.
  The payoff for these lavish expenditures has been the journal's "national prominence."
  (Not all litmags are fiscally starved: Grand Street and DoubleTake had and Tin House and Glimmer Train and ZOETROPE have well-heeled private individuals backing them; the Georgia Review has a staff of eight (its assistant editor, Douglas Carlson, bears an eerie resemblance to Morrissey.)

  But, even if we stick with the conservative estimates of the Times and myself, can one see how Genoways was just like a CEO? He paid himself an unsustainable salary, heedless of the economic realities, blew through an endowment, wasted taxpayer funds (which are always, despite denials, mixed with the general funds of such institutions). And despite this Ken Layvian disregard for his public trust, the thing Genoways is being vilified for is that one of his employees had enough personal troubles that he killed himself? C’mon folks.

  This reminds me of the James Frey nonsense of a few years ago, wherein the author of a horribly written, but bestselling, memoir was vilified when it was proven that his outrageous claims were all made up, rather than for the lousy writing. The irony was that I actually defended Frey on multiple occasions, at online venues, for his right to shade the truth in that genre (because memoir is distinct from autobiography in that it is memory-based, not fact-based, and it was created to get around the legal machinations that often force autobiographies to shy away from the more interesting and sensational aspects of the life being written about; hence it is a genre wherein ‘truth’ is deliberately malleable), even as I pilloried his horrid writing.

  Similarly, Genoways is being pounded for absolutely the wrong reasons. Even were he guilty of being a bad boss, in terms of his work relations, to pin the suicide of an underling on him is just wrong. What Genoways should be held accountable for is the abuse of public funds and trust in his tenure as the editor of VQR. But, even the financial irresponsibility might be tolerable if quality writing and journalism resulted, and good young writers were discovered; but no, such is not the case. The magazine really is an off the rack college journal, publishing the same sort of bad poetry and fiction the rest do, save that it also delves into poor journalism and predictable Left Wing politics.

  But, before I delve into that qualitative aspect of the real reason Ted Genoways deserves to lose his job, rather than the faux scandal of the death of a colleague being laid at his feet, let me return to the issue of the journal’s so-called popularity and readership. The Times story quotes circulation at about 2400. Again, having worked in the commercial magazine industry and having had many acquaintances in the literary journal industry, I can assure most readers that, of that figure of 2400 subscribers, about 2k are subscriptions in the names of public and college libraries, with the rest a mix of people given subscriptions for contributions to the magazine, alumni and university staff, and a few dozen actual non-affiliated readers. Double that last figure to account for magazine sales from newsstands and book stores, and that is the reality for VQR. It’s even gloomier for lesser known universities and journals. But, in truth, as I will show, it’s a deserved ignominy, for such institutions and their journals do absolutely nothing to actually provide quality education and entertainment for the masses. And for this Genoways’ sinecure pays him $134,000 per annum. Now, before one hurls the trite and wrongheaded claim that I am ‘envious’ or ‘jealous’ of Genoways, let me debunk that by quoting from an article called When Julia Became Julie, Content Lost Its Throne, written by political writer David Sirota:

  The next time you get annoyed a content-creators' "self-promotion," unless it's really clear that the creator is really just trying to be a narcissistic spectacle with zero substance, give that content creator a break. Those writers, bloggers and/or radio hosts probably don't want to have to be pushing their work out as hard as they are. In fact, they probably just want to spend their time making the content as good as they can and hate the fact that they have to simultaneously work to get that content out there. But as Julie & Julia show, that's what the marketplace now demands.

  Sure, I’d love to have Genoways’ salary vs. my fiscally compensationless passion, but I would not trade the content on Cosmoetica for that produced by VQR in any scenario. In fact, in any given 3 month period my website produces more content, better content, and gets 20-50,000 daily visitors, who hit my site 100-150,000 times a day; a testament to the oasis of quality Cosmoetica provides from the usual Internet sands. Granted, it’s free to read my website’s content, but the immense disparity in readership cannot simply be explained by the difference of $14.

  So, let us peruse both the contributions of VQR and its editor. From its blog there is this interview, 11 Questions For Marilyn Hacker, one of America’s most well known, let’s be generous, hacks. In it there are such gems of questions as:

8. Your new collection, Names, is in dialogue with many writers, such as Mahmoud Darwish and Hayden Carruth. Its poems are often directed outward, focusing on the names of other people and addressing current events such as the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Is this a direction you see yourself to be heading towards in your next books?
It’s not a focus that was absent from earlier books, I’d want to say first, with writers like June Jordan, Joseph Roth, Hayden Carruth, and Muriel Rukeyser among their interlocutors . . . but it is always difficult to say where a book not yet written will turn.

  No, not exactly up to snuff with the queries asked in a typical Dan Schneider Interview, but let’s look a bit further at this journalistic exchange. The interviewer, Wanling Su, is not really asking anything of substance, merely prefacing a blurb for the author to pat themselves on the back. The poems in Hacker’s book are not defined nor critiqued, with a defense or agreement expected, so Hacker is not challenged to think, and can generically list her cohorts, and then state the obvious: ‘it is always difficult to say where a book not yet written will turn.’ Yes, and it is always difficult to say where a car in a garage will make its 27th left hand turn the next day. This is stoop-kneed fellatio, not questioning. Is it any wonder Su’s credentials are as follows? ‘Wanling Su is a VQR intern and an MFA candidate at the University of Virginia.

  Then there’s the sort of article that’s become standard at magalogs like Poets & Writers magazine, even down to its title, How To Market A Novel. About the only interesting thing in the article is a linked trailer for the book, quite an innovative idea, but which is not expounded upon in the piece, in favor of blurbable gems like: ‘Melville House is one of the better regarded indie publishers, and from my remote perch, the reasons for their industry esteem and their success seem obvious: besides a solid and satisfyingly eclectic mix of titles (e.g. a book of Ray Bradbury interviews, a Jules Verne vampire & zombie novel, B. R. Myers’ book on North Korea’s self-image), including a series of pleasingly designed novellas, the people at Melville know how to communicate.’ It should be noted that this same writer also blogged about a subject that so many bad MFA writers do, even down to the title: The Art Of The Negative Review. Naturally, he links to John Updike’s hit and miss, and silly rules for book reviews, which, from rule one, opens with worthless advice: ‘Try to understand what the author wished to do,’ which violates the very purpose of criticism, top address the thing achieved, not aimed for. This is a call to the ‘criticism of intent’ that has plagued writing and criticism for half a century or more. The rest of the piece follows the format’s clichéd tropes to a T, and one gets no sense what makes the writer, Jacob Silverman, any different from any other MFA hack.

  Now, one might object that I am only cherrypicking from their blog, not from the ‘esteemed’ VQR itself. Well, before I plead, ‘fair enough,’ let me mote the implicit bias against online vs. printed writing such a claim makes, for, as I have and will continue to show, Cosmoetica beats VQR hands down, qualitatively, and it is solely an online vehicle. Point noted, on to VQR’s (as I write) curent issue, where there is this smorgasbord of ‘goodies;’ poetry that contain such trite passages as:

The naked earth


rose before me then like the figure
of an angel.
I could spend my life slaving at a blackboard
and never quantify the way light shifted
in her eyes. I lay down on a bare patch of earth

  Or this:

In the dream of reference, a word is epithalamion to what it signifies.
But what word signifies silence? And what does the word for silence signify?
And who’s dreaming this dream anyway?

 Or this:

We go to the prison windows and pass cigarettes
and tangerines and iodine through the bars.


Anything we think could heal a man. The assassins kiss
our fingers. Mercenaries sing us songs about unbroken light

  I could detail all that is wrong with the selections and poems they are culled from, but their utter banality is so obvious I won’t waste my or your time, because I actually respect my readers. Just compare these lines with any culled from poems found here.

  The prose fiction offered is hardly better. Herein the end of a piece called Uzon, by William Malatinsky:

  The moon has risen now and the dogs have pulled my empty sled close by. They are whining and waiting for me to untie them from their harnesses, and some of them are lying down.

  Elena is here as well. I think I can still feel her against me. I have waited for her to breathe. I have waited for her heart. The stars still rustle and shine in the dark parts of the sky, but the river sounds somehow distant now, almost as if it has disappeared.

  I do not know what any of this means. For now, to keep myself from falling asleep, I am thinking of all the things that I must say to her when she does come awake. Not things that I ever wanted to say, nor things I even know. Not words I can imagine voicing while the meaning is also behind them. “Elena,” I will start, or maybe I will tell her this:

  At times, I have found, after all that I have lived, that you can feel when someone is watching you; and, at other times, you know certainly that they are not. Before you woke up, Elena, I was in between these two places. Your body was lying against my own, and at one side of me was the notion that there is surety, that there is order to this world, and that there is a way out for all of us that will not require labor beyond which our strength ends. But at the other side of me was the counter. And no matter how hard I pushed against it, I could not make it go away. No one is watching, it told me. There is no one who cares. We have all suffered for no reason, and each of us, without fail, will continue to do so until whatever end. Hardship is no rite. A good deed is only that: a good deed. All of it is eventually forgotten. And being human, as it was once said, is no more than the ceaseless wish to be happy, coupled with the ridiculous impossibility of such a thing. But if you wake to me, Elena, I think it will make a difference.

  From the trite situation to the predictable modifiers, to the narrative tropes- like being lost, to the last paragraph’s descent into self-pitying whining, in the most banal phrasings possible, there simply is no arguing that this is bad writing, and that it ends a tale that, on the whole, is little better, really ends the case for VQR’s being a literary journal of any substance.

  But, recall how Genoways was praised for making the magazine more ‘journalistic’? Ok, maybe the man earned his dough in that manner. Here’s the ending of an essay, called Leaving Trinity: Ten Ground-Zero Swerves, and just note all the ruminative devices and banal phrases used in countless other writings about the atomic bomb and/or nuclear war/power:


  To say that my friend and I were speechless during some of the drive back—both of us, in our way, “sitting with it”—would be true. But, again, what of it?

  Whatever it was we were feeling—awe, a whiff of terror, something else I doubt we could name—eventually gave way, as it often will. Idle chat. Antelope signs. Soon enough, I-25’s straight shot north, cruise control locked in.

  It doesn’t really matter how we filled the time—suffice to say we filled it. We talked, stopped for a burger, and, many blurred miles later, I dropped him at an airport hotel—to brood, he insisted, and drink red wine, and watch anything on TV with cyborgs. Soon enough, I was alone in the car.

  And, finally, I could try to fathom the numbers. 14,000 degrees. 200,000 dead.

  And yet, just as ground zero manages to keep the parade of zeros far from our minds, I can’t pretend, during the silence of that drive, that I held any facts at the ready. Our means of evasion, besides, don’t rely on numbers, or any single device: the tourist belt-notch; all those miles to Nagasaki; the time, some believe, the bomb shaved off the war.

  You stand in a field that seems to be nowhere; your mind clambers off to other things.

  I’m an hour away from the Mustang Room at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, where I’ll hear—over applause as the bride and groom strut in—the best man humming “Ode to Joy,” golf jokes in the guise of marriage blessings, blasted ’80s pop hits by Wham! and Human League. I have little more than an hour to sit in silence when my thoughts, it’s true, flitter back to the site. But I’m thinking, too, of a story my father used to tell about Oppenheimer—where did he get this?—strapping a bottle of vermouth to a rocket, then thrusting his gin glass out the window in order to make the world’s driest martini. I’m remembering a few peak-season twilights at the Bosque del Apache observation deck as sandhill cranes soared into a sun-bronzed lake, and I’m adding up, hour by hour, tonight’s babysitting fees. I’m skidding back to the car crash’s sickening crunch of metal, and already savoring the detail of those scuttling cub scouts, the chance metaphor of bus windows blocked by dirt. In a rental car, whipping back through desert hills, I recall, out of nowhere, that mountain range’s name—Oscura, from the Spanish: unknown, obscure. The name struck me, even then, as something that mattered.

  Is it any wonder that the unnamed essayist ‘is the author of Vellum and the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Literature Fellowship from the NEA. He directs the Creative Writing and Literature Department at the College of Santa Fe.’ He’s not just a bad writer and MFA mill grinder, but he actually gets to shape the minds of young writers. This is the sort of fact that such an essay like this is not only ameliorative, but necessary, if one wants to have positive thoughts about the future of American writing.

  The journalistic pieces, while nowhere near great, are a bit better written, although the ‘necessity’ or importance of their content typically appeals to no more than a few hundred people, the usual Left Wing artsy types who see the proverbial tree and think they planted it for themselves, such as life in the Saharan desert or Peruvian jungles. Then there are the pieces in the VQR Symposium, a hub, it seems, to show off the fact that writers from other countries can be just as bad as their American counterparts, such as this ending from a piece from a story called Lust, Devotion, & the Binary Code:

  My love affair went the way of such things; I went back to London and he never called again. This was not because his ardor was suddenly cooled by the distance stretching between us, but because he was told by his boss, almost immediately following my departure, that the Intelligence Service was asking questions about him. He was told to presume that he was under surveillance and, worried for his safety, we stopped all communication. I am sure that his troubles had nothing to do with us but it didn’t matter, for whatever reason S was under investigation. With a twitch and tightening of the net of the law that lies dormant under the feet, they could get him for immorality, or at least frighten him back into being a good boy. He knew that and so did I, and so we stopped. I grappled with the loss and the fury I felt that something as simple as love should be thus broken, for no reason at all. Back in London, I delighted in the individuality I saw expressed all around me and it was all I could do not to cheer every time a pair of lovers drew close to each other on the street and kissed.

  I kept silent, at least until now. This is the first time I am writing openly about my Iranian love story, before now I have held my tongue hoping that any day, any month now, I can go back to my beloved and frustrating land, that I would see again my beloved friend and perhaps caress his cheek one more time. But since the clampdown that has followed the protests around the disputed election last year, since the friends that have been threatened and jailed, since the regime has shown its brutality—and absurdity—to the world once and for all, my hopes of returning any time soon are greatly diminished and I now have the bittersweet freedom to speak, to write, to illuminate. Much like the men and women, young and old, who pour bravely into the streets of Iran, I too have lost my love and my country, and so have little left to lose.

  Go ahead, you can literally count the clichés. So, let us get the obvious out of the way: Ted Genoways is a really bad editor, for no one who was competent would publish writing as bad as that quoted above.

  But, maybe Genoways is a good writer? Maybe, despite getting a sinecure for something he is bad at he makes up for that with great poetry and prose? In Googling about, I could only find one snippet from a Genoways poem online, and I do not know its title, only that it came from his recent poetry collection, called Anna, Washing:

It weighs close to eighty pounds,
but more than that, the weight Abe could not carry
was the backbreaking burden of my doubt.
He felt bent and belittled by my lack
of faith, my fear his claims wouldn’t pan out.

  The music is that of a poor man’s Blakean song, but the clichés are just deadly. Take a moment and compare this run of five lines to any five lines of my poems. So, what publisher, in their right mind (assuming this is a typical run of Genowaysian verse) would publish this crap? And why?

  Easy? Like so many other MFA types, he ‘played the game’ to publication, basically using his position to get an ‘in’ to subsidy publish his doggerel. According to this online source:

  Ted Genoways edits a quarterly called VQR and he writes poetry.
  When he made an arrangement with the University of Georgia Press to launch The VQR Poetry Series, he told them he might want to include his own book in the series, and they told him that VQR would have to pay the Press a $2,000 "subvention," or subsidy, per title.
  The first four titles of the Series appeared this spring; the fall list includes his own book, Anna, Washing.
  You might think that Genoways is guilty of self-dealing, that he has taken advantage of his position. You might think that publishing his own work in his own series is sleazy or pathetic or worse.

  Did he also promise publication to the editors and staff at the University of Geoergis. The report does not say so, but good sense and a knowledge of how these things work, make that a rider that’s certain. But, ponder this; despite being a hack on a career track, Genoways poetry was so bad that he basically had to bribe his peers into subsidy publishing his ‘verse.’ Again, he had to do this, despite being in a power position to exchange favors.

  So, Genoways fails as an editor and poet, but succeeds as a master manipulator of his own pathetic writing career. Could this ability to dissemble be an augur his being a top flight critic or essayist? Here is a list of the essays Genoways has published in his own magazine. Let’s gander at his most recent one, from the most current issue. It’s on the Iranian woman who was killed earlier this year in a protest in Iran:

  By squandering the moral authority the United States briefly enjoyed after 9/11, we are no longer in a position to lend credible support to those who would oppose either the oppression of a totalitarian regime or those who would resist the intimidation of international terrorist networks. Sidelined by our recent history, we have been relegated to the role of restrained observers. President Obama was forced to express his opposition to the Iranian protests only in the most measured terms to avoid creating the appearance that the uprising was the work of foreign instigators, another example of neo-conservative interference. Even faced with the video of Neda’s grisly death, Obama could offer only these words: “While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.” The last year, in these parts of the world and many others, we have seen the urgency of reestablishing US credibility internationally—so that we may not only make our own voice heard to the world again but also so that we might speak, with authority and honor, on behalf of the silenced.

  This selection is how the piece ends, and while I agree with most of the article’s philosophic and political premises, look at how lazy, ill written, whiny, and trite the conclusion is. Don’t any published writers, these days, realize how self-defeating it is to be on the correct side of an issue, but to present it so poorly as to not even be able to motivate potential supporters (like me) into some sort of action? I guess not, because, clearly, Genoways is (and was) all about personal remuneration and career advancement; a trait most hacks share.

  Now, we are at the point of tossing a Hail Mary to save Genoways’ reputation. Last chance; perhaps he writes better elsewhere, when his material is submitted to other publications that may have competent editors? Right? Well, let’s peruse this article from Mother Jones. In the tradition of hacks who criticize other hacks, because they are envious, but who proffer more hackery (think B.R. Myers or Anis Shivani), Genoways penned this originally and oh so cleverly titled article, The Death Of Fiction? Among the more unwittingly self-reflexive disses ever written and published, the hack Genoways writes:

   Back in the 1930s, magazines like the Yale Review or VQR saw maybe 500 submissions in a year; today, we receive more like 15,000. This is due partly to a shift in our culture from a society that believed in hierarchy to one that believes in a level playing field. This is good—to a point. The reality is that not everyone can be a doctor, not everyone can be a professional athlete, and not everyone can be a writer. You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can't express your individuality in sterling prose, I don't want to read about it.

  Aside from yet again stating the obvious, Genoways, like many bad editors, uses the overwhelm of the slush pile as an excuse for why literary magazines are swamped with mediocrity. But, in the piece, he never even gets at the root cause of this overwhelm, and that is the MFA writing mills that crank out bad writers by scamming them that they can ‘become’ writers if they are willing to go into debt for a worthless degree, even though 99+% of all folks with Fine Arts degrees work outside of the arts and academia. Yeah, that degree in 15th Century French poetry really helps you manage a Denny’s restaurant! All he does is the standard of mentioning the MFA writing mills, but he never calls them out because he is one of its leading exponents and beneficiaries.

  Also, it’s a demonstrably false premise. In its near decade online, I, as the only editor of my website, have waded through over a quarter of a million poems submitted for publication, tens of thousands of prose pieces (fictive, critical, and journalistic), and have only posted/published a few hundred. This is because a) I actually read the submissions, I don’t get college aged interns to read for me, b) I actually exercise editorial standards, c) I actually edit the things I publish, and d) I actually am committed to quality being the sole criterion, regardless of what the political, religious, ethical, or philosophic posit of the piece or writer is. Now, let’s compare: about 300,000 submissions in ten years, or 30,000 a year, on average (or double what VQR, with an obscenely well compensated full time five man staff, receives), all handled by one unpaid editor, who works part-time, while also writing for the website, doing my own creative writing on the side, as well as working a real world full time job of 40+ hours a week. The real question is why can I do it while Genoways and his team cannot? Other than the obvious answer, that I am simply a far better editor than Genoways, there’s the fact that the Internet is simply not well designed for the magazine format of chronological issues that need to meet a deadline. The archive format is best, so that one feels no pressure to publish subpar matter, just to pad out issues. By simply adding quality stuff, as it comes, one builds up a stronger product. But issues allow a hack like Genoways to use excuses for his subpar work, and also demand monies to get things printed by certain dates; all of which are false pressures not created by the needs and desires of potential readers, but by a system designed to use money, whether needed or not, to put out a product, needed or not. But, Genoways’ obliviousness is truly all-encompasing.

  Here’s how he ends the clueless piece:

  All of which has left too many university presidents, already in search of cuts for short-term gain, eyeing their presses and literary magazines and wondering who will miss them if they're gone. Unfortunately, some of the journals to feel the earliest and severest impact are also some of the best. Louisiana State University cut more than 20 percent of Southern Review's budget. Middlebury College has given New England Review two years to break even or face elimination. Most catastrophic thus far, Northwestern University is moving TriQuarterly online and terminating the current editors—including poet Susan Hahn, who has been with the magazine for 30 of its 45 years. The TriQuarterly has consistently published seminal writers in almost every genre, yet that track record was not enough to save it from the ax.

  To pull out of this tailspin, writers and their patrons both will have to make some necessary changes—and quick. With so many newspapers and magazines closing, with so many commercial publishers looking to nonprofit models, a few bold university presidents could save American literature, reshape journalism, and maybe even rescue public discourse from the cable shout shows and the blogosphere. At the same time, young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers. I'm not calling for more pundits—God knows we've got plenty. I'm saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read.

  Note how it all gets back to the bottom line with this guy. Every one of the magazines he mentions are guilty of publishing the same revolving door of hack and bad writers and poets his own journal does. And THAT is the problem, not the lack of funding. The college journals are dying for the same reasons newspapers are, and the big time publishers are. They produce poor quality, due to the incestuous nature of ‘I’ll publish you if you publish me,’ readers turn off, so the publishers all produce lesser quality stuff, since they figure the money is not going to be there, and more readers turn off, and the cycle hits the plughole. Yet, this is well beyond the intellectual purview of the navel-gazing and materialistic Genoways. His hilarious last sentence is especially so when one rereads the last sentence of the above article on the Iranian dead woman, or, in truth, any of the other essays he has online (and I will mercifully not flay his poetry).

  And, no, it’s not university presidents that can or will save American literature. This is akin to seeking to revive the American economy by turning to GM, BP, and Wall Street, rather than small businesses and entrepreneurs. In fact, in this era of deliteracy, it’s a website like Cosmoetica that is almost singlehandedly saving American writing and arts online; yet it is, not so coincidentally, almost wholly shut off from the money making machines because I don’t bend to its will, and I buck their culture killing colossi. Cosmoetica is the most visited independent website online, by a wide margin, but that traffic fulfills only one of Google’s three pillars of web popularity. The others are linkage, and Cosmoetica is not linked to by, all but a few, of the millions of literary and cinema blogs out there, and the Google X Factor, or (for those in the know) the fact that I don’t give in to the payola-like demands of Google to fulfill the third pillar of shifting money their way, so my site sits in the great expanses between the galaxies of online topical sites (social networks, porno, political blogs, arts sites, etc.), like some Goliathon dark star system careening thru the cyber-cosmos, slowly accumulating readers until one day it hits a critical mass wherein the rest of the online universe can no longer ignore it, because my readership is filled with college-aged artists who will impact the arts because they have been impacted by Cosmoetica, and will send the careerist hacks like Genoways to their well deserved oblivion.

  And it is well deserved, for Genoways, and his ilk, are guilty of crimes, but not of driving a poor, addled MFA hack to his grave, but of crimes against art and literature, as detailed above, and, in the specific case of Genoways, also of a mismanagement of funds, at the very least. This is especially troubling since those funds he has wasted come from the Virginia taxpayers, who likely are clueless as to the sinecures they are providing for academics who work a few hours a week producing the palpable garbage I’ve linked to. At the very least, Genoways is guilty of misusing public funds. Whether this rises to malfeasance, or a crime, is up to the University’s own accountants to determine. But, the crimes against literature are aplenty; just try to find as well written and detailed an article or essay as this on VQR, written by Genoways or anyone else. You won’t succeed, and for that fact, alone, Genoways should be ashamed and embarrassed at the massive waste used to erect something so trite and feeble, not for the death of Kevin Morrissey.

  Readers of mine sometimes wonder both how and why I take on such issues in the arts, and my response is simple, if I, someone with great insight and writing talent, do not care enough about the arts I am engaged in, then who will? With that ability comes a concomitant responsibility to take the tough stands; not the faux, PC stands of merely being against those things all are against, like hunger, poverty, nuclear war, global warming, rape, etc. So, to those who want to burn Ted Genoways- poetaster, hack writer, bad editor- at a stake, I say I’m with you, but let’s carry the appropriate banner to the conflagration: not PC bully and killer, but incompetent manager and ignominious artistic fraud and hack. Now, will that be plain or mesquite briquets?


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Open Salon website.]


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