Towards Dignity
Copyright by Michael Gause, 2/20/01

   I think it is time to begin, again. Poetic critique in this town - for the short 4 years I have seen it - has been less about quality and more about viciousness. Sparring is not done, as in the Shaolin monasteries of old, in good faith to better our skills and that of our "opponents" (who are, in fact, our colleagues). Criticism is carried out with disrespect and with no other purpose than to boost the ego of said critic and belittle said target. This teaches nothing but how to hurt and be hurt, and is, clearly, a missed opportunity at growth. If you choose to step into the ring, punches should be thrown, but I believe in an atmosphere of construction and with a desire to learn and teach how we might keep such blows from landing so cleanly next time. Fighting hard, but toward the right end. Intellectually, the strategic skills of both sides are elevated.
As I look around at the guerrilla tactics used to preserve the poet's Fortress of Solitude and attack others ("Destroy Essays"?  c'mon, people what's next, the He-man Woman-Hater's Club?!), I realize that it is time to leave behind adolescence and embrace the next stage of our poetic maturity:
    Enter the Great Combination: Criticism and Respect. A poet's work is critiqued and both critic and recipient become better poets, moving toward being the poets they CAN BE. The critique should be real (for we gain nothing through empty praise) but well hashed and dealt out for the sake of mutual illumination, not destruction and with a sense of dignity for ourselves and others. Now this poses the question of unsolicited criticism. That is a matter of choice, but I believe that if you put your work out there, expect response. If you are too sensitive to hear negative remarks regarding your work, then it may be best to keep it in the old journal. However, if you really want to improve, then put it out there and patiently hope for the flowers and barbs of commentary. Then it is then time to decide how valid you view the criticism. You may choose to implement changes (either to that particular work or the way you write in a broader sense) or disregard the remarks, in part or whole. It is truly a win-win situation. Either way you take a fresh, look at your work: whether you make changes or not. Either way is victory! How to get to that brave place to boldly put your work out there and not feel personally attacked when your work is criticized is the subject, perhaps, of another essay.
  Then there's Cosmoetica, the very manifestation of this detrimental approach. With some literary content inside, the site can be defended as a site for writing. However, with the rampantly growing rants and rebuttals of the "Destroy Essay Replies" (which are, for the most part, personal bickering and gossip and far from discouraged by Schneider himself), along with the constant e-mail urgings to go to the site and "see who's fighting now", it is painfully clear that the real focus is on playground drama and not the word. I find this inexcusable. Now I believe Cosmoetica is frequented for the following reasons: Exposure: many of us know that many other poets in the Cities are posting there. Thus it is an easy way to stay connected, albeit at a price. Ignorance: To my knowledge, there isn't another forum like it on the web (locally) for people to post critiques, essays, or manifestos. We all want to keep engaged with what others in the Cities are doing (to varying degrees, of course), but we do so on Dan's terms, which is to be antagonistic and damaging toward each other!  And why has Dan arranged his arena with this combative slant? Simple: his own enjoyment and hits on his web site. He pits people against one another with jabs either direct or subtle (Dan: "I retorted that Gause pointed out a poem's flaw. He merely did not say why- whether because he lacked the time or critical capabilities.") Something doesn't exist unless you can see it, eh Dan? Nice try, you cheeky monkey, but I ain't swingin'!) He then sits back and lets the hits roll in.
  Make no mistake, I am not an innocent here.  I have been sucked into a couple of melee in a few parking lots here and there, but I have decided to stop. I want everyone who posts poetry, manifestos, etc. to stop and think for a minute. There has got to be a better way for us to critique each others work, praising it or hating it, in a way that doesn't leave us all frustrated, agitated and pissed at each other! I'm not sure what that way is, but I know it is not inside the spider's web of Cosmoetica. If you enjoy the Springer-esque antics, then by all means, keep joining in the fray. That is your choice. But for others, for whom reaching our poetic potential is our goal, I urge you to take a moment and ask yourself: "Is it about me or the poetry?" The answer to this question is quite illuminating. For the Art and those who keep it alive I think it is time to begin, again: Let us begin again with respect, even if we disagree or dislike. Let us begin again with dignity, for all of the above deserve no less. Let us begin again, and get it right this time. P.S. Dan, to address the first two froth-laden comments out of your mouth: 1. I am a male, so no, I cannot be on the rag. 2. On the contrary, I am indeed getting some on a regular basis. Thanks for asking.

[I'd hoped for a better piece- especially since you said you were going to take Laura Winton's Surrealist Manifesto to task. The raison d'etre of the S&D essays is to actually get good poetic critique- that sorely missing from APR, Rain Taxi, Ruminator Review & on....You either never read the 2 essays or did & missed the point. As for the replies to the pieces- that's a totally different ballgame. I'd love to have had someone really defend Bly! But I get what I get! And while it's good to know you haven't left Spanky & Alfalfa behind, all of this Zen nonsense is at the heart of why Bly & his nemeses- the PC Elitists- fail. They do not engage each other. As for comments on not feeling personally attacked at poetry criticism- practice it yourself. The handful of times you've come to the UPG you have silently stewed when others (including- but not always- me) have pointed out flaws (real or perceived) in a poem. This resentment has carried over into denunciations of me, the 6/14/00 Poetry Forum, repeated pronouncements of grandiloquence followed through by months of disappearance from the arts scene, fighting words against a Dave Okar or others followed by meek retreat & refusal to even meet with others who share your viewpoints, nasty immature emails to me (witness your hot-n-cold exchange with Lyle Daggett on the index page Reactions To Cosmoetica), requests to be treated as Garbo,  always nothing but excuses to not engage, etc. In short, the actions of a typical artist wannabe- the very thing you have lambasted Okar & others as. The truth is I will never agree with an Okar- unless he comes around my way- but at least he is consistent & has repeatedly stated our disagreements are impersonal (and unlike you he has a track record- good or bad- of engagement with this town's arts scene). I doubt you can honestly say the same about your reactions to others- be it me, Okar, or Daggett! And in true Daggettian blindness you miss the whole point of letting folks fight & sneer in public- so that what artists all carp about each other is on the record. This was one of the points in the Bloom essay which you did not read or understand! I did not arrange for the Daggett-Carter war, nor the anonymous gaybasher, nor the condescending sneers from academics- granted I emailed those involved with the essay. That folk chose to ignore the essay's content to vent- well, OK! Far from damaging I would argue this is a VERY good thing for the Arts scene. Let's look at some examples: 1) We all here, in MN, complain about MN Nice & its hypocrisy- Voila! A perfect example of the bigotry lurking under the veneer of anonymity! Where else?  2) Artists are constantly accused of being smug, moralistic, liberals who harbor their prejudices & insecurities toward the world & await its release- Voila! Enter Daggett- & one could argue you, Michael!- a man so insecure & lacking in humor that he ACTUALLY thought people would think he was romancing Diane Glancy! And one who is so into his own little world that after Carter apologizes he reiterates exactly how she described his being a pompous ass, & still doesn't realize his actions' import! Nor the folly spewed from his pen. Where else? 3) Many whine about academia & its cronyistic condescenscion & vapidity- Voila! A dozen or so backhanded & shallow replies! 4) What's wrong with entertainment? Obviously Monica Calhoun & Sue Stein & you- despite protestations- are entertained. And if they- or you- were so revulsed- why bother writing? The act vitiates the content, you simple simian! And this essay WAS your swing- which missed. 5) Of course I want traffic on the site (& thanks to Max Herman- or is that Headroom?- for apparently sending this stuff to Germany, UK, Canada & who knows- perhaps Zambia's next?)- just as you want readers of this essay- lest why not just pin it to your bedroom wall & gloat? 6) If you actually read the poems & essays- by me & others- I can tell you there is not another site like it on the web for quality writing. That there is actually a reflection of human weaknesses online seems a far more- dare I say?- truthful & liberating thing than any pseudo-Orientalist stance you convey, nor the hostility you end your piece with. If you spent more time making quality art instead of opining about its lack you may not need to be taking those timeouts to breathe- OOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!]

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