Lifting Up Adam’s Dress….To See What’s Missing!
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/9/03
Last year I
did an essay on some of the recreants that inhabit the online poetry universe. 1
of them was a sad sack who edits the Web Del Sol website. His name is
Adam Dressler & I criticized how poorly this supposed ‘quality’ site
was. Naturally, as I always do in the spirit of fair play, I emailed the schlub
the article & offered to post his rebuttal. Of course, he refused, even
though I had posted his email to me where he stated Cosmoetica had good writing.
AD was scared off, however, by the fact that, unlike any of the asskissing NEA
grant-begging websites that WDS links to, Cosmoetica routinely takes on &
exposes the tactics that are rampant throughout the American- & even
worldwide- art scene.
I thought that was that, because the craven never replied to my entreaty for a rebuttal. Since I rarely surf the Net it was up to my wife, Jessica, to discover that little Adam ‘Cross’ Dressler had decided to childishly snipe back at my exposure of his, & WDS’s, hackery by sneaking in a ridiculous ‘review’ of Cosmoetica on 1 of WDS’s almost inaccessible web pages devoted to slamming what they consider bad websites. Now, WDS is a website that is not easy to navigate, as many pages lead to dead ends, & not what they seemingly state. For example, the page to get website reviews is http://www.webdelsol.com/PortalDelSol/. But you have to click on a link called Where’s The Rope? to get to the bad sites- even though there is nothing on the page itself to guide you. Anyway, Jess only discovered this after Googling Cosmoetica, & then monkeying around a while to see more of the snippet on Cosmoetica. Here is what she found:
This poorly constructed, grammatically meandering site has little to offer aside from paltry poetry, inside jokes and vague angry ramblings. They say, "The Best in Poetica seeks great poems & essays." Our advice? Keep seeking.
Of course, unlike me, Cross never mentioned that I critically shredded
both he & WDS in my review, nor that I, at the top of my review, openly
mentioned that he had ludicrously rejected a link to Cosmoetica (out of fear
over being blacklisted), nor that I had openly emailed him the article &
offered a rebuttal. So much for honesty & ‘truth’ in the arts!
But what of the actual review? Let’s go bit by bit & compare his criticisms of Cosmoetica with what it really is, & -more importantly- with how WDS stacks up with Cosmoetica, & how Cross stacks up with me, or any of Cosmoetica’s writers.
So Cosmo is poorly constructed? How? It does not meander in to dead ends like WDS does? Is it because it emphasizes excellent writing over glowing bells & whistles? Perhaps. In truth, this is 1 of those criticisms that has no real weight but sounds like the critic knows something about web design the reader does not.
2ndly, Cosmoetica is grammatically meandering. What exactly does that mean? It means that a word like that which starts this paragraph does not follow the King’s English rule that #s should always be spelled out. Well, there is no logic to that rule, & I prefer to use #s over the word numbers in my prose, as well as using an ampersand (&) rather than the word and, & even making 1 word out of the 2 words a lot (alot). See? Old Cross has never learned 1 of the basic truisms of being a great writer:
Good writers must learn all the rules of grammar before they can become good. Great writers know they must unlearn all those rules to be great.
In short, because 1 does not follow the arbitrary ‘rules’ of the
lesser lights out there, does not mean they do not know the rules, only that
they know those rules’ shortcomings. As an example, look at all the nitwits
that bowdlerized Emily Dickinson’s poetry upon 1st publication. Now
those people are scorned by the likes of Cross, even as he attempts to task
greater writers than himself in the same accord. Were this 1903, rather than
2003, you can bet that old AD would be clueless as to ED’s poetry’s worth.
The only reason he does not prevail such dullard sentiments against ED now is
because he read somewhere in a book that ED’s grammatical & punctual
oddities are part of what make her poetry mnemonic. (When ED does it it’s
style, when I do it it’s bad grammar?) BUT, it took others to figure out what
AD & his ilk could not. But, if it makes Cross happy he can know I do follow
the King’s English rules in the bulk of my great poetry. Rest easy, swain!
Then again, Cosmoetica’s poetry is NOT great- be it mine or others. It is ‘paltry’. He does not elaborate. Are the poems too short, too few, not of quality, or all the above? Hmm….well, let’s do a little taste test of some Cosmoetica poetry vs. some of Adam ‘Cross’ Dressler’s versifying. Of course, AD is published in some of the very mags he hawks on his site. Let’s look at a poem published at http://www.nthposition.com/poetry_dressler.html:
Blues are in season. Our
across the sound's cold fallen dress,
the prow a finger probing flesh.
Our shadowed house, the unlit
and farther back, the black-carved town
briefly rise, grow bright, and drown.
My brother and I watch my father
prepare the bait, test the lines,
and tender us the needed lies.
Oh great! Another ‘disease’ poem. Granted, this is not as bad as
Galway Kinnell’s modern poetic horror Parkinson’s Disease, but only
because of its brevity. All the clichés are here. I underlined some of the
clichés, but I could have taken out the whole poem. This is not a TOP essay so
I will not even attempt to fix this garbage. 9 lines of utterly trite bathos-
But let’s do 2 side-by-sides, 1st with a classic 10 line ario from UPG regular Bruce Ario.
In Remission (ACD)
Blues are in season. Our boat
Our shadowed house, the unlit
My brother and I watch my father
is this wind?
marionetted leaves filter
courier of my imagination
Blow through me until
And stand against your whimsy.
Let’s do a 2nd sampling & compare ACD’s schlock with a selection from a poem of mine:
In Remission (ACD)
Blues are in season. Our boat
Our shadowed house, the unlit
My brother and I watch my father
Madrigal Of The Bank Of Manhattan Trust (DES)
"I cannot say
As with the comparison to the ario, ACD’s tripe falls far short than
this ending to my great poem. Both his poem & mine deal with a saddened
child-adult relationship, but notice 2 key differences- 1) no clichés in my
poem & 2) look at how totally unforced the rhythms & substance of the
conversation is in my poem vs. the obvious stiltedness of the speaker in ACD’s
So, ‘paltry’? This is a classic case of ‘projection’ of 1’s flaws on to another entity. As for inside jokes, there are few. As for ‘vague angry ramblings’ I can only surmise he refers to my & others criticism. By vague, does he mean as vague as this detailed deconstruction of his inability to deal with quality in verse & online writing? ‘Angry’ can only refer to the fact that I am not as practiced in peni- & cunnilingus as Cross, & ‘ramblings’? Hmm….well, I guess that’s the cue to return to actually examining Cross’d literary criticism [muffled chuckle].
Here’s a piece of ‘detailed, jovial criticism’ from ACD. Guess where it’s to be found? On another of WDS’s linked sites! [http://www.webdelsol.com/Perihelion/becker.htm]. It’s a review of a book called Internal West by Priscilla Becker:
The deserving recipient of
the 2000 Paris Review Prize in Poetry, Priscilla Becker’s “Internal West”
is a stunning study in heartbreak and the struggle to heal.
The poems are like quiet houses, constructed of straightforward
language and streamlined structures, in which a spiritual violence takes
root, blooms, and is examined as one would a cherished pet. The
narrator’s relentless, inwardly probing voice is present
throughout, honest and utterly credible, even in its most leaping
assertions. This credibility is established, in part, through the voice’s seeming
inability to contain itself; it is constantly, helplessly, letting things
slip—but on purpose. This central, seductive paradox is never dull;
Becker carries it out with all the colors of a vivisection.
I’ve underlined all the critical clichés & token modifiers used by
every poetry critic who’s on the NEA gravy train. OK, this is ‘terrible’
writing. Does anyone even have a clue as to what Ms. Becker’s poetry must be
like- save for bad? Look at all the words which refer to emotion, not content
nor skillery of wordliness. We get a hagiography of the poet’s charms, not an
elucidation of the poetry. Then there are the concessions to ‘fairness’ when
it seems like a rebuke is coming. For example- even as the poet leaps to assert,
she is ‘utterly credible’- in what way we are never told- we just have to
trust Cross’s acumen- Ach du lieber! Even worse, we find out the poet’s
voice (A way to imply that the poet is saying more than the words, even
though they rarely do, & which Ms. Becker does not since we get a few bad
examples of her poetry later, &- besides- we already know from ACD that her
poems use ‘straightforward language’- i.e.- they are prose broken in to
lines.) is ‘seemingly’ unable to control itself, lets things slip- but
on purpose. This is more paint-by-#s criticism. This is wholly generic writing
about even more generic poetry.
I won’t show you Becker’s tripe because it’s Cross’s inability to even string able words together that is the crux of this essay. Here are some more stupefying dull examples of his bad writing:
with the sole possible exception of “heed” is down-to-earth, as is the
majority of the form, the only exception being the beautifully indented,
gorgeous last line, whose weight and magical import almost demand the different
treatment it has received.
Trust me, the poem is
banal, as are the word choices. But, when a critic has to ‘tell’ you
something is beautiful & gorgeous, much less magical, you can bet the house
that the writing is as soporific as its critic’s description of it.
from facts and emotional consequences, has a chilling effect that deepens,
ironically, to a point that demands the reader’s sympathy. For example,
“Sometimes I sit in water until my body turns / to lamb, until I’m certain I
have something / to care for.” Here, the self is ultimately reduced, under the
pressure of its own gaze, into an indeterminate object, a “something.” The
“you” is also something other, more referent than person, more apostrophe
Can you spot the 8 trite
words &/or phrases in just the 1st sentence quoted above? Again,
this is paint-by-#s criticism. As for his picking apart of the 3 quoted lines-
note how ACD can never leave behind the poet & self-revelation as a theme-
even as the quoted lines are as off-the-rack as you will find.
-This loss takes
many forms, and the book’s deceptively simple structure can be deciphered, to
a degree, by looking to the various losses as categories of suffering, as the
common denominators the poems of the different sections share. The book has
three sections: A.(40 pages), B.(12 pages), and A (12
pages). One might at first surmise that the sections’ pattern serves as a kind
of structural rhyme scheme, with B. representing a variation and the
second A. a return.
Note how Cross describes
virtually every poetry book published in the last 30 years, save for those volumes of Selecteds &
Collecteds. Even then, he is unaware of this fact, & must
plumb cliché: ‘the book’s deceptively simple structure’.
-But while the
passage of time may have given the narrator a more concentrated vision, it has
brought no cease of suffering. These poems are filled with the heartbreak of ill
communication, of the poor substitute language is for the real thing. As she
writes in “Until Such Time As,” “And sometimes a face will lose its name /
or word replace a figure or feeling.” The failure of language is this
section’s sub-theme, and it works to brilliant, if brutal effect: here,
writing isn't therapeutic; it’s like picking a scab.
The irony is that while
the poet may, indeed, be speaking of the failure of language, she reflects it in
her poetry, ACD, re-reflects it in his criticism & this fractalism is
utterly beyond both poet & critic. Plus, we get the ‘brilliant, if
brutal’ adjective- to show that both poet & critic can ‘take it’-
& are not fey Academicians.
-But a happier or more hopeful poem wouldn’t be desirable, much less
credible; it would be a fluke, a cheap Las Vegas mirage in the very real, very
stark landscape of the book.
The strength of this poem, like all those of “Internal West,” lies
in the narrator’s ability to hold herself up to her own relentless gaze. One
can only hope that Ms. Becker’s own powerful vision will not be dulled by her
well-earned acclaim, and that her other books will hold themselves to the high
standard this debut has set.
The last piece ends ACD’s review- again, utterly generic. But, perhaps I am picking on old ACD. Let’s look at another bit of crit- & the truth is that the poem & these 2 pieces are all that exists of ACD online- save for the email I quoted from him in my earlier essay, & his above ‘review’ of Cosmoetica. Piece #2 I quote from below. It’s at http://www.webdelsol.com/Perihelion/waldner.htm, & is a review of Liz Waldner’s A Point Is That Which Has No Part. &- surprise, surprise- it’s a negative review. Let’s attack it from its opening:
The central purpose of this review, i.e., answering the question, “Should I read this book?” can be achieved with one word—“no.” This may seem rather pointed, but let me explain.
The dust jacket of Liz Waldner’s second book, “A Point Is That Which
Has No Part,” promises, or at least intimates, that the contents is of high
quality: it was published by the University of Iowa Press, and awarded the
prestigious James Laughlin Award for 1999 by the judges Agha Shahid Ali, Lynn
Emmanuel, and Marilyn Nelson. But I am baffled and saddened—baffened, if you
will, by the acclaim this book has received.
Now, recall ACD’s calling Cosmo ‘poorly
constructed, grammatically meandering’? Let’s look at this clause: ‘that
the contents is of a high quality’. 1 might think that this is a typo &
ACD meant to say either ‘that the content is of a high quality’ or ‘the
contents are of a high quality’. Both would be grammatically correct. But this
is no typo- & he talks about Cosmo’s grammar!
But, why worry of grammar when you can toss out sentences like this to show off your edumacation (see, I can coin words too, & humorously!): ‘It does, however, serve as a caution not to proceed—a lasciate ogni speranza over the gate.’ The rest of the piece is an example of a modern critic getting the rare book that annoys them, but they simply don’t know why- so they attack mindlessly:
Perhaps the solution lies in the section’s title, Point, i.e., a
single, indivisible thing. If so, the placement of “Accord” would only be
explicable, not justifiable. And even this argument is not supported by the
book’s other sections—there is no particularly rounded or self-enclosed
quality to the poems of the third section, Circle, nor is there anything
angular or three-sided about the poems of the fifth section, Triangle.
The poems of the second section, Line, are flat, and the thoughts within
them do proceed in a somewhat linear stream of consciousness, from vague a
to boring b to half-baked c. But so do nearly all the poems of
this book. In fact, it’s completely unclear why any particular poem in this
book occupies the place that it does. If some subtle, meaningful structure is at
work here, it’s far too abstruse to be visible, let alone useful. Furthermore,
there is no apparent movement from poem to poem, no order, no flow. The poems
could all be randomly rearranged with no perceivable difference.
Cross’s overall thrust
is applicable to almost every book of poetry published- so why harangue Waldner
for her slavishness? Perhaps a personal encounter gone bad? Who knows, but the
whole piece is pointless, since he never really deals with why this work- so bad-
is so different from the rest of Academia’s. It is this lack of a greater
vision that fails ACD in all his writing.
I could go on, searching, toiling, hoping that there is a greater purpose at work here. I could read the book a third time. Yes, I managed to make it through twice. But I suspect it would prove pointless.
Unfortunately, by this time Adam’s already gone on way too long. But check out his own ‘funny’ online tweak of himself:
Adam L. Dressler graduated from Harvard with an A.B. in Classics in 1997. Since
then he has ridden the economic wave from dot come to dot gone, and in the fall
will be attending the MA program in poetry at Boston University.
So the 20something Cross cannot write passable poetry nor prose. What to do? Stick his tongue out at those who reference this fact? Apparently. But, this juvenilia is also dishonest, since ACD never mentions that the only reason he gave Cosmo no stars out of 5 & put it in a section called Where’s The Rope? was because I was man enough to take on his asskissing, & stick it in his eye. Neither Adam ‘Cross’ Dressler, nor Web Del Sol, practice nor post any real literature, they just disingenuously shill for Da Man. Last time I gave ACD notice, but this time I’m not gonna email him, I’m gonna wait for him & his pals to Google himself & see where this essay ends up- probably in the 4 or 5 slot. Hi Adam! No pussying out this time! Time to grow up & get some integrity- a career in accounting can still be yours. My advice? Don’t ask for more rope, you’ve already got enough to swing freely in the breeze. God wot!
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