Julianna Baggott & the Persistence of the FemDogs
Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 4/12/03

  There are certain women poets who do not inspire, but rather make me embarrassed to say I’m a poet. The Femme Doggerelist- aka the FemDog- is what has arisen, post- Confessionalist over the past decades since Plath & Sexton’s deaths, even though the FD’s themselves deny being influenced by either. Let’s look at the definition first. The idea is to preach as much as possible to your audience, using the worst choice of words & clichés. The idea is to write in basically chopped up prose, poorly broken, rife with clichés. The idea is to be a ‘good person’ over a good writer, conflate politics & truth with craft & structure. The idea is to milk the System for all its worth, put bad poetry book after bad poetry book into publication, whine how no one reads you, how you are oppressed by society, by men, & by whatever else serves your need. The idea also is to believe that poetry is common place, that it should be read by all, that it is a need, and thereby use ‘accessibility’ as an excuse for poor writing. As of now, Sharon Olds is queen of the FD’s. The funny thing is, if you visit any of the Sylvia Plath wannabe websites, most Plathies think very little of Olds, if nothing at all. In fact, many reject Sexton as well, even though her earlier stuff is good. Olds gives bad women writers with no talent hope. A while back, the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured an article about this terrible ‘artist’ named Greg Dickerson. His paintings consist of  7” by 7” canvases, with color smeared all over the canvas. Shocked that this garbage would even be acknowledged, let alone be sold in Robyne Robinson’s gallery, (a Minneapolis news anchor)- I brought the paper into work to show my co-workers and make fun of it. Then when one of them asked, without knowing who the ‘painter’ was, if those were the paintings done by retarded kids, naturally, we laughed.
  The point is, though, that even though these paintings looked like one ingested food coloring and just shat all over the canvas, people were still willing to pay a $100-$1000 dollars or more for each canvas, simply because it was hanging in a gallery. This example shows how people are unable to think for themselves, unless someone else is telling them that something is good. I guess one is just not smart enough to understand the ‘complexity’ in Greg Dickerson’s paintings, huh? This is also apparent in writing & criticism. I guarantee you that if Hart Crane were alive today, Voyages would be unpublishable. Ditto goes for The Waste Land, or Harmonium, or whatever poet you think is so ‘influential’. The difference is that they have 40+ years of literary criticism backing their work up. So it must be good, right? After all, Emily Dickinson’s irregular line dashes and spelling is style, as opposed to when I do it in an essay- it’s bad grammar.
  There are many, many FD’s, too many to name them all. But I, unlike typical blurbs and crap fed from Academia, I will actually name some of them. I already said Queen FD herself: Olds, who can’t get past her snatch, or her daughter’s snatch, or her mother’s snatch, or Marilyn Monroe’s snatch. Or sometimes she talks about boobs: her boobs, her daughter’s boobs, her mother’s boobs, or her father’s gonads, or her diaphragm, or inserting her diaphragm. Then there are the others. Carolyn Forché, Lynn Emanuel, Roseann Lloyd, Adrienne Rich, Jorie Graham, Jane Kenyon, Wanda Coleman, Sapphire, Julianna Baggott, (the focus of this essay), & what the hell, Maya Angelou. Now, to be fair, all women listed are bad poets. Some actually had some talent but chose not to use it, others have never had any talent. Some are politically oppressed, others just politically correct. As to which is worse- they are all bad & in time, will be long forgotten and out of print once they are dead. (Or Donald Hall in JK’s case, since there will be no one breathing who will want to continue publishing her crap once he’s finally gone).
  I first had my encounter with Julianna Baggott when she was on the cover of Poets and Writers, which is notoriously known for promoting bad-mediocre writers. I knew nothing of her work, but noticed, just as P&W likes to do, that she talked about her ‘struggles’ rather than her writing. I remember her saying that there was ‘one female poet’ who she was ‘shocked’ only got a few thousand dollars for her book sales. She didn’t name who it was, for fear of upsetting any other FD, but one can only assume it was Olds. JB was on the Cosmo e-list at one time, often sending bitchy and snippy comments in response to essays, since the essays were dissing her fellow doggerelist cronies. JB is a people pleaser, a game player with very little talent as a writer. As a poet, she sucks, but isn’t the worst name I listed. Her novel, Girl Talk, while not a terrible novel, isn’t exactly literature with the capital L. And I think the politically correct JB knows this, for after an essay dissing Wanda Coleman’s ‘shtick’ (if you read the essay carefully) JB became enraged, this being the behavior only of someone immature and one with no confidence in her abilities. JB knows she’s not a good writer. Why do you think, then on her personal site, there is praise after praise & not one negative review? It could be that negative reviews are simply not written anymore, or it could be just like the Oprah audience. People who like to read Oprah novels are people who like to read Oprah novels. Ditto can be said for JB. First, before I go on, here’s a brief bio:

      Julianna Baggott received her MFA from the University of North
Carolina at Greensboro in 1991. The recipient of fellowships from the
Delaware Division of Arts, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts,
Ragdale Foundation, and Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, she has
placed poems and short stories in dozens of literary journals including Poetry,
The Southern Review, Chelsea, Cream City Review, Quarterly West, as
well as the anthology Best American Poetry 2000.  
  Her novel, Girl Talk, was published by Simon and Schuster's Pocket
Books in February 2001. Girl Talk will also be published by six
publishing houses overseas. Her collection of poems, This Country of
Mothers, followed in April 2001 published by Southern Illinois
University Press. Her second novel, The Miss America Family, will also be
published by Pocket Books; in February 2002. 
  She lives in Delaware with her husband, poet David G.W. Scott and
their three young children.

    This is a standard bio, where she’s been published, blah, blah, blah. I’m not picking on the bio- so you can relax! Now, almost in every interview I’ve read with her, she’s spoken about her ‘struggle’ as a mediocre writer, mother of three, a hubby, etc. Now maybe that’s not her fault & just the interviewer’s poor editing, but nothing is really about her actual writing itself, just the typical ass-kissy questions, who influences you? how do you manage a career as a mother?, etc, etc, etc. Now I’m not saying she should hide the fact that she has three kids & how she has to live off the earnings of her mediocre novels & phony workshop classes, but this is what is known as ‘woundology’. Or, don’t pick on me cuz I’m just a little writer with five mouths to feed (not to mention all the asskissing I have to give to Academia)- boohoo!
  But the sad truth is, she’s really no different than any of the other names I listed. She’s a replica of the MFA clone, where her mind has been dumbed down and dulled by the old MFA chisel that so often sands away any potential a writer might have had entering, and then spits out a generic, banal ass-kisser who does not offend nor inspire, nor think for herself, and can join the other dim intellects at the card table. They work together on the surface, yet compete behind each other’s backs, sniffing out the anal cracks of Academia by applying for grants and contests run by their pals and people they’ve fucked. But enough JB dissing. Let’s move onto one of her terrible poems:

Underlined- Cliché
italics- Cliché in context
***- poor enjambment

Nights in Tijuana
for Jack

At twelve, my cousin had romantic fever,
something torrid and hot
                                 like night

in our imagined Tijuana
where everyone fell in love
While his joints swelled and the valves***
of his heart gave,
                   just a little, he remembered
our collected fireflies
caught earlier that summer in a glowing glass jar,
how they lit his father's atlas map,
the tiny embers of their hearts
already, again and then still burning

His father blamed the fever
for his softness.
                  And he agreed.
It was the first fitful dream
of the exotic,
               the men he would love.

He went to Tijuana years later
and brought me trinkets
of Jesus, tiny medallions
that shone, a glint of gold in his palm.
He knew he was dying,
steering clear of his father's shame
and his mother, who couldn't bear
to lose him again, to this,
what could not be love.
                        He told me it was***
the opened mouths,
                   the giving over
of bodies, it was***
just as we had imagined it would be,
nights in Tijuana
just before falling in love,
his life,
          a dream between fevers.

  Just look at this terrible poem, rife with clichés and absolutely no reason for it to be broken the way it is. Although this is technically more ‘solid’ than a Sharon Old’s poem, (this coming from a woman who breaks her lines at ‘the’ and ‘a’) this is easily as clichéd and dull as anything written by SO. Is there any attempt at music? Very prosaic, banal, & wordy, this poem describes nothing more than a ‘moment’ between the speaker and her gay cousin & the gay cousin’s father ‘not understanding’ that his son is gay. But guess what? Do we care? I’ll bet JB does- & it ends there because there is no sense of real people in this poem, just clichés. Are you shocked? Not me. Let’s move on. The father does not approve- the shame! Can we be more predictable? Does JB actually think this poem would ever go over people’s heads? (as will be understood by her blurbs later in this essay) Poor word choices include torrid and hot to describe night (you might as well throw in that the ocean is deep & vast, too). The idea of Tijuana being the place where everyone fell in love is trite. The poem is trying to set up this ‘special moment’ that really just sucks. Full of pretense, here are more poor word choices: joints swelled (Gee what else do joints do?- also to imply the ‘swelling’ of the penis is very trite, especially in a ‘gay’ poem). Now give me a break: Tiny embers of their hearts, burning- (what originality! What, no bleeding for this heart?) His father blamed the fever for his softness is yet another trite & melodramatic phrase, which is trying to make the poem seem ‘deep’ when it really isn’t. This is a pretentious way of saying the cousin was faggy (oh gee, that was rather un-PC of me!) Then we have more melodrama, how he knew he was dying, blah, blah, blah till the end. Tell me, do we really get a sense of these 2 characters, save for the father being a clichéd homophobe who doesn’t ‘understand’ his son being queer? No. Do we care that the cousin is dying? Maybe JB did/does, but to me as a reader, this trite ‘revelation’ means nothing. This is a very bad poem & the funny thing is that JB actually has this as one of her sample poems on her website! You would think that if she had written this piece of crap, for Christ sakes, throw it away or keep it hidden, or something. But whatever you do, don’t use it as a sample! This is just too easy! But I guess if all your poems suck & this is the best you have, then you don’t have much choice. But just to be fair, this poem really isn’t any worse than anything written by Olds, Lynn Emanuel, Kenyon, Rich, Forché, etc- (I mean, really, after a certain point, is anyone really able to tell them apart?) Yet again, it’s not about quality, but about being a ‘good person’. And JB wants you to know she’s a ‘good person’ because don’t you know, you stupid morons, that homophobia is bad? Or should I condescend to you a little more?

  These FD’s are the ugly fat girls in the cafeteria shoving macaroni down their throats, complaining how no guys ask them to prom. Of course they know that supermodels exist, but luckily, they’re all dead or unpublished. But do you think they’re gonna talk about them, let alone allow them to win one of their ‘beauty’ contests? Hell no! Just think what that would do to their self-esteem, or the self-esteem of one of their ugly, fat friends. Instead they give the crown to one of their fellow heifers. People want to see awards go to their own kind. After all, if the crown goes to a supermodel, then that only makes the ugly fat girls even more ugly and fat by comparison. But then if the pretty girl isn’t around, they blend together and can’t be distinguished. Then the heifer may even begin to believe she’s pretty! Then it may even give other ugly fat girls/heifers hope that they too can be bikini models. And I am only shallow and mean for pointing out the fact that they shouldn’t be, right? As a critic, you need to tell people who have no talent that they have no talent. That’s why MFA programs are so deceptive. They want & take your money, so then, do you think they are gonna tell you that you suck & lead you to drop out? The purpose is not to write well, but to publish. As long as you publish, then you’re safe. Why even bother trying to improve your quality if, in the end, it comes down to the connection between one of your ex students/teachers/lovers to get you through the door. Do you really think JB, or anyone would have gotten published otherwise? (Unless you’re a survivor of Hiroshima, then maybe you have hope). So why is the focus of this essay JB, rather than any of the other FD’s mentioned? Well, I came across some of her blurbs that I must see mocked. Also, is her promotion of the no name FD Olena Kalytiak Davis, who JB speaks of more than once. (Makes you wonder the connection. Is this an ex student/teacher/lover? Certainly it’s not because of the quality. I’ll prove that, but hold your horses.) First, for some good laughs, onto the blurbs:




Taken from ‘quality’ site Web Del Sol.

Underlines & italics are used for clichés.


Mary Morrissey, Olena Kalytiak Davis, and Marisa de los Santos

by Julianna Baggott


  ... I read because I've written myself into a corner, or because I haven't written anything at all, or because I want to remind myself that writing is worthwhile, a necessary joy.

And sometimes, when least expected, the pleasure of reading creeps up on me. No, more accurately, there is a book that refuses to be read like a map, refuses to be read with panic. And, suddenly, it's not only pleasure, but love. I fall in love with characters, (We’ve all heard this one before) sentences, words. Here are three recent romances.

My husband picked this book off the shelf off an editor's bookcase at Random House UK: Mary Morrissey's Mother of Pearl (not to be confused with the Oprah pick, (Oh no- not Oprah !) by the same title). I started to read this book specifically for language. In the first few sentences, it became clear that the words themselves were going to be the most important event, (No shit JB. It is, after all, a book) and so I began underlining those that struck me, but by page three, I was transported. Morrissey is not only a genius  (UGH- Yet another throwing around of the word ‘genius’ as though it’s as easy as farting) within each sentence, she is a master of character and structure.

  Olena Kalytiak Davis, author of And Her Soul Out of Nothing, a collection of poems, has an absolutely unique voice, a wild, philosophical mind. I find her astounding, poem after poem. I think she confounds and illuminates, breathtakingly. (Touchy-feely stuff that doesn’t say anything specific & means nothing artistically).

Marisa de los Santos's collection From the Bones Out is precise and achingly beautiful. It is sweeping in its breadth, in what it takes on. The themes emerge and wind throughout the book, taking on one form and then another. (Yet again, just a blurb that says nothing save for the touchy-feely that won’t offend).

These three books make me jealous and desirous. (Only if you’re retarded) They leave me tender. (Uh, where, exactly?) Proceed cautiously.

  Here’s another interview taken from Samsara Quarterly, a site notoriously known for it’s 10th rate Plathisms. For brevity, I only included the 1st half because it contained the most clichés. Although she does acknowledge that ‘poetry doesn’t matter’ in the 2nd, she claims she her hubby critique each other! Do I see the next Hall & Kenyon arising?



Suzanne Frischkorn:  The poems in This Country of Mothers have been called ‘marvelously accessible’. (A way of saying the poems are clichéd & are just prose broken into lines ) Is accessibility an essential aspect of your poetry?

Julianna Baggott: The word accessible is such a complicated word in poetry. (She’s gonna dodge the question) I think some poets are decidedly inaccessible and it comes from being scorned like an unrequited lover. All poets are unrequited lovers. (Maybe you should get the hint, & stay away, then) We work, give our gift, and the public doesn’t want our gift. (Maybe cuz it sucks? I dunno, more woundology)I think what’s happened is that a lot of poets say ‘they just don’t understand it.’ And that’s a comfort to them--to be so intelligent that the common person doesn’t understand you--it’s a comfort. (Or just be so stupid that no one gives a damn). It’s easier than they understand, they’re just not interested. So poets hide in the comfort of not being understood. I want to be understood. (A way of saying I’m gonna write poorly so any idiot can get me) I’m fine with the fact that poetry is not for everyone. I’m also lucky that I write fiction—people will pick up a novel. I think poetry belongs to the people, the common people, (Now she’s Whitman?- an old joke) and it’s been my experience that they get it. I’m not purposely accessible, I’m not talking down to anyone, that’s just the way I write. (a nice way of saying she knows she writes chopped up prose, so for you to be nice to her) And I’m glad that there are poets who aren’t accessible and poets that are very challenging. (Like Who? Who are the accessible & who are the non-accessible- & don’t say Graham-but she won’t say for fear of losing her grants).

SF: Who are the writers you go back to for enjoyment and perhaps inspiration?  

JB:  One book I’m going back to a lot recently is And the Soul Out of Nothing, by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Lynn Emanuel, Linda Pastan gives me permission and so does Sharon Olds. (What is this supposed to mean? Permission to write and publish bad poetry? Or maybe it’s permission to be a ‘woman’ –UGH- now I’m making myself sick.) and Andrew Hudgins. Seamus Heaney, but more for enjoyment. I like Philip Levine too.


Now here is another blurb from Amazon.com:




  in my opinion, Olena Kalytiak Davis is the strongest young poet writing today.(If you’re on crack, maybe) her poems seem wild and new yet steeped in a grand tradition. (Wait till you see the poems, you’re in for a chuckle!) in a climate that seems to be veering toward simplicity, workaday speech, and mundanity, davis is fearlessly poetic.  (An old throwaround phrase, meant to say that the speaker knows 99.9999% published poetry sucks, but just won’t come out & say it). Let’s revisit the names she mentioned: Olena Kalytiak Davis. Lynn Emanuel. Linda Pastan. Sharon Olds. Andrew Hudgins. Seamus Heaney.

  Let’s see, of all the names she mentions, who writes in feeble-minded clichés, prose poorly broken into lines? Olds? Yes. Davis? Yes. Emanuel? Yes. Don’t know Pastan & Hudgins, but I can only assume… Heaney is mediocre, but there are far others who are worse, still he fits the underlined.

  Lets take a look at one of Davis’ ‘poems’. Remember the chart?





boatswain! must our cunts be cold?
must our hips be hips
for children to sit on?
must this ache be ache-not-nearly-ache-enough?

o, i labored on the stubble plain
(long heath, brown furze),
but baby was born in a field of phlox.




fret not, baby, thy mama was
a piece of virtue
. betid,
bootless though she was,
she never did take her boots off!
god clothed her for a reason.
what was was not
meant to be seen.
thus her vanity was her virtue
and by what undid her
she was hid.

maybe she dreamt it.
maybe she tempted
fate more than she did them.


  This poem goes on for like six pages. It is such crap, what’s the point? But here’s one more poem in its completion, just for you who are a little more stubborn.



because we are in love with Absence
because we can not love what we have see see Seen
because we need to believe in the Untenable, the Unbendable
because we know nothing can last last Last

because we have coined heard the absurd the term Everlasting
because We are Ever Last
because the last shall be first shall be the lost lost Lost
because we have read nothing from Start to Finish,
from Refinish to Upstart
because we slowly learn, our Slowness Leaning
because our ambition is diluted by the Sweetness of holy Herb and Sleep
because our sleep melts in the Uprightness and the Uptightness of Drive
because when we Lack we Lack so proudly and so Well
because our thoughts need to spin on Something Else and Something Other, Something More
because we Spin and Toil and are nonetheless like the Lilies
like the poor poor lilies in the field field Field

becaUSE after a while Sorrow is a tasty Meat
beCAUSE we can’t see ourselves
Gnawing, Chewing
BEcause there is nothing New and nothing not New, Known
beCause we like to call ourselves WE and stand Together
beCaUse that allows ME to separate out from this sown this mown this
cowering Crowd
and say onto you: i am your Remembrancer, your Requiter
i am Loud in your Sickness
you are Gnashing my Teeth
in Vain


  For Shit sakes, virtually every line is a cliché, there is no music, poor word choices, even the title is melodramatic. That anyone would recommend this complete shit is either dishonest or a total moron. Which is JB? Also, ain’t the play with caps a nice touch? This is a way to make a terrible poem ‘unique’ cuz thinking up a good metaphor is just too hard. To go on explaining this poem would only be so condescending to one’s intellect. There is NO WAY JB thinks this woman is good. She knows it is garbage & that Davis is not a ‘real’ poet. Do you really think that JB or any of these other FD’s would recommend someone they actually thought was better than they? Hell no. Then their tripe would look like the tripe it is by comparison. And speaking of comparing, this poem makes the dialogue in Girl Talk sound like Oscar Wilde. Perhaps neither pieces of this garbage are included in the book that JB thinks is so great, but who cares? Davis published them, didn’t she? After looking at these, I see no talent & no room for growth. Now, why am I wasting my time?   

  But I would however, like to recognize the work of a Great poet, Judith Wright. I have no connection to this woman, save for my thinking she writes excellent verse. JW is the real thing, not one of these FD’s. She died recently, so I have nothing to gain personally for promoting her. (Imagine that- actually defending something on quality alone!) Here is a poem that deals with “womanly” subjects these FD’s write about. But notice the good enjambment, the lack of clichés, lack of triteness, and great music that fills this poem. I’ll bet that JB has never heard of JW, nor would take any interest in her, simply because JW’s verse is just too hard for JB to imitate & understand. She could NEVER be in a league with JW. That’s why Old’s is much more comforting & much more in JB’s league.

Naked Girl and Mirror

This is not I. I had no body once-
only what served my need to laugh and run
and stare at stars and tentatively dance
on the fringe of foam and wave and sand and sun.
Eyes loved, hands reached for me, but I was gone
on my own currents, quicksilver, thistledown.
Can I be trapped at last in that soft face?

I stare at you in fear, dark brimming eyes.
Why do you watch me with that immoderate plea-
"Look under these curled lashes, recognize
that you were always here; know me-be me."
Smooth once-hermaphrodite shoulders, too tenderly
your long slope runs, above those sudden shy
curves furred with light that spring below your space.

No, I have been betrayed. If I had known
that this girl waited between a year and a year,
I'd not have chosen her bough to dance upon.
Betrayed, by that little darkness here, and here
this swelling softness and that frightened stare
from eyes I will not answer; shut out here
from my own self, by its new body's grace-

for I am betrayed by someone lovely. Yes,
I see you are lovely, hateful naked girl.
Your lips in the mirror tremble as I refuse
to know or claim you. Let me go-let me be gone.
You are half of some other who may never come.
Why should I tend you? You are not my own;
you seek that other--he will be your home.

Yet I pity your eyes in the mirror, misted with tears;
I lean to your kiss. I must serve you; I will obey.
Some day we may love. I may miss your going, some day,
though I shall always resent your dumb and fruitful years.
Your lovers shall learn better, and bitterly too,
if their arrogance dares to think I am part of you. 

  There are only really 2 clichés in this poem, of which I italicized. “dark brimming eyes” could improve & also “trembling lips”. But neither of these phrases accompany the sense of melodrama that appears in one of JB’s or SO’s poems. Remember that a cliché is a familiar phrase used in a familiar way. Great alliteration & assonance fill this poem, as well as interesting phrases that take a turn from the predictable: fringe of foam and wave and sand and sun, I was gone/on my own currents, quicksilver, thistledown, too tenderly
your long slope runs, above those sudden shy/ curves furred with light that spring below your space.
Now imagine if Sharon Olds had written this poem, what an utter disaster it would be. Do you think she could come up with a phrase as good as those sudden shy/ curves furred with light? One might argue that “shy” isn’t a good line break & is there just for the rhyme, but wasn’t it Marianne Moore who used to break lines at “the” simply because of syllable counts? The point is that the errors in this poem are so few (the couple I just pointed out), yet the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. When you have a great poem such as this, and yes, this is a Great Poem with the capital G, the few minor errors one might find (and might vary, depending on bias) don’t really matter if the strengths are there. Unfortunately, in the writing done by FD’s, the weaknesses overpower any strengths to the point that there really are no strengths, and when one must search over and over for just a good line in a poem, novel, or whatever, that should tell you something.
  So there you have it. I’ll ask, now, how can JB think that Davis is the ‘most talented voice writing today’ or whatever it was? If you, readers, can’t see the difference in quality in the poem by JW from that of the FD’s, I have no hope for you. The writing done by that of the FD’s isn’t even in the same universe as this poem. It’s not even the same art form.  You know, it is a sad thing that people need to be told what is good. I hope that in this essay I’ve at least shown you why the writing is poor, why it will be quickly forgotten & why no one really cares about it. It also just goes to show how literary criticism is so bad today, because simply there isn’t really anything to praise. When was the last time you remember a review about Olds, and the critic commenting on her keen structure? Or how about for her precision? Words like these don’t get used anymore, (or when they do, they ultimately go for the touchy-feely) because there is nothing good about the writing were dealing with. Olds is praised for being ‘heart-felt’, ‘truthful’, ‘painfully real’, or a bunch of other gunk that means nothing artistically.
  Ass kissers need to be ass kissers when they know their work is not good enough to stand on its own. Published poetry today is just a flat-out joke, that isn’t funny, but kind of like watching a bad-comedian stumble upon stage. It’s more pathetic than anything else. Rather than reading/praising what’s between Sharon Old’s legs, maybe these FemDogs should think about the vacancies between their ear holes instead. But that won’t happen. After all, who can resist once you get a whiff of fame’s you know what?

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