Turnabout is fair play, or
so they say. Cosmoetica has long been popular with college aged readers- my
essays are possibly the most plagiarized term papers and the like online. I’ve
even been told my website has been mentioned and featured in a few doctoral
theses. A while ago I got a request to be interviewed by a University of Chicago
student named Andrew Goldman (pictured above), for an assignment he was working
on. With his consent, I have republished the interview here. It was completed
AG: Is writing a full-time occupation for you?
DS: First, Andrew, thank you for taking the time to query me and thinking
it worth the time of others to read my replies. As to the query- no, of course
not. Aside from a handful of genre writers, and some relics from the 1950s and
1960s, no one can earn a living, full time, from writing- at least not in this
country. Even those who had a big selling book, hacks like a James Frey or Dave
Eggers, are just living off their lottery-like bonanza. Their later books all
tanked, financially, as well as artistically. I have worked many jobs, mostly
blue collar, from the age of 6 till now. That’s 39 years. On the one hand, I
would like for society to recognize and value quality in the arts over cronyism,
for then I could live off my writing, and then I could produce more literature
and criticism of relevance to the public, but that simply is not where our
society currently is. Thus, I will never write all the great poems, essays,
stories, novels, plays, books, I could, but life is simply not fair. Ultimately,
the biggest loser is human culture, and those in the future. Imagine, had he had
more than just one basic tale to tell, if Franz Kafka was not stuck in a
penurious job. Would we not be a better culture if he had produced more works of
substance than just The Castle, The Metamorphosis, and The
Trial? But, aside from unfairness, it is also true, as W.B. Yeats said, in The
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
full of passionate intensity.
Not true in all cases, but
in the overwhelming majority. I am one of the few ‘best’ in the arts that
are ‘full of passionate intensity.’ Hence, I am an outsider amongst the
outsiders. The truth is that most people simply do not read any longer- save for
blogs or Tweets. On the plus side, the Internet democratizes human art for all
time. Even were I not ‘published’- as in a paper book, in my lifetime, my
works are bound to be found by cyber-archaeologists (yes, that profession
exists) who will wonder why the hell the Freys and Eggerses were
‘published’- for what that term is worth now, while I, and some other good
writers, were not. In short, our generation will be looked back on with woe and
disbelief, in regards to the arts.
AG: I know from reading your site that you’re married, but could you
talk about how you met your wife, how your interests in the arts align, and so
DS: My pre-married Romantic life was the absurd stuff of a Woody Allen
film, admixed with touches of Martin Scorsese-like broads. After years of blind
dates, bad dates, hookups, one night stands, psycho-artsy babes, answering and
placing personal ads, I had given up ever meeting someone for a long term
relationship. I placed an ad in Poets & Writers magazine to connect
with other writers (I was thinking mostly male, since most females in the arts
lead with emotion rather than intellect). To my shock, I got more replies from
females for my ad than I ever did with an ad directed with Romantic intent: 40
or 50+. Most were lovelorn doggerelists. My future wife Jessica’s reply was
the only one not with a Romantic intent in it. Hers were also the only poems
sent that showed any talent. We corresponded, met, wooed, moved in together,
Jessica is a great poet,
but not nearly as vast nor sweeping as I was (I stopped writing poetry in 2005-
I simply was not challenged by it any longer). She’s a good critic, but not as
deep as I am, and does not have the ability to see patterns like I can. But, if
she’s not a greater novelist, she certainly is my equal. I actually prefer her
books and writing style to mine, as a reader. Her prose style is seemingly
effortlessly poetic. It is lean, taut, spare. My prose style is more complex.
Hers is closer to the essay style of Loren Eiseley, whereas mine is more Herman
Hesse-like. She’s Henri Matisse, I’m Frederic Edwin Church- to use the
painterly metaphor. Jess is one of the few female artists who can overcome her
emotional tendencies. That said, she is still closer to the Plathian ideal than
the O’Keeffian one. I’m more unprecedented, with little relation to any
other artists before. But we both believe that craft serves a function whereas
art simply is- i.e.- it is its own function.
AG: How has living in the Midwest affected your outlook on literature?
(as opposed to the coasts, centers of writing and elite opinion-making)
DS: I have lived in Texas since 2003. I lived a dozen years in Minnesota,
and its PC Minnesota Nice passive-aggressive psychosis can get very trying.
I’ve even lost some friends who could not emotionally overcome this
‘disease’- be it inborn or learned. Jessica loathed the state and almost
everyone there, save for a few friends. Re: literature, it has not had much of
an effect. Why would it? There are poseurs and phonies there, in Texas, just as
there were in the artsier lofts of Manhattan. Part of being a great artist
requires simultaneously being absorbed in your times and surroundings while also
AG: How did you go about starting the website? Did you have web design
experience? Does the minimalist aesthetic of your website stem from a personal
philosophy, a desire to keep hosting costs down, or something else altogether?
DS: In the late 1990s a pal of mine had built one of those horrid looking
‘90s era websites for a thing I ran called THE LIST of Artists. I was
hoping to be able to list names, emails, and phone numbers of artists in the
Twin Cities, to better get congress between them. Naturally, clannishness and
egoism kyboshed that. I’d hoped to syndicate it in different cities, ala what
Craigslist now does, but artists will do what they will (i.e.- pettily
squabble), and it ended.
Then I decided to do a
website to showcase my poetry. I was the best known poet in the Twin Cities at
the time- at least unpublished and in the reading circuit. So, I built one. In
the first few weeks I got a couple dozen hits, so clearly I needed to do more
than just showcase my poems. Had I not adapted, my website would, almost a
decade on, be lucky to have gotten 1800 hits, much less be closing in on 180
million. So, I started adding essays. I also then posted email replies to
pieces, but that soon led to catfights between assorted artists, as well as
death threats toward me and others who emailed in. This was, again, a prescient
precursor to all the nastiness on modern blogs. I stopped that after one person
who was being stalked by a homosexual obsessive of a friend of mine, was
I then got threatened with
a few lawsuits for libel by some people who did not like the fact I told the
truth about them. A couple were females I’d known in the past, then a few
‘name’ poets threatened me over my reviews of their poems, then an old
classmate of mine threatened me because I revealed he had a disease as a child.
The topper was when a psychopath, who hated me because I wrote great poems and
this person did not, threatened me because I revealed the embarrassing
circumstances behind their hatred. Even though I had told the truth, this
person, who had means, told me they would drag me through court for years, fully
knowing they were not libeled. After getting this person off my case, by
removing the info about them, and some initial further shenanigans and threats
from them, over other matters, this person finally went on to obsess over
others. Thus I re-learnt what I had known as a child, growing up in New York
City: the justice system serves the rich, not the truth. So, I decided to not
put on any personal attacks or claims made by me or others on the site. In
retrospect, I made lemonade from lemons, because it forced me to make the site
more cosmopolitan, rather than local, and this soon led to increasing readership
outside of the Twin Cities.
But more online psychopaths
and stalkers followed. With the site growing in popularity, miscreants and
recreants with no lives would email me, but none wanted to dialogue nor learn.
At this point, I get 15-1600 emails a week (not including 3-4x as much spam), so
I answer very few. Attachments and assorted tell-tale psycho/stalker words are
filtered out (which cuts that load down by 60% or more), but I still get loads
of horrid essay and poem submissions- in fact, I would say that I am likely the
most poetically well read person that has ever existed; especially of poetry
that is unpublished. Thus, the remainder of my emails are conversations with my
e-list; submissions (if it lacks any talent I do not reply- I have no time to- I
work a 40+ hour a week real job, plus the website, essays, personal writing,
etc.); queries/requests for me to critique poems, to turn some bad poet into
Emily Dickinson; answer trivia on a book, film, poem, poet, etc., get me to
argue with them on abortion, religion, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama,
Charles Bukowski, Wikipedia, etc. In fact, I’ve had many stalkers from
Wikipedia. There are a handful of losers there who are obsessed with me and
harass me and my Wiki page, as they battle it out with my fans. What’s
hilarious is that, despite all the stuff I do in a day, those morons think that
I have time to be 24/7 battling them. They cannot grasp that a popular website
has many fans. On the plus side, I have had dozens of Wikipedia editors become
fans of Cosmoetica simply because my stalkers there accidentally became apostles
for the site.
As for web design, I had no
experience. I believe simple is better. Also, I learnt some key lessons.
Cosmoetica is text-intensive because it means I can get 2 or 3 thousand hits on
a page that will have the same bandwidth usage as most single pages on big
websites, like Blogcritics, that are larded with ads and images. I do not
believe I will ever have to mar the site with ads, and I have never come close
to exceeding bandwidth, although, at times I have had HUGE traffic, such as when
Steven Pinker's interview was
posted right when his book, The Stuff Of Thought, was released, or late
last year, when film
critic Roger Ebert discovered my site.
Cosmoetica is also very
easy to navigate- all pages are only two clicks away, at most. Also, the site is
very easy on the eyes, as opposed to most blog designs. To read an essay on my
website is like reading a newspaper- black text on white media, and not squeezed
into the middle of a page to make a two sentence paragraph seem Dickensian in
length. No bells and whistles, either. Some haters of the site sneer that the
website is ‘not professional.’ I agree, but it’s better because of that-
it’s easier to use and read than all but a few sites online; and it’s gone
through a dozen or more dramatic visual permutations. One of the best emails I
ever got was 3-4 years ago, from a woman who was the head of some group for
visually impaired computer users, who told me that she and her members thought
Cosmoetica was one of the easiest sites online to read. Better yet, she enjoyed
what she read.
Of course, most of the fans
of Cosmoetica, or myself, just ‘like’ the ‘attitude’. They misequate it
with the bad ass poseur types so prevalent in the arts. That means most of them
could just as easily be harassers or stalkers- it’s almost like a flip of a
coin decides it. But, when one writes, anything, one cannot talk down to the
worst in one’s readership. You always have to address your best and brightest
readers because they will only increase in number through time. The easiest way
to make one’s art irrelevant is to be condescending.
AG: Did you envision the publishing project Cosmoetica has become? Did
you originally envision only publishing poetry, or was the combination of art
and art criticism planned from the start?
DS: See above. The criticism aspect basically emerged as a counterpoint
to my prose fiction, after I grew tired of poetry. I felt a desire to more
directly take on aspects of art. Rather than doing, I wanted to show, for a
AG: How many different authors have contributed pieces to Cosmoetica?
DS: Including essayists and poets (who submitted), a few dozen. But,
it’s probably 80% me, 10-15% my wife, and 5-10% others. I wish there were more
submitters of quality, but, I would estimate I’ve received 200-250 thousand
submissions of poetry (each with 5-15 poems in each submission), maybe a third
to half that in essays, and posted very little. Divide those numbers via the
number of posted contributions. If most editors and publishers were as devoted
to quality as I was, we would have less deforestation, better literature, and
most of the good published writers could, indeed, make a living. In short, I
walk the walk that others only talk.
AG: What are the most common kinds of reader e-mail that you receive?
DS: In the first 5-6 years, threats and FUCK YOU emails. Oddly, as the
site has gotten more popular, the threats and anger now constitute maybe 1-2% of
emails, on the worst weeks. Most are now just pathetic yearns for attention.
There’s the old adage re: the Internet (ok, a generation old)
that everyone who hates you will feel compelled to let you know, while the
Nixonian Silent Majority (who are apathetic or appreciative- aka ‘lurkers’)
might only be moved to contact you once every several hundredth time you affect
them positively. Hence, if you get 99 negative emails, you can be pretty sure
that’s all of the asses who hated you in that timeframe. But, if you get one
positive email, there were 99 others who were also positively moved, but
didn’t really want to take the time connect or congratulate. The ‘masque
effect’ of the anonymous Internet brings out the Mr. Hyde in Joe Average. As
the negative emails now constitute so minimal an amount, I know Cosmoetica is
far more popular than it has ever been. And this kills its haters.
AG: What sort of reader do you think is drawn to your site? How would you
describe an "ideal reader" if forced to do so?
DS: College aged males are the biggest fans of the site. First, they are
male, and my brusqueness, non-condescension, humor, and honesty go over well
with that crowd. Also, at the age they (and you, Andrew) are, the mind is more
receptive to new ideas. Ossification usually sets in by 30. Thus, in almost a
decade, I have a whole generation of male fans your age who have suckled on its
tit. That augurs well for the future of the arts. As for ideal? Intelligent,
open-minded, and a fancier of wit. If you like Oscar Wilde you will like
Cosmoetica. But, it’s more important that you learn to think independently,
above all else. I detest sycophants. I’d rather argue with you in honest
disagreement than get my balls licked.
AG: All great poetry exists in a kind of conversation, but do you view
your own poetry (thinking particularly of the Omnisonnets) as strongly
influenced by any certain figures?
DS: All art is a conversation. Art is communication at its highest level.
The higher the form of communication the greater the art. I often try to get
artists to understand this (even most good ones get by on talent and an instinct
they cannot define). Art is not what you want to communicate- that is the
philosophy or story; art is how you do it. Art, in this sense, is a verb,
primarily, not a noun. Thus, criticizing how well or not the art does so is
critical. The most radical thing any artist can do is be consistently excellent
or great. Fuck the idea of art being truth or political, or other such nonsense.
It’s laughable. Nor is art mere beauty. Art can be those things, or
have those qualities, but there is no imperative it must, much less should,
be. Recognizing this is what separates me from other critics, who like most
artists, do not even know how to define, nor deal with, art, much less critique
As for influence, the wider
the array of influence the less any one thing can be cited as an influence. The Omnisonnets’
prefix was chosen with this in mind, just as Cosmoetica was named for both its
peaceful and universal derived definitions.
AG: What do you consider your greatest poetic achievement? Any work you'd
like to single out as a legacy?
DS: I am the best poetry critic I have ever known, in person, and
certainly vs. English language print critics. Marjorie Perloff? Harold
Bloom? Helen Vendler?
Please. They alibi for bad poetry and obfuscate it with political intent, or
claims that the artist’s intent is the same as the end result. I add more to
the criticism of poetry by simply underlining the obvious clichés in a poem in
a humorous This Old Poem
essay. When I stopped writing poems, I had about 1020 I would argue with anyone.
The most I could name by a published poet were 71, by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Rounding up for that lost in translation, maybe you could give him 100.
Shakespeare has no more than a dozen great sonnets. I wrote a sonnet sequence
Sonnets, with 154 to match Shakespeare’s total output. You’d have a
hard time arguing I missed out on greatness in a dozen of them. There are
so-called great poets like Adrienne Rich who could be beaten to death with a
great poem and not recognize what hit her, much less write one that was great.
So, the corpus is its own greatest achievement, poetically, although,
literarily, my four volume memoirs, True
Life, is my biggest legacy, thus far. There I seamlessly mix great
poetry and prose. It’s about 640 thousand words, or roughly half the length of
Remembrance Of Things
Past, but infinitely more
complex and concise. Joyce said writers need to give critics puzzles so they
will come back to a work. My poetry and prose makes Joyce look like a finger
painting vs. a masterpiece by Dali or Goya.
There are many poems that I
cannot reproduce online, but, for those I can, I would tell readers to read my
double star sonnet, Siamese
Reflection, and appreciate what great art can do. I would put the
several dozen poems of mine just online, against the best of any other poet
I’ve ever read, and that’s just a fraction of the total. And even at that
small fraction, I show more quality, quantity, and diversity than any other
poet; those being the three primary measures of an artist’s body of work
AG: How has your thinking regarding what you've called the "metric
fallacy" informed your own poetry writing? Has resisting prevailing
metrical rules felt liberating, or just natural, considering that you don't
believe that a rigid stressed/unstressed system is valid?
DS: Well, terms like ‘informed’ are the sorts of weasel words that
are bandied about in MFA workshops, to attempt to add gravitas to a rather
ordinary state. All art is informed by something, but that is not to imply that
I deliberately or not wrote a poem, or all my poems, with a particular point
(artistic, philosophic, or otherwise) in mind. Most came from a particular
moment, or long time urge to write of something- be it Al Capone, a girl I once
had feelings for, or my dad.
As regards the metric
fallacy, because it is not something I consciously ponder, there is no
liberation to feel. And it’s not that I do not ‘believe’ that the metric
ideal is false; it is an objectively true claim. The moment you read any line of
verse wherein a third stress level is heard, meter is done for. Last year a bad
poet and blogger challenged me in this regard, and I had to take him to task in this
portion of an essay and its
addendum. In short, my beliefs in something, or not, have absolutely no
bearing on their objective reality. And this is one of the ills that plagues all
of modern art- the Postmodern belief that everything is subjective. Not only
does a third (or fourth, etc.) stress logically and objectively dash the idea of
meter, but a cliché, as example, is something that is numerically provable. If
one puts a similar or exact image, idea, phrase, etc. into a similar or exact
same context that has been done many times before, that image, idea, phrase is
trite. Here is an interesting
link to an article where I expound on this more, by stating that once web
searches scan in all the printed books and newspapers that they can get ahold
of, such an analysis of word placement will reveal much about the objective
nature of clichés, as well as how much earlier writings influence later ones.
There are, of course,
universal clichés- such as ‘a bleeding heart’- which could be subverted in
a poem about a white settler shot via arrow through the heart, as the
literalization would subvert the emotional metaphor of the cliché; and there
are genre specific clichés- such as water and rock imagery representing
feminine and masculine ideals in lesbian poetry. But that’s a level of degree
not context. There are other aspects which space, time, and my mortality
preclude inclusion of, but there is a real world, and, unlike subjectivity,
objectivity does not preclude subjectivity. One can, as example, reasonably
argue that Wallace Stevens was a better poet than Walt Whitman- for they are
qualitatively like quantities, but one cannot reasonably argue that James Tate
is better than either. One may like the doggerel of a James Tate more than
Stevens or Whitman, but ‘like’ is an emotional and subjective reaction that
has no objective transferable criteria for another person. I like some
bad art, and bad poets like Richard Brautigan. But, if I were to argue he was a
good or great poet it would be laughable. Good/bad is simply a wholly different
axis from like/dislike.
A final point- great
writing (and art) resists becoming clichéd over time. People sometimes try to
defend the clichés in Shakespeare with this gambit. First, they are often wrong
when they claim Shakespeare coined a term or phrase; but even when correct that
a phrase originated with the Bard, they miss the fact that the reason such a
phrase became a cliché was because it was a generic idea or image that lacked
any uniqueness to begin with; and that uniqueness is tied to the talents,
person, moment, and the placement of the thing. In short, a generic
idea/image/phrase, is bound to become trite, and the greatest artists avoid this
the most, either consciously or not.
AG: If you had to name a short list of great visionary poets alive now,
who would they be? What about poets who have worked within the last 60 or so
DS: If we are talking of all poets I’ve known I’d say none- neither
personal nor published. Like the two axes mentioned in the last question, vision
is not synonymous with excellence. If you use the Google function on Cosmoetica,
you can Google my Three Intellects posit in the essay I did on Harold Bloom. In
short, most people and artists are Functionary. Very few are Creationary, and
fewer still are Visionary, meaning that the force of their writing constructs a
vision of the cosmos that, whilst reading them, you find simpatico, or at least
can buy into. Visionary is an often abused word, like ‘genius.’ Excluding
myself, there are none I know of personally, and certainly none I’ve read who
are published. The greatest ‘published’ poet, still alive, as I type, is
likely James Emanuel, but he is
not a Visionary. Since 1950, perhaps Sylvia Plath, in the English language,
qualifies, despite her mental and psychological ills. Most of the other poets I
could name, from any other country, were either dead or past their primes by
AG: What are the biggest forces preventing the dissemination of better
quality poetry today?
DS: Unsurprisingly, it’s the same forces that retard effective
government, education, police enforcement, corporate behavior, etc.: greed, ego,
stupidity, etc. Throw in the fact that people just do not read poetry any
longer, poetry presses only publish cronies, lovers, or friends, and that the
only way to make money in poetry is by running a writing scam program, and,
well, it’s that dread cliché- a perfect storm.
AG: How long do (or did) you typically spend on a piece, e.g., a Seek
& Destroy essay? A film review?
DS: It’s been a while since I did an S&D essay, but the process is
the same for all essays: I get an idea or watch a film or read a book, then I
gather notes. I will compare my ideas with, perhaps, earlier criticism (backgrounding
the milieu the work originally appeared in), write a few drafts, proofread, and
it’s done. Depending on my work schedule, my state of being, the length and
the passion I feel toward the subject (pro or con), it can take anywhere from 90
minutes to a few hours’ (spread over a couple of weeks) worth of effort.
Occasionally Jessica will proofread a piece. I generally follow standard essay
techniques: opening statement/claim, recap of particulars of the art, analysis
of the execution, summation with opinion, often with a humorous asides. But,
depending on the work, sometimes I will craft an essay to reflect its subject.
My review of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film, L'Eclisse,
is a good example of this tack.
AG: Which of your critical essays has been the most popular? Have any
generated significantly above-average reader response, whether positive or
DS: As I type, on my stats
page, my most popular essay is my take on the Frank Capra film
It’s A Wonderful
Life. Quite soon my great
films list page will surpass it. The rest of my most popular pieces tend to
be social/political. The most popular interview is with cognitive psychologist Steven
Pinker, the most popular book review is of One
Man’s Wilderness, by Alaskan cult hero Dick Proenneke, although my
review of Pinker’s latest book may catch it some day. The most popular
poetry themed essay deals with Robinson Jeffers and the aforementioned metric
AG: A big part of your style is blunt criticism of major establishment
figures, particularly in Seek & Destroy. Do you ever find yourself
re-evaluating writers as you critique them, finding new (not necessarily better,
but different) points being made? Are there any figures whose work you've
softened on since writing about them?
DS: When you use objectivity as a tool in the critical arsenal, things
like re-evaluation are less apt to occur. The poet whose work I most
consistently find re-evaluating is my own, and almost always upward, for I am
FAR tougher on my own work than anyone else’s. If I had to sit down and
re-evaluate my own corpus, with a few years of hindsight, my total count of
great poems would likely rise from about 1020 into the 13-1500 range.
Unsurprisingly, since it is the most difficult to be objective about oneself,
it’s no shock that my own work would suffer from the most initial devaluation
and underestimation. But, after X amount of time, the poems are mine in name
only. The artist, in a sense, becomes the art- ala Shakespeare is not the corpse
under Stratford, but the best sonnets and plays. But each artwork seeks its own
stature. A true and great artist relishes in the act of creation at its finest,
not popularity nor acclaim. I do not believe in an afterdeath, so the fact that
my writings will exist after I’m gone is the measure of my stature as an
artist. Whether they were bylined as Izzy Metzenbaum, Anonymous, Dan Schneider,
or whomever, is really of no great concern. That said, it would be foolish of me
not to pride in knowing I made that great poem/essay/story/book, etc. Barring a
comet strike, the Internet will be close to eternal, which utterly changes the
longitudinal idea of artistic ‘influence.’ Society gets smarter, and, in
time, my work will have the same stature it would have whether I was a million
selling author, unpublished, or something in between. The cone of popularity and
influence opens for greatness, over time, whereas for bad art it is a closing
cone. As mentioned, there are bad artists and poets I enjoy, even love, but real
criticism does not include a emotional notion of ‘softening.’ Let me add,
just as there are different axes for excellence and likeability, so, too, is
good and bad criticism not to be conflated with positive or negative criticism.
A negative criticism can be good if on target, but bad if it praises garbage, or
is too emotional or intellectually insipid or nihil to convey its point.
Likewise, a positive piece of criticism can be good or bad, depending on its
I should also say that I
really am not ‘controversial,’ in terms of my criticism. That notion, of my
being controversial, got started due to a sensationalized story written in a
Minnesota arts rag in 1999. The writer’s words were twisted to the point
that he stopped writing there for a while, because he wanted to do a far more
favorable portrait of me, but they took the story away from him, and twisted
many of the incidents mentioned, to show me in what they felt would be a
‘bad’ light, for they suckled on the cliché of artists of merit needing to
be people with antisocial streaks. They also took photographs of me after I told
them not to. So, this is why I do not trust others with my words. There are
other examples of poor editing of works of mine, that have appeared on other
websites, that I could give, but it started with that story. But, as for being
‘controversial,’ is it really controversial to say Charles Bukowski was a
bad poet or that Steven Spielberg is a bad filmmaker? Of course not, and future
readers will wonder why all the fuss? My criticisms are not just correct, but obviously
correct. I’m not one into playing Devil’s Advocate, so if I take a stance on
some matter, it’s a well-informed, if not unassailable, stance.
AG: One thing you’ve lamented is the lack of good editing in modern
prose and poetry. In This Old Poem you sort of take up this charge pro bono for
already published writing, but have you tried to edit new, unpublished writers
as well? Can you see yourself fitting into that kind of mold?
DS: Andrew, Cosmoetica provides me an unparalleled opportunity to edit.
As mentioned, I have had, literally, hundreds of thousands of poems, stories,
and essays submitted to me, which I have read. Very few I publish, but often I
have sent a piece back with suggestions. More often than not the person reworks
the thing, and thanks me for my suggestion. Being a great editor and critic is
another thing that separates me from most artists- great or not. I fundamentally
understand what art is and how to achieve those aims, even if the artist’s
style or expression is not something akin to my work. I know how to maximize
their style and vision, to better reach their goals- whether or not that means
radically altering their work, or merely tweaking it. When I ran the Uptown
Poetry Group, in the Twin Cities, I helped edit many poems, many
manuscripts, and usually was appreciated for it. Even good and talented poets
usually fly by instincts they have only a vague idea of. This is why it’s so
difficult for them to maintain a level of excellence or better. They are
metaphorically tossing darts. They may be fairly good at it, but it’s still
dart tossing, not grasping their talents or the subject they have chosen. Not
surprisingly, there are writers I know who, despite knowing I will critique a
work of theirs if they ask, do not show me their stuff because they know I will
show them flaws they already suspect, but which may necessitate their changing
in ways they are emotionally bonded to. I don’t have such attachments. I have
ripped and raped works of mine when needed. The end result is all that matters,
and communicating with another being, maybe one not yet born and who will never
step foot on earth, is my goal. And, really, compared to that, does what I
‘feel’ really matter? That, in fact, would be a clear demonstration of ego
and arrogance, not merely admitting the manifest: that I am great at writing,
and have worked my ass off at it. That, and not my talent, is why I am great,
and that combination, plus my critical abilities, is why I am nonpareil, as far
as I know, in the history of writing, criticism, and editing. The best part,
though, is being able to set a standard that I know will some day be bettered,
for it affords me the luxury and knowledge of being a strong and vital link in
the drama of human creation.
AG: Who do you consider some of the best critics working today, either in
the mainstream press or otherwise?
DS: After me….(sound of frogs, not necessarily jumping into ponds);
there simply have never been great critics in literature, art, film; at least
that I know of, in English, or translated into it. I mean, look at merely the
most famous ones. Clement Greenberg was the champion of Abstract Expressionism.
1) He was a bad writer. 2) He was an intellectual lightweight. 3) He was an
aesthetic and financial fraud. I mentioned the trio of laughable poetry critics
earlier. Toss in doggerelist William
Logan, and, really, do you think any of the crap he’s spewn in high
profile reviews in major newspapers EVER gets to the core of the thing like my
essays do? As for film critics, I stand by what I uttered in another
interview I did:
OGM: Besides yourself, who’s your favorite movie critic to read?
DS: I don’t know about favorite. As I implied, there has NEVER been a film critic, thus far, whose general ideas on the art are worth reading years later. Andre Bazin was a bore, the New York centered film critics of the mid-20th Century were stolid, the Cahiers du Cinema crowd were laughably bad in their ideas and worse in their actual writing. Roger Ebert is a mediocre critic, at best, but a good wordsmith and film historian. Pauline Kael was a joke- no insight, no ability with words. Paul Schrader’s early writings are seemingly seminal, but at the level of a junior high schooler. James Berardinelli, whom I interviewed, is hit and miss, like Ebert, but even when a miss he’s not just pulling reasons out his ass. That counts for something. Ray Carney is likely the best, in terms of recognizing what is wrong with the industry, as a whole, although, again, he seems to let emotion sway him too much on certain films.
While there are no great
critics, there are unfortunately many partisans for religion, politics,
philosophies, but not a one that is simply art-centric. I’ve often stated that
if Dr. Mengele were a great poet I’d champion his sonnets while deploring his
person. The one does not diminish the other. Most critics cannot make this vital
and necessary rift between art and reality.
AG: Do you view your battle against the Lowest Common Denominator as
winnable? Do you feel the popularity of your site vindicates your view?
DS: In the long term, of course, it’s winnable. In fact, it’s
inevitable that my view will prevail, because all of human history shows
progress toward, as Lincoln said, the ‘better angels of our nature’:
intelligence, freedom, charity, etc. People in 2110, 2210, 2310, and so on, will
be far more knowledgeable, intelligent, and wise than we are, just as we succeed
those from 1910, 1810, 1710, and so on in those qualities. Time winnows down all
art to the best. In England, in the 1600s, as example, the publication of poetry
books was a booming industry- several thousand wannabes published their verse in
that century. Now, after Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, and perhaps Dryden, who is
recalled? And even amongst the best of them- Donne, there are only a couple
dozen of his poems worth cherishing. Do you think there’s a single MFA poet
with books published, today, that will be that lucky handful that is recalled in
3000 AD? I don’t. But, as mentioned, the cyber-archaeologists will reify then
deify people who today, are unknown, but have good and interesting websites and
blogs and works; and these are folks who are even far less well known than I am,
in certain cyber-circles. The Internet’s mass demoticism makes that
inevitable. Good ideas win out in the end; if not totally, then substantially
enough to make it well worth the effort to stand behind them and champion them.
In the short term, of
course, the answer is no. The numbers are against me, or anyone of great talent,
overthrowing the mass of a system. But, as Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure Of
Scientific Revolutions notes (and it is easily applied to the arts, as
well), such ‘systems’ usually rot themselves out. These systems are manned
by people who, historically, are microbes. Think of the 19th Century
Salonistas, though. Did they really stand a long term chance of keeping down the
great Impressionists? Time, great art, and intellect are with me. The curve
always catches up with the speeder.
As for the popularity of
this website, I noted this, in a recent review
of Robert Grudin’s latest work:
My own website, Cosmoetica, as example, rarely, if ever, ranks as highly on Google as it should, and this is mainly because I do not generate revenue for Google by plastering Google ads on my website. There are three known factors that determine website popularity: traffic (hits, page views, visitors, etc.)- which Cosmoetica does well on; linkage (links from other websites)- which Cosmoetica does poorly on, as many other arts websites refuse linkage; and the X Factor, which most Internet analysts believe comes down to payola. If you allow Google to plaster their ads on your website, or you buy other services from them, your site skyrockets in popularity.
I also discussed the ranking nonsense that ranking websites use, and like Google, if you ‘join’ their ‘system’ you rocket in popularity, according to them. Simply put, there is ZERO independent concrete way to measure popularity. This is because most browsers employ various cloaking devices, like Tor. So, different site meters can record different numbers of visitors, and often they are almost entirely discrete from each other. Let’s say I show 1000 hits on my plain old embedded counter. If I look up the stats on site meter A, It might show I only got 125 hits or views, or 1/8th the real traffic. Site meter B might show 300 hits, or almost a third. There might be only 25-50 IP #s (unique visitors) that show up on both site meters, meaning that the site meters missed most of each others’ recorded traffic, as well as the bulk of the traffic the site gets, which is cloaked by a browser’s defenses against cookies, bots, etc. The advantage to the old embedded counters is they catch almost everything, but they can give no details. The site meters’ only advantage is they can give a relative snapshot that tells me Cosmoetica is more popular, say, in Bhutan than in Mozambique. But they can miss up to 95% of the traffic a site gets. Thus, when you read that this or that website is the most popular in the world it’s just a good guess from amongst the top 20 or so usual suspects. I prefer plain old fashioned hits over page views, or other measures. If I get 1000 hits, I don’t care if it’s from 10 folks hitting 100 times each, or a 500 folks hitting twice. It’s the same net effect- a higher number of visitors means lesser enthusiasm per reader, and vice versa. I get almost zero inbound traffic from ads or links, it’s almost purely driven by web searches. There is a scam website called Quantcast, as example, which, when I stumbled upon their entry for my site, listed me as getting merely a fraction of the hits I actually get. But they do something stupid that gives their site away as a blatant scam: they claim to be able to tell someone things that there is ZERO chance of their knowing, such as the sex, age, and ethnicity of the site’s readership, and even the household income. It’s amazing people fall for such. I would guess that their stats on that score are as inaccurate as the actual popularity and traffic they claim to measure. After all, if their meters, or bots will miss up to 99% of traffic, can one really believe that 14% of my traffic is from blacks, or that $30-40,000 is the median income range of my readers? Is this because someone, before entering or leaving my site was on the Jet magazine website? Utter nonsense.
Here is how I would describe Cosmoetica’s place online. If
you have ever seen computer graphics that chart the most popular websites and
their relations to each other, it’s almost like looking at star maps of
galaxies. You have arts blogs, political blogs, personal networking sites, news
sites, porno sites, etc., all clustered into a few dozen galaxies, with a few
linking threads or websites with ties to the huge galaxies. Cosmoetica, in this
ideal, is not a galaxy, but a large solar system flying through the voids
between the galaxies. This is why it has a relatively large fanbase online, but
is disconnected and unknown in many circles. I get very little linkage from the
galaxies, or even their outliers. Also, even if I tally up the 8 billion or so
hits my 1400+ pages have generated, if one divides that on a per day basis, it
means I am getting a few hits per minute, on average. A website like Google, or
Wikipedia, gets thousands per minute, if not tens of thousands. I am big yet
small. The Internet is so vast a human project- easily the largest human
endeavor to date, that people cannot grasp popularity’s place in the relative
firmament. But, here is a good illustration. There was that homely British
singer, Susan Boyle, who sang well on a British television show. Worldwide, she
became a star because that video, alone, got over 300 million downloads in a 2-3
month period. At that time, Cosmoetica had about half that many hits on its home
page (a de facto good estimate of the actual number of visitors the site gets-
for they tend to pinball around the site and look at many pages per visit). In
short, it took me over 9 full years to achieve half the attention that this one
woman got from one night’s show’s video, watched over a fraction of the time
my site was online. That, more than any other example, illustrates why
Cosmoetica is relatively popular in its niche, but unknown by 98+% of websurfers.
Of the online arts audience, I may get .5% of the daily traffic, which makes me
among the handful of the biggest arts sites, but the other 99.5% of the audience
is split by 20 or more million arts websites. And that traffic is filled with
folks who have no clue Cosmoetica exists, in large part because I am viewed as
not willing to ‘play the game’ of networking and promoting bad art, because
‘bad art is better than no art at all,’ to then get more reciprocal
attention and publication for myself.
AG: When did you first get the idea for an in-depth series of print
interviews? You've named as models figures like William F. Buckley and Dick
Cavett, for asking meaningful questions and follow-ups to their subjects--when
did you get consciously fed up with the failings of contemporary mainstream
DS: I cannot pinpoint one specific bad interview, but the Oprahfication
of talk shows killed of the Phil Donahue/William F. Buckley type. There was this
bad interview, of poetaster Nikki Giovanni, by C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, that
made me want to vomit, because C-SPAN feigns quality, but there are many other
examples. Look at any magazine’s interviews. Even Playboy is not what
it was a few decades ago because there simply are not that many good thinkers. I
first thought of the DSI series
a few years before the first one was posted. I had done a radio program where I
co-hosted interviews with some prominent people. Unfortunately, the website that
hosted the interviews had no clue on how to promote the quality.
All of the interviews
succeed, even the few bad ones, because they individuate a person from all
others. If someone does not care to ponder or answer questions of depth, that
says as MUCH about them as the person who relishes the opportunity. I had hoped
the series could be monthly but there are not that many people worth
interviewing, and many who are do not want to do it, or say they will do it,
then dishonor their commitment. As example, Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut, was one
I wanted for the 50th anniversary of NASA, or the 40th
anniversary of the moon landing. But, like many older people, he simply does not
get the power of the Internet. He looked down upon a ‘mere website’
interview. So what did he do? He went on the Lowest Common Denominator
television show Dancing With The Stars. A real smart move, Buzz!
The lone error I made with
the series, which was corrected by the fifth interview, was asking too many
lengthy questions in a row. Most folk have little ability to cognitively handle
such, as either interviewee or reader. Since then I have spaced lengthy
questions between a handful of shorter ones, so the minds of interviewee and
reader, alike, can breathe more.
AG: What are you mainly interested in an interview? Humor, storytelling,
critical back and forth re: artists, bristling at possibly offensive questions,
or some combination?
DS: Well, I want someone with a good mind and a good life’s history or
career. Sometimes these are little known people who see the DSI as a way to get
bona fides. As example, Brad
Steiger, a paranormal writer, relished the opportunity to be in a select
group with names like Pinker, Daniel
Dennett, and Desmond Morris,
three huge names from the sciences. By contrast, some people, like Dennett, lack
any interest in the world beyond themselves and their pursuits. He lacked any
real humor, and showed no expansiveness. It was clear, even from my phone
conversation with him, that he viewed interviews as vehicles for promotion
rather than intercourse. Then there are the lesser interviews. Phillip
Lopate got pissy because I mentioned he wrote a bad poem, then sent back a
partial interview and asked to be paid- again, showing how old folks live in the
past. By contrast, Charlie LeDuff,
who’s shared in a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, answered a query on
plagiarism charges with grace. But, I had to point out both things- Lopate’s
bad poetry and LeDuff’s controversy, lest the interviews be mere puffery. If
the interviewee wants an ass-kissing puff piece they can go elsewhere. LeDuff
could handle it, Lopate was not mature enough to, and, then, if Edward
Hoagland is to be believed, Lopate was likely ‘the friend’ who
badmouthed me to him, which resulted in Hoagland’s bizarre interview, after I
went out of the way to accommodate the man. The sad thing is that, long after
Hoagland’s books are out of print, he will be known, but only as the schizoid
man who gave that bizarre interview to the great writer. The other two bad
interviews were with Patricia
Schroeder, who used the interview the way politicians do, and did herself an
intellectual disservice, and Lee
Papa, a political blogger, who had months to do the interview, sent it back
with huge chunks missing. I had to do serious editing to make it readable, and
in doing so answered some queries he posed, which showed the half-assed way he
answered it. He then accused me of not giving him the opportunity to reply, even
though he waited till the last minute to do the interview. He claimed he would
say he had not done the interview, so I was forced to post his emails detailing
his lies, to protect myself legally and ethically. Like others, he did not
realize the long term opportunity I afforded him, as the DSI series, still less
than two dozen interviews in total, is the most popular interview series in
online history. His outbursts, though, forced me to invoke a ratings system for
the interviews. All the other interviews range from good to great.
AG: What has the process of contacting authors been like--anyone
particularly difficult to reach? In the addendum to your Lee Papa interview you
mention Robert Bakker possibly being in the middle of the Gobi Desert--any more
stories like this one? Did the Bakker interview ever come in?
DS: If they have a website it’s easy. The big names often have
‘people.’ I hate people who have people. There are many folks who agreed to
be interviewed, then had their people cancel it because they were ‘too busy’
or something. One day I will write a book on the series, and call it The Art
Of The Interview. It will have snippets from the interviews as well as email
quotes. Bakker was one of those who committed to be interviewed, I suspect
largely because his rival, Jack
Horner, did so. Then he went off, and all attempts to reach him via
assistants and museums came to nil. He still has my interview document on his
laptop, probably, and maybe I’ll one day get it back from him. Others canceled
because of health considerations. One prominent political force in America
canceled after months of having my questions because he claimed he was an
intellectual fraud, and just a
petty provocateur. My questions made him realize he was worth nothing. The email
must have been sent after heavy drinking. Probably the guy who pissed me off the
most was Michael Shermer. I was going to interview him for the release of his
book, The Mind Of The
Market. I gave it a mildly positive review- good writing, ridiculous
ideas, and the man canceled, claiming other priorities- similar to what he had
done, some years earlier, when I wanted to interview him on the radio show.
Basically, I did not kiss his ass, either time, and he bolted. The book is
riddled with Libertarian fantasies, and my interview compared his ridiculous
beliefs to those espoused by people who believe in God, UFOs. Bigfoot, etc., and
I guess he did not like being shown as being as illogical as they are. Because
someone is well known does not mean they cannot be cowardly and hypocritical.
AG: Why do you think some interview subjects have been reluctant to
engage on the level of, e.g., Steven Pinker, who gave a series of in-depth
DS: The obvious answer is because Pinker is Pinker. His mind seethes with
ideas and a willingness to teach and dialogue. I have that same penchant. So do
other interviewees like Mark
Rowlands or Lem Dobbs.
Others are just pushing a product. They simply do not get that this series of
interviews is doing something never before done online, and rarely done before
Has the feedback you've gotten from interviewees on, for example, your
functionary/creationary/visionary intelligence division helped to refine your
own thinking, on this or any other subject?
It’s not changed my mind, but it does provide a parallax, between individuals,
and often between folks in the same fields. This is why I ask my ‘series
queries’- that is the same questions over and again- such as those on Thomas
Kuhn, the Three Intellects posit, the query on the decline of interviews in
serious culture, and the question on causality that invokes Genghis Khan.
Let me end this interview by thanking you for your good questions. Were they not as good these answers would have been far briefer. But, I wanted to give readers of this interview much fodder to chew on; to question everything- including my claims, but especially those claims of the people in the universities. There is much truth to the ‘those who can, do, those who can’t, teach’ adage. Finally, let me just add that writing is the highest of the general arts, and poetry is the highest form of writing. Why? It does the most with the least and is the most abstract art there is. Music and the visual arts have huge advantages. Written human language is about 6000 years old, whereas eyes evolved over 600 million years ago. That’s a huge head start and advantage in how to subliminally affect someone. Yet, poetry is always the standard by which quality is judged. Poets are not called songish nor photographic. But all the other arts, when complimented, are said to be ‘poetic.’ This is not randomly done. All artists need to prove their talents to their own limits; they owe it to themselves, not Mankind.
Unfortunately, we live in schizoid times- PC Elitists claim to want truth above all else, but if you admit you are good or great at something, you are called arrogant. Why? Then truth does not matter. Nor does it matter if you rip into an obviously bad thing. It’s not arrogant to be truthful. To deny something out of false modesty is wrong. The real arrogance comes from those who, as mentioned, give their word on something, then back out. Similarly, many artists like to make their art a sort of priesthood, so they foster criticism that vaults their ‘art’ away from the masses. I strive to bring both ends, and the middle, together. I am fully capable of understanding and creating abstruse creative and critical works, but I choose not to, because it does not serve the greater good of enlightening and entertaining as many folks as possible. The poseurs use technospeak, rather than explain why, for example, in music a certain sound that gets shrill, at a certain moment, rather than plangent, affects a listener a certain way. Or in film, they will talk about the type of lens used in a shot, rather than why the movement of the camera to or fro affects the viewer. It is this difference why, I suspect, you contacted me, and not them, to be interviewed.
Thanks, again, Andrew.
Return to Cosmoetica