The Hook, HTMLGIANT and on Alan Cordle's blog. There are all sorts of allegations flying about, but what's clear is that VQR lost the plot a couple of years ago when editor Ted Genoways allowed belittling, offensive comments to be posted on the journal's blog about submissions they received. It was unprofessional and full of contempt for the audience, which is other poets. Depending on whose figures you believe, VQR's quarterly circulation is between 2,400 and 7,000 copies. A drop in the larger literary bucket. The blog post generated enough controversy that Genoways published a back-handed apology, where he complained that he and the editors were fed up with passionless writing. I read plenty of poetry that is passionless and inert, but I don't use my blog to humiliate other poets. It tarnished VQR's reputation, but with a $600,000 yearly budget, I guess the journal could afford to squander some of its literary cache.
Reading the VQR coverage, Anis Shavani's laughable "critique" of America's "overrated" poets and writers in the Huffington Post, and Justin Evans' blog post about how he received nasty comments from a grant panelist about a poem, which was accepted the next day for publication and showered with praise by an editor, once again raises the question of how you determine "good" and "bad" poetry. I've made the assertion before on my blog, and still believe it to be true, that it's impossible to lump poetry into nebulous, subjective words as simple as "good" and "bad." Some shitty sympathy card verse might make you back away in horror, while it brings others to tears. You can't invalidate someone else's emotions, even if you think -- and I know some of you do -- that average readers don't know the difference between "good" and "bad" because they are part of the uneducated masses. And if that's the case, doesn't that mean "serious" poetry -- the kind published in journals like VQR, The Paris Review and Poetry -- is just being written by academics for academics?
So, I have questions for all of you who read this blog: How we can get back to the pleasure of the art rather than the jockeying for position, awards and writing personal attacks masquerading as "literary criticism?" How do we set a larger place at the poetry table for those working outside the academy? How do we make the art of poetry interesting and compelling to the next generation that doesn't want an MFA or teaching gig? How do we take the insular and make it open?
As a postscript, I received the latest issue of The Writer's Chronicle yesterday. It fell open to the center spread with details about the 2011 AWP Conference and there were the same old faces being trotted out as the literary stars of the conference. The same ones that get trotted out year after year, and while I actually like a few of them, I'd like to see AWP champion some new stars. Why isn't Oliver de la Paz's photo there? Or Steven Reigns? Or C. Dale Young? Or Barbara Jane Reyes? Or Dan Vera? Or Jackie Sheeler? Or Karen Head? Or Reb Livingston? Or Denise Duhamel? Or Cecilia Woloch? Or Sarah Maclay? Or Charles Jensen? Why isn't David Groff and Philip Clark's Persistent Voices anthology of poets lost to AIDS being touted as a headline event? Why isn't the Saint Paul slam team, which won this year's National Poetry Slam, giving the keynote address? In my head I was screaming like Hawkeye Pierce in that episode of MASH where he become so fed up with the food in the mess hall that he climbs up on a table beating a spoon against a metal tray: We want something else! We want something else! You have nothing to lose but your cookies!