SOMETHING ABOUT MARY: Atlanta's alternative weekly paper Creative Loafing published a column by Mary Grabar, Ph.D in last week's edition that attacked the Java Monkey Speaks Slam, liberals receiving arts grants and the poets who perform there each week. A quick Google or Yahoo search will cough up more of Mary's right-wing musings on why college campuses are nothing but hotbeds of "anti-Americanism." She's an Ann Coulter I said in my letter to CL in response. Apparently, Mary has applied to be CL's ombudsman. Perish the thought. Since CL chose not to put her column online, I retyped it here, along with my response. Who loves ya, Mary?

Are poetry slams for liberals only?

By Mary Grabar

As a writer and college teacher, I have been heartened to see all the poetry events taking place around Atlanta.

But I have also been disheartened by the type of "poetry" that has become popular and have felt distinctly unwelcome at such events.

I am talking about poetry slams, particularly one at Java Monkey, which drew a past-capacity crowd April 10. At that slam a team was selected to go off to the national finals in New Mexico in August. The funds for the trip come at least in part from the Fulton County Arts Council and the DeKalb Council for the Arts, which support the effort through grants to Poetry Atlanta. Funding is provided by taxpayers, but, based on my experience, only poets of certain political and ideological stripe need apply.

I did not attend the particular slam but have attended others at Java Monkey. There is the rare poem read at one of these, but for the most part what is presented is a host of political (leftist) and personal grievances. The focus is performance, not substance. Thomas Bell's description in last week's issue of Creative Loafing of the event as a "crowd-pleasing, highly competitive gladiator grudge match" fits.

Those who do not share the political opinions assumed by the host and performers and seconded by the audience are allowed in at this public event. But I doubt my views would be welcomed by this in-crowd of the art world. I have found myself similarly out of place in other artistic and academic forums. Jokes about Bush are freely made in faculty offices and mailrooms. I know a philosophy professor who wore a Kerry button to his class on Election Day. The assumption is that if you are at a place or an activity concerned with the humanities, you are liberal down the line. Or, those who are smart and artistic are always politically liberal.

Ironically, there is much self-congratulatory talk at such events and places about "diversity," as there was in that article about the poetry slam and the other articles in CL. Those in charge trip over each other looking to include those of different skin tones and brag about the "diversity" around them. But diversity that is no visible, such as other European ethnic cultures (such as my own as an immigrant from Slovenia) or another political view, is not welcome. I have yet to find a grant or job application form with a box for my particular "minority" group.

But because I have blue eyes and white skin doesn't mean that I come from a privileged class. Because I voted for George W. Bush doesn't mean I agree with his positions 100 percent. For example, I disagree with some of his environmental policies, yet I don't think the socialist model will work. Think about the less-than-pristine state former communist countries were left in. (I wish the billionaires for Kerry - including Kerry himself - would use their money to buy some unspoiled land and set up a camp for immigrant kids, and a writers' retreat for those like me - writers and Ph.D.s who scramble with several part-time jobs and can't find a stretch of time to finish that novel.)

Imagine if I sported a Bush button amid the various open displays of Bush hatred that one sees among the literati. (I don't think they're deliberately being mean, just that they assume no one there would disagree.) It's symptomatic of what is going on in the world of literature, in universities where it is studied and promoted through a liberal political lens. Art that is supported with publics grants is the art that takes a decidedly leftist political position when it does take a political position. The judges are largely leftists. And at poetry slams, much of what is presented is loud, overtly political diatribe. It's revolutionary rhetoric taken from the streets to the coffee shops. The crowd cheers in unison. Imagine someone getting up on the stage at Java Monkey and presenting a message attacking Democrats.

I am not advocating equal time for poetry that takes a position from the right. It would also be street theater and not poetry. I doubt that any funds from public coffers would support it.

The problem is larger. Poetry is an art from and a craft. Like a musical instrument, it requires study and practice. Yet it is the one art form that many assume they can pick up and do on a whim. And if these overnight "poets" express the right views, they can get an audience at a slam. But poetry involves contemplation. Its purpose is to enable us to see nuances, complexities, beauty, and the wonder of what it means to be human. It enables us to see what is universal in human nature, what connects us all.

But we are losing the ability to sit quietly and contemplate. Forms of multimedia - such as CDs on which slam poetry is published - have invaded our lives. Multimedia are used to instruct eve young children. Graduate students analyze it for dissertations. But few and fewer of us read poetry or any kind of literary works. Instead we are drawn like flies to rapid-fire images, shouts and gestures - the tools of demagoguery.

Mary's column is all over the place ain't it? Too bad she can't get a refund on that Ph.Duh. Apparently, no one told her there is no such thing as "slam poetry." It's not a form, just a competition. Poor Mary is just continuing to propagate misconceptions. If this isn't the ranting of a bitter academic poet, I don't know what is. What really pisses me off is that she used Java Monkey as an example to further her own fascist point of view. This woman may have been to Java Monkey once...maybe. I've been there almost every Sunday and never seen her. Maybe she showed up last fall before the election when the poetry was very political, but those pieces are few these days. Mary says it all when she claims to have not attended the big slam last week. A journalist mouthing off about something she knows absolutely nothing about just gives good journalists a bad name. Tsk, tsk, Mary.

Here's my letter to the editor of CL in response:

Dear Editor,

Reading Mary Grabar's "Creative Loathing" piece last week, you would have thought someone was trying to disconnect a feeding tube or perform a gay marriage at the Java Monkey Speaks Slam rather than perform a little poetry. I've been reading at Java Monkey almost every Sunday night for two years and don't remember Mary ever getting up to read her poetry. Perhaps she's been too busy seething with conservative rage to actually brave the microphone.

Mary paints Java Monkey with a large red brush, further proof that her visits have been few and far between. With more than a dozen poets reading each week, the work ranges from traditional forms (is a villanelle too abstract for you, Mary?) to more hip-hop oriented "performance" poetry. The poets who performed during the last slam worked just as hard -- maybe harder -- to perfect their work for presentation. The performers and winners of the slam are far from being "overnight poets." That's a cheap shot only a closed-minded academic could make, despite her claims to the contrary. Maybe that Ph.D is blocking her view of the evolution of poetry, since slams have been around for almost 20 years.

Her rant against the Java Monkey slam strikes me as having deeper roots. What's really eating Mary Graber? Choose one:

A) She's a bitter poet who has never received the recognition she thinks she deserves.
B) She believes liberals who criticize our current president should be banned from receiving arts grants, especially since she's never received one.
C) She's an Ann Coulter-wannabe.
D) All of the above.

Don't worry, Mary. If Creative Loafing passes you over for the ombudsman job, maybe they'll let you edit Coulter's column over at The Sunday Paper.

Collin Kelley
Atlanta, GA

As a side note, an ombudsman (as defined by The American Heritage College Dictionary) is someone who investigates complaints and mediates fair settlements, esp. between aggrieved parties. Oh, Mary...I wish you luck.


Anonymous said…
Rupert here - Nicely done - glad you were a "bad cop" because my letter was more in the "good cop" vein - hopefully several will get printed and we can whup up a java controversy - pie sales will skyrocket!
Anonymous said…
I can't stop laughing. Poor old Mary just didnt know what she was getting herself into did she?


This is great. And thanks for posting the article.

What a nutcase!
shamanic said…
I sent them a shortened version of this post. They wrote back to say they want to run it.
shamanic said…
The more I read this piece, the more I have to agree that it really is all over the place. She doesn't like socialism, but that damn market rewarding leftist overnight poets really sucks! I wish Kerry and other billionaires would buy up pristine land and house refugee children there! And I'm uncomfortable at Slams!

Why doesn't she start her own? Hold it in a coffee shop in Alpharetta. Promote it through people and events that skew conservative. Apply for grant funding to take your team to the '06 Nats. Quit whining. It isn't as though Kodak Harrison is the only person on planet earth ever to successfully shepherd a Slam team to Nats. Sheesh.
There is so much to say here, I am speachless. So I think she apologized for being white, but noted that she is also as poor as she assumes minorities are, she asked John carry to set up an interment camp for immigrants, and I guess she's writing a novel.

What this has to do with the price of tea at the slam, I'm just not sure.

Thank you Collin for pointing it out and addressing it so eloquently. I hope the response of some people who have been to the event make it into the Loaf too.
Anonymous said…
Lisa Allender here---good heavens!This Mary should do herself a favor & actually come out & LISTEN--Collin is dead-on when he says you'll hear a variety of work at Java Monkey--it's THE place for Poetry...
I think you're right, Collin, this chick IS an Ann Coulter wanna-be.
David Herrle said…
I think Mary made some valid points (from her POV, of course). She probably has experienced obvious discrimination - or at least snubbing or snotty looks. It happens to straights and gays, from straights or gays.

Why do I give her the benefit of the doubt? Because, one, humans tend to be tribal and politically snobbish and two, if Mary were gay and made such a fuss, she'd certainly get nods and support. I've met/encountered territorial, snotty gay folks before - and some of their events are exclusive (which is fine).

Yes, Mary goes from spiel to spiel. Maybe she should rewrite it for a meandering slam piece. :)

Her quips about minority stuff doesn't seem that bad to me. We're free to bitch about perceived/real disparities, after all. Heck, I'm a pretty unhip, unpopular being: a straight white male without tattoos! Hahahaha!

Speaking of worldviews, etc., remember Kennedy? That nerdy but sexy woman who used to host some show on MTV back in the 1990s? I dig her. She's a cool, outspoken philosophical-libertarian Republican.

Found a neato exchange with Kennedy. She reprimands the administration/some Republicans near the end. Give it a peek. Curious to see what folks think:
David Herrle said…
Hmm. Try this link:
David Herrle said…
Hahahaha! I JUST checked my email and received this bulk message event ad from a pittsburgh poetry ring:

"The Pittsburgh Progressive Queer Organizing Committee(PQOC) is
organizing an event for May 19th (8pm-11pm)at Modernformations on
Penn . The event "Your Silence Will Not Protect You" will feature
Queer/Ally Poets,Spoken Word Artists, and other cultural performers
as well as veterans of the Queer Liberation Movement."

Synchronicity, folks! :)
Anonymous said…
Collin, you know I'm pretty damn left, but doesn't the "fascist" Mary have a point? Java Monkey IS super-liberal, and although we'll listen to conservative pieces, we'll usually respond to it with unenthusiastic "golf claps", while what really "gets the audience" as she said, are the liberal, Bush-bashing pieces. Is she so far off on that account? --Kristi Kontak
Collin Kelley said…
You totally miss the point of her column. She's trying to cut off public funding, she's a lousy journalist and she's right-wing conservative who wants to stop freedom of speech. Google and read some of her other ramblings. Mary Grabar has been to Java mabye once...and she probably did come back in the fall when emotions were running high during the election. She's judging the venue and everyone who goes there by one visit that pissed her off. So, no, I don't think she's right at all.

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