Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Censored by the Publicly Funded Academy of American Poets

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Censored by the Publicly Funded Academy of American Poets

Article excerpt

All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of all censorships. There is the whole case against censorships in a nutshell.

-George Bernard Shaw

Of all entities eager to wield the sword of censorship, America's academic and literary institutions are by far the most shameful and perhaps even the most prolific in that endeavor. Over the years, as a professor and poet, I have tested the waters of free speech in the academic and literary milieu and, unsurprisingly, have become persona non grata and otherwise despised or ridiculed by professors and poets alike. Almost always, the excuses abound for restricting free speech and its corollary, vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy. Yet another incident serves to illustrate just how murky those waters tend to be.

The Academy of American Poets (AAP), chief sponsor of National Poetry Month, an event embraced by the nation's grammar schools, high schools, universities, and public libraries, banned me, a poet, from participating in its online forums. Cervena Barva Press sent an email announcing that poet Simon Perchik would be Guest Poet of the Month for the AAP and that comments could be submitted to Perchik online. Thus, I decided to examine the forum for the first time, discover what this "great poet" attorney had to say and, most of all, test the waters of democracy. First, I took a look at Perchik's website (, which, like most poet websites, contained no particular ideas or originality, just base self-vaunting: "Perchik is the most widely published unknown poet in America...."

The AAP forum included poems and an essay by Perchik, as well as a few entries made by other individuals and the moderator Larina Larwar. "These representative poems, Mr. Perchik, are poetic gems!" wrote participant Ike Vallon. "They are haunting, mysterious, mystical and powerful." "Simon is very interested in conversation about this essay," wrote Larwar. "Whether you agree or disagree, I encourage you to post your thoughts about it here." Thus, I posted an opinion, avoiding four-letter words and threats:

The poem is tedious, unoriginal, and lacking in RISK. It is the kind of poem no doubt favored by established-order literati and organizations. American poetry will simply get worse and worse and more and more conformist and herd-like if the established-order continues to keep its doors hermetically sealed to outside criticism and poetry that risks, risks the very ire of established- order literati. The backslapping, self-congratulating, and icon creating and worshiping must STOP! The absolute lack of questioning and challenging in the milieu must STOP! How many poets, created by the established-order machine, actually possess the individuality (as opposed to herd-conformity) to pose the simple question: Who were the judges who anointed Perchik Poetaster of the Month? How many poets, created by that machine, actually let their lives "be a counterfriction to stop the machine" (Thoreau) and dare "go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways" (Emerson)? For an alternative to Perchik's tediously bland essay, try

Interestingly, moderator Larwar had written the following to Perchik prior to my entry: "Now see ... I suckered you in here just so I could argue with you." Thus, it seemed baiting and "arguing" were not prohibited, though later in direct contradiction to her own statement of "suckered you in," Larwar sent me the Posting & Conduct Guidelines, which stipulated: "Do not bait or flame your fellow users...." In any case, from the four corners of the Academy of American Poets, as if suddenly called by the Pied Pier of Poetry, the entire moderator herd issued a brief response to my entry, a seemingly innocuous quote by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: "Poetry gives us knowledge. …

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