The Fat on the Fire of On-line Pooetry

Dealing with Personal Issues on Harriet


Tara Betts, ‘Arc & Hue’ (Willow Books, 2009)

CLICK HERE to read the whole article.

The following are some new comments on this article that have sparked off a lively exchange, one of the first really entertaining moments on Harriet for weeks.


CLICK HERE for more fun commentary, including Neruda’s e-mail address!

So why do poetry people post comments on-line anyway, and why specifically on Harriet? What do they get out of it?

And what was learned from the Like/Dislike debacle that so decimated the comments? Why didn’t Harriet lose all of its regulars in the process, I mean in addition to the four of us who got banned? And why did those who stayed on stay on, and why were there among them an on-line activist like Terreson so opposed to Poetry Board mismanagement? Or a poet as battered as Gary B. Fitzgerald (-4 just yesterday!)?

And who else would you like to talk about?


  1. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 9, 2009 at 2:35 am

    There are two distinct communities that are served by Harriet, it seems to me. The largest by far consists of the poetry professionals, some of them retired, some of them still in graduate school, but all of them feeling their status demands that they keep an iron in the fire. The really big threads like Martin Earl’s, Joel Brouwer’s, Annie Finch’s, and of course Eileen Myles’ are filled with these careerists, and one of the reasons the exchanges are lively is that the tensions between the various schools of poetry are hot, and of course, nobody ever let’s go either — think Bill Knott! And this is good too, as long as the management doesn’t interfere in the natural process — which it did very much when it introduced those awful thumbs as a result of which our own Thomas Brady got banned.

    The other community is special interest, and at the moment Barbara Jane Reyes is the most successful at attracting them. It’s no accident that Scarriet has featured a number of her articles, because of course our objective is to help to reform Harriet, and by indicating what we find healthy and exciting we may be able to help the Harriet management to get itself back on track. I personally find Barbara Jane Reyes articles very fertile because I live in South East Asia, and I find the poets she introduces, whatever their provenance, always illuminating and genuinely on fire. What a treat!

    The interesting thing is that I wouldn’t place Eileen Myles in the special interest category exclusively even though she does have her special admirers who share her persuasions — and of course, she’s very attractive! But in every post she dares to go into areas that defy analysis, political, for example, even economic, and if a topic catches fire it very soon attracts a much wider, general audience. I loved her free-wheeling discussions, and am so grateful to her for being willing to make terrible mistakes. Boy I’ll miss her!

    There’s also a special interest group that is cultist, in a sense, and Travis Nichols puts up articles specifically for them. They want to be young and on the edge, whether or not they are in their persons. They want shocking new images, witty, borderline, suggestive, and they love to talk about the very newest poetry fashions and gossip the fashionistas in the pop-poetry world to hell. But at the same time they’re very sensitive to any suggestion that their interests have any other implications. They simply don’t want to explore language, for example, or explore their own discourse, and I certainly got burnt for wading into their territory with my metaphors. Indeed, that’s how I became “Cowpatty Hammer!”

    Christopher Woodman

  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 9, 2009 at 6:18 am

    For what it’s worth, since the beginning of October on Harriet there have been:

    1.) 14 articles;

    2.) 28 posters;

    3.) 63 comments;

    4.) 19% of the posts were by just 2 posters, 12 by Gary B. Fitzgerald and 10 by Terreson;

    5.) The longest single posts since the beginning of October were 555 words (Julie Patton) and 429 words (Terreson).The only other good sized post was 284 words (Terreson). The remainder were 150 words or less.

    6.) 85% of the posts were 50 words or less.

    Thomas Brady and Christopher Woodman in their hay-day never remotely approached 19% of any total. And in any case, so what if they did? Bill Knott posted 18% of the total posts all alone on the Hayden Carruth thread, 46 out of a total of 255 comments on a single thread, and it was heavenly!

    After the warning he received from Travis Nichols on July 10th, Thomas Brady voluntarily never exceeded 500 words in his posts – a measure he told me he felt was both foolish and easy.

    So does Harriet feel healthier now, pruned down like this? Is it more vibrant? More diverse and tolerant? Friendlier? A richer resource? More valuable?

  3. poetryandporse said,

    October 9, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    It feels oddly mellow, to be an outsider looking in, reading what less familiar-with-po-biz readers looking to dump, can frame as the gulag of little love lost between a variety of oddballs lobbing in their plays of short exchange, which says it all: silent now the triumvirate of Brady – Swords and Woodman has been ousted by paranoia and suspicion on behalf of one oddbell getting it wrong, now his master-play has run its mob, mainstream, unchallenging mentality of the handy red and green course.

    The problem with the fauxrum, we were informed, was the three of us as inhibiting intellectual agents stopping debate breaking out, between one-line foets posting there – who blamed – before we got slung – Brady, Swords and Woodman; for the absence of a flourishing po-biz Love the arty American poets alleged, was down to the honest writing of us three.

    They wrote most when exchanging with us, in written debate: about if we were writing too much, and as a result of this, putting them off writing their own masterpieces.

    Now we are no longer there, not interfering with the flow, their claims are proved wrong, and everyone knows this is actually the case, embarrassingly so.
    I was as surprised as everyone else, at how it played out, chaps. The obvious Truth seems that now we’re off the most ‘official’ field of play – the ‘poetry’ the oddballs were claiming as their own area of nous, has sprung here on this blog.


    Now Here Man

    Where’s the real now here y’all
    Writing here for Scarriet
    Making all our now-here plans

    Don’t you have a form to bill
    Know not why your blog it wilts
    Isn’t it a lot like po-e-try

    No bells Div, please listen,
    You can read what there’s missing,
    Now here Div, the word is at our command!

    You can read that poetry
    Is no longer fauxetry,
    Onward div, come you can read it all?

    Nowhere Div, we lovers
    Take our time, don’t worry
    Leave it all till somebody else
    lends us a hand!
    Now here trav please listen,
    y’all know what you’re missing
    on here trav, the word is what we command!
    you’re a real boring div,
    unexciting little boy
    covets all our clever lines
    for no bells N

    Desmond sWords

  4. thomasbrady said,

    October 9, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Cowpatty, those numbers say it all.

    When Myles doesn’t post, and Gary and Tere don’t comment, there’s less than one comment per article.

    Even so, three comments per article.

    John O’Connor, the HS teacher, brings some pedagogical interest, and that’s a good thing.

    I hope I didn’t scare Amber away.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    October 9, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    O, Travis Nichols, please listen… LOL

    Nowhere Man.. Good one…

  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 10, 2009 at 7:25 am


    So I guess this is as good a place as any to share with you the letter I received from Travis Nichols on July 14th, 2009. He was informing me that I was being put on “Moderation,” which meant that from then on until I was banned altogether on September 1st, all my posts would be censored, and in fact almost 20 of them would eventually be deleted. [The emphasis in the following is mine.]

    Dear Christopher,

    As you know, your comments to Harriet have been put on moderation. This is
    because your comments to a number of posts have become increasingly
    off-topic and abusive.
    The email I sent to you about the forthcoming change in comment format was not relevant to Joel Brouwer or Martin Earl’s posts,and your repeated attempts to divert threads toward that subject, as well as your abusive emails to the Poetry Foundation staff, lead me to believe I cannot rely on your own ability to comment in accordance with the Poetry Foundation policy.

    I’ve approved the comments in moderation that deal with the topics at hand.
    When we make the formatting change, we will post about it. That will be the
    time and place to express your opinions about the subject.

    Your comments will remain in moderation for the time being. Because of our
    time difference, that will mean a delay in the appearance of comments made
    after Central Time working hours. If you continue to violate the comment policy, and if you continue to send abusive emails to the staff, your use of the site will be restricted further.

    I enjoy the discussions on Harriet, and I hope you can continue to be a part
    of them.

    Travis Nichols

    Travis Nichols
    Associate Editor
    Poetry Foundation


    By way of contrast I received the following e-mail from a much respected member of the Harriet community — who also sent a copy to Travis Nichols:


    Dear Christopher,

    Let me just say that I think everyone will agree that your comments are invariably gracious and respectful. I expect that Harriet wants to encourage a greater number of commenters to post, and capping the number and frequency from each person is one way to make that happen. It is nothing personal to you, as I am sure you recognize.

    I know your comments will continue to be gracious and perceptive, at whatever length and frequency you post, and I very much look forward to continuing to read you on Harriet.

    all the best,


    I also received the following at the same time from another highly respected member of the Foundation community:


    I agree wholeheartedly with XXXXXX … [I am tremendously grateful for the courage of the individuals who supported me, and will not compromise their identities. Should I quote more of the letter the identity and role of the writer would be obvious.]



    The accusations about abusive comments and abusive e-mails to staff along with hi-jacking threads are wholly fabricated. This was also the last communication I ever had from Travis Nichols despite repeatedly asking him for clarification. After September 1st I knew I was banned because I was unable to post anymore at all — as simple as that.

    Will anybody at The Poetry Foundation ever take responsibility for this very terrible management, what is more offer an apology?

    And what would I see as the best solution to the problem?

    a.) Lift the Like/Dislike mechanism;

    b.) Lift the ban on Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords, Alan Cordle, and myself;

    c.) Draft a letter of intention including a new ‘Code of Conduct’ and e-mail it to all participants;

    d.) Continue with the intention to make Blog:Harriet the best poetry discussion site in America — because it was up until the middle of July!

    Easy, free, creative, worth a Nobel!

    Christopher Woodman

  7. poetryandporse said,

    October 10, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Totally lying through his back teeth.

    I enjoy the discussions on Harriet, and

    I hope you can continue to be a part of them.

    He hopes you can still be a part of them, now that he has restricted you.

    He wrote a similar transparently laughable bit of amateur exchange, when he said that he would

    hate to lose you
    : i.e, me, from the blog he is the one boy executive no bells on.

    And when he signs off

    Travis Nichols

    And the authoritative Title

    Associate Editor
    Poetry Foundation.

    This is what I got:

    “Dear Desmond,

    As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there have been some commenters voicing
    displeasure at the length and frequency of your comments on Harriet. While their tone is a bit off-putting, the content of their grievances brings up a prescient point. We’re working on changing the format of comments in order to keep the threads welcoming to the general readership, so I thought I’d write to you and a few other frequent contributors now to give you some advance notice of what’s coming.

    While the comment policy will remain the same–and I very much appreciate
    your cordial compliance with it–we are implementing some formatting changes soon that will involve limitations on length and frequency of comments from the same IP addresses. In order to keep from having your comments moderated in the future, it would help if you moderated your own posts now.

    I would advise trying for more concise comments, and commenting less often. Your thoughts are a valuable part of the Harriet community, and I would hate to lose them outright, so please take these ideas under consideration as you participate in the coming weeks. Let me know if you have any questions.

    Thanks for your time and attention!

    Best wishes,



    I thought

    what a lot of dishonest rot this div is trying to con me with. On a chat gaffe about poetry, people are displeased. He tells me I am a valued poster, and then advises me to write less often because he would hate to lose my contributions.

    Totally transparent attempt. His real feelings, the exact opposite of what he claims in his writing.

    I wrote back to him, at first writing a screed about freedom of speech, laying out what I thought, but didn’t send it after it occurred to me to just return a minimal amount of text, as the score between us is that he wrote to my e mail address, the first time, to contradict something I said on the blog. The first time I had heard of the bore.

    I didn’t write back.

    The next time, was the above e-mail, and this is what I wrote back, with the e-mail headed ‘Thank You Very Much’

    An Chara.

    Thanks very much Travis for Harriet being so generous and understanding and for having allowed me to reach where i am.

    The word limit is no problem at all.
    What’s the time frame of this please Travis?

    Anyway, I’m ready for action above the line, a bore for hire and would love to
    write for your blog in an official capacity please, but no probs if it’s a
    no noo, one can only fish.

    thank you very much


    To which he replied

    Hi Desmond,

    Thanks for writing back. I’m not sure yet on the time frame, but I’ll make a public announcement when the new changes are going to take place. Just thought you’d want a heads up.

    I appreciate your thoughtful responses to the posts.

    Best wishes,


    When i got this, i realized the div was relieved, and thought i was being sincere and fallen for his attempted con, of trying to pretend he valued my contributions and would hate to lose them. He just wanted to be my pal, but couldn’t control his jealousy, because he is not in any way, poetical in the genuine sense of exhibiting a desire to have fun in language.

    Language for this idiot is all about control and fear, trying to make it sound reasonable, the displeasure and grievances of people who get upset when talking about — what, their job, their spouse, family — what — poetry?

    Get real. If poetry makes you unhappy, you are doing the wrong thing.

    What I didn’t send was what I had initially written:

    “I understand about the moaners, but many don’t even realise what they are doing is essentially born from a jealous impulse, attempting to suppress freedom of speech. I mean: this is poetry, right? not gun toting in Afghanistan and ordering the natives about in their own home on pain of death?

    Naturally i find it humorous, but sad really, as we are a long time dead and what we say now makes now happen. For people to get caught up in thinking that I am stopping them fulfilling their conversational potential, because they are not happy themselves, it’s anti-intellectual, and not how artists in the higher sense of writing for Love, rather than to be told off by other depressing straights without poetic talent, behave.

    When one is doing it for Love, love cannot be silenced or proven wrong by a voice impelled by jealousy and hate.

    But I knew it would just wind him up, sending my honest thoughts, so I had a laugh, going OTT, and making sure he got 2/3 less text than he had sent me.

    Childish, but it shows that American poetry today is in very very short supply. He was pulling every stroke in the book, and broadcasting the fact that promoting poetic exchange was not something he was familiar with.

    A faux poet.

  8. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 10, 2009 at 9:55 am


    Here’s my very last attempted post on Harriet dated August 27th, 2009. It remained invisible for 3 days, and then on September 1st suddenly vanished along with everything else of mine “awaiting moderation.”

    I was replying to some forceful but appropriate support from Desmond Swords and Alan Cordle — you can draw your own conclusions:


    I do appreciate the support, Desmond Swords and Alan Cordle, and I do hear your impatience. My own way would not have been the same. I would have hung in there for as long as it took. I would have hung in there until I persuaded the management that though my voice was an uncomfortable one nobody would ever need to be afraid of me. I would have shown that. Because take a look, I’ve always been consistent, and always spoken my very own truth without daggers or expletives. Indeed, I’ve never raised my voice, not once, and would never have done so.

    Now you’ve raised my voice for me in a sense, Desmond and Alan, and made it much more difficult for me to sound anything but shrill.

    All I can say is that we are not a party, these two guys and and myself (Oregon, Dublin and Thailand!), just share the same conviction that the Foundation is a public service endowed by a great woman with a vision that poetry was for humanity, and that everyone deserved to partake of the balm, to be healed.

    Now I suspect we’ll all be shut out.

    On the other hand, what an opportunity. Why can’t we rise above this and say, “Hey, poetry sans frontieres?” Why can’t we decide to form a sort of United Nations of Poetry, and make Harriet it’s Forum?

    I say we step back a few paces, laugh a bit, and start it all over again. Like Cathy, let’s have a poem you like. Let’s talk about poetry again!

    POSTED BY: CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN ON AUGUST 27, 2009 AT 10:27 AM [that URL is where it would have been had it not been deleted. You can see by the time and date.]


    And I still feel the same way, I still feel it’s not too late for Harriet to turn back and make a fresh start. Yes, it’s going to take some courage to come out and say, yes, we took a wrong turn, we tried to control things in a way that turned out to be bad for the blog, and we do apologize to the victims.

    But the alternative is much worse, not only to live with a crippled Blog:Harriet but with a stained Poetry Foundation.

    That really has to be the bottom line.

    Christopher Woodman

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