Eratosphere: The Response to "Erato, Speared"
by Michael R. Burch, editor of The HyperTexts
I asked several poets to comment on my poem "Love Has a Southern Flavor," my essay "Erato,
Speared" and my banishment from Eratosphere for having the audacity to speak freely on my own website. Here are the responses
I've received to date:
"Ah, Mike, I am afraid I must strongly disagree with your detractors. This [poem] is exceptionally charming, in my humble opinion.
Perhaps that is the problem!"—Jennifer Reeser, commenting on "Love Has a Southern Flavor"
In a follow-up email, after I asked Jennifer the advice she would give
younger poets, Jennifer wrote, "My son and I were just discussing this today. He wants to buy a book of poetry
for his girlfriend, for Valentine's Day, something romantic. I told him that,
sadly, most of the contemporary poets I know are afraid to be 'unabashedly and
enthusiastically romantic,' as you say. But what might appear to be a weakness
might actually be your strength. My best advice is 'Consider the source' when it
comes to critique, first. Know who your critics are. Anyone can spout on an
Internet poetry board, in particular (where, I might add, you also never can be
sure of the person's state of mind at the time. I have had major writers under
the influence of alcohol and drugs, tell me I had no talent whatsoever!). Also, there is a phenomenon known as
'crabs in a bucket,' with which you are likely familiar, in which whatever raises itself from the level is immediately
pulled down. The objection to Dixie, I think, is a prime example. It is one of
the things which elevates this poem out of triteness, so not surprising that it
would be latched-onto, and pulled down, immediately. Hope this helps."
George Held wrote, "I just finished reading your essay ['Erato, Speared']
and am impressed by your knowledge of poetry in English. Are you a professor? I
have nothing to add, because your essay is so comprehensive and offers a strong
defense of freedom in practicing the art of poetry. Maybe the issue is less
WCW's dictum than your critics' lack of a sense of humor. Your sonnet is
ironical and tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps the critics are tone deaf. Perhaps
they are also anhedonic. Worst of all, they might not be capable of love. The
main reason that some people reject the idea of love and its use in a poem might
be their disappointment in love, and the way Valentine's Day (so near) has been
commercialized has done love a disservice. But I am a lover in love with my
loving wife, so I know what love can feel like. Still, I love (mea culpa) your
sonnet even though its closing imagery brings it down to the muck, a healthy
acknowledgment of love's mean foundation ('where love has pitched his tent,' as
David Alpaugh wrote: Mike, [I] went back and read "Love Has a Southern Flavor" again with delight and find the reaction of the
Eratosphere-ers absurd! Pound said we should "go in FEAR of abstractions" not DROP them. Poetry (with the exception of the purely
narrative) MUST have an abstract element. Poetry filters the concrete through the abstract and the abstract through the concrete as you do
with LOVE and honeydew and clematis and fireflies, etc. The art is in the way in which concrete and abstract are balanced. Has anyone noticed
that "no ideas but in things" is just about as ABSTRACT a statement as possible? Nothing to see, feel, smell, taste, touch there!
Without the abstract opening statement "So much depends upon" the Williams wheelbarrow would have gone nowhere. Nothing, in fact, has
been more destructive for poetry than the "show don't tell—be concrete" advice. Those who take it seriously end up writing
Karen Kelsay wrote, "I like your poem and some words in the English language are actually meant to be USED. That's what I think."
Michael Ferris wrote, "Very erudite essay, Mike. I’m really sorry it came to all that."
Dr. Joseph S. Salemi said, "Your essay was NOT anywhere near a 'trashing' of the site...it was merely a criticism (couched in
non-offensive language) of the aesthetic views of certain members. The idea of you being 'banned for life' as a result of expressing a
civil opinion on your own website is shocking."
Russell Bittner in an email compared Eratosphere to Gazebo, which has also experienced
problems with uncivil posts (Gazebo's head moderator, Christine Potter,
wrote an article titled "Keeping the Poets Civil" for The Writer).
Another poet suggested that the powers-that-be at Spheroidsville (as he amusingly refers to Eratosphere) consider the advice of Robert Frost:
"Always give a fellow another chance when he behaves badly, and still another chance after that. Never draw a line beyond which you
won't allow a friend or anyone else to go. It is the mark of a small mind to draw the line anywhere." [From page 12 of The
Letters of Robert Frost To Louis Untermeyer, first edition, published in Canada by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1963.] The same poet
went on to say that my essay
"...seems to describe perfectly the kind of mentality I've seen myself prevailing at that peculiar
haunt. Their radically disproportionate, quite ferocious response to what
basically was no more than a reporter's speculation as to why certain
remarks were made in a conversation suggests to me they are very far indeed
from possessing anything like balanced judgment."
"...One thing they surely are is 'triggerhappy,' and perhaps also
'power-crazed.' They seem instantly to slap the largest penalties on
anyone insufficiently allegiant to either their modus operandi or their
august membership. The disproportionateness of their responses is what's
telling, to me at least. Rather like imposing life sentences on
first-time disturbers of the peace. One would not like to see them as
judges. Everyone would be in jail, for anything at all they might have said
or done to displease the autocrats in charge. They would be locked away
without a hearing, too. No room for a defense where high-handed judges can
decide everything unilaterally. The mentality of Spheroid officialdom is,
in a word, totalitarian."
Here's a letter I received from Sally Cook:
During the latest dustup you have been both thoughtful
and civil both in your questions and your comments. This current cry you now
hear for people to be “civil” in their discourse is in truth an attempt to
muzzle or otherwise direct speech.
I was involved in the cutting edge of the art world
during the time that Wolfe wrote his book “The Painted Word”. This book is an
excellent summation of what happened to what used to be called painting. Wolfe
reacted to the loss of both beauty and meaning in the arts.
Gradually, this elimination of beauty has spread
throughout the culture. Instead of being direct and to the point, Conversational
style is now cheap, pointless and superficial. There are so many things we are
warned off from discussing; most of these have laws that protect them! Museums
are now monuments to architects and museum directors. Even in fashion, all women
wear pants as a sort of asexual uniform. Most women’s clothing, like work shirts
that have been washed too often, is mis-sized, baggy and comes only in drab and
faded colors. Shoes are clunky. Even media role models don’t comb their greasy
Poetry is choking from a lack of a deep breath; art is
ugly and demands definition from the viewer. Life is proscribed in all the
important ways. Demanding that you be “civil” in such an atmosphere is quite a
Your poem “Love Has a Southern Flavor” is lovely, and
that’s a good thing. Perhaps the reason some people object so vociferously to
the word “love” is that they have never experienced such an emotion, or anything
close to it. The inaccurate use of the word “cloying” in reference to this poem
is only meant to express the writers’ prejudice against a South of which they
know nothing, and is fueled by outdated popular clichés concerning it.
Naturally you have been peremptorily considered
“uncivil”. Anyone would be who dares to disagree with a tight group of
And your assessment of the more vociferous of the poets
at Eratosphere is quite accurate. The more unfortunate of them have locked
themselves into politically "correct" little coffins, where they will eventually
die as artists; not from anything the rest of us have done to them, but rather
from the narrowness of their surroundings and self-embarrassment. Just the fact
that they have fearfully and unfairly scrubbed the recent exchange between you
and others on this topic speaks volumes. An increasing number of poets are now
wise to them.
For the sake of your own poetry you must continue to
remain “uncivil” in their eyes. Words have meanings; speech has consequences.
Let these continue to be your own.
Discussing the merits of the poem itself may be fruitless, since beauty is
famously in the eye of the beholder. But it seems to me that something is
wrong when a well-written poem with better-than-average meter and imagery is
called "Hallmark" verse, "cloying," etc. Here are some comments on the poem
by lovers and writers of formal poetry:
"Mike, the elegance of your defense is matched only by the elegance of your poem."—Russell Bittner
"I liked your poem fine just the way it is. I think you ought to send it out and try to get it published somewhere."—Jared Carter
"Your poem 'Love Has a Southern Flavor' is lovely, and that’s a good thing."—Sally Cook
"Thanks for the email and the terrific sonnet."—George Held
"I LOVE your poetry...dang, you are good!!!"—Karen Kelsay, commenting on
"Love Has a Southern Flavor" with the intention of publishing it.
"I love it. Charmed me out of my socks."—Petr Norr
"This is exceptionally charming, in my humble opinion. Perhaps that is the problem!"—Jennifer Reeser
"This is a truly magnificent poem."—Joe Salemi, upon accepting "Love Has a
Southern Flavor" for publication in his literary journal, TRINACRIA
I also discovered that other poets have been "banned for life" from Eratosphere,
under circumstances somewhat similar to my own. For instance,
Janet Kenny told me that she was also exiled permanently for cracking a small,
ironic joke about Eratosphere. A newcomer to the site had asked her the
difference between Metrics and the Deep End. Janet replied that Metrics was
where poets went for advice about their poems, and the Deep End was where they went for
S&M. For speaking ironically and truthfully, she too was banned for life. I
subsequently did an in-depth interview
with Janet in which she praised many of the poets she met on Eratosphere, and
spoke frankly about some of the problems she encountered there. The hyperlinked
interview page also has comments made by other poets, many of them current or
former members of Eratosphere.