The HyperTexts

The Effete Fascist

by Michael R. Burch

Since I became an editor and publisher of poetry, I have heard every reason in the book, or perhaps every excuse in the book, for contemporary poetry having lost its readership.

The most common explanation offered by poets is, in a word, "readers." Just as Yahweh/Jehovah condemned Adam for everything that went wrong with his creation, the Universe, so the lordly Poet blames the reader for everything that goes wrong with his creation, Verse.

The result has been two infernal religions. Once Yahweh/Jehovah spoke (or, more accurately, once the Levite scribes who pretended to be "God" spoke, while constantly betraying their ignorance about such things as the order of creation, the shape of the earth, its position in the solar system, and such rudimentary things as whether hares chew the cud or insects have four legs), it was all downhill for Adam and his descendants. According to the Bible, God created a sublime Paradise and man ruined it. Similarly, once the Poet spoke, announcing his Godhood and the sublimity of his Art, readers were in deep doo-doo (or at least according to the Poet).

But of course the "hell" of Christianity is entirely the creation of the infernal imaginations of its hellions, who only make themselves and their children miserable by trying to figure out ways to squirm out of the straightjackets they assigned (emphasis on "ass") themselves: "How, oh how, for the love of Jesus Christ and in God’s name, can we mange to condemn all the homosexuals and prostitutes to hell, and yet escape it themselves, when we're as sex-saturated as everyone else?" The result is hypocrisy so outrageous it would be comical, if only children weren’t being abused emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, at every turn. Can anything be more laughable than imagining a just God sending Gandhi and the Dalai Lama to an "eternal hell" while Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart get gold stars?

Poets have created a similarly irrational religion. The religion of the modern Poet goes something like this: "Readers are evil, ignorant louts who deserve only my loathing. Only I, the almighty Poet, through the sublimity of my Art, am worthy of the highest heaven. Now let me sit and sulk because no one bothers to read my poems. Waaaaah! Waaaaah!"

But what’s a god to do without believers?

Poets (it seems to me) can’t live with readers, yet are useless without them.

Is there a way out of this existential dilemma? Godhood not being all its been trumped up to be, poets might admit the lowercase "p" suits them better than the lordly capital "P," and come down from their high horses.

And there’s a particular poet I’d like to see repent, confess and change his stripes: the Effete Fascist. You can find him in any online poetry forum. He's the one whose "critiques" invariably drip venom. Like every fascist, he looks for a group that will accept him; once accepted, he immediately wheels around and looks for someone "inferior" he can despise and attack, with the group’s consent. But he and his cohorts are too cowardly to do much more than lurk in shadows and hiss invectives from a safe distance. He’s a viper, but on the effete side.

His repulsive behavior is often sanctioned, if not applauded, by poetic communities where "hard-nosed" critiques are considered greater inventions than sliced bread (of the bleached variety). But there is a tremendous difference between an honest critique that is meant to help a poet, and a mean-spirited critique that is meant to make the critiquer look "superior" at the poet's expense.

Poets are supposed to be creators. Creation is a generous act. A good poem is a grace. Poets who are able to grace the world with good poems don’t need to denigrate other poets, or readers. Poets who are confident in their abilities, and who honestly like their own poems, can afford to be secure in their work, even if no one else seems to like it. I wrote poems for years, and considered some of them to be good poems, when few of them were being accepted by the editors to whom they were being submitted. While I’ll admit this didn’t make me especially happy, I liked the results of my writing enough to keep writing and improving my skills. Just recently I was published for the 777th time, which made me feel as if I’d hit some sort of jackpot. The lean years taught me to prize every reader gracious enough to take the time to read my work, so it pains me to see poets who speak so denigratingly of readers.

Many people are not fans of God, if he exists, because the world he created is nowhere near as good as advertised by religion. Many readers are not fans of poets, because their work is not as sublime as they imagine. When I was a young boy, I read the best poems of poets like Housman, Yeats, Frost, Blake, Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane with great pleasure and a high degree of comprehension. It doesn't take an advanced degree for someone to enjoy good poetry. Many teenagers read and enjoy good poetry, as I did. I used to read the poetry in my English textbooks voluntarily, skipping over the prose sections to find the next poem.

The Effete Fascist doesn't want to hear this, and many other poets don't want to hear it either, because it is the death of their religion. If teenagers can read the best poems of all time, and understand them, and enjoy them, without having a literary theory in their brains . . . well, then, perhaps they're just wise enough to like the poems of the all-time great poets better than the poems of lesser poets. Does that make them idiots or cretins?

I went through a number of lean years as a poet with few readers other than myself, but I chose to have a generous attitude toward poetry, toward readers and toward other poets. If people like my poems, that’s wonderful. If I like my poems more than other people do, that’s not the end of the world. But in either case, nothing good will come out of me being an effete snob and looking down my nose at other people because they don’t bow down to me, or praise me, or worship me.

Now if only Yahweh/Jehovah and Jesus would stop sending people to hell for not bowing down to them, worshiping them and praising them . . .

The HyperTexts