THE SOCIETY OF CLASSICAL POETS — A CIRCLE JERK
What Conor Kelly describes in "A Circle Jerk" is quite similar to what I
experienced myself, along with a fellow poet, when we visited the The
Society of Classical Poets website a few years ago. I now call the SCP the
"Keystone Scops" because they constantly defeat their purposes through comical
ineptitude. However, at the time I thought the SCP was a group of poets who had selected a
somewhat pompous name and had iffy editing, but might be worth getting to know.
To my shock and dismay, I found the SCP publishing anti-LGBT poems and touting a
poem in praise of a notorious ethnic cleanser of Native Americans. When I and my friend
attempted to engage other poets on these issues, the SCP's editor-in-chief,
Evan Mantyk, made it clear that homophobic rants were welcome but rebuttals were
not. We were censored and when we protested, we were banned.
Joseph S. Salemi, the SCP's alpha male, had long claimed to be a champion of free speech, and had protested bitterly when
he felt that he had been censored. I had given him a platform to speak
his mind freely via The HyperTexts. But Salemi never peeped once in
favor of free speech while I was being censored and banned. I can confirm via
first-hand experience that what Conor Kelly experienced was the norm for the
The thing I find most ironic about the SCP is that Salemi despises
Protestants and must be gnashing his teeth to be surrounded by them in scopland.
Salemi called Protestants who believe the Bible to be infallible "yahoo
dorks" and a "witless
herd" in his poem "Creationist
"According to this witless herd
The Bible's the inerrant word
Of God Himself. ..."
—Joseph S. Salemi
In Salemi's poem "The
Reformation" the Protestant religion began with Martin Luther and John
Calvin taking shits and other Protestants whiffing their feces to decide which
denomination to join!
Salemi's vitriolic terms for Protestants include: "creationist freaks," "fundie
dopes," "ethopaths," "yahoo dorks," a "witless herd," "jerks" and "crackpots."
He also calls Protestants delusional, their beliefs "mulishly absurd" and says
they have "brain rot" for believing the Bible and its "pious lies." To Salemi
the Bible is a fictional "potpourri of Torah-tales" that contains many "pious
lies" and in his poem "The
Missionary's Position" he admonished missionaries for preaching the gospel
And yet Salemi is a true believer himself. So what does Salemi believe that is
so vastly superior to what Protestants believe? He once told me, in a moment of
confession, that he believes Catholic popes are capable of speaking infallibly!
Salemi and his patron, Leo Yankevich, apparently mistook me for a Protestant and
once informed me, with what I took to be real happiness, if not glee, that I
would burn in hell because I'm not Catholic. How many of Salemi's allies among
the SCP's Protestant poets are aware that he considers them to be dumbed-down
yahoo dorks for believing the Bible, and that he's apparently fine with the
"creationist freaks" all burning in hell? — Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts
THE SOCIETY OF CLASSICAL POETS — A CIRCLE JERK
by Conor Kelly
My first interactions with The Society of Classical Poets were benign. As
someone who wrote mainly in metrical forms I was looking for a place to submit
poems. I came across the site online and submitted some poems. I was delighted
and grateful when an acrostic sonnet I wrote entitled "Mozart
was published. Sometime later I playfully translated the most famous haiku in
existence — the celebrated frog poem of Basho — expanding its brief three-line
form into a traditional
I felt I had found a place where I might receive an appreciative audience.
Vanity had overtaken me. Like many poets, I was more interested in finding a
home for my work than exploring the work of my fellow poets on the pages of the
site. In fairness, I felt I should explore further. It was then I began to
notice the heavily political nature of many of the poems published. My vanity began to
take a beating. This was crystallised when I came upon a poem by Bruce Dale Wise
entitled "This Brave American, Ashli
Babbitt". Written in rhyming iambic heptameter, this clunky poem stopped me
in my tracks. I quote it in full:
The Democrats stole the election—Ashli Babbitt knew;
so she went to the Capitol to share her point of view.
There she was murdered by a member of DC’s police
that true American and patriot who found no peace.
There is no peace, as long as she is not remembered by
the Congress that perpetuates the lie that took her life.
But when I die, and I am gone from this land that she loved,
these words are all I have for one who gave her life, her blood,
for truth, for honour, for this land, this brave American.
How can one rest if she is not interred in Arlington?
As first I thought it was a joke with the concluding line an elaborate tease. So
I said so, invoking Auden's satirical work. The response from Bruce Dale Wise
was long, pompous, poetically and politically facile. Worse, that first line
stuck in my head like an advertising jingle as possibly the most god-awful line
I had ever come across in poetry.
When I read more of his poems and more of his pseudo-scholarly explanation of
his work, a nagging doubt hit me. To this day I am still not convinced that he
is actually who he claims to be. I suspect an ingenious Ern Malley hoax. He so
epitomises the worse excesses of many of the poets who contribute to the site
that I suspect nobody could be that bad. Or could they?
I ceased contributing to the site but continued to read it fitfully with an
open-mouthed mixture of angst and exasperation. And then I came upon the work of
Susan Jarvis Bryant. In a page entitled "A Poem on Ketanji
Brown Jackson’s Inability to Define a Woman"
she uses a traditional English sonnet to adopt the voice of a Supreme Court
nominee and mock her for her ascribed views. Some of it is funny. Unlike Bruce
Dale Wise, Mrs. Bryant is not totally incompetent. She is, to misquote James
Russell Lowell, two-fifth's raw talent and three-fifth's sheer drudge. And she
is surrounded by those who praise her poetry and support with glee her political
outrage. This appears to be the modus operandi of the site. Hence my invocation
of a circle jerk. (See my comments below.)
I watched as the usual suspects joined in the pile-on. One mild mannered
contributor — a conservative with an actual mind of his own — tried to stem the
flow of invective against the subject of the poem, but he was blown away. So I
waded in to stir the pot. And soon I was assailed from all sides, with the usual
invective and insults from Joseph S. Salemi. I began to enjoy myself, pitching
the odd verbal molotov-cocktail into the fray and ducking and diving as the
responses came in. In a bizarre turn Mr. Salemi criticised Irish membership of
the EU and, equally bizarre, Mrs. Jarvis's husband posted a lengthy account of
how he knew the 2020 Presidential election was stolen. Evan Manytk came forward,
in his official capacity as editor, to say, "Conor, don’t be so obsessed with
politics!" Ironic, as the poem and the comments were totally political and no
one else was reprimanded for their political views.
Of course, I overstepped the SCP mark and could not prevent myself from making
fun of those blustering and blathering in apoplectic rage. This brought forth a
severe reprimand from Mrs. Bryant who took exception to my mocking Mr. Salemi — "it saddens me to hear such venom from you where Dr. Salemi is concerned." And
this from a woman who had no qualms about attacking another woman in the initial
poem that inspired the comments. At that moment I realised a
deep-seated hypocrisy lay at the heart
of the SCP enterprise. The poets and commentators can dish out the dirt in
polished and not-so-polished turds; but they cannot take it.
I continued to monitor the site, if that is not too pompous a term for my
perusing, with amusement, the political inanities masquerading as classical
poetry. But, at times, anger got the better of me. After the school shootings in
Uvalde, Susan Jarvis Bryant wrote a so-called
When I probed a little, the political responses came flooding out from her and
her acolytes while she continued to deny her politics was motivated by anything
other than concern for children. I realised, again, what I had realised before.
Hypocrisy lay at the heart of the matter. I chiseled away at the gun-loving
advocates until, in an unusual move for the site, all comments were shut down
and the discussion was curtailed. I had gotten under the skins of too many.
It was at this stage, knowing that patience at my excesses was running out, that
I tried a new tack. Inspired by the poetic and political eloquence of Bruce Dale
Wise, I sent in as a submission, under a pseudonym, an acrostic poem entitled
"The President" in praise of Donald Trump, complaining about the stolen
election. I quote it in full:
Four years was all that they allowed him thrive
Until they stole our future. They don’t care,
Cowards who had to cheat and to contrive,
Knowing they couldn’t beat him fair and square.
“Don’t let them win,” he said, and many came
Onward to help him stop the blatant steal.
No honest citizen could not but claim
Against the treason history will reveal.
Loyal to what he stood for, stood against,
Drawn to those truths that others would decry,
The righteous path that made the left incensed,
Rightly he taught us what we must defy.
Urging us on, he shows what we attain
Making the land we love so great again,
Proud President of what we will regain.
Obviously it was not dire enough to find a home there. And, soon enough, the
powers that be on the site were aware of what I was doing. I knew the end was
approaching and wanted to point out, before I was blocked, what I thought of the
procedures used, so I introduced the idea of the circle jerk and accused the
site of indulging that procedure.
While the term "circle jerk" has a sexual connotation, I like the definition
that comes up when you Google the words: "a situation in which a group of people
engage in self-indulgent or self-gratifying behaviour, especially
by reinforcing each other's views or attitudes." And that typifies how the site
works. A poem is published, then the usual suspects pile in to praise the poem
and to endorse the politics. Another Susan Jarvis Bryant
poem took on the editors of the Cambridge Dictionary for expanding
the definition of "woman" to accommodate transgender sensibilities.
A poem about a dictionary soon expanded, in the comments section, to a
relentless attack, not only on the editors of the dictionary, but also on the
transgender community. My wading into the fray brought another official rebuke
from Evan Mantyk: "I think a number of people have found you insulting or
troll-like…" And all because I declined to participate in the circle jerk. Mrs.
Bryant claimed to be "standing up for the vulnerable who end up being abused in
the name of a destructive ideology that claims to 'care'", but when I suggested
that that might include "vulnerable members of the transgender community who are
under constant attack from the destructive ideology of contributors to this
page" she deflected to the usual SCP position of pretending to care for the
welfare of children.
I knew the end was coming, but when it came, it came suddenly. Another SCP
regular, Joshua C. Frank, who would not only ban all forms of abortion but would
also like to ban contraception and birth control, wrote a jaunty little ditty
Orders" in praise of a priest who had been defrocked by the Vatican for
confusing his priesthood with his political advocacy.
The usual suspects waded into the fray, even professed Catholics who called
the Pope insultingly by his surname rather than by his pontifical title.
Not wishing to involve myself in a theological row, my comments were quite mild.
But when Mr. Frank offered an endorsement for his poem from a priest who had been
imprisoned for serious sexual misconduct, I saw red. I posted a link to the
celebrated "Spotlight" investigations by The Boston Globe which described, in
sickening detail, the abuse by this priest of young children. My comment was on
the site for a few minutes before it was taken down and replaced by a link to a
site proclaiming the innocence of the paedophile. My goose was cooked. I tried
to post and found I was blocked. And that was that, the end of what they called
my "trolling" and what I saw as an attempt to respond, often humorously, to a
hate-filled hypocritical tirade against some of the most vulnerable members of
society from some of the most deplorable members of the basket of right-wing
In the end, I was glad to reach the end. Participating in the circle jerk,
however mockingly and self-deprecatingly, had left me with a lingering feeling of
shame. It is difficult to go down into the gutter without getting dirty. And I
also realised that the chances of reading any decent poetry on the site were
minimal, as the regular contributors were far more interested in their political
credentials than in their poetic practices. When I pointed that out to Dr.
Salemi he informed me that he had forgotten more poems than I could remember. I
declined to point out that this was a sign of dementia. Curiosity will draw me to
the site on irregular instances and, maybe, like Michael R. Burch, I will draw
the wrath of Mrs. Jarvis upon me and, horror of horrors, find myself the subject
of a poem entitled "A Rebuttal to Conor Kelly and An Encouragement to Poets".
It didn’t take long for Susan Jarvis Bryant to respond to my comments above with
a metrically inept, alliteratively inebriated, verbally overcooked and
hate-filled rant called simply “Troll”. (https://classicalpoets.org/2023/02/18/a-poem-on-the-now-obvious-side-effects-of-covid-vaccines-spike-by-susan-jarvis-bryant/)
She deems it a satire, but there is too much spittle spraying from the angry
inflated lines for it to be anything other than humourless blue stocking bile.
Read it and retch.
I mentioned hypocrisy above but it reaches new heights here. While I am accused
of trying to suppress conservative voices and their right to free speech by
arguing a contrary line, she exults in the fact that my speech on the site has
been curtailed, censored. Oh, the irony.
Both the poem and the comments consistently argue for “truth”, but when Mother
Jarvis Bryant capitalises the word and calls it immutable, it is obvious that
the Mother Superior of the SCP convent believes that her infallibility is
greater than that of the Pope. (While many of the commentators are nominally
Catholic, their disdain for the present Pope is occasioned by his tolerance.)
And the circle jerk continues. There are now forty comments on the poem, but not
one of them expresses anything other than unbounded admiration for the
self-serving and self-satisfied poet. What Yeats called “the weasel’s twist, the
weasel’s tooth” has overtaken this society of cantankerous poets.
Postscript to Conor Kelly's Postscript
by Michael R. Burch
There are several problems with Susan Jarvis Bryant's alleged poem "Troll."
First, as one poet noted, "Troll" lacks what real satire requires: wit. In fact,
he called the poem "witless" and reading it "torturous despite its brevity."
Furthermore, the alleged poem is a rant, a harangue. Real satires are clever,
not a gushing sewer of childish name-calling. A great satirist may employ a rapier, lightly slashing an
opponent's cheek to demonstrate superiority, while Bryant wields a cudgel wildly
but misses with every awkward swing. No good reader is going to be impressed,
although the scops apparently are. From what I've heard through the grapevine,
Bryant's rant has been lavishly applauded and praised by the Key Stoners.
One writer observed that "Satire customarily employs irony to expose
absurdity. It invites readers to notice the diametric opposition between fact
and broadcast fiction. This is typically accomplished, by accomplished
satirists, via simple juxtaposition of the undeniable with its denials, by
pitting what is obvious against insupportable counterclaims. It always avoids
direct attack. It lets readers see for themselves the difference between what
actually is, and how false advertisers characterize it. The effect of incisive
satire, at least among the discerning, is approving chortles, sometimes even
guffaws. Bryant's so-called satire is a tale told by an idiot...full of sound
and fury...signifying nothing.
Good satires don't bore. Bryant's poem does. Two readers commented that they
felt disinclined to finish reading "Troll."
The alleged poem attacks a "snitch," but as one reader noted, that "lets the cat out of the bag." A snitch tells people things you don't want them to know, when
you've been up to no good. Bryant has thus informed us that she and her cronies
have, indeed, been doing what the "troll" reported. Unless she's just tossing
out insults without reason, for rhyme.
There is also the problem that the writing is bad, with comical overuse of
alliteration and the employment, for example, of the archaic "spake" for
amateurish end rhyme:
Slammed with damning slurs that knaves once spake
Is that the worst line in contemporary poetry? It's certainly a candidate.
The writing is cartoonish:
And all because a witch refused to switch
To stands those sound of mind found hard to take
Unless Bryant has revised her "thinking," which seems unlikely, it
should be "find" rather than "found." One assumes that in her desire to layer on
the rhymes along with the alliteration, Bryant employed the cartoonish
"witch/switch" and the inaccurate "sound/found" to go along with the archaic "spake/take."
Award her the triple crown of bad poetics, perhaps.
Bryant also ignored (another reader observed) the good advice of her alleged poem's epigraph:
“Be like seeds; do not see dirt thrown at you as your enemy, but as ground
to grow.” — Matshona Dhliwayo
Bryant did not follow this excellent advice, but rather elected to sling manure
in response to criticism.
Finally and most importantly, there is the problem of truth. Bryant claims to be
the victim of a bullying troll who is attempting to "silence" her. But to my knowledge no one has ever attempted to "silence" the scops. A few of us have pointed out their struggles with English grammar and
punctuation, true, and the absurdness of their medieval beliefs, but when has
anyone ever interfered with their freedom to speak? Not only does Bryant's poem,
published online by the SCP for all the world to see and emailed to subscribers,
demonstrate that she has not been silenced, but the SCP has a long track record
of silencing and banishing dissenting voices. As a poet silenced and banned by
the SCP noted, "In fact, it is they who do all the silencing." I will second
that, since I and another poet were first commanded to be silent, then were
banished by the top scop when we took issue with homophobic poems being
published by the SCP.
The SCP stifles free speech while publishing wrenchingly bad poem after
wrenchingly bad poem, many of them by their grammar-challenged censor
extraordinaire, Evan Mantyk.
As one unimpressed poet noted: "They call themselves The Society of Classical
Poets. The real classical poets must be turning in their graves."
Also by Conor Kelly:
The Society of Classical Poets: A Misologist’s Report on a Cult
"Gnashional Anthem of the Keystone Scops"
by Michael R. Burch,
A Review of the Society's Literary Journal,
Laureates 'R' US,
Susan Jarvis Bryant,
Joseph Charles MacKenzie: Poet or Pretender?,
Evan Mantyk's Poetic Tic,
James Sale's Blue Light Special,
Bruce Dale Wise or Un-?,
"How to Write a Real Good Poem" by R. S. Gwano,
Salemi Interview and Responses by other Poets