Protest at the Poetry Foundation: A Report from Brooks Johnson

by on Sep.29, 2011

[Brooks Johnson, son of Kent Johnson, sent Montevidayo the follow report from a protest held during Montevidayo-favorite Raul Zurita’s reading at the Poetry Foundation last night. I have not fact-checked any of these remarks and if somebody – from the Poetry Foundation or not – want to add their view to this discussion, I welcome it.]

A group of about a half dozen of us attended the Raúl Zurita reading at the Poetry Foundation last night. Even though my Spanish is horrible and I had to rely mostly on his translator for the text of the poems, he gave one of the most powerful readings I think I’ve ever seen. After he read, during the question and answer session, my friends and I went into the Library, which is visible from the reading room and dropped two banners. One said “What Would Have Happened if Emily Dickinson Had Been Prescribed Prozac?” The other said “VIVA CADA”. [For the Chilean Colectivo de Acción de Arte; Zurita was one of its founders and leaders during the 1970s and 80s. More on this below.]

The Poetry Foundation promptly called the cops and took the banners down. The fact that they would take down a banner that said “Viva Cada” at a fucking Zurita reading is mind- boggling. We then went back to the reading room to try to make a statement explaining our action. The security guards tried to block our way but we pushed past them. When we got back into the reading room, Zurita was still speaking and none of us felt comfortable interrupting him–especially since he was giving an answer to someone in the audience about art and life becoming intertwined. Instead of speaking, we passed out copies of our statement which is as follows:

First, we would like to make clear that we chose to do this tonight in an attempt to honor Raúl Zurita and the heroic spirit of CADA. We are under no illusions that the risks involved in this intervention in any way compare to those taken by CADA in their political and poetic interventions against the Pinochet dictatorship. These people literally risked their lives, where we are risking at worst some dirty looks and an evening in jail. That being said, however, our group has experienced a small taste of the sort of silencing at the hands of power that CADA faced so many years ago. Strangely enough, this happened right here at the Poetry Foundation a few weeks ago, when our comrade Stephanie Dunn was arrested for a protest action during a Wine and Cheese Gala, at the insistence of this organization. As far as we know, the Poetry Foundation is still pressing charges against Stephanie for “disturbing the peace.” To our knowledge, this is the first time that a supposed institution of poetics has pressed charges against a poet for what is essentially a poetic act. The similarities to the obscenity charges brought against Allen Ginsberg in the late 50s oughtn’t be ignored.
The true spirit of poetry is precisely about disturbing the peace—insofar as “the peace” is defined and enforced by repressive state apparatuses. Basho’s frog jumping into a still pond—plop! Mr. Zurita and CADA stand as one of the most beautiful and courageous examples of this. Poetry happens when we are shaken out of our psychic, linguistic, phenomenological, and indeed even physiological compliance with the spectacle and its myriad illusory modes of reification. The home of poetry is not a Museum and it certainly does not look like an Apple Store. Poems are not a bunch of butterflies pinned to the wall. Poetry is that which cannot be contained by the page or for that matter some ridiculous glass and steel mausoleum.
Today, an inextricable aspect of state-corporate repression and control is seen in the heavily subsidized pharmaceutical industry. To us, it makes perfect sense that an institution funded by a 100 million dollar grant from Lilly Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Prozac, would find any behavior beyond polite docility objectionable enough to call the cops. We demand that the Poetry Foundation drop all charges against Stephanie Dunn and that the Board of Directors both personally and publically apologize for their conduct.
Further, we demand that either the Poetry Foundation spend the remainder of its drug money on the creation of two new poetry centers in existent disused buildings: one on the south side and another on the west side, whose mission it would be to support poetry in impoverished communities by any means necessary. If there is not enough money from the Lilly grant to fund these centers, then we demand that the Poetry Foundation sell its current headquarters and use the money for the previously proposed projects. We find the present manifestation of ‘the home of poetry,’ situated within the alien geography and aesthetics of Investment Banking and Real Estate speculation to be nauseating. It is our deep belief that the Foundation’s mission statement of bringing poetry to the widest possible audience could more effectively be achieved by following our suggestions.
These disruptions will continue until our demands are met. Long live CADA. Long live art into life.

Some in the jam-packed audience took the leaflets and seemed to very much appreciate what we were doing; the more stodgy members of the audience refused to even acknowledge our presence. We thanked Mr. Zurita (who embraced us) and then tried to leave, but now the PF Security goons (outfitted in Secret Service agent garb) were telling us that we were not allowed to leave, that the cops were on their way and that we had to wait for them. We told them that we were going to leave peacefully and tried to make our way to the exit but they blocked our way and tried to hip toss me when I tried to walk past them. The remaining members of the audience tried to persuade the goons to lets us leave but were unsuccessful. Forrest Gander suggested that we make a break for it and, after a couple of tries, it worked. One of our compatriots filmed the whole action (though, unfortunately, he didn’t get the footage of the guards ripping down the “VIVA CADA banner). The shoot will be up on You Tube later today.

for the Croaton Poetic Cell,

Brooks Johnson

(Zurita, not Brooks)

86 comments for this entry:
  1. Anne

    I witnessed this protest as a member of the audience. The security guards responded in a rather ridiculous manner, they chased and cornered the guys, and then refused to let them go because they had “trespassed.”

    However, from the sidelines the protest seemed ineffective and poorly planned. It wasn’t entirely clear to most of us just what they were protesting. I didn’t know until I read Brooks’ piece just now. Anyone who was sitting in on the Q&A hadn’t seen the banners hung in the library. And then they interrupted the Q&A session with Zurita. This came off as disrespectful to the poet who was still at the podium after (as Brooks admits) giving a powerful reading.

    As it was, my friends and I left only guessing at what they were protesting, and commenting on how bizarre it was that they created such a disturbance without conveying their message. We also wondered why they would do this after they sat through the reading. Isn’t that somewhat akin to dining at someone’s house and then shunning them as you exit, and in the commotion spilling a drink on the guest of honor (whom you admire)?

  2. Tim Jones-Yelvington

    I am always sympathetic to folks organizing to hold institutions accountable, but also must say that upon first read, this statement strikes me as being more concerned with rhetorical and ideological purity (the term “manarchist” — http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=manarchist — comes to mind) than viable strategies for institutional transformation, and I gotta say that while big pharm is clearly a source of systematic evil in our world, as an ally to disability rights communities and friend to folks coping w/ mental illness, this specific rhetoric around mood disorder medication strikes me as kinda ableist.

  3. Johannes

    It’s interesting because according to the most recent bio of Dickinson she was indeed on psychiatric medication…

    Johannes

  4. Kent Johnson

    I wanted to say just a few words about this. I wasn’t at the event, but have heard a few first-hand reports about it. I may have some more information later. For now, in regards to Anne’s comments, that the act seemed “disrespectful” to Zurita… Are you sure it seemed “disrespectful” to him? Perhaps we’ll hear on that, let’s see. Of course, protest actions like this one at the PF ARE inherently disrespectful toward cultural-institutional power: such iconoclasm is, in a sense, very much at the heart of the impulse. The Dadaists were thus “disrespectful,” as were the Situationists in France, and as were the courageous members of CADA in Chile, to mention just a few cases of visionary cultural workers putting their bodies where their words and thoughts were.

    As for the “poorly organized” aspects of the intervention, well, I would say (with a smile) that things like this CAN be messy, can’t they? It’s all part of a dialectical process, one could propose, and I suspect that the six or seven young poets and artists who took part in this we’ll learn from the experience and apply its lessons to future actions.

    But are we really to chastise the activists because their banners couldn’t be “clearly seen” from the reading room by all? Is this really a more important matter to focus on than the fact that these banners (one of them honoring Zurita and the memory of CADA!) were immediately torn down by the PF Security Guards? More important than the fact that this multi-million dollar Poetry institution called the cops on the activists for doing nothing but hanging some banners and peacefully passing out the statement that is posted above?

    Really… Perhaps we might better focus on the astonishing, outrageous issue that the leaflet’s text highlights: that a young poet and performance artist from Chicago, Stephanie Dunn, who carried out a guerilla-poet’s-theater type act (with my son) at a Wine and Cheese Gala at the Poetry Foundation– an action that, granted, must have seemed very “disrespectful” to those members of the financial and corporate elite of Chicago who were in ubiquitous attendance– is now apparently subject to charges pressed by the Poetry Foundation. (If this is not the case, and the charges have been dropped, the PF should so say so.)

    Think about it and let it sink in a bit: What does it mean and what have we come to that “The Poetry Foundation,” now the Happy Big-Tent House for everyone from Mary Oliver to Conceptual Poetry, is calling the cops on brash young poets who step beyond the bounds of High Society protocol in peaceful performative statement? What does it say when this institution attempts to suppress such radical (and in the history of poetry, venerably practiced) spirit by calling on the POLICE to arrest poets and have charges brought against them?

    As my son writes in the forthcoming Sous les Paves newsletter, in an account of the event at which Stephanie Dunn was held by the Security detail at the PF until the cops arrived and handcuffed her: It does look like the Poetry Foundation has put the Po back into Poetry in some interesting conceptual ways!

    I suspect there will be more actions coming, and I happen to know that the forces of this enigmatic Croaton Poetic Cell–drawn from a vibrant community of extremely smart young poets, artists, musicians, and actors, most of them from what could be termed the avant wing of Chicago’s lumpen-boheme–are growing. And the more the Poetry Foundation calls the cops on poets, the more rapidly the formation will grow.

    For now, given what has gone down, and for what it’s worth, here is what I honestly feel:

    Anyone who works for the PF, or is associated in some official capacity with the Institution, should resign in shame.

    Kent

  5. Ryan Sanford Smith

    Oh you rebels.

  6. Kent Johnson

    A funny typo I wanted to highlight. I wrote:

    “I suspect that the six or seven young poets and artists who took part in this we’ll learn from the experience and apply its lessons to future actions.”

    That should be ‘will,’ obviously. The “we’ll” is NOT some kind of slip betraying my secret involvement in the group! Beyond a proud and accidental paternal affiliation, I have no direct involvement with the Croaton Poetic Cell.

  7. Edmond Caldwell

    I admire the eloquence of the statement and of the action itself, however messy it might have been — long live messy, long live figuring it out on the fly, and long live those who spill the wine, which in ancient times was associated, for good reason, with the burning superfluity of love. Brooks and the Croaton Poetic Cell embody the spirit of poetry which is the spirit of revolt. Too many just talk about “transgression” on their way to the photo shoot, the tenure committee, or even the bank. Keep fighting the power, but also don’t allow yourself to be slowed down by ostensible friends on the ‘reasonable’ left, with their helpful death-by-a-thousand-cuts advice.

  8. Henry Gould

    Where would provocateurs be without institutions? And vice versa? Working closely together, they morph into a new institution : showbiz.

  9. Johannes

    I’d be surprised if that were the outcome of this act.

    Johannes

  10. Henry Gould

    I’m waiting for the musical.

  11. Johannes

    ill try to do my best

  12. Kent Johnson

    Interestingly enough, I just received a warm note of full solidarity for the poet-commandoes from J.H. Prynne.

  13. Kent Johnson

    And John Latta today on the action and reaction:

    http://isola-di-rifiuti.blogspot.com/2011/09/po-po-foundation.html

  14. Kent Johnson

    Yes, of course, Henry. The Greeks used to call it dialectics…

  15. Anne

    re: Kent: responding as an observer who left in a cloud of confusion, I was merely perplexed that they interrupted Zurita without making their object of protest clear. My issues were more with method and not about disrespect to the institution, or iconoclasm in general–it just wasn’t clear (to many of us sitting in the audience) who or what their target was. Brooks’ post helps clear up many of the questions I left with, and at least he’s using this forum to give voice to their action.

  16. Kent Johnson

    Here, with his permission, is the message from Jeremy Prynne in the UK, responding to the post here at Montevidayo. I had sent him the link, so that’s why he responded to me. But since Brooks and the poet activists involved have also read and discussed Prynne’s work at the Mid-Coast Free School (a very successful community “university” in Chicago’s Ukranian Village), I’m sure this will mean a lot to them:

    >Cool. The building itself looks utterly horrible. If they have money it should be taken away from them, and put to some useful purpose.

  17. Jacob Russell

    Is this now the mission of the PF, to entertain and protect the wealthy-&-comfy-in-their-own-lives crowd? Money does corrupt, doen’t it. Maybe we need an OccupyPoetryFoundation to help them see the light.

  18. guest

    Funny how the first comment from “Anne” is a complaint that the protest wasn’t coherent enough for her entertainment the first time around. It reads as if she’s sitting in a movie theater and expects the full protest story-line to be masterfully distributed to her in a lucid manner, as if she’s sitting there waiting to be entertained in the proper manner. The protest already reduced in advance to a trifling spectacle for her to sit and passively consume, as if television programming that didn’t live up to her narrative expectations. Never mind that the act was spontaneous, messy and largely improvised in a hostile institutional environment. Next time someone should prepare pre-protest brochures and pass them out to all of the audience members in advance. The brochures can even be sent to the cops in advance, and should contain a list of the names of those involved, instructions revealing the location of the banner drops and how to take them down, etc. etc. Hopefully Anne will be satisfied by a more well thought-out performance next year.

  19. Tim Jones-Yelvington

    I want to be clear that although I have critical feedback and concerns about the statement of demands, I’d likely stand in solidarity w/ folks against the PF’s criminal-legal response to these actions.

  20. Matt Miller

    Replace “showbiz” with “poebiz,” and the statement is still true.

  21. Croatoan

    Here’s the footage for anyone interested.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsotfygDk-c&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

    If anyone is in the neighborhood of the Poetry Foundation, we would like our banners back. As to the fellow describing us as ‘manarchists’: please come hang out with us on a given evening…I don’t know…The members of this group (none of whom are of the hetero-normative variety) are not really interested in engaging in the sorts of petty bull shit that has been keeping poets glued to their computer screens, spitting at each other in comment boxes for the past decade or so. It seems that some found the action too messy, others found it too put together…neither of these extremes should be viewed as pointless efforts so long as people are willing to take a stand and carry out these sorts of actions on their own terms. This is how we understand the messages of dada, situationism, cada, Hakim Bey & the ontological anarchists, etc. . Our intent is not to entertain spectators, make easily digestible statements, or to make names for ourselves, quite the contrary. We prefer anonymity. Our intent is simply to open up space in which others might feel emboldened to try it for themselves. To taste the hashish infused honey of revolt. We are glad that our action came off as a bit sloppy. Most of us began playing music when we first heard punk rock and thought “fuck! this is awesome and I cld do that too.”

    CROATOAN

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsotfygDk-c

  22. Joseph Hutchison

    I have a couple of questions:

    • What exactly was the “poetic act” that got Dunn arrested in the first place and what was its aim? I can’t find any details about her arrest online.
    • What did Raúl Zurita think about the “intervention” that was, according to Johnson, “an attempt to honor Raúl Zurita and the heroic spirit of CADA”? If Zurita felt honored, then the protest would have at least some justification.

    I’m also curious about the group’s message regarding Prozac. They seem to be equating Stephanie Dunn’s action, whatever it was, and their subsequent actions at the Zurita reading, with Emily Dickinson’s writing—a tenuous connection, as far as I can see; they furthermore state that the Foundation wants poets to behave as if they were on Prozac, meaning they should overlook the way the Foundation has been spending the Lilly millions, which the activists sneeringly refer to as “drug money.” But they imply they would not sneer at it if the money were spent in the “right” way. As I understand it, the activists dislike the Foundation’s building and the evidently upscale neighborhood in which it is located and “demand” that the Foundation (1) sell its current building and (2) spend the “drug money” on outreach projects the group itself has proposed. More “interventions” are promised if the demands aren’t met.

    I have no special love for the Poetry Foundation, but the subtext of the action—that there is some sort of equivalence between the behavior of the Poetry Foundation and that of the Pinochet regime—is laughable. As political action, the protest seems pointless, self-indulgent, and almost intentionally ineffectual. Personally, the whole situation is depressing enough for me to consider taking up Prozac my damn self.

  23. CJ Laity

    Very curious about what Stephanie actually did to get arrested. Can anyone describe the original act of protest that started this thing?

  24. Micah Robbins

    Just want to express my solidarity with Brooks and the rest of the CROATOAN cell. The entrenched conformity and orderliness of institutions like the Poetry Foundation are incapable of digesting the poetics of the sort exhibited at the Zurita event, thus the call for repressive police violence (I’m certainly not the only one who finds security guards, accusations of “trespassing,” and police interventions at poetry events unconscionable). The action was not “pointless, self-indulgent, and almost intentionally ineffectual”; only those dependent upon and in admiration of normative relations of power and order would mistake it as such. The action was in the spirit of a burgeoning poetic-political insurgency that reactionary and liberal cultural forces alike will persist in misrecognizing as either pointless or criminal.

    As for Stephanie Dunn, you can read a detailed description of the events leading up to her arrest in the forthcoming issue of Sous Les Paves, though I’ll say now that the charge is “disturbing the peace.” Well, be reminded: the so-called peace was restored by police violence invited by the Poetry Foundation. This is neither poetry nor peace . . .

    Viva CADA!
    Viva CROATOAN!!
    Viva SLP!!!

  25. CJ Laity

    Why can’t we just get the description of the events now? I’m covering this story at ChicagoPoetry.com and one poet who witnessed Dunn get arrested said she was drunk and taking her clothes off. He said it wasn’t a poetry performance at all. Anyone wish to elaborate?

  26. Jennifer

    As a poet who suffers from depression and takes prozac daily so I can continue both living and writing poetry, I take issue with the statements about prozac. Prozac is not a pacifying drug, it is a medication used to keep people like myself from wasting away in bed doing nothing.

    However you are right to criticize the poetry foundation for ignoring lower income communities, so that’s cool. But ableism doesn’t seem to be a good way of going with it.

  27. Bill Knott

    yeah poets attacking poets, what else is new—

    Metropera MOMA et al they’re the ones that steal the funding that by rights belongs to poetry

    they are the “cultural-institutional powers” that kill poets

    …if you don’t know who your enemy is,

  28. Bill Knott

    25 percent of all profits from movies/music/bestseller fictionbooks/TV/et al

    should be confiscated for redistribution to poetry cadres,

    and poets should rise up and demand the funding they are owed!

    Reparations from those who plaigiarize and pillage the products of poet slave labor—

  29. Micah Robbins

    Just to be clear, CJ: performance poetry never involves disrobing? & poets never drink alcohol before, say, reading their poetry in public? Hmmmm. I wonder what a poet like Ginsberg would have to say about that . . .

    But you seem to miss the point: Stephanie wasn’t trying to entertain an audience with a poetry performance. She was protesting the gross waste of money embodied in the Poetry Foundation’s $300,000.000 floors! I’m happy to see young people indicting the relationship between poetry and capital. My sense is that there will be more of this sort of action, and I hope it continues _by any means necessary_.

    As for the more detailed description, write me backchannel (micahjrobbins@gmail.com) and I’ll share the article with you in advance of its publication, so long as the author doesn’t object. I just don’t feel like hashing out the details of the forthcoming Sous Les Paves in this comments stream, nor do I feel obligated to do so.

    Ta!

  30. M Robbins

    What a bunch of nonsense on all sides. The Poetry Foundation should be ashamed of itself. And the “protesters,” if over the age of sixteen, should hit the books. This has as much to do with Dada as spitting on the sidewalk, & it’s hardly as if Dada was entirely free of stupidity.

    As someone whose life is made livable by antidepressants, by the way, & who has managed to achieve some success as a poet, I think the answer to the question about Dickinson is “You are morons.”

  31. Henry Gould

    “a fucking Raul Zurita reading”. Wow. “Raul Zurita”. Hero worship. God of the Chilean left. Master Rebel street person fighting Capital. Wow. Against evil Ruth Lilly drug queen millionaire corrupteress of Peeps-Po. Wow. We love you, we are with you! No Pasaran! Money Bad! People Good! Poetry! Hey! Headbands! Dope! Coolness!

  32. Henry Gould

    Hey! The Sixties are back! Just in time – I’m turning 60! Cool!

  33. Johannes

    This is so childish, Henry.

  34. CJ Laity

    Hey, stop putting words in my mouth. I’m just asking for the truth. Even if the event involved nudity or being drunk I still don’t think that warrants calling armed men to come and put a criminal record on someone. Take it from me, someone who was threatened to have the cops called on him simply for writing a few words on my blog one time, and also for getting too drunk at an art gallery one time when they were serving ninety proof aquavite that I thought was wine. But, still, the fact that this entire story is claiming that she was only doing a guerilla poetry performance but nobody wants to actually describe it seems a bit disingenuious to me. All I want is the truth. If you’re going to claim here in writing that it was just an innocent act of peaceful protest, then what’s the problem with describing it? Seriously, it seems to me and probably to others that you guys are trying to control your venue as much as the Poetry Foundation is trying to control their venue. What did Dunn do? Why the mystery?

  35. SSRI

    It’s funny that there have been numerous defenses of antidepressants in this thread, as if the criticism of BIG PHARMA is a personal attack against your success with meds. Wonderful that whatever meds you are on are working for you, congrats, but that is beside the point.

    The critique is obviously meant to direct attention toward the systemic fucked-up-ness of the pharmaceutical industry, not toward the fact that your bottle of pills works for you.

    No one here is angry at you for taking traditional antidepressants. Although, considering the level of critical thinking they seem to go hand in hand with here, one might begin to wonder about their efficacy…

  36. Justin

    Oh, I don’t know, it seems like—why bother making confusing protest gestures at an event at the Poetry Center? It seems like a funny thing to do. Like, with as much power as they might possibly have, they’re not exactly a thriving thing in this big shitty culture.

    And, sure, it’s good to make gestures and to grow and push the form, and be, you know, self-critical, keeping an eye on the gate-keepers, etc. But, I mean, if you’re going to go there and be really disruptive to an event that someone else put a lot of energy and time into and try to hijack it for your own purposes, someone running that thing that they put a lot of work into is going to get upset. And I can see how that person might feel like calling the police is a good way to deal with that situation.

    I’m no fan of cops, for sure, but if someone was coming into my Poetry Center and I didn’t know who they were, or what they were up to and they seemed to be intent on making a mess of my reading and trying to take over my show, I might get pretty pissed/worried, and might just, you know, if the people were being jerks, call the police.

    But, whatever. I think the best thing to do is not to crap on other people’s thing—especially someone who is kind of in league with you (you know, fellow poets), but to make your own thing. There is a lot of space in this world. In this culture. So build something up. Hold your own Anti-Prozac event. Put a lot of energy into it. Invite lots of people. Do it in the street. Go nuts. That sounds like a blast.

    Make your own culture. Make your own statement—and make it well. Put a lot of love into it, and a lot of energy, care about it, and craft the hell out of it.

    Isn’t that some of what poetry is about? Maybe I don’t know what a poem is. It just seems to me that if you’re going to go into someone else’s art show and put up your own art to critique the art that’s already there—do a better job of it. Do it smarter. Do it in a way that speaks to the work. Or that shuts the work up. Do something that fundamentally breaks the work apart. Or something that shines a bright light on it, so that the audience will not be able to look at the original work without smirking, or without horror. Whatever you’re going for. I don’t know if hanging banners means anything. It just feels like more throwing up. It seems uncreative. Seems sort of lazy. Or misdirected.

    Which, maybe is what you’re going for. I think the Poetry Center probably has a whole wing of lazy, misdirected poetry.

    That said, I feel like in this space, in this instance,hanging banners is not a poem. Or, barely is. I think it would be more of a poem if the banners had been blank. And light so they could wave around all the sudden. Just the shapes of them, waving around, you know? That would be nice.

    Anyway, stop shitting on other people’s work. Do your own work. Do it well. Be a better poem that the Poetry Center can house, and the walls will wobble and crumble around you. You just watch.

  37. Elizabeth Rain Adams

    I’m made uncomfortable by news of these protests. I believe that the Poetry Foundation has the best of intentions, namely to inseminate poetry throughout the world. I must admit I have a slight bias in the matter. Allow me, as they say, to “toot my own horn” for a moment. I was given the honor of interviewing the six poets who are going to be participating in the delightful “Poets Forum” in New York City in late October. Oh I’m so excited! Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Matthew Dickman, and Cate Marvin will be on a panel entitled “Regional Aesthetics and Sensibility in American Poems,” and Cathy Park Hong, Ilya Kaminsky, and Evie Shockley will be on a panel entitled, “Vision and Innovation in Contemporary Poetry.” I took a little time off from my vigorous MFA course load to sit down with these six wonderful contemporary poets and ask them a few questions.

    Adams: “Cathy, can you tell us what you think about the U.S. Military’s continued presence in the Middle East, particularly as that presence relates to the deaths-by-burning of Iraqi and Afghani children?”

    Cathy Park Hong: “It’s more that my ideas have changed about what poetry should do. When I was younger, I used to be more idealistic about poetry’s function in society—that political action and intervention were possible via restructuring of language. But now, I think, maybe it’s enough that poetry can nourish individual consciousness or, to put it another way, maybe it’s enough that poetry’s primary purpose is to make people feel things…”

    Adams: “Such as the feeling of being burned down to ashes in a drone attack?”

    Ilya Kaminsky: “If one isn’t good enough to write something that Coleridge or Nabokov would find of interest, why bother? Of course one must be humble. But not when one chooses the group of dead friends to sit around and listen to. That is what we call ‘education’.”

    Adams: “Thanks for mentioning ‘education,’ Ilya. I was wondering, considering the state of our economy, and in particular the state of public education, if you feel that the $21.5 million the Poetry Foundation spent on their new building in Chicago could have been divided into seven $3 million amounts, to be distributed to seven schools in low-income areas of Chicago?”

    Evie Shockley: “There is an emptiness on a page, a vacuum represented and magnified by the whiteness of the space, that goes until it ends, but even in ending implies an endless continuation of that blank refusal of inscription, and I begin to muss it up, to get it dirty, to bring it into contact with the world in which it exists…”

    Adams: “Oh, ok. I think I understand. Thanks for clarifying, Evie. So, Matthew, I’m wondering if you’d let me know what you think of this idea: I think with the global climate changing so much due to fossil fuel use, that all us poets, especially poets from such ‘green’ cities as Portland, should vow not to fly or drive for a year, and should walk to all our readings, staying with friends along the way, sort of like how Ginsberg and Snyder used to, and then maybe the auks would have a chance to live, and maybe we’d all be better friends, and…”

    Matthew Dickman: “I don’t think [the world has] changed as much as it has found some definition. More and more I feel that I’m writing poems to understand both the world and my place in the world. That, like Césaire wrote, it establishes me at the living heart of myself and the world…something like that!”

    Adams: “Oh, ok! Never mind, man! Oh, by the way, remember last spring you visited my MFA program because we were thinking about maybe hiring you to teach me, but then you decided to take a job with GAP instead, writing little jingles for their commercials? You don’t? Oh, well over drinks (thanks again for paying, I’m so poor these days!) you asked me to send you a poem, so I did, but you never responded…”

    Cate Marvin: “I like to think of poets as moving through the world with their minds poised like nets, intent on capturing scraps of language, resonant images. Thinking as a poet means viewing the world as a poem; thus, the poet is prone to existing in real space and time in a most vulnerable manner. This means being super-observant wherever your physical self takes your mind, as it requires being terribly receptive to light, images, movement, conversations between others, oddities many might be inclined to overlook in newspaper headlines, heatedly intimate conflicts overheard in public places, disingenuous directions offered by advertisements and street signs, etc.”

    Adams: “Oh, ok. I think I understand why Matthew took that job at GAP now. Hmm, let’s see. I’m almost out of questions. Oh, I’m sorry Gabrielle, did you want to say something?”

    Gabrielle Calvocoressi: “I am on Facebook and Twitter. Avidly. Though right now I have told myself that I will not go on until I’ve finished all the things I need to finish. I really love the community Facebook affords and I like watching people perch on their virtual branch and tweet. I do worry about becoming hooked on it so I have various rules for myself. I used to try and write poems up there and now I don’t because it takes something from me in terms of the privacy required for a poem. I do have a Twitter feed where sometimes I think about the third book but that’s only got 28 followers and that’s just fine.”

    Adams: “Great! I hope you get more followers soon, Gabrielle! And thanks to all six of you! See you again in New York City in October at the Poets Forum!”

  38. CJ Laity

    Just a clarification. The Poetry Center and the Poetry Foundation are two completely different entities. This happened at the Foundation, not the Center.

  39. Jared Schickling

    a glorious and beautiful act of selfless commitment disseminating knowledge. eat it, naysayers!

  40. HTMLGIANT

    […] Protest, everywhere. Even at the Poetry Foundation! […]

  41. Johannes

    It seems that maybe Lucas’s posts for today is the most interesting reading of these events. Perhaps we can say that Stephanie’s drunken nakedness is not at all a sign of her childishness or disorganization (lack of proper, adult “critique” like a good mature subject) but an exhibition of vulnerability that connects her to Zurita’s protests and Fever Ray’s protests.

    Read Lucas’s post: http://montevidayo.com/?p=1942

    Johannes

  42. Sandra Simonds

    Hi Everyone

    My question is about the position of the poet himself. Certainly, he was paid handsomely for this reading by the Poetry Foundation. I’m wondering how you are conceptualizing how he figures into this, especially given his historical and political significance for the Left. Does he plan to say something about what happened? I’m wondering, I suppose, what his role is in all of this. Also, I agree that it would be nice to get a clearer understanding or narrative of what went on at this reading. I’ve spent some time trying to sort it out, but it’s still sketchy in my mind at best.

    Thanks!

    Sandra

  43. Johannes

    I would say that one thing that makes him very interesting was that he does not seem to share many american poets puritanical (as evidenced here) distrust of “pobiz”/”showbiz – his actions were incredibly showy, his readings are incredibly dramatic.

    Johannes

  44. Kent Johnson

    Just for the record, and this will be my last comment here: Though of course Raul Zurita had nothing at all to do with the action, and though he has every reason to be appreciative of the Poetry Foundation for hosting his reading, I can report he has unambiguously (and movingly) expressed his very strong admiration and solidarity for the young poet-activists who came to his event. And he sees in them a goodly trace of the spirit that infused the courageous gestures of the CADA. This from a man who knows more than anyone alive, probably, what it means to join one’s poetry and body in acts of resistance to cultural power.

    Such admiration should not be taken, at all, as implying that Zurita takes a position of some kind against the Poetry Foundation: Clearly, this is a matter for *U.S. poets* to debate and work through as we take account of the rapidly advancing forces of institutionalization within our field. Zurita has limited knowledge of the politics of the U.S. poetry scene (and doesn’t even speak English, in any case). But that didn’t prevent him from seeing something brave and inspiring in the poets who dropped the banners and distributed their eloquent statement. In their gesture, relatively small as it was (something the Croaton Poetic Cell acknowledges in their leaflet), they honored him and his example–which is the deep, radical impulse of poetry–and he saw that.

    Drop the charges against Stephanie Dunn.

  45. Sandra Simonds

    yeah… just sort of also wondering how much he knows of the context of what happened.

  46. Paul

    Excuse me, but if Zurita is inclined to take any position on the disruption of his event, especially one of “strong admiration and solidarity” with those involved, I assume he’d be capable of doing so in his own words rather than through second-hand characterizations by a known perpetrator of literary frauds (which I say with some admiration, so don’t mistake my intent) who is himself the father of one of the activists. If Zurita has in fact been asked his opinion and has expressed the views attributed to him—and to those doing the attributing—he has undoubtedly been fed an extremely false characterization of what occurred at the earlier event.

    I’m no fan of the Poetry Foundation and am in no way affiliated with it, but I attended the cheese-eating event and witnessed much of what is being described here. I was also not related to anybody in the room and can probably give a more neutral account. For starters, nobody knew who these people were and what they were up to. In fact, their antics through most of the evening were largely indistinguishable from everybody else’s—a bunch of poets and poetry readers drinking together aren’t usually a model of decorum to begin with. But when these activists finally did distinguish themselves, if what occurred was protest or guerilla art, you can probably catch equally meaningful performances nightly (right down to the stripping girls and drunken sexual harassment bordering on sexual assault) at your neighborhood frat house. There was little if any context for what occurred—and that along with the attempts to steal booze—looked pretty much to everyone like nothing but the crass behavior of drunk people. I guess I’m glad to hear there were loftier motives.

    I’d like to say something about these “guards” who are being characterized as Secret Service agents—or Pinochet’s thugs, whatever. They’re ushers, low level employees not unlike those you’d see at a movie theater. Their “plain clothes” reflect their jobs and are not a ruse for concealing firearms, handcuffs, brass-knuckles and so on. Or for that matter wireless transmitters for communicating with either their Poetry Foundation superiors upstairs or the sadists running the torture chambers in the Poetry Foundation’s basement. Perhaps insulting these working class people, making their jobs difficult, trying to make them feel sexually uncomfortable and so on, really is necessary for the revolution. But I’d like a fuller explanation.

    If the intent of these performances is to satirize the comical self-absorption of white middle-class alternative kids, then they’re succeeding on some level, but the show Portlandia has already done this much more pointedly and humorously.

  47. M Robbins

    @SSRI: Did you read the sign? The sign has nothing to say about Big Pharma. It implies that antidepressants must inhibit the creative process. Maybe it’s yr own critical thinking skills that could benefit from some sort of medication. I do not, however, know what pills might cure you of the easy cowardice of hiding behind a pseudonym.

  48. M Robbins

    For what it’s worth, as cheap & boring as I find the stunt to have been, I’ve written to the Poetry Foundation, urging that the charges be dropped. As a regular contributor to Poetry magazine, I’m uneasy with the idea that an institution devoted to poetry would turn so unthinkingly to the repressive arm of the state (sorry, but that’s what the police are) as a response to such a completely harmless (if intellectually empty) prank.

  49. Henry Gould

    Johannes writes, “This is so childish, Henry.”

    Exactly, Johannes. Your perception confirms that my radical poetic intervention into this comment stream has succeeded in disrupting the hegemonic control-complex of the duplo-Chicago Poeticus Matrix, the malevolent nature of which will be exposed soon – i HOPE – after our Performance Action on this website has percolated through the lower and upper echelons of the proto-quasi-fascist entities of the Poetry Mind-Control Matrix, otherwise known as The Zombie-Ghoul Ruth Lilly Returned from Hell Interlude of False Consciousness… Basta! No Pasaran!

  50. Flopsie

    Rather than join in on what has devolved (inevitably) into silliness here, I just wanted to say somehting that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been mentioned yet:

    Forrest Gander is f*cking cool.

    Peace.

  51. Henry Gould

    DEVOLVED into silliness????? My dear Flopsie, the whole thing BEGAN as silliness. Though I’m glad Monsieur Robbins wrote to the Foundation, and I hope they do as he suggests.

    There is something faintly comic about an American poetry institution inheriting millions from a wealthy pharmaceuticals heiress. Sort of like one of those Greek gifts in the old Homer thingamajog, or the Lotus-Eaters scene in the Odyssey. The POETRY FOUNDATION, set down there at the center of the Great Pyramid of poetry contests, grants, teaching plants, blurb-writing factories, etc. Is there a pill for rejection slips? Sleep, sleep, go back to sleep everyone… let me recite this lullaby…

  52. Sandra Simonds

    Forrest Gander advises poets to run from armed guards vs Forrest Gander advises poets to run from rent-a-cops vs
    Forrest Gander advises poets to run from…er…ushers…

  53. CJ Laity

    Paul, I’m assuming you are referring to the original disruption in which Dunn was arrested, but despite your creative description of what you witnessed I still haven’t a clue about what actually happened. If you have the time and are so inclined, as a witness, could you describe in simple layman’s terms what exactly Dunn did to get herself arrested? Would appreciate it. ;<))

  54. Paul

    “I’m uneasy with the idea that an institution devoted to poetry would turn so unthinkingly to the repressive arm of the state (sorry, but that’s what the police are) as a response to such a completely harmless (if intellectually empty) prank.”

    Once again, there are very different versions about what actually occurred than are being mentioned by those trying to rally you to their defense. I only witnessed part of the events that resulted in charges, so admittedly this is heard second-hand from others, but if what other neutral observers are saying is accurate, I don’t think that it’s merely “a prank” to shove others or inappropriately touch them. Is there another standard for women than men when it comes to this, or are these reactions based on ignorance about what happened? If I disrobed and groped an unwilling person in a public place, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the “repressive arm of the state” turned up at some point.

  55. CJ Laity

    Thanks. I was actually there that night but left early so I missed it. That really doesn’t sound like it had anything to do with poetry. I’m all for sticking up for the rights of the oppressed and whatnot but this entire thing seems very misguided. What would happen if Emily was on Prozac, for example. How do we know. Maybe she would be an even better writer. And is Prozac even used anymore now that there’s Lexapro and Zoloft and Welbutrin and a slew of other drugs? I’m against how the drug companies push these anti depressants on anyone who cries or misbehaves, but I’m well aware that in some cases they are also very helpful. I lived with a person who could barely function because of depression but on a cocktail of meds she wrote a book of poetry and even had it turned into a play that the Reader gave a positive review to. Who’s to say. I also find it a little dubious that Stephanie isn’t weighing in here. Why do I have to wait to read some article in some magazine that I’ve never heard of to find out what the point of stripping and apparently groping people was. What did that have to do with poetry? I think there are enough real issues regarding the Poetry Foundation and what it’s money is doing to the grassroots scene without having to invent things by causing disturbances and then claiming to be the victim of oppression. I also find it a bit disturbing that these white guys are demanding that poetry centers be established in neighborhoods that they obviously don’t live in or support in any financial way themselves. I use to work on the West Side, it’s actually not that “impoverished.”

  56. adam strauss

    Yepyep, I’m glad to read this (I’m, true, biased (experientially so!) but it seems lovely to have someone highlight the enabling element of some medications; the blah mass airwave argument feels to me very either or, and it’s choice which is needed!):

    “As a poet who suffers from depression and takes prozac daily so I can continue both living and writing poetry, I take issue with the statements about prozac. Prozac is not a pacifying drug, it is a medication used to keep people like myself from wasting away in bed doing nothing.”

    Drug is a confusing word: the colloquial inflection is likely the most understood meaning, so it seems like some people don’t get that prozac etc doesn’t put one under the influence in any conventional sense.

  57. SSRI

    @M Robbins: You’re right. I was referring to the leaflet, not the banner. That said, I can’t say I know what they were getting at with the message on the banner. I assume the leaflet, which directed the reader’s attention to big pharma and so on, was there to clear that up. As for the banner itself, maybe they simply meant Emily Dickinson might not have been a recluse poet (and all of the historical ramifications of this) had she been on antidepressants? It seems like the statement was just an attention-grabbing lead in to the content of their leaflet.

  58. peter

    i want to generous here, but the idea of connecting mental illness with artistic greatness, i.e. that if E.D. were “well” she wouldn’t be a great poet, is just…. stupid. besides, we can’t even be certain there was something “wrong” with her. also, even if we were to assume the argument the sign is making (or rather trying to make, since i’m not totally sure what the argument is) is valid, then maybe, if we asked E.D. which she would prefer, to be a tortured genius, or a happy nobody, perhaps she’d choose the latter. not everyone believes that literary immortality is worth the cost of mortal, mental misery.

  59. Micah Robbins

    CJ –

    You don’t need to wait to read about it in “some magazine that [you’ve] never heard of.” I offered to forward you a copy of the article in advance, but you never took me up on my offer. Odd.

  60. CJ Laity

    So forward it. ChicagoPoetry@ChicagoPoetry.com. Though I appreciate that offer, I still find it odd that you can’t just spell it out for us right here where the claims are being made. Does your magazine have the exclusive on the description of events so that you can control the information, and if so, isn’t that about the same thing as the Poetry Foundation wanting to have exclusive control over what happens in their venue?

  61. “Showbiz”, Zurita, Drugs, and Conviviality: Some Thoughts on Brooks Johnson’s Poetry Foundation Actions - Montevidayo

    […] It seems that the one thing that a lot of the commentators/actors in the thread about Brooks Johnson… I think there’s been quite a bit of insightful things said (if sometimes unconsciously), suggesting that whatever the action accomplished or what it entailed (there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement about that), it did succeed in tapping into a “nerve” among poetry readers and writers. […]

  62. Micah Robbins

    CJ –

    No, it’s not the same thing & for obvious reasons. I’m not calling the police on anyone! I can say that it’s not clear exactly what Stephanie did, except “disturb the peace,” so it’s difficult to explain what happened without going through the details.

    She didn’t do any one thing, get it? It’s not like I can say, “She hit someone, therefore the PF called the police.” It’s not that simple.

    As I said earlier, I don’t feel like hashing out the details here in an extended comments-stream post. Why isn’t that fair enough?

    That being said, I am entitled to decide where I say things. Aren’t I? & your comparison of my hesitancy to launch into a description of SLP’s forthcoming contents to the Poetry Foundation calling the police on people really is cheap and – I must say – stupid.

  63. meg

    Well….now isn’t this a hoot! Poets love to get into trouble don’t they?

    I don’t see what the complaint is then. Things are as they should be.

  64. Frances Kruk

    Raúl Zurita begins his introductory note to _Anteparadise_ with the following lines: “A Pledge: I won’t dwell on the subject, but the fact is, we make literature, art, music, only because we’re not happy. Thus all the books that have been written, the great works of art. We have not been happy.”

    The protestors at the PF are not happy, and they’ve manifested this unhappiness through art actions, through life, by disrupting the banality of cheese and wine and blasé attitudes toward quotidian injustices and vanity. Their art actions are aimed at people who are so blinded by the dazzle of a poetry palace that they don’t even know what “happy” means, never mind “art” and “life” (cf sniffy comments earlier on Stephanie Dunn’s ostensibly disreputable indulgences at the gala event).

    For Zurita, the purpose of art “is to make life more humanly livable”, and to work as inclusively and collectively as the Croatoan Poetic Cell are doing. There is always a “glimmer of happiness” that, albeit distant, drives the making of art, of life that refuses permanent damage. It’s a glimmer that the windows of a glam building can’t reproduce …….
    Or maybe it is? Maybe PF’s irresponsible glitz does have one advantage? It’s making people so unhappy that they, the people, are making exciting, living, socially-conscious art.

  65. CJ Laity

    Yeah, but it is kind of the same. What if I got upset with you because you wouldn’t do as I say, that is, post the description here. And out of protest I showed up at your home or office or wherever you were working on the article or magazine and I hung banners from your windows and passed out leaflets to your guests and when you told me I was trespassing I insisted your home was a public space. I’m really not sticking up for the Poetry Foundation. I have mixed feelings about the Foundation. On one hand they’re doing all these cool things, like bringing Bob Holman to town on the 11th, but on the other hand, because they can just snap their finger and do things like that so easily, they are pretty much killiing 20 years of grassroots work from people like myself that actually had to put some effort into making poetry interesting enough to get public attention. The public has only so much attention to give poetry, and when they can get their big fix nearly nightly at the Foundation, who wants to come out to Humboldt Park or wherever to see me hosting a group of local up and comers? That being said, if I go into the Foundation and disrupt what they are doing I’d fully expect to have the cops called on me. I wouldn’t like it. I wouldn’t think it is fair. I wouldn’t think it is cool. I wouldn’t think it was called for. But I would expect it. It’s the Poetry Foundation, afterall. Not the Poetry Brothel.

  66. Micah Robbins

    I’m not sure how to respond to your conflation of my private residence with the Poetry Foundation’s new space and my shoe-string zine with the Poetry Foundation’s multi-million dollar budget, except to say that I don’t understand it. I can, however, say that I wouldn’t call the police on you if you came over and hung some banners around my neighborhood.

    I do, however, have a question: is your “Poetry Brothel” figuration meant to suggest that Stephanie Dunn’s actions make her a whore, and that the Poetry Foundation called the police in order to prevent whores like her (i.e., women who use their bodies [god forbid they show any skin] in acts of protest) from turning a “respectable” institution like the Poetry Foundation into Brothels? Because that’s what it sounds like to me!

    So now Stephanie isn’t just a criminal for protesting the way the PF spends its money, she’s also a whore. Thanks for clarifying your position, CJ.

  67. CJ Laity

    Wow. Um, no, there’s actually something called The Chicago Poetry Brothel and I chose that venue as an example of a poetry venue where disruptions probably wouldn’t be taken so seriously. Thanks for putting so many words in my mouth, though. The fact that you read all of that into it makes me wonder, perhaps you are reading much too much into Dunn’s arrest. Maybe she got arrested because the Poetry Foundation didn’t understand what she was doing (obviously it was so complicated it can’t even be described on a comment board and requires and entire article to describe it) and they just wanted her to stop doing it. Isn’t it likely that it’s as simple as that? The same with what happened when the banners were being dropped. I’m sure the PF didn’t understand the point, I don’t even understand the point, and they very well could have thought that their guests could have been in danger. And we don’t know the point of any of it, of course, because we’re still waiting for an article to describe it. We’re just suppose to take your word on it that it was “a poetic performance” of some sort.

    Actually, I don’t believe that the Poetry Foundation home is a public space. It’s owned by the Poetry Foundation and only open to the public for special events and a few hours a week for library viewing, right? That’s like saying your local grocery store is a public space. So besides them having a lot of money and you not having a lot of money, I don’t see what the difference is between someone coming to your home and disrupting your planned event and what happened at the PF. What is the point of any of this? I don’t get it at all.

    And also demanding that they do something or else you will continue the disruptions, that’s like the very definition of terrorism. Isn’t it?

  68. Micah Robbins

    Well, the Poetry Brothel does describe people as “whores,” so yea . . . there’s that. I’m just not sure I appreciate your suggestion that people – and especially women – limit disruptive/subversive acts, especially when they gesture toward the erotic, to “brothels” (whether figurative or literal). It not only suggests that what Stephanie did makes her a whore, it also sets up a situation where alternative spaces are the only appropriate venues for alternative forms of expression. This in line with the creepy way you want to control where and when people say things.

    & now, apparently, to speak out of line not only makes one a criminal and whore, but a terrorist as well! Maybe the Poetry Foundation should call the Department of Homeland Security in addition to the Chicago Police Department next time anyone challenges their power.

    Your reactionary thinking is disturbing.

    & sorry, but I still don’t understand how my home is the same as the Poetry Foundation. But like I said, if I held a planned event at my house and you came and hung some banners around the place, I wouldn’t call the police. Incidentally, the Poetry Foundation has described its building as “a home for poetry”; I’ve never described my house as a home for anything besides myself and my family. Maybe that will help you understand the difference.

  69. CJ Laity

    Oh whatever. Now you’re just going off on tangents. How many of the 700 people who were arrested demonstrating on the Brooklyn Bridge protest were surprised that they got arrested? Very few, I would imagine. If you are going to protest then be aware one of the consequences is getting arrested. Jesse Jackson got himself arrested several times protested in order to make a point. And disturbing the peace is probably the most minor arrest someone can endure. Instead of twisting everything in order to make me look like a sexist just for pointing out an interactive venue that I DID NOT NAME, why doesn’t Dunn just wear her arrest like a badge of honor and get on with her life. Making threats and carefully constructing a description of events that will obviously try to sway people’s opinions in your direction will get you nowhere. It’s not that hard to answer the quedstion, you know. Did Dunn strip and grope someone at the PF or not? Geez.

  70. Janice Frond

    I’d like to take a minute to address the criticisms that have been leveled at the statement: “WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF EMILY DICKINSON HAD BEEN PRESCRIBED PROZAC?”

    First off, the fact that this statement is being labeled as “ableist” is ridiculous, if only for the simple reason that it merely poses a question—whatever inferences are made beyond the question are solely the mental property of the imaginer. I don’t think the intent of the message was ever explicitly clarified, although maybe it doesn’t need to be.

    Secondly, Prozac is not a cure or a solution to depression, social anxiety, or any other mental health issue. The monoamine hypothesis Prozac is based on is outdated and overly simplified. There is no scientifically established correct “chemical balance” for serotonin or other neurotransmitters. The reasoning behind the lack of serotonin as the cause of depression is like saying the cause of headaches is the lack of aspirin. There is no accurate test to measure the neurotransmitter levels in a person’s brain. The only way these levels are accounted for is through subjective symptomatic testimony.

    There is little difference between Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Zoloft etc.—they all induce the same chemical action: block the reuptake of serotonin into the presynaptic neuron. Reuptake is necessary and normal for the regulation of neurotransmitters. Prozac literally “hacks” your brain, making the receptors do something they aren’t meant to do. Funny enough these drugs are called “Selective” Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors when they are anything but selective—the drug inhibits the reuptake of serotonin wherever it is found—it effects all serotonin receptor subtypes and even effects serotonin levels in the gut. These sub-receptors have different roles in the brain and body and to change their expression en masse is irresponsible and dangerous.

    Many people have taken the stance that anti-depressants are no more effective than a placebo—a glorified sugar pill with side-effects. The name this class of drugs has taken on is misleading and ironic. Anti-depressants do just the opposite of “anti-depress”—they actually have a sedating effect on the nervous system. Anti-depressants are not stimulants—they do not make the brain more alert or active—they do just the reverse. A major reason why someone may feel depressed or has low energy is because they aren’t getting the balanced nutritional support needed to make significant levels of amino acids available to the brain. There are alternate and more in-depth ways of treating mental issues and illnesses than with pills. Prozac is not a solution—it is a marketing scheme created by big pharmaceutical companies to target consumers who want a quick “fix” for their problems. Take a look at the suicide of David Foster Wallace. The crisis at the end of his life was caused because the drug he was taking (for 20 years)—Nardil—“hacked”/altered the way his brain adjusted neurochemicals so completely and thoroughly that it wouldn’t return to “normal” after he stopped taking the drug. The brain is more complex than the pharmaceutical companies want us to believe.

    So what if a group of poets made a sign that reads: “WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF EMILY DICKINSON HAD BEEN PRESCRIBED PROZAC?” It’s a reasonable question. She probably would’ve been so spaced-out and unempathetic that she wouldn’t have been able to become “Emily Dickinson” as we now understand her.

  71. CJ Laity

    Yeah, okay, but clinically diagnosed depression isn’t about being tired or having a lack or energy (they have energy drinks for that), it’s about feeling so sad and fearful and hopeless that you can’t even get out of bed. Live with someone for five years who is inflicted with it and then tell me it can be cured with herbs or whatever. Sometiems it can’t. When they call these drugs anti-depressants, they aren’t suggesting that they are stimulants, they are suggesting that they will help the patient stop feeling depressed–sad and hopeless and living in despair–which they do, for some people, those who do have some sort of chemical imbalance causing the problem. Unfortunately, yes, the drug companies want to turn a big profit so these drugs get pushed on people who don’t really “need” them.

    But what does that have to do with the Poetry Foundation? The PF actually didn’t receive money from the Lilly Pharmaceutical Company, they received money from Ruth Lilly, heir to the fortune. That money would have gone somewhere, so why not be glad it went to something culturally significant. The big question is did Lilly, in final days of illness when she was barely conscious, really intend to give that obscene amount of money to one poetry organization. That’s the real issue that this misguided protest is obfuscating, not whether or not the money arrived in the form of Lilly stock. So what exactly is the complaint? It’s not like the PF is selling Prozac.

    The other side of this misguided protest is how the PF is spending their money, which is ironic, since the protesters carried out their action during a reading of one of their favorite poets that the PF paid for. So, my question is, HUH???? Don’t they think THAT money was well spent?

    If I still don’t understand the meaning of this protest after four days of discussing it here, how the heck did you expect the PF to get it on the spot the night it happened?

  72. Rebecca Roberts

    CJ and others,

    I was at the event where Stephanie Dunn was arrested, and this is what I saw:

    After the readings were finished, she and another person were partially undressed and making sexual gestures. This went on for a few minutes, then the security guards asked them both to leave.

    As they were being escorted out the door, I saw Stephanie swing at the security guards. My understanding is that this violent gesture prompted the call to police.

  73. Guest

    You guy are getting in the way of some good programming WTF is wrong with you? I heard one of you was *shoving* people at the reading. It’s a really good thing I wasn’t there and wasn’t shoved, because when some disorderly jerk shoves me at a public event, I have been known to introduce kneecaps to my Uncle Louis V. Slugger.

  74. Bowerbird #24: Constant Velocity Invisible Control « avian architext

    […] extend these approaches to increasingly complex cases. We enjoy sprawling, complex pieces of art. Poetry is that which cannot be contained by the page or for that matter some ridiculous glass and st… Poetry is pretty much whatever you want to call a poem. Perhaps this will seem somewhat less […]

  75. LL

    Just a note: there are several Poetry Brothels, the home base being here in New York. I’m a member of the Brothel, and we are not lacking class or serious interest in poetry or poetic performance. I would reconsider your comparison between the PF and the PB. The PF’s mission is to promote poetry, just as the PB. The term “whore” is a play on the word. Not literal. The use of the word “brothel” simply suggests that instead of paying for sex, you may elect to pay for a private poetry reading.

  76. CJ Laity

    Not sure who you are addressing here, but I never used the word “whore” in relation to the Poetry Brothel nor did I use the Brothel as an example in order to suggest anyone was a “whore.” That word and that misunderstanding was presented solely by Micah. I merely used the Brothel as an example of a poetry venue that might not be as upset about an unexpected interruption (or audience participation) as the Foundation appears to have been. This was not meant to suggest that the Brothel doesn’t take poetry seriously either, just that it’s differnt than the Foundation. I’ve actually never been to the Brothel so I’m not even sure my assumption about it is correct, but from everything I’ve seen and heard about it it seems to be more laid back than the Foundation, and that’s all I meant. I could have just as easily used the Poetry Slam as an example of a venue that wouldn’t have reacted as harshly as the Foundation, but then Micah would have accused me of calling Stephanie a Slam poet. Right?

  77. Meriwether

    I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. The Poetry Foundation, POETRY ITSELF, does not exist to confirm the pseudo intellectual ideals of a group of students intent on gaining attention, not developing their own art or philisophical concepts.

    I was at the reading. The students, despite what they insist, were not there to honor Raul Zarita. Honoring Raul Zarita is LISTENING TO HIM. Is ASKING HIM QUESTIONS. Is DISCUSSING THE IDEAS YOU SUPPOSEDLY SHARE WITH HIM not drawing attention away from what he was saying in order to make yourself seem like a revolutionary. There is a time and a place for all rebellion. There is a time and a place to express your thoughts. Doing so when someone else’s LIFE’S WORK is being celebrated is entirely inappropriate, crass and guarentees that you will be disdained regardless of if people agree with you.

    The true spirit of poetry is not disturbing the peace. It is telling the truth. And the TRUTH of that evening, is that each and every person involved did not act nobly or herorically, they acted like immature idiots.

  78. Meriwether

    *heroically

  79. Guest

    Why do you even bother getting into any discussion with CJ Laity at all? this guy is a known bully and has wrecked the poetry scene in Chicago beyond belief despite what he thinks he’s done.

  80. TL

    Prompted by Kent’s comment about Barr’s verse (under another blog entry) to find some examples of it, I stumbled on this 2006 article:

    “Free (Market) Verse” by Steve Evans

    http://www.thirdfactory.net/freemarketverse-all.html#fn

    Interesting and to me relevant to the topic.

  81. CJ Laity

    Oh, you again, huh. Better than getting involved in a discussion with a cowardly person who posts lies anonymously. And what poetry scene is wrecked? The poetry scene happens to be doing fantastic. Just look at all the slams and lit shows there are, every night of the week. Stop blaming me if nobody is going to your shows, take responsibility yourself. Your scene may be “wrecked” but the rest of us are doing just fine.

  82. Guest

    irresponsibility is in the eye of the bully.

  83. CJ Laity

    Doesn’t it bother you at all that the rest of us were having a civil and intelligent conversation before YOU showed up and started making personal insults? Get over your infatuation with me already. This will be the last time I will respond to you here; I won’t be baited once again into pointlessly defending myself against someone who can’t even sign a name to off subject accusations.

  84. Salon.com on the Poetry Foundation Protests/Arrests - Montevidayo

    […] fair depiction of the Poetry Foundation melee, which we have discussed on this blog at some length (here and here and […]

  85. Betty The Really Radical Poet

    Who said that STEPHANIE DUNN has a hole between her legs and would like all of you to help her make it into a cesspool? That’s just not polite.