Pretension and Poetry: The Poet’s Glass Ceiling

Pretension and Poetry; poetry pretensious

The Day Pretension Came to Vita Brevis

Only once has someone left a negative comment on Vita Brevis. It was a fairly new reader who, after praising a couple of poems, mocked and belittled one poet’s work, implying at the end that it was pretentious.

The comment was held for moderation since it included a blacklisted word–which put me at a difficult crossroad: it was up to me to decide if I should approve it or not. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, and I’m still not sure if I handled it the right way.

I had two options: I could approve the comment and cement Vita Brevis as a free and uncensored environment that welcomes all critics, or I could delete it, robbing the poet and the community of another form of feedback. Both have their pros and cons, and both have lasting effects.

The way I saw it, this comment was much more than just a WordPress user insulting a poem. It was a warning to all of the emerging poets here at Vita Brevis that this is a toxic environment and that, at any moment, someone could insult you and your work to reduce you, at least in the critic’s mind, to nothing.

I couldn’t allow that. I’ve spent a great deal of time configuring every aspect of this community to invite new poets to give publishing their work a shot. From the about page to the guidelines and (especially) the rejection letter, I’ve tried to remove as many barriers to submission and re-submission as possible. To me, this comment undermined everything that Vita Brevis stands for.

So, I deleted it, nudging our community in a small way toward censorship but constructiveness instead of uncensored criticism and the dissuading power within it. And I don’t regret it.


The Strange Nature of “Pretentiousness”

In a great Guardian article, Dan Fox points out an interesting feature of persuasion: it never self-identifies. It always happens “over there’. It’s how someone else writes. It’s how someone else speaks. It’s a label we more often throw onto others than ourselves.

But I think it serves a second purpose too: not only does it knock down the accused–it builds up the accuser. If you have the capacity to know what is or what isn’t pretentious, then you must be seeing things a bit more clearly. You must be consulting your superior aesthetic sense. And that’s evidence that you’re above the creation and thus its creator. Right?

No. I don’t think so at all.

Daring to explore something, even if it means going against your preconceptions, is always more virtuous than dismissing it–especially with the thought-exterminating remark “It’s pretentious”.


Make no mistake, some poetry can be pretentious. Some people can be pretentious. That’s to be expected in any domain of life. No one is unerring. But dismissing something at first glance because it seems pretentious isn’t proof of an onlooker’s superiority–it’s just about the easiest thing someone can do.

Much harder is finding something of value in the poem or art piece, or at least trying to understand why others might find it valuable. Then, even if the final analysis remains, “This is pretentious”, at least the critics haven’t convinced themselves that with a flick of their wrists they could reduce an artist to a pile of rubble. That they are the ultimate aesthetic conscience, deciding what is and what is not worthy. That would be a bit pretentious, after all.


Is there a Glass Ceiling on Themes that a Poet can Tackle?

Why should profound themes be outside of the reach of anyone–especially emerging poets, like the contributors of Vita Brevis, with a heart set on putting them to words?

In reality, these profound topics aren’t out of a poet’s reach. Anyone can think or write about anything they want. That’s an essential freedom that can’t be stomped out by outside influence. That’s how Tchaikovsky produced gorgeous symphonies through his misery. That’s how Nietzsche wrote paradigm-shifting books while his own body imprisoned him. That’s how Viktor Frankl retained his humanistic love in the face of the great evils at Auschwitz. That’s the residence of the soul for many religions, the mind for the dualists, the divine spark for the Stoics, and the self-corrective force of humanity for the humanists.

If it sounds strange that I’m comparing the freedom of topics that a poet can cover to these weighty individuals–maybe even pretentious–then I’m on the right track. The way I see it, it is that important. And it is that relevant. We’re talking about art, after all, which the existentialists viewed as the social and moral conscience of humanity, that some phenomenologists (like Heidegger) viewed as a uniquely human method of grasping truths so deep that only an individual’s subjectivity can convey them–chiefly through poetry.

Art can endeavor itself to tackle topics that nothing else can–sometimes messily and sometimes elegantly. And that’s profound. It’d be a crime to limit that.


Maybe I Did the Wrong Thing

But a world where critics don’t exist might not be the utopia that artists (and editors like me) think. After all, some of the greatest artists in history produced their works in this environment exactly, straddling the best they could the thin line between pretension and brilliance, harsh critical reception and praise. In the same way the Taoists and humanists say death enlivens life, maybe the damning feedback of critics nourishes art. And maybe I robbed Vita Brevis of that strange, garden-path luxury.

But I’m ok with that because I also know that creating a safe environment encourages people to explore and take risks with their work. This is essential to learn how to more cleverly and expertly create something. And frankly, that’s all I want to do here.

In the end, I’m glad that this person left the comment. It gave me the chance to do what many of you poets do–take something negative and senseless and turn it into something useful and insightful that teaches us a bit more about our world and ourselves.


2018_edited-e1532720266746 About the Author

Brian Geiger is the founder and editor of Vita Brevis, a popular online poetry magazine, and Mental Life, a humanistic publication that merges psychology and philosophy. He’s currently studying to become a psychotherapist.

Advertisements

39 thoughts

  1. Not all comments are equally
    valid. You have the freedom
    not to listen, as others have
    the freedom of expression on
    their own site.
    There are mischievous trolls
    out there. The mean spirited,
    those over medicated, and under
    medicated. You did the right
    thing. It’s not censorship.
    It’s using your discretion.

    1. An interesting point, David! You’re right. Freedom of expression goes both ways: saying what you want and listening to what you want. Still, I’m left wrestling with my choice to impede my readers’ ability to choose what to listen to. You do bring up a good point about discretion–I’ll have to think about that!

      I appreciate your thoughtful reply

  2. I loved reading this article Brian. Very profound and articulate. Indeed,having a critic is the inclusion of the necessary evil in the creative environment but to write a harsh comment just to bring somebody down should be condoned at all possible instances. In the hind sight , the person gave us a moment for introspection and enough inspiration for you to pen down this article for all the readers of Vita Brevis. We might not be be ardent worshippers of each other’s work but we can always learn from each other rather than leaving harsh comment at someone post with the intent of bringing someone down.

    1. Well said, Megha. Constructive criticism and mockery are very different things. Ultimately, I’m glad I deleted the comment and used it to open up this discussion. I appreciate your taking the time to read this and leave your thoughts!

        1. It’s a pleasure to have you aboard! You’re among the many contributors at Vita Brevis that make this community as strong as it is. Many thanks for that!

    1. It’s good to hear that, PS! And good on you for being a consistent positive addition to our community. It doesn’t go unnoticed!

  3. “I felt that the best style for poetry was none of the many poetic styles in English, but something like the prose of Chekhov or Flaubert”, Lowell. LOL, everyone is a critic.

    Poetry critics, professional or otherwise, are at a disadvantage. They cannot see into a person’s heart, nor do they have any responsibility to assist in melody, or how heartfelt feelings translate into a song. What one takes away from any poem, what touches your heart, is a gift from the poet. Refuse the gift, but do not denigrate that act of giving, unless you are called upon.

    Thanks Brian.

    DAC

    1. I put this quote from Yeats in a little collection of my poems that I gave to my family, trying to ward off the evil that is mockery: “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams beneath your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Your comment, DAC, reminds me of that. Thank you.
      Cynthia

  4. As you mentioned, it is a double edged sword. Your title says “editor”, so the ultimate responsibility of what gets published, including comments, rests with you. Personally I would like to hear negative comments if constructive from which I could improve myself. Other than that I see no value in comments that do not add anything to my growth.

    1. That’s a very good point. Some comments come off as little more than toxic. But constructive feedback is different and invaluable, even if it’s colored in a negative light

  5. Thank you for writing this and as an emerging writer, I do appreciate knowing that Vita Brevis is a safe environment to explore and learn, expound and reflect. I hear your worry about whether you did the best thing. I think that you did! As editor, you envision the writing environment and your actions follow through with that vision.

    One thing I did wonder about was if the commenter realized how their words sounded and if communicating with that person about why the comment was not allowed would have given the person a chance to explain and rewrite if they were so inclined. Their response would probably have been very telling about their intent and possibly their character. And may have erased any doubt you had about whether it was the best thing to do or not.

    I really appreciated your article on this situation. I have learned so much and have been inspired so much by Vita Brevis! Thank you Brian!

    1. I really appreciate your thoughtful response! You’ve brought up a great point about talking to the person. I chose not to for reasons I’m not certain of, the toxicity of the comment may have been a factor.

      Who knows, maybe the person will read this and set the record straight with me–I’d enjoy hearing that side of the story. In any case, thank you for being a positive influence on this little community. We all have to uphold our individual end of that deal

  6. It’s usually only a matter of time before a site has to deal with this issue. The problem is trying to distinguish between the so-called trolls and somebody who’s just feeling a little cranky and throws out a meaningless epithet like “pretentious”. I don’t envy your role here and is why I just turned the comments off in my Web site on day one.

    Courtney Barnett, in her song “Nameless, Faceless”, actually incorporated one of her critic’s words into the song: ‘He said “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / And spit out better words than you”‘. I suppose that’s one fairly gutsy way of neutralizing those kinds of comments.

    Complete lyrics here for a song that deals with anonymous online critics. Might provide some solace:
    https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/courtneybarnett/namelessfaceless.html

    Performance here:
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQVvSdymxmQ&w=640&h=360]

    Hope posting a link doesn’t trigger the blacklist (does on some sites)!

    1. It did trigger the blacklist, but unlike the commenter in question, this was an easy “approve”.

      You’ve brought up a wonderful point. Originally, I didn’t allow comments on this site. Once I took the risk though, I quickly saw the overwhelming good in people. In my experience, they can almost always be trusted. I’m glad I could put my own spin on this incident and turn it into the open discussion it has become.

      Thanks for reaching out, and welcome to the community!

  7. I think you now know me quite well Brian, and i wholeheartedly agree with your decision. If you had published it, it could have erupted into a war of words that served no purpose. I believe that people who make comments like that are just wanting a response so they can feel important. They are nothing more than cyber bullies. Secondly, you are absolutely right in trying to protect emerging poets. Those of us who have been around know how to deal with negative comments, but new poets are already filled with self doubt and need to be encouraged, not discouraged. You are an encouraging force for new and old poets Brian and I totally support your decision. Be proud of yourself Brian… We are proud of you and all you do for us and I am honored to be a part of Vita Brevis!

    1. Excellent point, Walt! Reading through and responding to these comments has really helped me develop a fuller understanding of this situation. I wish I emphasized in the article that some of the people here are seasoned and capable of taking criticism with elegance. In fact, these are often the poets who consistently interact with the poems and leave genuine comments.

      As you pointed out, I worry about the rest of the emerging poets who are in far too vulnerable a place to have their wrists slapped. There’s no need for a war of words here–, especially on their debut publication. This should be a moment of pride, not anxiety and embarrassment. As you said, “New poets are already filled with self doubt and need to be encouraged, not discouraged.”

      Perfectly said, my friend! In a nutshell, that’s what my entire article was getting at. This community is only as strong as its individuals, and I know you’ve done a lot of good here. Your poems, interview, and many thoughtful comments have helped define Vita Brevis, and I’m thankful for it!

      1. I’m new here, and I’m a novice. I am so proud and excited to have my poems here on Vita Brevis. The site is beautiful, the community is supportive, the poems are individual and can be quite captivating, and the resources are helpful. Your welcome to the site has brought me much-needed validation and confidence. For many of us, the only language we really speak is Poetry, and we want a conversation with other speakers of this mysterious language. Mockery does nothing but puff the mocker up and pull the poet down. It’s worse than useless. There’s no need for it to come around here. What’s here is worth protecting.

        1. My thoughts exactly, Cynthia! It good to hear your feelings about this. That validation and confidence you speak of are exactly what Vita Brevis is for. It’s hard to get accepted here, but once you do it, you can feel proud that it was earned. Nothing should detract from that moment, especially worse-than-useless comments. That burst of confidence and lift should carry poets through to their next publication and safeguard them from poetry-ending self-doubt once they’re faced with the inevitable bouts of rejection inherent in this process.

          That’s a fragile and beautiful thing, and if a nasty comment threatens that for no reason, I’m more certain now than when I wrote this, it should be done away with. Healthy criticism keeps a good rose-to-thorn ratio. Comments like this person’s, though, are nothing but thorns.

          Thanks for leaving this comment and taking the time to read and think about this article. I’m glad we could turn this situation into an open discussion with so many wonderful comments. I’m glad you’ve joined our great community, Cynthia!

      2. My words come from the heart and years of experience Brian. We all support you like you support us. I sold time shares for a short time in Florida, so I learned rejection very quickly, lol. Thank you for your kind comments about me. I’m working on the article and will be sending a couple of poems shortly for consideration. Things have slowed down for me a little. https://waltswritingsonlife.wordpress.com/2018/11/14/severe-nerve-damage/

        1. I’m so sorry to hear about this, Walt. Of course, feel free to take your time. You’re under no deadline, so no worries! I appreciate your comment and hope for the best!

  8. I agree that it’s up to your discretion–just as you decide what poems or articles to publish. I am thankful that you are so supportive and encouraging to poets, both established and new. I had also wondered if you thought about trying to contact the person offline. At the same time, there is absolutely no need for anyone to leave a negative comment. If you don’t like a poem, then don’t comment at all. If you have a question about it, then you can ask it politely. That seems simple enough. 🙂

    1. Always good to hear your thoughts, Merril! I did consider contacting this individual but decided it wasn’t my place. After a day or so, I changed my mind and went onto the user’s blog to find a contact page. No luck. I could have pressed on and found another way, but I decided to leave it alone. It was at that moment that I started writing this article.

      It was unfortunate that the user wrote the comment in the first place–he/she was a new reader and left a few kind remarks on other poems. I’m not sure what it was about this one poem in particular that was bothersome.

      It’s nothing tragic, of course, but when you dedicate yourself so fully to something, minor hiccups like this catch you up. I see that as my job, to get “caught up” on the right things and keep Vita Brevis’ reputation intact, at every level.

      As I told others, not all poets know how to handle this kind of criticism. They should learn, and they will, but this isn’t a battleground. The comment section here isn’t to wear people down until they develop callouses and become better for it. It’s a community and a resource. It’s a springboard. It’s hard enough to get published here (most are serially rejected–it’s no walk in the park), but once they are (and for upward of 70, this is their debut publication), you ought to enjoy it and be proud of it.

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment! I worked a few things out in my head while responding. Many thanks for doing your part to keep this community healthy–it doesn’t go unnoticed

  9. Your house, your rules. 🙂 I don’t question why you deleted the comment and I agree that your job is a tough one. I like what many here have written–they wanted to see what was so egregious that it was censored.

    Certainly the “blacklist” word, but again, I wasn’t aware there would be any words that were blacklisted unless they were meant as an outright attack, calling the person a pejorative, or dismissing the poem as *bleep* or whatever it was.

    I think my question would be, which poem was it? I wondered last night if I’d unintentionally posted the offending comment in question during one of the haiku contests. If so, I’ve no intention of writing privately to explain, nor apologize, but writing publicly, here and now, for everyone to see as well as you–if what I wrote was mistaken for “toxic” and negative, I deeply apologize.

    I can also honestly say it was not done in with a mean spirit, nor was it done to tear anyone’s work down. As a professional, experienced writer, that is something You. Do. Not. Do. Constructive criticism is okay, but blasting a poem for “pretension” without any sort of qualifier? Not okay. As I alluded to in a recent blog, “pretension” is the new “black” in the literary and art worlds.

    I wondered, too, because I believe (and now know) I’d posted something with a “blacklisted” word. I’m still not sure what those are, so I need to look. My comment-cum-haiku was meant to be edgy and “fun.” At the time, I thought it was okay because I know myself: I would never attack another poet’s work intentionally, nor do it for the sake of being cruel. Many poets here are beginners or have not had many previous publications. It would be egregious of me, indeed, to attack someone who is starting out, tentatively dipping their toe in this uncertain realm.

    However, once you write the words, people interpret them how they will. If anything, I will go on the attack if I feel I’m being censored! And if my comment was indeed the offending comment, the only criticism leveled was at being censored without explanation.

    You write of a “safe community” in which writers can share their work. I love the Cyber-Utopia ideal, but at what cost? And I wonder what motivated you besides providing this “safe space,” via moderating such comments. I don’t challenge with this query. As I stated above, “your house, your rules,” but I do wonder. Because people who want to be writers are not going to want to stay in the “safe space” forever. They will want to expand, grow, and even (perhaps subconsciously) seek-out conflict within new audiences in order to test themselves, thus providing the antagonists against which they might use the “battering ram of their pens.”

    I learned of a study done recently that discussed communal human behavior during, or in the aftermath, of a natural disaster. What they found was that, when in the face of terrible calamity, people indeed rose to the occasion, time and again. The community reacted as a whole, and came together, especially to and for the families or individuals who were “hit” the hardest.

    The social pressure of “community-based” models of inpatient addiction treatment centers has been, and is gaining even more momentum, as the standard in most places. The community, within the constraints and constructs of the established milieu, are responsible for not only taking care of themselves, but each other, and when one person transgresses, he or she is held to the community standard, and then the community steps in to call for accountability and, if applicable, amends.

    In treatment facilities it’s pretty black and white. In a writing community? One person’s “blacklist word” is another’s vernacular. And I agree with others, above: intent is everything. I believe, Brian, you’re astute enough to consider what the true intent was behind the comment. The question then becomes: Your house, your rules, however, when in their house (or blog, or review somewhere else), how do you control their toxicity and shield the beginning poet from them there? Obviously, it’s impossible.

    So, as the editor in chief of VB, you choose what will get published. But do you really want to be the community “gate-keeper,” as well? I shudder to think about having that job! So, I wonder what would have happened had you allowed the comment but asked them to remove the “blacklist” word, then asked them with sincere and pointed questions about the intent behind their comment and what they hoped to accomplish with it.

    It would be quickly revealed if they were a troll, or whether they were in a snit or having a bad day; or perhaps their words were misunderstood, or even taken correctly, but why the harsh criticism?

    Had that approach been taken, and if, best case, they were indeed misunderstood, they would have a chance to redeem themselves. Instead, the “safe environment” THEY had felt safe enough to engage with, suddenly ousted them with censure and silence.

    If you call them out, publicly, and in a civilized manner, as the “Man of this House,” others here would follow suit, I believe. And if they have no introspection, and they do indeed cross the line to “toxic,” you then have full power to ban, “86” and moderate-away.

    A community is just that: people who stand by each other and help each other to be better than they are as a single individual. Community calls for altruism and heroics. It calls for sacrifice. It also allows diverse voices and opinions, and it allows those who would be acerbic and hurtful in their comments to see that while certain behaviors and comments are unacceptable, THEY are accepted if they choose to be.

    I’ve found those who are the most bitter are those who have been ousted and shunned from a community. Our streets are littered with them. Our prisons are full of them.

    And when they walk out of their cells, having paid their debt to society, AS a society, we continue to punish and reject them, despite the crime. We say, “You ARE a criminal, and therefore you are not welcome.” Of course, if the crime and behavior is such that they’re a danger to others, then a different tack is taken. But it doesn’t matter; we don’t parse. A felony is a felony, whether it’s grand larceny or rape. And the job application simply has a box: “Have you ever been charged or convicted of a felony?” Why bother applying.

    What if, instead, we said, “You are welcome, but this is the behavior that’s expected of you, and your past, or other behaviors are unacceptable. Now, it’s up to you whether or not you’d like to adhere to the community standard, or not. If not? Peace to you and may the road rise, but please find another place to be/live.”

    Finally, and in closing: I don’t read my book reviews, typically. But when I was a “baby novelist” and my first book hit the world stage, I had as many lovers as haters. But one review was from a seasoned writer, an MFA, who’d been published several times. She knew me personally, in fact, and she had a blog that had thousands of followers, read by all her MFA writing friends from national writing conferences as well as her fans.

    She ripped my book to shreds, used huge portions of the text as object-lessons for “how NOT to write.” Oh yes, I was devastated for a time. It was mean-spirited, callous, and meant to douse any fires I had in wanting to write professionally, ever again. Her intent was crystal.

    Instead of shriveling up and receding from the literary world, I moved her vitriol aside and read–really studied–her blogs about my book. To this day, it was one of the best critiques of my work I’d ever read.

    She moonlights as an editor, and to have her edit a book cost, at the time, way more than I could have paid her. I calculated how many hours each blog post must have taken her, plus the purchase of my book to decimate, and I concluded that she gave me a fantastic edit, free of charge. It made me a better writer. And although her intent was to destroy, I had a choice in how I viewed the attack (eventually.)

    Had I taken legal action to have the blog posts removed (she did a whole series!) and I could have, because she violated the “Fair Use” law w/r/t the amount of text she’d posted, I’d have never learned a thing, and she would have probably done it anyway, only in a way that I couldn’t see, find, and glean any knowledge from, and that would have been my loss.

    Again, I love this community, and if I was the offender, which I don’t think is likely, but if I was, my profoundest apologies, and my hope is to make amends by continuing to lift writers up constructively, when I’ve the time, and hopefully remain true to myself in that process. “If you can’t say something nice about someone’s poem, don’t say anything at all” is good advice. But if you must say nice things all the time to be a part of a community, and there is only one arbiter of “nice,” then it’s not a community. It’s something altogether different.

    So…my 2-1/2 x 30 cents(!!) for what it’s worth.

    Peace to you and again, I can only speak for myself, but I think many feel this way: thank you for this labor of love, and for giving poets a place to not only bare their hearts, but perhaps at times, bare their teeth–as well as cut them.

    JA

    1. I can assure you that you were not the commenter in question! I don’t recall questioning any of your contributions to this site, but with so many comments on old and new posts each day, it’s easy to forget.

      This comment was particularly “crystal” in its mean-spirited nature and uselessness. It just tore things down and permitted, from my stance, no interpretative room as a comment that came off the wrong way or intended to be constructive.

      I liked your point about your book review–you were able to see it for what it was, a valuable critique, if a difficult one to stomach.

      The problem of censorship for many is “Well, who gets to do the censoring, and are they representative of the lot of us?” I hope I am. I try to be. Even if that means making executive decisions from time to time, as I see fit. Thankfully, I’m rarely in that situation,. But when I am, I’m sure to remind myself that not everyone here is as seasoned as some of the other poets among us. Some are easily dissuaded emerging poets that are here to get their sea legs. They’ll get a thicker skin as they move forward, but for now, I like to think this community will let them explore and find themselves first

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply–It’s always good to hear your thoughts!

      1. Sorry for the delay, but I forgot to add I loved this post, too. It provoked much food for thought in me as well. I’ll be writing about it today, maybe. A fascinating subject. And I played devil’s advocate for a spell because I have been, though unintentionally, on the wrong end of an interpretation.

        I had someone who said he was “going to be a novelist” tell me that good writers are “never misunderstood.”

        I responded by saying, “So you’re saying I’m a lousy writer, then. Even though you haven’t read one of my books.”

        “No, no,” he said, “I wasn’t saying that at all. I was saying that the best writers throughout history are always the ones who write their messages and concepts clearly.”

        “Okay, so only dead writers are any good.”

        “No, no–” he stammered and that’s when I smiled.

        “Dave,” I said, “we like to think that everyone is in our heads when we write. Yet here I am, standing here, face to face with you and I had the benefit of context, your body language, your tone of voice, your personal history–or what little I know of it–and I knew you were not personally attacking me. But do you see how I could have still chosen to misunderstand your words?”

        He started to question whether or not he should even TRY to write a book, and that’s when I told him that the object of the “object lesson” was not to discourage him from clarity in his writing, but to release the expectation that everyone will “understand” him. And in fact, go “in” with the understanding that no one will fully see his whole process, not ever. All he can control is the way in which he tells his story. That’s it.

        I actually had someone think I was a man for a long time because I write assertively and with a direct tone. Funny how that was okay–when he thought I was male. But when people know I’m female, I’m often accused of being too abrupt and “aggressive.”

        So many variables. So many wonderful nuances.

        And I tell students this all the time: “If you think the art of the written word is dead because of the digital age, think again. The digital age has simply added another layer of difficulty–and at times ease–in the creation of literature. But understand: when I say ‘ease,’ in no way do I imply that as a positive. Not a hundred percent. When you write a quick note to someone with whom you’re irritated, (but you must be polite) and you don’t stop to consider your words, your tone, your ‘audience,’ there are no emojis or emoticons or ‘lols’ that will take the sting or edge off of your message.”

        Thank you again, Brian. Have a great weekend.

        Peace–JA

    2. JA, I loved this – “And when they walk out of their cells, having paid their debt to society, AS a society, we continue to punish and reject them, despite the crime. We say, “You ARE a criminal, and therefore you are not welcome.” Of course, if the crime and behavior is such that they’re a danger to others, then a different tack is taken. But it doesn’t matter; we don’t parse. A felony is a felony, whether it’s grand larceny or rape. And the job application simply has a box: “Have you ever been charged or convicted of a felony?” Why bother applying.

      What if, instead, we said, “You are welcome, but this is the behavior that’s expected of you, and your past, or other behaviors are unacceptable. Now, it’s up to you whether or not you’d like to adhere to the community standard, or not. If not? Peace to you and may the road rise, but please find another place to be/live. ”

      I served my sentence and paid my debt to society, but the label, the “scarlet letter” as it were, still remains. Convicted felon. No jail time. Nobody hurt. Yet all that matters is the label. And I live with that guilt every day of my life.

  10. Brian, I think you have consciously created a space that is meant to be both supportive and inclusive. You have given emerging poets a place to express themselves, to gain confidence and to be boosted up. I think it is vital. In my observation, WP is mostly a supportive environment; this is not a writers group that provides critique, and I don’t think it needs to be. Critique is easy enough to find and also an important part of growing as a writer, but not every creative space has to provide that. It sounds like the comment you decided not to approve wasn’t even really a critique, just a mean spirited rant, which is something that shouldn’t happen even in writing groups that are designed for writers to provide and receive critique. I personally think you made the right call, especially given what you are striving to create with Vita Brevis. I wish you had been around when I was first jumping into the realm of publication.

    1. That’s a wonderful point–these kinds of comments wouldn’t even be acceptable in an environment that’s supposed to allow critiques. You’re right–Vita Brevis isn’t a writer’s group. It’s a publication, resource, and community. Most importantly, it’s a magazine that has debuted around 70 brand previously unpublished new poets, despite its low acceptance rate. Many of whom were rejected only to try again (and again, and again) until they earned their way onto the front page. There’s plenty of rigor here already, why add toxicity, too?

      I appreciate your comment and your taking the time to read this article! Thanks for being a positive influence on this community. Vita Brevis is only a good as its individual members

  11. I’ve loved the thoughtfulness of both your article here, Brian, and comments on it by fellow Brevites. I think we can all identify with the inner conflicts we have regarding our own editorial choices–whether we are the moderator or the moderated. Writers worth their salt spend a lot of time deciding how/where/when/why to use their words. Poets worth their salt understand that their lines must stand in solitary defense of their purpose. That some don’t or won’t embrace them or the decisions we’ve made around them is a challenge we accept if we continue to write. That some do–that some are willing to unravel your layers and say, “me too”–is the reward.

    1. I’ve never thought of editing a magazine as analogous to writing–that’s a very interesting point, and I completely agree. Thanks for reading this article and leaving such a thoughtful comment, Katy! It’s good to have you in this community

Any thoughts?