single and writing sad poems//on the internet.
December 1, 2017 11:46 PM   Subscribe

"And so Collin, with his cigarettes and typewriter and goofy smile, continues to share poems on Instagram (at least when you were with me, you were an artist/now you’re just someone’s girlfriend/I’m not sure who that hurt more, goes a recent poem). 'It shouldn’t matter if your ‘poetry’ sucks,” he said. “You wrote it. You created something, you molded words together and it means something personal to you… to me, poetry is simply being pure and honest with yourself.'" A conversation with the most hated poet in Portland.
posted by Grandysaur (67 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
It’s unfortunate that the internet has made the age-old tradition of mocking other people’s poetry into such an intense and mob-like experience—whatever Byron did to Keats, at least he didn’t get people to send hundreds of abusive letters to his house. But mocking other people’s poetry is an age-old tradition, as old as poetry itself, and this guy seems more outraged by mere criticism, harshly expressed, than by all the internet-mob stuff. If you find harshly expressed criticism of your poetry so inherently unbearable and outrageous and unfair, maybe publication of poetry is not for you? You can be pure and honest with yourself without selling copies of your pure honesty in shops. People who find your pure honesty in shops and think it’s overpriced are entitled to say so, in whatever terms they think fit. Of course it’s not nice or fun to be harshly criticised, but that’s just the risk involved in publication. Maybe it’s true that people are harsher online than they were in print in the old days? I find that a pretty dubious claim, though, thinking of some Victorian book reviews.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:43 AM on December 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Huh, I've been dethroned and forgotten, apparently. Oh well, it's been long enough.
I hope that Mr. Yost leans into the curve, and strives each day to be the best MacGonigall that he may be. Long may your stanzas wax purple and tendentious, my young friend...best wishes and see you at the Bulwer-Lytton awards afterparty.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 12:50 AM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


this guy suuuuucks

his poetry suuuuuuucks

don't tell him to kill himself tho (that sucks too)
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:06 AM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


he has a lot of cigarettes and sex but doesn't know the phrase "put out"
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:10 AM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


If you find harshly expressed criticism of your poetry so inherently unbearable and outrageous and unfair, maybe publication of poetry is not for you? You can be pure and honest with yourself without selling copies of your pure honesty in shops.

I would prefer that having a super thick skin wasn't a prerequisite to writing and publishing art. I think that just means that there will be less and worse total art, since a bunch of people who would have produced it it will have decided it wasn't for them. (You might claim that this guy's art is terrible, but even if everyone agreed that were true, many people learn to produce good art by producing terrible art first.)
posted by value of information at 1:11 AM on December 2, 2017 [18 favorites]


gross dude
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:14 AM on December 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


I’m not sure the incentive structures for art work that way. A lot of very thin-skinned people—Henry James, for example, or John Keats—faced devastating critique that made them furious and upset but didn’t make them stop writing. In the case of Henry James, arguably, the terrible reception of his terrible play pushed him to improve his art in a new form instead of abandoning it. Dickens was fiercely criticised for his anti-Semitic portrayal of Fagin and tried to do better next time. The history of fiction and poetry is full of such people, who are stung by criticism into trying harder instead of giving up.

Of course, it’s impossible to know about the hypothetical writers who decided writing wasn’t for them because of their fear of criticism. Maybe there are many, and maybe this is a great loss. But it seems intrinsically unlikely to me that anyone with anything to actually say would simply give up the whole thing because people make fun of their cigarette motifs or their fixation on writing whole poems about women who are completely irrelevant and dumb and mere footnotes etc.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:23 AM on December 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


I want him to stop writing though. He is the Train of poets. What if we can stop him before he pens his Hey Soul Sister.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:27 AM on December 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


Gosh these are inspirational, in the "why I'm a misandrist" sense
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:30 AM on December 2, 2017 [14 favorites]



Of course, it’s impossible to know about the hypothetical writers who decided writing wasn’t for them because of their fear of criticism. Maybe there are many, and maybe this is a great loss.


Metafilter has discussed Brandon Rhodes' talk Shutting Down Tolkien before, but it's worth bringing into any discussion of the impacts of criticism, as it seems to develop the case that both Tolkien and Lewis were crushed and possibly slowed/stopped by criticism from each other.
posted by wildblueyonder at 1:57 AM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I’m not going to defend this guy or his poetry, but I hope this thread spends more time talking about criticism and the effects of social media to amplify criticism (in maybe god as well as bad ways) rather than just attacking him and his poetry. I think other platforms already have that covered.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:46 AM on December 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


There isn’t group of people who are more or less susceptible to the tendency to gang up on the internet. “Everyone online falls somewhere on this spectrum,” Aboujaoude told me.

I definitely agree with this - it's a real mote-in-the-eye situation. I am always guarding against this tendency in myself, and disappointed when I fail to pull back in time.

Yost's privilege and seeming cluelessness, and his (I personally think pretty darned dreadful) poetry shouldn't really be enough to justify bullying. It's a bit one-sided, a throwaway tweet isn't much on our side, but times it by a thousand and that's pretty brutal for the receiver.

I mean, I see poetry like this on my facebook from people I went to school with sometimes (that they've written themselves). I cringe when I read it, but I wouldn't say anything about it. Self-expression and being creative shouldn't only be allowed when you're "good" at it. And who knows? Some of their other friends go gaga over it.
posted by smoke at 2:47 AM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


I agree that the poetry isn't great, but how do you think people get good at any art? By practising and persisting. Very few people are born geniuses at anything, and if we crush anyone who dares to try, we'll then be complaining about the lack of poetry/sculpture/music whatever. I take my hat off to him for simply putting himself out there. Anyone can criticise. It's so much harder to create. I hope he keeps writing, for his sake.
posted by Jubey at 2:55 AM on December 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


I wonder how many other people will never dare show their poetry to anyone now because they saw what happened to that guy? "Unapproved poetry! Get him!"
posted by pracowity at 3:20 AM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


as it seems to develop the case that both Tolkien and Lewis were crushed and possibly slowed/stopped by criticism from each other.

Slowed and occasionally crushed, yes, but stopped? Tolkien was slow but hugely prolific all his life. Lewis’ fiction improved immeasurably in strength and sophistication in the period after Narnia—if you compare his last novel, Till We Have Faces, with his first (The Pilgrim’s Regress), it’s difficult not to cheer for whatever crushing he got in between, since it made him so much more humane and nuanced and released his imagination from some of the harsh didacticism of his early work. I need to listen to that talk, but I’m pretty skeptical that C S Lewis is a good example of someone who was so wounded by critique that he failed to produce his best work. Maybe he had something in him better than Till We Have Faces, but I can’t imagine what that might be.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:23 AM on December 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


to me, poetry is simply being pure and honest with yourself

Being pure and honest with yourself (and others!) is a great thing to do. Poetry is also a great thing to do. But they're two different things. One is not "simply" the other, though they might sometimes both happen at the same time.
posted by escabeche at 3:29 AM on December 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


I now have a hard rule to never participate in a social media pile on, which I've never regretted following after the fact. I have felt guilty in the moment, about not participating, which is a little scary to me.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:34 AM on December 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


[The comments] started to feel theatrical and performative, about who can come up with the funniest tweet or the most biting satire.
Of course they were "theatrical" and "performative." That's a rhetorical, even poetic, mode itself. The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie, the earliest example of two Scots poets engaging in a poetic contest of insults and abuse, goes back to the early 16th century. What's troubling today isn't the theatricality of the biting satire, but the degree to which social media can turn those satirists into a mob.

I think satire and criticism, even vehement criticism, even in some cases abuse, are all valuable ways of speaking, still. But it's more incumbent on writers than ever to try to write proportionately and to grasp that writing online is never writing one-to-one, but is always broadcasting.

As to Yost, his poetry really is the living product of The Guy In Your MFA, but even The Guy In Your MFA has feelings to hurt.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:40 AM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


I hope Marlboro is paying him for all that free advertisement.
posted by nonmerci at 3:40 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


I could accept his poetry on the level of satire, I suppose, what with the roses and cigarettes and blood and fixation on self-harm, but if he's sincere his sentiments make me uncomfortable and I would be afraid to get into an elevator alone with him if I knew who he was.

As usual, I disapprove of pile-on culture, mostly because it makes the targets immune to any valid criticism they receive. Perhaps if there weren't a few thousand people telling him to kill himself, he might possibly be more receptive to criticisms of the misogyny in his work. The sentiment in the last poem from TFA crystallizes the objectification and dehumanization of women in particular--essentially, you were something with me, and without me you are trash. Since he is so insistent that his poetry expresses his personal truth, there's not much room to allow for satire or the death of the author.
posted by xyzzy at 3:41 AM on December 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


what with the roses and cigarettes and blood and fixation on self-harm

He's really missing a chance if he doesn't start a band and become a Bro Country Nick Cave.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:08 AM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


I asked Collin if he thought there might have been any validity to the criticisms leveled against him. “No,” he said immediately. “I’m completely fine with criticism when it is actually criticism. But saying “you’re a pretentious dick and your writing is trash. please stop. hope you die” isn’t criticism.

This, to me, is the important thing. There's nothing so special about poetry or "creativity" that it should be any more sheltered from recognition of it also being communication, carrying messages, intended or not, which are received in like fashion, to be potentially understood or misinterpreted through our own limitations. What people call criticism is mostly just a summary judgement and/or personalized response, for good or ill. The poetry sucks. The writer's a dick. Even if one true by some standard, such responses are no better.

Communication invites response, the group you are communicating to by writing poetry, drawing pictures, or designing games for will have reaction to that communication that has as much reason and right to be shared as the work that inspired the reaction. What point is there otherwise? Treating poetry, or any creative act as beyond response is unworkable, mostly not helpful, and sometimes may even tacitly supportive of harm.

But at the same time, responding out of smug superiority, simplifying and personalizing the response is as crude, self serving, and potentially harmful as the writing might be itself. While there are certainly times where direct communication of unacceptable ideas requires direct response of disagreement, most communication, artistic or otherwise, is better served by responses that speak to what one hears being communicated and how as being the best way to avoid misunderstanding and for mutual improvement in areas we may be blind to.

Collin's poetry carries some serious limitations in viewpoint that some of the people responding picked up, with it being so centered around his own view of experiences he shut out those of the others in the poems, which aligns with a larger social problem in the commonality of not hearing or outright denial of women's voices. Collin though isn't responsible for that social problem himself, he may or may not have been aware of the way his poetry matched that attitude since he most likely saw it as "honest" to his own experience.

Honesty is, however, not intrinsically "true" even as we often see it as such internally. Pointing out instances where personal belief doesn't match the experience of others can be useful if done in a way that the people communicating are willing to hear. Instead though we snark, cuz lols and likes are awesome and we too want approval just like the people writing bad poetry.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:23 AM on December 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Who hasn’t written horrible poetry when they were young? I am on board with a massive internet pile-on as long as it is all constructive criticism.
posted by snofoam at 5:08 AM on December 2, 2017


Imagine an alternate universe where Charles Bukowski was not an asshole misogynist, but just a terrible writer who somehow became famous.
posted by snofoam at 5:13 AM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


WhyNotBoth.gif
posted by tapir-whorf at 5:32 AM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Rereading this debate, and thinking more about literary spats of the past, I can’t help thinking that it matters that the people doing the critiquing in this instance—making the mean jokes and riffing off each other etc—are a gang of women, collectively mocking a man. Where were these earnest pleas for constructive, kind, gentle, give-him-time-to-grow critique, back when literary criticism was almost universally a world of men attacking other men (and/or a tiny handful of individual women)? Fierceness and mockery and satire have been staples of this genre forever. Anxiety about how these techniques are so problematic and immature and unkind seems to have emerged principally in response to spaces—online spaces—when women can actually act like a collective and a majority, while commenting on male writers. It’s funny how greater tenderheartedness towards the feelings of writers goes hand in hand with this switch in the gender demographics of criticism. (By funny, I mean suspicious.)

This is a different thing, obviously, from the particular forms of behaviour that only the internet facilitates—mobbing, personal threats, personal messages to the writer. I’m not a fan of that, at all, and it’s unpleasant and new and deserves to be attacked. But the criticisms of critics for just being mean when talking to each other—for mocking bad art for its badness, instead of gently and tactfully trying to help the artist—is a criticism of something that’s not new at all, except in terms of the gender balance between critics and criticised. That’s the thing I find deeply suspicious.
posted by Aravis76 at 5:49 AM on December 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


IDK, I'm looking at an article by a woman feeling a bit sorry for some unlucky rando being personally, extravagantly mocked by thousands of strangers and a Metafilter thread with 26 comments. I don't know if that's evidence of a new gendered movement against harsh criticism.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:45 AM on December 2, 2017


WrotealittlepoemaboutDunhillswannahearithearitgoes
posted by clavdivs at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


But the criticisms of critics for just being mean when talking to each other—for mocking bad art for its badness, instead of gently and tactfully trying to help the artist—is a criticism of something that’s not new at all, except in terms of the gender balance between critics and criticised. That’s the thing I find deeply suspicious.

There's certainly some truth in that I think and fairness must go both ways towards the writer and their readers. It's not wrong to hold poets to social standards you believe in and you don't owe them anything. I'd only say that informed criticism can reach an audience beyond the artist and provide reason for a perspective where mockery mostly just amuses those who already agree with you. The method of response should fit the situation. The more significant the writer or writing the greater use for criticism.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:28 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


He's being honest in that he's a shitty human being and can't be arsed trying to not be one. Presumably being young, conventionally good looking and coded as cooler than most people (living in Portland, having sleeve tattoos) will let him coast on this for a while before he has to pick up any weight. Perhaps, once his slack runs out and he shapes up somewhat, he has enough connections to jump the queue into a passably well-paying job in the media or something, where he can sign off on other shitty white dudes' feels and do a spot of gatekeeping, occasionally reminiscing about when he was a grungy hipster in the cool old Portland before it went downhill or something.
posted by acb at 7:28 AM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I just want to point out that Yost probably doesn't even smoke.
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:31 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


How interesting. When there was an FPP on Rupi Kaur, no one seemed concerned about how criticism might hurt her feelings. But put a misogynist white man's "poetry" in the spotlight and suddenly we've got to talk about kindness in criticism.
posted by palomar at 7:42 AM on December 2, 2017 [25 favorites]


some unlucky rando

He's not a "rando," though. That would be the case if these poems were lost on a train and subsequently published for mocking purposes, but he's carefully crafted this persona. He's definitely "unlucky" in the sense that he has come along at a cultural moment where women are not required to admire this kind of thing anymore.

Full disclosure: I have made fun of Yost's stuff before, although not, I think, where he could see it. Of course I don't want him to be physically threatened, or told to commit suicide. That should go without saying.* But he's conflating pure hatred with criticism that he needs to hear. Misogyny isn't the only problem with his poetry. A deeper problem with it is that it is not, in point of fact, very good. It's unoriginal and out of conversation with the world, a pastiche without the inquiry and originality that can make pastiche great.

I'm thinking now of Tommy Wiseau, who also has a bizarre persona and a misogynistic streak in his work, which, again, is not in conversation with the world. But the difference here is that Wiseau, somehow, was showing us something bizarre and amazing that we hadn't seen before. This? This we have seen, and it didn't make us laugh or lift us out of ourselves. At best, it inspires other young men to make more of it.

-----
* And how womanly is that, in me: always keyed to reassure someone who is ready to cry "Maybe I should just die is that what you want."
posted by Countess Elena at 7:45 AM on December 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


Where were these earnest pleas for constructive, kind, gentle, give-him-time-to-grow critique, back when literary criticism was almost universally a world of men attacking other men

My initial reaction to this was, "haha, the fucker deserves it." I'm fed up with sexist art, and my ability to feel sympathy for its creators has evaporated over time. I'm not a good enough person to see them as human beings when, as a woman, men like them constantly remind me that I'm not.

I think the difference between responses to the criticism depend in part on how seriously you take the sexism. There's still an idea that sexism is bad, but not that bad. It's a minor character flaw, like leaving dirty dishes in the office sink. But I am personally and viscerally effected--it makes me rage, and part of that is due to the non-response, due to how normalized it is.

And your comment reminds me of another incident: A female author live-tweeted a terrible date she witnessed between a man who couldn't shut up about himself and a woman who seemed uncomfortable with him - with no names, perfectly anonymous. There was so much hand-wringing about "shame culture." What a mean thing for her to do, right? Except I'm still absolutely sure people wouldn't have been so upset if she had live-tweeted about him being rude to his server, instead of to his date.

So, it's really hard for me to untangle people's responses. What is real, genuine concern over what kinds of criticism are appropriate, and how much of it is because when it's women, criticizing a man for being sexist, the criticism is both perceived as worse, and the value of women bonding over "hey, other people think this feels like shit too" is discounted.

I'm reminded of this image, a piece of probably sincere sexist art shared by someone who was also sincere. Hundreds of thousands of tumblr users--probably mostly younger women--reblogged it, mocking it, and ... I think that was good, because it's part of creating a culture where that kind of entitlement isn't tolerated, of young women telling each other they aren't alone and that this is indeed bullshit. The cost of this is that somewhere, a sexist asshole might be feeling pretty bad about his art being so widely mocked.

I do agree that the things you point out: personal messages, "kill yourself," etc shouldn't happen to him (or anyone), but that's not what a lot of comments expressing concern are about. They're about art, and how too much harsh criticism might shut up art.

But he's conflating pure hatred with criticism that he needs to hear.

I think this is a good point. There are many things that can be bundled under the label of "criticism" and they serve different purposes.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:58 AM on December 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


but I’m pretty skeptical that C S Lewis is a good example of someone who was so wounded by critique that he failed to produce his best work.

I like Lewis's judgmental and bitchy side as much as I like any of him (a great deal) and the sexism that was so fundamental to his thinking and his religious aesthetic never really went away, even when he figured out how to be nice to people. but god damn did his poetry suck. Lewis learning not to publish slim volumes of verse under coy pseudonyms was good for him, good for the reading public, good for the world. all young men can learn from his example.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:03 AM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


For one, every bit of space this guy takes up is a bit of space denied to a woman, PoC or queer artist, or someone with a perspective that's not that of a privileged mediocre white dude.
posted by acb at 8:22 AM on December 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


“He deserves to be beaten up in a strip club parking lot, while Bukowski rolls by in a limo and does not notice.”

I'll never forget how shocked I was when I first read some of Bukowski's poetry (imma go ahead and blame him for this guy because it's always Bukowski, these dudes never show up at the speakeasy clutching some Karl Shapiro or whoever) and it was really pretty good.
posted by thelonius at 8:30 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


I hope Marlboro is paying him for all that free advertisement.

He's really missing a chance if he doesn't start a band and become a Bro Country Nick Cave.


Marlbro Country, surely.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:36 AM on December 2, 2017


Menthols, yet.
posted by sjswitzer at 9:10 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Who hasn’t written horrible poetry when they were young?

Having been a girl once, I can second this. Girls mostly put this stuff in their secret diaries, though...
posted by The Toad at 9:18 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


When it comes to criticism that is directed at the artist, the more experience I get in writing workshops, the more I am convinced that the best practice is to be as kind as possible and to be open to the idea that the work might be doing something important that isn't yet fully formed or doesn't yet connect with you for whatever reason. That doesn't mean not raising legitimate points about where the work isn't succeeding - it does mean that when I'm in a class with someone who doesn't want to be sexist, I want to figure out a way to say "It bugs me that this female character seems to have no function in the story except to be saintly and then die" in a way that he's not going to hear as "You are a sexist." The experience of getting critiqued can make a person get anxious or defensive or ashamed and when they put their shields up, no learning is happening.

But. That's criticism for which the purpose is helping the artist improve. There are a million other legitimate purposes for criticism, from "to make a larger point about misogyny in poetry circles" to "to amuse oneself by calling attention to very bad poetry." And I think you have to make room for those, even in a world saturated by social media where every mean thing someone says about you is going to get back to you, and even in a world where the fame-asymmetries of social media make it very easy it is for a legitimate criticism to turn into a dogpile when your platform is much bigger than the other person's platform.

There's a weird line between "ordinary person" and "celebrity" where everything you do gradually becomes fair game for criticism. People can say "He deserves to be beaten up in a strip club parking lot" and mean that his ideas, or his poetry, or what he represents, deserve to be beaten up in a strip club parking lot. And that's wrong. But the idea that you can become an instagram-celebrity poet while never hearing anything bad about your work... that's wrong too.
posted by Jeanne at 9:36 AM on December 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Oh noetry,
Bad poetry
posted by Grandysaur at 10:34 AM on December 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


He's not a "rando," though. That would be the case if these poems were lost on a train and subsequently published for mocking purposes, but he's carefully crafted this persona.

A self-published/Instagram poet nobody ever heard of until people started making fun of them is a rando to me, every time. I'm torn because his poetry is mediocre, even awful, and is loaded with sexist tropes, so part of me thinks maybe tearing him apart has value, as instruction to other male artists and as, I don't know, an exercise of power for women? But part of me can't fathom making fun of somebody who doesn't even really have money or power as a form of entertainment and thinks that blowing a rando up into something more than he is is just an excuse for being sort of appalling. I can't help thinking that it's precisely the knowledge that somebody is small enough to potentially actually hurt that makes this kind of pile-on so appealing to some people.

How interesting. When there was an FPP on Rupi Kaur, no one seemed concerned about how criticism might hurt her feelings. But put a misogynist white man's "poetry" in the spotlight and suddenly we've got to talk about kindness in criticism.

Wow, Rupi Kaur is a NYT #1 bestseller and has a book deal with Simon and Schuster, though! How can you compare her to some guy? And IIRC the negative comments in that thread were along the lines of "Her poetry has societal value even if it's not for me"? I know I specifically chose not to comment because criticising the work of a popular WOC poet seemed like an unpleasant thing to do.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:43 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I'm a lady and also a writer, and I'd rather live in a world where people didn't tell other people to kill themselves because they wrote some bad poetry, or even because they wrote some sexist poetry. The difference between legitimate criticism, no matter how rigorous, and these kind of mockery/hate train seems really obvious to me, and I feel super weird every time people who share my politics try to convince me that they make the world a better place.

I know that jangly, gleeful feeling in myself, when I'm tempted to tear someone apart--it's like I feel the fangs pop out of my gums--and I can tell it's an ugly one. Even if men have been directing that impulse towards women for millennia, I'd rather live in a world without it, rather than one where it's directed towards other targets, even if they're slightly more "deserving."
posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:44 AM on December 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


I think the conversation about this has gotten somewhat confused. This guy's poetry is indeed (in my opinion) bad poetry qua poetry, but what's much more important is that it's misogynist poetry.

Sure, it's unfair to start an Internet pile-on of somebody just because you think their work is inept. But people who publicly promulgate misogyny deserve to be smacked down as hard as fucking possible, every fucking time.

I can't spare any tears for this dude's feelings, because not only is he bigoted, he's spreading his bigotry around over social media. He's not the one getting bullied here. The people making mean jokes at his expense are not punching down. How do you think the women he's writing about feel when they recognize themselves in his poems? When they see how little he thinks of them? How small he's making them in his art, how insignificant?

Like, we could all give him constructive criticism that allowed him to grow as an artist, but what would that accomplish? He'd just write more poems about how worthless women are, except he'd do it more eloquently? I don't want that.

Fuck being nice. Fuck constructive criticism. I just want this asshole to stop publishing his shitty poems.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 10:48 AM on December 2, 2017 [24 favorites]


But part of me can't fathom making fun of somebody who doesn't even really have money or power

The guy whose self-published little chapbook got picked up and promoted as a hot new must-read by the three biggest bookselling businesses in the country, if not the world, has no power. The guy whose trite, sexist missives have attracted over 17,000 highly monetizable followers on Instagram, has no money or power. (I have a few friends with Instagram accounts that have over 30k followers currently... as their follower counts increased past 10k, so did the daily offers of business deals to advertise shit for TONS OF MONEY. I don't buy for a minute that this guy's lucrative social media following isn't being tapped for something that benefits him.)

Pull the other leg, it's got bells on it.
posted by palomar at 11:02 AM on December 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


OK. And like I said, maybe mocking douchebags on the internet is the right thing to do, it's just not for me, I guess.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:10 AM on December 2, 2017


Maybe realize that this douchebag's prominence in the tiny field of poetry means that someone with actual talent doesn't get a shot.
posted by palomar at 11:14 AM on December 2, 2017


I don’t think anyone in the thread is defending “kill yourself” or its equivalents. “This poem is ridiculous sexist trash”, however, is not equivalent to “kill yourself”. In any case where anyone is selling sexist trash in the marketplace, it’s a service to their prospective customers to point out that the thing is sexist trash. Mercilessly mocking sexist trash for its sexist trashiness also helpfully shapes the norms of literature away from the production of sexist trash, and that’s good for literature in general as well as for the position of women in particular.

These are the advantages we trade off against the hurt feelings of an author when we call his work sexist trash; I think they are worth it. On the other hand, telling someone to kill themselves has zero advantages and is disgusting and wrong and indefensible in all circumstances. I have no problem distinguishing the two, and I’m not sure why they are so often being conflated in this thread.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:19 AM on December 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


Slowed and occasionally crushed, yes, but stopped? Tolkien was slow but hugely prolific all his life. Lewis’ fiction improved immeasurably in strength and sophistication in the period after Narnia—if you compare his last novel, Till We Have Faces, with his first (The Pilgrim’s Regress), it’s difficult not to cheer for whatever crushing he got in between

I'm guilty in my comment of oversimplifying the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien, who definitely encouraged each other as well, and in oversimplifying Rhodes' talk, which I'm taking pains to link to again because I really think anyone interested in how criticism works for good or ill should go watch it (and people commenting in this thread seem likely to care). Rhodes definitely points out how some of the sharing and criticism that happened inside the Inklings was immensely helpful and probably helped two high profile figures in speculative fiction develop their work. I think he also articulates some points where criticism becomes bashing/crushing and how that becomes a problem, whether because you might be concerned about what it means to handle the feelings of a fellow human, or because you might be concerned in what it takes to get the best work out of fellow humans.
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:53 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


> I have no problem distinguishing the two, and I’m not sure why they are so often being conflated in this thread.

Well — because in most big Internet pile-ons I’m aware of, the one leads to the other. Being part of an Internet mob is exciting, and people try to one-up each other. Once 200 people have said “this poem is bad, sexist, and hurtful”, I feel like it’s almost guaranteed to have a couple dozen others chime in with “and this dude should go kill himself”. And for at least a few people to send him those messages directly.

That is not me saying that we shouldn’t smack down bad and sexist art. We should! I guess I’m just pointing out that doing so on the Internet, without also encouraging other bad behaviors, is an unsolved problem. That makes me uncomfortable with Internet take-downs in general, while simultaneously recognizing their positive aspects. It’s complicated and problematic, like most other things.
posted by fencerjimmy at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sure, but I think people are culpable for their individual actions and the person who tweets a mocking parody of a sexist poem doesn’t thereby become responsible for an unrelated person sending abusive personal messages.

It is true, I accept, that the value of additional critique can start to diminish beyond a certain point— I guess one does have to ask oneself why one wants to be the 100,000th person to mock a given piece of sexist art, given the 99,999 jokes about it already out there. Motive can be important; if the goal is just to hurt the person and nothing more, or just to feel the pleasures of self-righteousness and mobbing, that’s not great. On the other hand, if the goal is to experience exasperated solidarity with 99,999 other women who are also sick to death of objectification and misogyny, that seems reasonable enough to me. You can’t really make a bright line rule about it, you just have to be aware of your own motives in joining in—or in not joining in, for example, because of your acute sensitivity to male feelings or because you think sexism is a harmless personal foible.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Rhodes definitely points out how some of the sharing and criticism that happened inside the Inklings was immensely helpful and probably helped two high profile figures in speculative fiction develop their work.

I mean, yes it did. But I feel the talk makes connections between the Inklings and aspects of how the work got done that aren’t really defensible in the light of what we know about Tolkien and Lewis as independent oddballs and as friends as well as mutual critics. The idea that Tolkien’s procrastination on the edits of TLOTR is in any way down to anxiety because of Dyson’s negativity, for example—I mean, Tolkien was a legendary procrastinator on every task he took on, all his life, from academic writing to getting his marking done. His college despaired of him ever publishing anything in his own field. Similarly, the suggestion that it’s because of Dyson that he never wrote anything like the TLOTR again but went back to his “private writing” —that seems to me to ignore the utter strangeness of TLOTR as a work and its intense rootedness in Tolkien’s decades of private fantasy. What else could he have written that remotely compares? He didn’t have two Middle Earths in him. Who would?

Meanwhile, Lewis was wounded by Tolkien’s flat dislike of the first Narnia book, bounced back like indiarubber and went on and wrote another six Narnia books that were even more shamelessly myth-mixing and openly allegorical than Wardrobe, and then produced Till We Have Faces which Tolkien admired enormously. Plus churning out essays and criticism and sermons like a machine. I can’t see any evidence of the work that would have been if Tolkien had been gentler with him.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:11 PM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Who hasn’t written horrible poetry when they were young?

So a 26-year-old, college-educated scientist is considered "young" now? Huh.
posted by nonmerci at 2:39 PM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


He's not just another mediocre white guy who writes bad poetry, he's a textbook example of the self-absorption and unearned confidence that makes mediocre white guys so annoying.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:21 PM on December 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Sure, but I think people are culpable for their individual actions and the person who tweets a mocking parody of a sexist poem doesn’t thereby become responsible for an unrelated person sending abusive personal messages.

On the one hand...yes.

On the other hand, when your doing something that's not evil leads predictably to other people's doing something awful, it's worth thinking twice about doing it. Current Internet culture unfortunately means any moderately widespread critique of someone's art is going to attract the "kill yourself" types. Which means that maybe we can't be quite so casual about doing it.

(Example: a popular author's tweeting about what he considers an unfair critique of the politics in his work by some lesser-known writer or even fan. This will inevitably bring the Angry Hordes down on the person who made the criticism. People rightfully criticize the popular author for being at best willfully ignorant of what he has the power to unleash.)

Because of his misogyny (and because I hate terrible poetry), I don't have a problem with the critique of this particular guy, but we have to consider these dynamics in a way we didn't have to ten years ago. It's a real ethical problem. And I'm someone who thinks that we're always way more in danger of having too little competent criticism of art than too much.
posted by praemunire at 3:34 PM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its shaming
posted by thelonius at 3:42 PM on December 2, 2017


The poetry is plain, but the problem isn't that he's a bad poet; the problem is that he sounds like a jagoff.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:05 PM on December 2, 2017


“It shouldn’t matter if your ‘poetry’ sucks,” he said. “You wrote it. You created something, you molded words together and it means something personal to you… to me, poetry is simply being pure and honest with yourself.”

Actually, it does matter if your 'poetry' sucks, especially if you expect other people to respect it. This is the self-absorption and unearned confidence at work. He seems to think he should be rewarded for the basic act of writing, but that's not how it works. People who put energy into reading a poem, or viewing art in general, expect some payoff.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:11 PM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yeah, he's insufferable, and it's annoying that his self-published doggerel wound up getting promoted by retailers, but calling for the public humiliation of strangers isn't a great look either. When he gets nominated for a Pulitzer prize in poetry I will happily join the mob. Till then...?
posted by ducky l'orange at 6:58 PM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know how and why those retailers decided to promote that self-published doggerel? Was it simply that he had a big Instagram following?
posted by overglow at 8:13 PM on December 2, 2017


Perhaps if there weren't a few thousand people telling him to kill himself, he might possibly be more receptive to criticisms of the misogyny in his work.

The guy pretty much says just this, that he's not necessarily closed-off to criticism but isn't going to listen to randos on the internet telling him to go kill himself. Quality of his poetry aside, I can't fault him for that. Once people are telling you to kill yourself, you've pretty much earned the right to go "well, fuck those people". That's beyond the pale of constructive criticism at that point.

Pileon culture is also worse than just being unproductive, it's actively counterproductive.

If we imagine for a moment that this guy, when he started writing Instragram poetry for his dozen family-and-friends fans or whatever, was sort of on the bubble of maybe being an asshole misogynist or maybe just being a privileged white dude who wasn't especially self-aware, the net result achieved by all those people piling on is... well, it doesn't seem great. Effectively it seems to have radicalized him; instead of a few hundred followers, he now has several thousand, and if they were drawn to him as a de facto anti-feminist/bro-dude lightning rod, they're probably fairly unpleasant people. But he's now got an audience, or at least an echo chamber, several times what he started out with -- even though he does seem to have moments of discomfort with them.

As outcomes go, that seems pretty crap. I don't expect it to change, because people were shitty to each other before the Internet existed and they'll be shitty to each other afterwards, but I do think there's a kernel of a lesson there, which is that a certain amount of criticism is helpful in changing behavior, but there's a threshold beyond where it might actually be reinforcing. And so if you're engaging in a pileon, don't lie to yourself and pretend that your'e actually helping fix anything; you're entitled to say what you want, of course, but if you're already at the piling-on stage, you're probably just contributing to the reinforcement, not the correction.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 PM on December 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


As outcomes go, that seems pretty crap. I don't expect it to change, because people were shitty to each other before the Internet existed and they'll be shitty to each other afterwards, but I do think there's a kernel of a lesson there, which is that a certain amount of criticism is helpful in changing behavior, but there's a threshold beyond where it might actually be reinforcing

Changing the behaviour of the individual misogynist in question (or racist, homophobe etc) is not the only goal of criticising a particular instance of misogyny (and its other friends). The aim, in part, is to change the wider cultural norms around what it is socially fine to do and say and to provide backing to those who are trying to defend other norms.

I’m happy to say that this is quite a nuanced problem—how do you frame the conversation in a way that is forthright in its defence of rights but that isn’t bullying or counterproductive or harmful in other ways—but the answer isn’t “only criticise a misogynist when you are alone with him in his kitchen and have just made him a cup of tea.” Alone in the kitchen with a cup of tea may in fact be the only way to get to that particular guy, and so that may well be a good strategy for his mother to adopt, but public discourse criticising misogyny has a value that goes beyond whatever is therapeutic for misogynists at an individual level.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:59 AM on December 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


but public discourse criticising misogyny has a value that goes beyond whatever is therapeutic for misogynists at an individual level.

That's certainly true, but I think part of the point Kadin2048 was making, or at least how I read it, is that giving attention to people with shitty points of view that aren't all that notable can help give them wider notice and a bigger microphone and that piling on may gain further sympathy for their positions.

It may well be that the reasons people have for criticizing any this guy are worth it to them even if that were the case, it may not be, or that the reasons for the criticism are as much aesthetic as of values, which is a bit more troubling. I can't say, but I do wonder a bit about that last issue since there are so many better known and loved writers that could use some fierce criticism for misogyny, where their positions as "important artists" makes such more needed.

For example, Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan, and Like a Rolling Stone, often referred to as one of the greatest songs of all time in polls, gets some criticism, but it seems minimal compared to his stature and the way he revels in misogyny in that song, as well as others. It isn't that Yost should be immune to criticism or that one can't criticize misogyny wherever its found, but the comparison between the rancor Yost faces and that Dylan gets seems weirdly disproportionate.

I can't help but imagine there is something more to it than simply concern over the common good behind the difference. I suspect it isn't necessarily even something purposeful, but may be informed more by group dynamics than anything else. I'm not sure, but whatever the case, I thought the article did a good job at examining the various views involved and provides added perspective for thinking about the issue some more.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:45 AM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


For example, Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan, and Like a Rolling Stone, often referred to as one of the greatest songs of all time in polls, gets some criticism, but it seems minimal compared to his stature and the way he revels in misogyny in that song, as well as others

I don't know. There's a recent thread about the books that men read, and there is a lot of rancor towards misogynist authors. A lot of it is happening between women--and, whenever men find it, it turns into hand-wringing about how women are refusing to read classic books that commit thought crimes. The criticism is met with such a backlash that it doesn't gain much momentum.

Making fun of someone like Yost--someone with no talent and cultural status--is... easier. There aren't any fans, to start with. But it's also easier when what you're mocking has so little redeeming value, because it's less complicated to hate it. Being a woman means dealing with the fact that a lot of the art, music, and literature that I grew up on and still enjoy was made by men who think I'm less than a full person. There are a lot of ways to deal with that, but before I'm ready to excise Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" from my list of favorite songs, one way to deal with it is to acknowledge it, but not focus on it.

And that's also a difference between established works and new ones. It's easier to do that when the work in question is older. Jimi Hendrix is dead, and Bob Dylan will be dead eventually too, legacy already firmly in place. We're talking to a large extent about crimes of the past, which - are worth talking about, but are also less immediate unless something dredges them up again.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:54 PM on December 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the thoughtful reply Kutsuwamushi. That all seems entirely reasonable and adds to the things I'll be thinking about regarding the topic. (And, yeah, I'm reading that book thread too which is adding another layer to the debate.)
posted by gusottertrout at 3:21 PM on December 3, 2017


While I'm always championing DIY art and the outsider, man, poetry always takes a beating. This kind of stuff is like reading someone's journal that just has line breaks in it, even the author's example bugged me. And some people, as is evident by his following, love that (obviously I'm not one of them and therefore possibly not fit to judge this style) They relate. And it does seem very cruel to mock someone who has, as he says, bared his screaming soul or whatever phrased he used. But what if that soul is asshole-ish? He reminds me of Sad Boner Confessional guy, in that he's probably always thinking in the back of his mind whenever he's with a woman "man, this is going to make great material'. It's the same criticism I had for Sad Boner Guy.

It's not exactly unprecedented to put personal experience into writing, but you get the feeling these types get into situations just so they can write a poem about it or are always documenting reality in this narcissistic way, regardless of what the gender of the other person is. To me, the dead giveaway of this kind of behavior is when they don't write about anything but their romantic/sexual encounters. There's a whole universe out there, but Mah Feelins and Mah Heart are always front and center. It reminds me of a scene in "Walk Hard" where the wife of rockstar Dewey Cox is arguing with him, he has an 'aha' moment of inspiration, and she screams "Dont you DARE write a song about this, Dewey Cox!"

While the 'kill yourself' comments are indefensible, it's a fine line between Confessional and Reality Poetry/songwriting/fiction where everything and everybody are fair game and you're always putting yourself in the center as the wise soul surrounded by damaged people. In that context, it makes the sentimentality just icky and mawkish.

And even if it's sympathetic, there is something so skeevy about doing this with someone so fragile that they self-mutilate. What if they see that poem? What if they see their innermost secret as just Subject Matter for some Sad Boner Wordsmithing?* How in the fuck does that make you a Sensitive Soul that we all need to be concerned about in terms of your feelings? Why should I care about how someone that exploitative and narcissistic, even if unconsciously so, when he Bares His Soul (TM). Yes there is a long tradition of this, and I partly blame Henry Miller, but fuck that tradition.


*God I hate that word: "Please enjoy my artisanal wordsmithing"
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 7:41 PM on December 3, 2017


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