Report from the Field: “It’s okay, it’s art, keep going.”

This Report from the Field is a republication of Kolleen Carney’s personal blog post at regarding the developing controversy regarding a member of the poetry community.


CW: This post contains references to rape, murder, abortion, and sexual violence.

Ok, so, here it is:

Over the past weekend, it came to my attention that a male “poet” (I will use this term loosely) that has caused trouble within the poetry/ literary community for a while was at it again, this time using his Instagram as his platform for abuse. I am not going to use this man’s name, because I know he gets off on the attention he receives, and I refuse to legitimize or take part in his excitement. If you know me, or are familiar at all with the dramatic undercurrent of the poetry community, you know who it is.

I try to stay away from this man; we have had run-ins on Facebook and Twitter in the past, usually on a mutual “friend”’s page, but I have never really had to deal one-on-one with him. But rest assured, he’s been on my radar since 2015, when he wrote a disgusting rape- fantasy poem aimed at a woman who had written about her own rape. Of course, people were outraged, though “satire” and “artistic intent” and “censorship” were terms bandied about in defense of this garbage. I can’t quite wrap my head around seeing such a vile poem and trying to defend its merit, and “censorship” isn’t a pretty little hill I am going to die on. Everyone has the right to write garbage. It’s the editors that publish it—maybe to be edgy, maybe for rage clicks, maybe because they’re abusive as well— that are a larger part of the problem.

Not publishing writing like this is merely curation.

This man has made a “career” (if mostly self-publishing what I assume are terrible books is a career) out of harassing women and then playing dumb, as if he can’t comprehend that his constant barrage of unnecessary and often violent commentary is just not a cool fucking thing to do. Big name editors and terrible people that I would never associate with because I am, for all intents and purposes, a relatively normal person who does not believe misogyny, racism, or any sort of prejudice should exist in the world, much less be tolerated even on a sociological aspect (really, is there anything more useless than sociology nowadays? Haven’t we learned all there is to know?) defended this behavior as it moved into the more bizarre and, ultimately this past weekend, specific targeted violence. They defended rape fantasies. They defended a poem written from the POV of the Pulse nightclub shooter dedicated to a gay poet. They defended a culturally appropriative poem dedicated to a Native American poet. These are actions meant to incite anger, to cause a negative reaction, so that the poet I am speaking of can claim, when called out, that he is a victim. A victim of sensible people wanting him to act like a normal fucking human being, to stop being hurtful just to be hurtful.

This past weekend I, as well as several other outspoken, perhaps oh no don’t say it feminist women in the poetry community, were subject to a series of poetry with escalating violent sexual imagery. My poem was the first poem in which he named his subject, me, by name. I will spare you the disgusting details of the other women’s poems, because that’s their story to tell, but this lovely piece of words-strung-together-to-resemble-poetry had me raped repeatedly, impregnated forcefully, undergoing abortions and being fed the dead babies. It was pretty disgusting, and it was stupidly directed right at me, both on Instagram and on his website, with the tag “This has been a long time coming”. Like, what, bro? What the fuck am I doing besides calling you out for being a shitbag? But ok, whatever. I guess me living my relatively boring life is an affront to you.

It almost didn’t upset me. I mean, it’s laughably bad. Like really fucking bad.

Then my son saw it.

Then it really fucking upset me.

So I called the cops, and did what I had to do there, and we’ll see what happens. Even the cop, visibly disgusted by these words, taking a stack of printouts, was confused by it all.

“This is…poetry?”

“Well…no, but I don’t suppose you can press charges for that.”

Imagine trying to explain the nuances of the mostly-online poetry community to a suburban police officer (who, by the way, was pretty amazing).

All weekend that Instagram account was reported, and eventually it was completely deleted; I am sure this is just another thing to justify this man’s feeling of “censorship”, and I am sure it will be written about in his manifesto before he starts picking off people from a clock tower somewhere.

But Jesus, that isn’t even the place my rage is coming from. My rage stems mostly from the people who emboldened him to write these sorts of things in the first place, the people who saw how problematic he was two years ago and patted his head and gave him a platform. Who said, “It’s ok, it’s art, keep going.” These people are complicit in the anxiety I am feeling right now, in the fact that I had to go to work with my fiancé because I was afraid to be left alone, in the fact that my child had to picture his mother as a rape victim and a torture victim. My child. I mean, plenty of violent and horrible shit has happened to me in my 35 years, but I try to keep my kid out of it all.

I know at least one editor who does not give a shit about this behavior, who asked if he should be researching each poet before he publishes them. YES. YES YOU SHOULD! AND IF THEY HAVE A VIOLENT, ABUSIVE PAST, DON’T PUBLISH THEIR SHIT! Do you think I would knowingly publish someone so horrible? (Absolutely not, so don’t bother sending it.)

Therefore, I am writing this open letter to every publication (and their editors) who published this shitbag after it was evident he was a menace– 2015 onward– with a link to this blog post included (everyone from years previous will get a separate email).

And if I hear one fucking excuse as to how work like this should not be scrubbed from past issues, I will give them a fucking earful.

I have not been known to be a quiet person. My whole life I have been accused of rocking the boat. My whole literary career I have been warned of being blacklisted if I am too difficult to work with. But you know what? If there’s a fallout to this, I’ll just self- publish my own books, and I can promise you this: they’ll be a lot fucking better than the drivel this man has produced.

For now, I am writing this email and sending it to each publisher/ editor that has chosen to encourage this man’s behavior, in hope that they will denounce it, and remove his “work” from their journals. But, knowing how this is a man’s world, I will not hold my breath.

Here’s the email:

An open letter to the publishers of <redacted>,

Perhaps it has come to your attention, or perhaps not, that a writer you have chosen to publish in the past has spent that last two years harassing women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color.

Perhaps it has come to your attention, or perhaps not, that this writer, <redacted>, has been escalating this disturbing behavior since 2015, and with each publication since has been given a platform and the encouragement to habitually harass and torment people in the writing community.

Perhaps it has come to your attention, or perhaps not, that <redacted> has spent the last weekend writing “poetry” to real women in the poetry community, including myself—he named me by name, and my name is not very common— poetry that depicts violent sexual acts and threats. I will not speak for other women, but as for me, <redacted> wished for my continual rape, torture, forceful impregnation, and to feed my aborted children to me. I am sure you can imagine, as a woman, a human, and an abuse survivor, how that made me feel. I am sure you can imagine how, as a mother, it made me feel to learn that my twelve-year-old son saw these poems, especially the one about me.

Long has this behavior been excused and encouraged under the guise of free speech and protected as a wish to not promote censorship. Quite frankly, I am tired of the excuses, of the promotion of such language, and of the willingness to publish shock-poetry, which I assume is to get rage-clicks and increased traffic. I do not want to be made fodder for controversy and discussions about the ethics of censorship. I do not want someone to be encouraged when they write a poem about raping me.

I urge you to do two things. I urge you to remove any writing by <redacted> from your publications, and I urge you to be careful with who you publish in the future. I know the discussion of censoring people with addictions or mental illnesses will come up, so allow me to address that for you: mental illnesses are not an excuse to be a violent, reprehensible person, and violent, reprehensible people have no place in the literary world. And yes, I do believe that a quick search of who you wish to publish is not a bad thing. Would you want to be associated with a person who threatened to slash someone’s vagina to ribbons?

I would hope not.

Sincerely yours,

KOLLEEN CARNEY is a Boston-born, Burbank based poet with an undergraduate degree in English from Salem State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has published two chapbooks — Me and the Twelve Step Program (Salem State Center for Creative and Performing Arts) and Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Books Press, 2017). Kolleen is currently the social media coordinator and managing editor for Zoetic Press, as well as an assistant poetry editor. She is also the editor-in-chief and social media coordinator for Drunk Monkeys.