What Bullies Do
Zach at C.L.M. posted a link to the very strange response from Victoria poet laureate Linda Rogers to her reviewer, Candace Fertile. If you want the context, here is the review of the book (called Muscle Memory, from Ekstasis Editions), and then here is the poet’s response and when you’re done with those, come back because here’s what I have to say: I posted a very anger-inducing piece on this blog a couple months ago about poets hiding personal disagreements in the guise of discussions about craft. The first few sentences in Roger’s letter to the editor make me think that this is another example (“I considered the source and decided to ignore it” she writes). I googled Ms. Fertile and didn’t find a massive depository of snarky book reviews, or any snarky book reviews, for that matter. If they’re out there, let me know. Otherwise, I imagine that whatever made Rogers deem Fertile to be below her standing happened in private somewhere. Where it should stay.
I’m not going to re-make the points I made in that old blog post, as I just recently finished re-making the friends. And more importantly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Fertile’s review. It’s engaged, interested in authorial intent, balanced, and so polite is sounds like someone trying to awkwardly decline a dinner invitation. Rogers calls it “hate mail” and claims that, by publishing it, the Victoria Times-Colonist “insulted the city that has chosen me to be poet laureate.” This is such a hyperbolic and self-righteous response that it makes for entertaining reading even if you don’t know or care about poetry. It has all the auto-embarrassing momentum of a viral video classic. Rogers even claims that publishing a negative poetry review in the wake of the Haiti earthquake is an act of (Dear God I wish I was making this up) “appalling taste.” Methinks she underestimates slightly the impact a volume of poetry that will sell maybe 1,000 copies in a far-away country will have on the international aid mission to Port-au-Prince.
Let’s hope that Fertile can stand her ground, and recognize the fact that A. There’s nothing wrong with her review and B. She’s being bullied by someone who thinks she can use her standing as poet laureate to abuse a lesser-known reviewer. Let’s see if the Colonist has the courage to give her another assignment. If not, it’s the job of the rest of the critical community (and the broader poetry community) to stand up for this reviewer and give her space in other markets and magazines to make up for it (no novice by any means, Fertile’s reviews have been published already in the Globe and Mail, among others). We need to be telling this author that, while she might be a wonderful person and a dutiful poet laureate, she stepped several feet over the line in this response, and she’s a bully. Linda Rogers, you’re a bully. And you’re embarrassing yourself. So you should stop it. But I bet you already know all that.
PS: On a completely unrelated note, The Toronto New School of Writing is opening for business on College St (linking from The Torontoist). Ran by BookThuggers Jenny Samprisi and Jay MillAr, the courses are being marketed as interactive and non-academic. Here’s their opening course list. What I like about this project is that it’s located in an address that hopes to eventually also hold a bookstore, a series of artist studios, and generally serve as an art/lit community hub in the city. Exciting, right? For all our incestuous cross-pollinating and our massive chain-link fences of drinking buddies, the youthful element in the Toronto book scene could really use a clubhouse. There should be a centre. Wildly optimistic though it might be, 283 College has a shot at becoming such a place.