Last April, as one of the contributors to Harriet’s National Poetry Month blog feature, Joshua Clover, widely known as a “communist” poet, ended his post with the following words:

Frost says that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. Seriously fuck you Bob. There is a net. Poetry is bound up in this net and the net is the social system in which poetry is required to appear as free even as poets are constrained by ambient discipline in every moment. And if you split the moments in half you are still constrained in each half-moment. And people talk about the autonomy of art all the time like that means anything and people talk about how poetry is subversive and even anti-capitalist for no other reason than that nobody buys it. But that part we know is not true. People buy it all the time. It just looks like something else is happening. In the society of ambient discipline all verse is unfree.

The rank ironies here are flabbergasting, to say the least. Even more so when one reads the whole piece. For our “far-left” poet has chosen (or maybe not–maybe Capital made him do it?) to present his doleful admonition under the flag of a stratospherically capitalized outfit–one more deeply, more openly enmeshed with the culture industry and big-business than any other literary organization in the United States. And he doesn’t say a word about the screaming fact of it.  Choosing, that is, to not say a word about it in exchange for a plum (for poetry, anyway) paycheck, even as he is brazen enough to tell us he only “thinks” he is “being paid.”

A paycheck, to be precise, provided by the Poetry Foundation, an institution that has come to have unprecedented weight and Happy Big-Tent mojo within “oppositional” poetry thanks to a $100 million (some estimates are up to $170 million) “gift” of Big Pharma cash, openly managed by a Board composed of financiers and big-money think-tank types, who proudly announce on their résumés (1) their bonds to Wall Street, the Military Industries, and the Security Agencies. An institution, further, that has chosen to spend $22 million of the windfall on a bank-like edifice (2) in downtown Chicago, and which intends to spend a slightly more “modest” amount on a second penthouse-like edifice to be built on Chicago’s Gold Coast. An institution, moreover (these things are all connected, like knots in a net!) that called the Chicago cops, on two separate occasions, when young poets from the city came to peacefully protest what they viewed as a pernicious and open entanglement of poetry with corporate and State interests. An institution that sent a young woman activist–the only one who was not able to dodge the Poetry Foundation security detail–to the Cook County Penitentiary (where she suffered a traumatic incident of severe sexual harassment) for a Dada-like protest at a hoity-toity Poetry Foundation Wine and Cheese Reception. An institution which then sent two official representatives some days later to her sentencing hearing to argue that she should be sent back for more time, even though this young activist-poet had no legal representation. An institution that to this day has refused to publicly apologize for such criminal assault on the body and spirit of the poetic community…

Comrade Clover lectures us, while taking pay from this corrupt and noxious organization, that there is little we might do to escape the clutches of money in poetry, because poetic and aesthetic “autonomy” is a fiction, anyway, which Poetry dangles before us, thus distracting us from the Real world of Capital. Distracting us from the Net, as it were.

Clever Clover, referencing Robert Frost above, says, “Seriously fuck you Bob.”

Cleverness aside, we would like to comradely say to Joshua Clover: “Seriously fuck you Josh.”

Who makes a pretty salary with gold-plated perks, and who yet pockets the coin of a corrupt organization (3) that calls down the repressive forces of the State on brave young poets who would protest its complicit dispensations…

Those young poets, Josh, dear, are the ones who set a “communist” poetic example for you and your circle. Give back your dirty money.

–Kent Johnson

1. For some fascinating if barely believable facts, financial and poetic, related to the background of John Barr, the first Board Chair of the Poetry Foundation, see Steve Evans’s “Free (Market) Verse” along with my “Blackface and the Poetry Foundation” [under June posts, 2016]. Henry S. Bienen, the current President of the Poetry Foundation lists, among others, the following past employment and service connections on his résumé: Consultant for the State Department, the National Security Council, the Agency for International Development, the CIA, the World Bank, and Boeing (the Poetry Foundation intriguingly omits these associations in its own public bio on Bienen). The current Board Chair of the Poetry Foundation, Richard P. Kiphart, has, among numerous other top-echelon big-business gigs, served as chairman of Concord EFS, Inc., a NYSE company in the credit-card processing industry, which merged with First Data Corporation in 2004. He is presently lead director of Lime Energy and chairman of Ranir Corporation. On receiving his appointment, according to the Poetry Foundation website, Kiphart stated, “I am grateful to have been elected to board chair of the Poetry Foundation. It is a premier poetry organization in the United States for which we can thank and attribute to the efforts of a terrific staff, our board, and the source of our good fortune—Ruth Lilly’s generous gift in 2003.”

2. The comparison comes from the great UK poet JH Prynne, whose letter of outrage against the Poetry Foundation can be seen at the end of this conversation between Brooks Johnson and Linh Dinh, concerning the Poetry Foundation protests: For more information on the occupation event at the Poetry Foundation see the following article at Salon, “It’s Time to Occupy Poetry”:

3. For more on the shady financial and legal doings of the Poetry Foundation, see here: as well as “This Rhymeless Nation,”[under April posts, 2016]