The following extraordinary document came to us yesterday. It is now making the rounds on the internet. Petition for the Removal of Barrett Watten from the Louisville Conference

Dispatches calls on all poets to reject the toxic culture of exclusion this petition represents and to speak out against its quasi-Stalinist demands. We urge those who have signed, or who are considering adding their names, to reconsider. Above all, we call on the organizers of the 20th Century Literature Conference to rebuke the petition as a matter of basic principle.

We have had our differences with Mr. Watten over the years, but they were always over issues of poetics. We understand that Mr. Watten is a highly controversial figure. His conduct at various times has distressed many–at his university and among the poetry field at large. His institution has recently considered the complaints brought against him for unprofessional and unethical behavior, and he has been censured by the university administration, removed from his office in the English Department, and barred from teaching. We have no reason to dispute the decisions reached by Wayne State University.

But the events that have been adjudicated at Wayne State have nothing to do with the Louisville conference, nor with any other poetry event outside the precincts of his campus.

Barrett Watten’s presence may well cause discomfort for certain people in Louisville. He may be rude toward other attendees. He may raise his voice during hallway discussions. His paper may offend those who listen to it. He may gossip maliciously about other poets. These “inappropriate” comportments go on at poetry gatherings all the time and have been part of the sub-culture’s landscape since the Salon era, and before. In fact, going by the extreme punitive logic of the petition, half the Modernist writers under discussion at every Louisville conference–objectionable, often scandalous individuals as they were on many levels–would have to be prohibited, if they were around, from attending, too. As will many prominent, “difficult” folks yet to come. Poets can be difficult people, and they will continue to be.

If Barrett Watten or anyone else should somehow behave at the conference in a way that his or her physical removal from the venue becomes necessary, then that decision should of course be made. But to block people from attending and speaking in advance, essentially because some attendees may come to feel “uncomfortable,” opens the door to an unpredictable and uncontrollable range of “mob justice” abuses.

We have seen too many of those in the poetry world in recent years. This attempt to revive an animus of retribution, censorship, and cancellation should be rejected outright.

–Dispatches