In the light of Barrett Watten’s recent Blog post (25 May 2018) which attacks Nathaniel Mackey and Dispatches co-editor Kent Johnson with a barrage of misinformation, distortions, and outright lies, Dispatches has decided to release the letter it sent to Mr. Watten on 24 May 2018. More will follow, including a response by Kent Johnson to Watten’s sad attempt at character assassination. Readers will note that Watten, at his blog today, reproduces, verbatim, his side of the correspondence with Mackey. When Dispatches published these letters, along with the larger deleted Facebook thread, Watten threatened us with a lawsuit. Now Watten himself has made his side of the correspondence public, wishing everyone to read his words while he manipulatively paraphrased Nathaniel Mackey’s letters so as to make himself look better. This suggests that his threat against Dispatches was just another example of ramping up desperate melodrama in order to distract attention from the increasing eclipse of the technocratic “poetic” theory identified with his cohort.


Dear Barrett,

We are writing because we hope to convince you to withdraw your legal threat and participate in the conversation you have started. We feel that the conflict over poetics in the exchange between you and Nathaniel Mackey is timely and of interest to large numbers of people on both sides of the argument. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity in acrimony and legal threats.

This has been a significant public event initiated by you. We understand that some people feel that “private mail” (how does that fit exactly in this circumstance?) shouldn’t be published without permission. And in some circumstances that is absolutely true. Just not this one. These texts are not intimate, personal correspondence. They reveal no sensitive or personal information about you or anyone else. Nothing in them compromises any of the involved parties. They are not part of a structure of intimacy. We assume that Mackey circulated them because he felt that an important community conversation, involving a number of people on FB, was being “privatized” in order to exclude them, to hide it from them. His response was to treat email as an extension of the Facebook conversation and to include the community that had all along been part of the conversation and still is.

We hope that you will agree. We invite you in good faith to post anything you want regarding the matter on the Dispatches from the Poetry Wars site. We will print it entire and without deleting or altering a word. The time for just erasing stuff or marginalizing others is over. It’s a new day. And poetry, against the inertia of its institutionalized, professionalized habitus, is slowly finding its way back to autonomous and resistant spaces. We hope you will choose to be part of that.

Plus, you have to admit, this has provided some great free publicity for your new book.


Mike Boughn and Kent Johnson