[The below was sent yesterday to a well-known poet, who had written a measured and extended email to Dispatches, critiquing the Open Letter by Kent Johnson to Jennifer Scappettone, posted a few days back in this section. In her message (which will not be shared without permission, of course), the poet claims there was a strong sexist bias in “calling out” Scappettone in such a public mode. The poet also suggested there was significant discussion about the letter on Facebook, though in places without open access that might allow exchange between all parties. At Dispatches, we remain committed to full and open dialogue and debate, without borders or controls. In that spirit, and because the discussion is going on elsewhere, and without our having an opportunity to engage it (isn’t it convenient to be cowardly on Facebook?), we are sharing Kent Johnson’s side of the correspondence from yesterday to the poet and from a few days back to Scappettone. Neither of these letters has so far received reply.]

Dear [Unnamed Poet],

Thanks for stating your concern directly.

Jennifer wrote me a thoughtful response about a week ago, though without committing herself to say anything via the Harriet forum. I’m pasting below my reply to her email, which I sent that same day, just to provide a bit more context.
As I state therein, Jennifer is hardly the only person I have called on to make a public statement of concern about the issue. I have written various people over the past few years who have blogged for Harriet, and I’ve done so in private and in blog or listserv settings. I have appealed to both men and women to do so, believe me. And I have called on poets in general to raise their voices on this issue in articles and interviews I have done.

My choosing to write the Open Letter to Jennifer at this time was for two basic reasons: 1) She was the first guest blogger after the large Harriet gathering during Poetry Month, when everyone offering their services to the Poetry Foundation was “called out in various of our Dispatch polemics and satires to raise the too-long ignored issue (no one did). And 2), she has taken, so far as I can see, forthright stances on ethical matters in the past, and the matter at hand is certainly one that is immediately related to the ethics of our field.

So I don’t see my open letter as “calling out” Jennifer in some kind of inappropriate way. There was nothing disrespectful in my letter. To the contrary, I made a point of praising her work and commitments. I wrote the letter because she is blogging for an outfit that committed violence against poets and the poetry community at large, and it is time to raise the issue on their turf, where it belongs, so that it can’t continue to be ignored and an accounting can begin. Linh Dinh courageously did this when he was blogging for the PF some years ago; it needs to happen again as many times as necessary, until the Poetry Foundation issues a full public apology and pledge to never call the cops again on poets exercising peaceful civil disobedience
If you would share this with anyone who is engaged in any Facebook exchange, I would appreciate it. I don’t have any social media outlets, so I can’t do so myself.

Thanks, [Unnamed Poet]. My back-channel reply to Jennifer S. is below.
Dear Jennifer,

Thank you for writing back. I do appreciate your response.

Daniel [Borzutzky] and I exchanged views on the situation some weeks back. I had strongly urged him (probably a bit too strongly; the issue has personal connections for me, and it upsets me, admittedly) to use one of his posts during April to bring up the issue. Dan chose not to. I have asked other people posting at Harriet in the past to do so, but to no avail. The pressures to not do so are great, obviously.

At the Dispatches site we have been raising the matter in various ways for the past month. The Poetry Foundation is very aware of it, I am sure (I wrote two of the people there just a few days ago, calling on the PF to issue a public accounting and apology, something I have done before with never a response), and they have seen various things I have posted about it over the past few years. I have never heard a single word from anyone there regarding the matter.

I understand that you have things lined up and written. But I hope you might be able to find a way to bring up the issue. To have it broached in that space is what could make all the difference and perhaps start some kind of process of dialogue and accountability that would likely benefit everyone. If the PF does apologize, I might even choose to visit their building sometime. Until they do, I won’t step foot in the place.

All the best, and thanks for responding.