Recently, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars posted a long exchange between Barrett Watten and Nathaniel Mackey. The post included salvaged texts from a suppressed Facebook debate (deleted in its entirety by Mr. Watten, a few days previously), and a series of emails that Mr. Mackey circulated with Mr. Watten’s knowledge, but over his objection. The recipients included the seven participants in the original Facebook exchange (Norman Finkelstein, Ben Friedlander, Grant Jenkins, Andrew Mossin, David Need, Ted Pearson, Luke Harley,) and four others who heard about it and asked to be included (Don Byrd, Joseph Donahue, Patrick Pritchett, and Peter Gizzi). Some of those participants shared the exchange with their contacts who passed it on to still others. The material thus became widely circulated, even before Dispatches from the Poetry Wars released the thirty-some page record linked to above.
The Dispatches post received significant back-channel support from many readers, but also came under some pointed criticism on social media. We were accused (including by some of our friends) of violating the privacy of personal emails without the permission of the correspondents. Dispatches has answered that criticism in Dispatch #33 – “When the personal becomes political” – challenging naïve and uncritical usage of words such as “personal” and “privacy,” and arguing that the event was public and political from the start. Dispatches also sent Mr. Watten an email, after he threatened to sic his attorney on us, expressing the hope that the post would become the stimulant to a wider conversation about the important issues of poetics it contains.
Mr. Watten’s unfortunate response was to post a long, self-congratulatory entry on his blog, marred by inaccuracies, misrepresentations, distortions, ad hominen attacks, and outright lies. Let’s take a look at just a few of them, quoting directly (at risk of legal action, perhaps) from Watten’s blog post: