The HyperTexts

Evan Mantyk's poetic tic

Is Evan Mantyk the poet, editor and publisher who will "save" Classical Poetry, as he has claimed to be doing (and very successfully!), or is he a pretender, an emperor sans clothes?

In my original review, which you can read by clicking the hyperlinked name of the group, I suggested that The Society of Classical Poets should consider a name change to The Keystone Scops. In this review I am going to ask the question: "How can someone save Classical Poetry by writing poetry and prose that wouldn't pass a sixth grade grammar test?" While I am not convinced that Mantyk is a poet, editor or publisher of any note, I will give him this: he's a very diligent censor, as I will explain in due course.

CAVEAT EMPTOR: Under the guidance of Evan Mantyk, The Society of Classical Poets has apparently become a vanity publication. Members must now purchase the SCP's journal and provide proof of purchase in order to remain members. This appears to be the case even for members who weren't included in the journal in question, so the SCP has seemingly gone "beyond vanity." Because previous journals have been riddled with errors and lackluster poems, this seems like a vastly unfair policy. First, one must pay to become a member. Then one must buy shoddy merchandise in order to remain a member. Whatever happened to putting out books that people want to buy?

by Michael R. Burch

Related Pages: A Review of the Society's Literary Journal, Laureates 'R' US, Joseph Charles MacKenzie: Poet or Pretender?, Evan Mantyk's Poetic Tic, James Sale's Blue Light Special, Bruce Dale Wise or Un-?, "How to Write a Real Good Poem" by R. S. Gwano, Salemi's Dilemma, Salemi Interview and Responses by other Poets

Evan Mantyk is the founder of The Society of Classical Poets aka The Keystone Scops. Here is what the Society, headed by Mantyk, have said about themselves on their very impressive, if not always coherent, website:
"English poetry has been in existence for at least 1,400 years. This tradition continues alive and well at The Society of Classical Poets like nowhere else! Today, poetry is everywhere. It is in the songs on the radio, in our national anthems, and in the fight songs of our favorite sports teams; it pervades our literature, our history, and our culture. But, despite poetry's abundance, poetry that is both new and good is hard to find now, more than ever. Good, new poetry cherishes and builds on the perennial forms, like meter and rhyme, left to us by 1,400 years of English poets, who have also built on thousands of years of Greek and Chinese poetry. Such good, new poetry carries a message infused with the profound insights and lofty character of the poet. It touches on humanity's quintessential quest for virtue over vice, epic over ephemeral, and beauty over baseness. With this in mind, the Society of Classical Poets is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed in 2012 as a group of poets dedicated to the revival and proliferation of good, new poetry."
In my original review, did I mention arrogance and incompetence having intercourse? I believe I did. In any case, the Society's non-profit organization actively solicits contributions on its prominent Donations page, where one can obtain a "free" journal by contributing $50 or more. Questionable advertising aside, it's for the best of causes:
"The Society of Classical Poets is bringing beauty and hope to mankind through the very best and most foundational genre of English literature: classical poetry. We need your help to reach more people and ensure that this rich art form, along with our civilization, continue to flourish."
Dear readers, please disburden yourselves of any reservations that "saving" poetry might require the ability to write grammatically correct sentences. What's far more important is that we can now make charitable contributions to the SAVIORS OF POETRY! Oh, happy day! Please grab your checkbooks or log into your PayPal accounts to support this Grande & Nobil Mishun! Who can doubt its ultimate success? Your dollars can make all the difference, and for a short time you can save both poetry and civilization for the price of one! In return the Society will teach you how to become a classical poet in ten minutes! Friends, have you ever been concerned that writing poetry may be a tad difficult? Have you ever worried that your poems may not compare all that splendidly with Homer's, Sappho's, Dante's, Shakespeare's and Milton's? Never fear! According to the title of a how-to manual written by the Society's head guru, president and master planner "Writing Classical Poetry Is Easy (Technically)." Here is how Mantyk advises going about the suddenly simple-as-pie task of writing classical poetry:
"Some people have raised concerns about the technical difficulty of writing classical poetry. Actually, there is very little difficulty behind writing classical poetry from a technical perspective. Classical poetry is simply poetry that is metrical (also called metered), thus contrasting with unmetered poetry, known as free verse. There is no requirement to rhyme or have a particular number of lines or anything else. The easiest beginner-level approach to writing metrical poetry is to simply count the syllables. If your first line has ten syllables then your next line should have ten syllables. Seven, eight, ten, and twelve syllables are all common lengths. Write in this way, and perhaps make your last two lines rhyme or use alliteration (or neither) and call it classical poetry. It is that easy. If you don't know the number of syllables, simply look it up in a dictionary."
In his wonderfully polished prose Mantyk has reduced poetry to elementary math! All we need is a dictionary and the ability to add, and we will immediately be classical poets! If you're not good at basic math, perhaps consider using a calculator or smart phone! But even ticks on a piece of scrap paper will do. A few quick ticks and you too can call yourself a classical poet! Who can possibly doubt such wisdom? Now, moving quickly forward, in the first chapter of his how-to manual about writing classical poetry for the ages, Mantyk includes, by way of example, the following exemplary lines:
This pristine orbs,
A fragile yet audacious batch
Seem hopeless until they reveal
A rainbow patch.
That's how it's done! Mantyk then proceeds to teach us how to write a "high-level classical" sonnet. His genius staggers as he oh-so-eloquently explains:
"The genius of poetry is partially in the ability to convey a lot in a few words and make those few words catchy and attractive to your audience."
Now under normal circumstances I might quibble with the terms "catchy" and "attractive," but these are definitely not normal circumstances. We are, after all, dealing with the self-appointed SAVIORS OF POETRY!" Or, to be perfectly clear, we are in the presence of the HEAD MESSIAH HIMSELF! Furthermore, Mantyk is an incredibly astute judge of politics and politicians:
In Donald Trump we've found a man
Who can the tides of time withstand,
A seasoned duke, of vision strong,
Who sees the picture hard and long.
It sounds like Trump is gazing at a certain tiny toadstool-like appendage and fantasizing bigly. In addition to writing highly original poetry in impeccable English, Mantyk also translates Chinese poetry sublimely. His translation of the "Ballad of Mulan" concludes:
The male hares' feet go hop and skip
    And female hares look muddled,
But when their running at good clip,
    How can't one get befuddled?
A very good question! Befuddling diction and grammar aside, Mantyk is not shy about tooting his own and the Society's horns:
"The Society of Classical Poets is reviving poetry with rhyme and meter and the response has been widespread and tremendous. Since the Society was founded in 2012, we have grown from a daily blog with weekly posts to a major non-profit organization publishing the highest quality poetry on a daily basis, as well as insightful essays, reviews, and the most exquisite art. People have been waiting for the return of real poetry, poetry that has clear thinking, discipline in form, and virtue in spirit, and now it has arrived."
Now, all jests aside, I do worry that the Keystone Scops may be overdoing this "highest quality poetry" thingy! Do federal truth-in-advertising regulations apply to literary journals? Could the head marketer end up in pinstripes? A friend who perused my first draft of this review suggested that the Society ought to change its name to Solecisms 'R US. A dash of honestly may be in order, if only to avoid the hoosegow! But in any case, I will close the book on Mantyk, at least for now, with this observation from a Society fundraiser:
"The world is truly awaiting the return of great poetry and we are giving it to them."
Readers can decide for themselves if Mantyk has fulfilled any of his extravagant claims. Call me a skeptic, but I have my doubts. Have the proper authorities been notified?

Okay, I closed the book too soon. The following bit of high comedy was too good bad terrible to pass up. Mantyk published a poem of his called "The Threads" which compares poetry to a "patchwork tapestry." There are glaring errors of grammar and logic throughout and the poem has wrenchingly terrible stanzas like:
A patch shows stream of consciousness
   (Barely can I read this one).
Another stitched vacuousness
   Boldly, yet without rhyme’s fun.

And all of them go their own way,
   Self-expressing endlessly
Unmeasured words in grim array,
   Wove in patterns tastelessly.
The first line is a grammatical trainwreck. The second line sounds like Yoda-speak, sans the wisdom. In the third line Mantyk probably means "vacuity" but opted for one of the most awkward rhymes in the history of English poetry. The fourth line sounds like something a kindergartner might write about recess (and "boldly, yet" is a grammatical orphan). Of course line eight should start with "woven," but by that point the poem is beyond salvage, much less salvation.

So what did those great literary critics, the Keystone Scops, say about this poetic version of the Titanic?

David Hollywood heaped praise on the poem, then closed by saying: "Poem's such as this keep us flying." (The random apostrophe may be a clue that's he's not another Dr. Johnson.) Amy Foreman called the poem "Inspiring." Joseph Tessitore joined the cheers with: "Great vision and an even better poem." Damian Robin congratulated Mantyk with: "As always, finely crafted and booming." David Paul Behrens called it "A great poem with an outstanding metaphor." David Watt chimed in with: "You [sic] inspirational poem could not have chosen a more appropriate metaphor than threads to describe poetry as it stands today. Let us hope that the golden threads continue to gain greater recognition as being superior in lustre and composition [to free verse]." James Sale, who seems to consider himself a literary critic of note, actually compared Mantyk to Percy Bysshe Shelley: "Excellent work, Evan: there is an element of the prophetic in your poetry, which is a very important tradition not many venture to achieve. Shelley powerfully had that vatic sense." Tessitore was back again with: "And may we never unravel!" Alas, too late!

They are indeed the wind beneath their wings. But is it all hot air?

Folks, these are the self-appointed Saviors of Poetry! But how is it possible for poets who read and write so poorly to believe they can defend embattled Parnassus? The answer probably lies in the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which people of low ability imagine themselves to be superior because they are blissfully unaware of their limitations. As David Dunning explained in layman's terms: "If you're incompetent, you can't know you're incompetent [because] the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is." In other words, because the Keystone Scops are unable to write well, they are unable to understand that they are not good writers. If they were to improve as writers, they might be able to recognize the difference between good, bad and terrible writing.

Since I questioned the Keystone Scops in public, I have been called a "hillbilly," a "failed editor" who publishes "greeting card verse," etc.

The "hillbilly" charge was leveled by Dr. Joseph S. Salemi, who explained that I am a hillbilly, not because I live in Tennessee, which would make him a bigot, but because I lack "cultured self-restraint." I found that amusing, because where Salemi is known in literary circles, it is primarily for his lack of civility, manners and self-restraint. From this point forward I will always think of him, perhaps not affectionately, as Hillbilly Salemi.

Another Salemi charge is that I am not as advanced a theologian as he is. I will plead guilty on that count, since I do find it difficult to develop advanced theories about the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and other Imaginary Friends.

If I'm a "failed editor" who publishes "greeting card verse" why did Salemi not only submit poems and articles to me for publication, but at times urge me to publish them more quickly? Was he in a hurry to get his greeting card verse published, or did he consider The HyperTexts to be a good and reputable publisher of his more serious work?

And why did the Keystone Scops recruit me? After I won one of the Society's first poetry contests (couplets) and finished second in another (quatrains), I was offered a position on the masthead or board—I forget which—the board, I think. But when I studied the SCP website while considering the offer, I quickly became convinced that it was a hopeless cause. There were far too many error-riddled poems being published. The editors either didn't bother to edit, or lacked the ability. (Having read Mantyk's poems, marketing materials and how-to manual, I strongly suspect the latter.)

Furthermore, some of the poems and critiques I discovered on the SCP website were quite clearly racist and/or homophobic. Really ugly stuff. More recently, I questioned a post by Salemi in which he seemed to be rallying right-wing poets to do something about "faggots" in the church and society in general. During the ensuing debate, Mantyk informed me that anything said in defense of homosexuality would be deleted by him, because homosexuality is a "sin." When I asked Mantyk how he knows that homosexuality is a "sin," he refused to answer and even deleted my purposely mild questions. But the posts attacking homosexuals were allowed to stand. Is Mantyk afraid to answer questions about the source and validity of his beliefs? If so, why? Is it because his beliefs are based on the Bible, a book that endorses slavery, sex slavery, infanticide, matricide, ethnic cleansing, genocide, the murder of rape victims, and the gruesome stoning of children to death for misdemeanors? If the Bible is wrong about such horrors, as it so clearly is, how can anyone rely on it for guidance when the topic is human sexuality? As I once observed, having read the Bible from cover to cover as a child:

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

I still prefer my childhood take on the Bible to the "advanced theology" of Baptist pastors and Catholic popes. But be that as it may, I hope most Christians and non-Christians will agree that impossible-to-verify religious beliefs should not be used to condemn, damn or discriminate against people who are doing no one else any harm. When playing pickup basketball, we used to say "No harm, no foul." Someone having darker skin does me no harm. Someone being a law-abiding Muslim does me no harm. Sex between consenting adults, however unorthodox, does me no harm. Yes, we need laws against rape and pedophilia, but why not agree to live and let live whenever there is no harm and thus no foul? Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case with the Society of Classical Poets, based on the evidence of their website and the censorship I experienced there. (BTW, I'm not the only poet to have been censored by Mantyk, since a poet named William Krusch opined that "any intellectual, reason-based argument seems to be banned here at the SCP." And I have seen other poets' posts get deleted for being "too liberal" on certain unmentionable topics.)

Related Pages: A Review of the Society's Literary Journal, Laureates 'R' US, Joseph Charles MacKenzie: Poet or Pretender?, Evan Mantyk's Poetic Tic, James Sale's Blue Light Special, Bruce Dale Wise or Un-?, "How to Write a Real Good Poem" by R. S. Gwano, Salemi's Dilemma, Salemi Interview and Responses by other Poets

The HyperTexts