The Society of Classical Poets: A Misologist’s Report on a Cult
by Conor Kelly
Let me begin with a confession. I am not an alcoholic. I am not a sexaholic. I am not a shopaholic. But I am an SCPaholic. Despite being barred from
interacting with The Society of Classical Poets, despite being attacked in
poetry and prose by many of the site's denizens, despite
recognizing the utter vacuousness of the poetry being published there, I keep
coming back for more. This is partly because I appear to be subscribed to their
daily emails, which introduce new alleged poems on a regular basis, however
irregular the poems may be. I could, nay I should, unsubscribe. But
then what would I do for my habitual fix?
Many have tried to help me. My psychiatrist, my counsellor, my therapist, my
priest, my confessor, my family, my friends, heck even
Tennessee hillbillies, have all advised me to go cold turkey. “Let it go,” they say, “you’re
only upsetting yourself.” And I am making some progress. I don’t read the poems
much anymore. Mainly because most of them are unreadable. But I am still
addicted to the comments. I still take a vicarious pleasure in seeing how a
poem, modelled on poetic styles that went out of fashion in the late 19th
century, can generate such passionate political repartee. In my younger and more
ideological phase, I even participated myself, ignoring the poems to contend
with the politics. Then I got canned. (I discuss this in an essay on my
interactions with the site:
The Society of
Classical Poets — A Circle Jerk.)
In an effort to cure myself of a compulsion, I wrote a squib of a sonnet to sum
up my approach to the workings of these poets and their society. At first I
called it “On the Certainty of Karen”, using a generic term for a white,
privileged, self-satisfied American female. But I thought that too pat,
too much a cliché, so I used one of the names I encountered on the site and
renamed it “On the Certainty of Susan.” I then sent it off to a webzine
(Snakeskin) that had printed my poetry in
the past. (Warning: Snakeskin had also printed the poetry of the
afore-mentioned Susan.) I didn’t hold out much hope for the poem. In fact, being honest with myself, I
must say that while I'm fairly happy with the
octet, the sestet didn’t quite get across the contrasts I desired. It may have
been a squib, but it also fizzled out. Judge for yourself.
On the Certainty of Susan
I meet her in a bar where poets read.
She is applauded by her acolytes
who clap with fervour after she recites
her paeans to her strong politic creed.
I offer her a drink. She says, “No need.
It’s poetry and truth are my delights.”
She tells me my concern for human rights
is just a ploy. “Your aim is to mislead.”
“I know what I know,” she says, “and what I know
is true, immutable, endorsed by God.
He teaches me what I must love and hate.
You may protest, argue, debate, say no;
but your objections are not merely odd,
they are projections of the false, deep state.”
I was surprised and pleased when the indefatigable editor of Snakeskin accepted
the poem and published it. However, in response to a complaint from the eponymous
Susan, he asked me to change the title. I apologized for putting him in the
crosshairs and gave the poem a fresh, less personal title: “At a Poetry
Reading”. I then waited for the inevitable backlash from the Society of
Classical Poets. I didn’t have to wait long. Within a week, Mrs. Jarvis Bryant
(Susan) had her riposte — a poem called “The Misologist”.
I felt vindicated.
I won’t quote all of it here. I'm still trying to figure out what it means
beyond the usual intoxicated verbiage. From what I can gather, a misologist is
someone who hates reasonable discourse and, although I'm not mentioned by name,
there is no doubt (and Joe Salemi recognized this in his comment) that the
poem is in response to my squib. So far, so falteringly good. But it's hard to
make out what's at issue when the rhythms, the rhymes, and the stanzaic patterns
are so clunky. The poem sounds like an old banger in need of a good service.
Here, for example, is one stanza chosen at random:
He hears a bold, rhapsodic blast
On tongues that prize the hue
Of gleaming reams that beam then cast
A fair and golden view—
A view that draws his battle cry.
He fights to shun the what and why—
To snub each question asked…
If I understand this rightly, and I’m not sure that I do, the “he” in question
(me, apparently) is shunning the reality and snubbing the dialogue of the
golden-tongued rhapsodic poet who has all the answers. I’m still trying to
figure out what questions I have shunned or snubbed. And I find myself
congenitally unable, alas!, to find a route to the fair and golden view.
After four stanzas that even the worst Georgian poets of the early 20th century would
have been embarrassed to have written, the poem ends in a trite little couplet:
Misologists will silence proof
Of lies illumed in words of truth.
You should know you're on a sticky wicket (Mrs. Byrant is British and must
know about cricket) when you have to replace the word
“illuminated” with an out-dated poeticism like “illumed”. (Even my spell-checker
is protesting.) As for the “words of truth”, I find it interesting that the
word which appears most regularly in an SJB poem is “truth”. However, it does so
with a Humpty-Dumpty (should that be Humpty-Trumpty?) meaning: “When I use
a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” Whatever
the truth is, you can be assured it's something withheld from misologists like myself.
As usual for the SCP, the poem is accompanied by comments, in this case sixty-three of them.
The commentary begins: “This is one of the greatest poems I have ever read.”
(Confirming the SCP's inability to distinguish great poetry from terrible
usual, the circle-jerk of self-congratulation goes around and around (or
perhaps “up and down” would be more accurate).
As there are no dissenting comments, apart from a few
mumbles of hesitancy to make the response appear less sycophantic, the opposition is
evoked in political, not poetic terms. A misologist would appear to be a
left-liberal, a government employee, a member of “the mockingbird media” (a favourite SJB target), a mild-mannered moderate, a dreamy pietist, a doctor, a
school teacher, a chemist. In fact a misologist appears to be someone who does
not abide by the site's extreme right-wing ideology. Welcome to the club!
This club has an aesthetic ideology as well as a political ideology. The former attacks modernism in art and, more specifically, modernism in
poetry, lamenting the influence of Pound and Eliot and opposing it with the work
of, among others, Walter de la Mare. Now I have no wish to denigrate de la Mare
The Listeners is a wonderful poem — but few would see him as a driving force in
20th century poetry. Few, that is, outside the Society of Classical Poets. There have even been calls for secession on the SCP website, with cries of
“Hear! Hear!” in response. What would such a secession involve? Among other
things, holding in contempt Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, Guggenheim and MacArthur
Fellowships, Academy and Tony Awards, laureateships, endowed chairs, etc. Such
things must no longer be praised, being nothing more than putting the stamp of
approval on the degradation of the fine arts. And so, not only American awards,
but international awards such as the Nobel Prize for Literature, are to be
disdained. Tell that to the admirers of Seamus Heaney.
With its secessionist and isolationist ways, the Society of Classical Poets
appears to resemble a Jim Jones/David Koresh-like cult with the poets living
in their own metaphoric jungles or fortresses. Meanwhile calls for a new poetic
Utopia, to quote Robert Burns, “gang aft agley.” For instance, one Utopian
vision quickly turned into a continuing rant against Doctor Fauci. However much
you admire or denigrate Doctor Fauci, he is not a poet. But that doesn’t stop
the secessionists from having a go.
This cult may lack a charismatic leader. Evan Mantyk appears, every now
and again, to reprimand those who dispute the
ideology and to banish dissenters without hearings. Joe Salemi will apply his father’s pugilistic tendencies to
those who demur from the secession. Joshua Frank would disdain, if not wipe out,
all those of a left-leaning liberal bent. And Mike Bryant will find a
justification on the Internet for all his arguments. Someone should tell him
that, if you use Google, you can learn that the earth is flat, that the
election (which one?) was stolen, and that Donald Trump is the Second Coming, a
rough beast slouching towards the White House to be reborn. As for Susan
Jarvis Bryant, a cult groupie, she just parrots the site's transphobic,
anti-democratic, anti-scientific, gun-loving, hate-filled rhetoric. Lacking originality in either ideas or style, her poems have the
splendid odour of socks worn too long.
Were genuine classical poets, such as John Dryden or Alexander Pope, to emerge
from the mists of time and contemplate the work published on the Society of
Classical Poets website, I'm sure they'd be appalled. I can see the
authors of “Mac Flecknoe” and “The Dunciad” perusing the site and responding
with glee. The SCP poets would soon appear in a modern version of
Pope’s masterpiece where dullness become Dulness and the present poem would
end, like its predecessor, with an invocation of the second coming of stupidity:
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries all.
And so, as I try to emerge from the universal darkness I have allowed myself to
enter, I am beginning to approach a cure. Like others, I first followed the site
because I was interested in formal poetry. (Unlike the SCP poets, this did not
preclude an interest in other forms of poetry.) But what has happened to
American politics and American society has also infected the SCP poets. I deal
with this in my upcoming Amazon best-seller: A Basket of Deplorables: How Trump
Infected the American Mind. Chapter five deals with poetry and describes, among
other things, how the SCP gradually moved from being a site devoted to poetry of
a niche aspect to becoming just another casualty of the culture wars. That is why
I have ceased to read the poetry on its pages. Soon, with a little will-power, I
will be able to resist the comments as well. I will eventually secede from the
secession. In the meantime, I am proud, I think, to call myself a misologist and
proud to be the subject of so much venomous contumely. Into you, Mrs. B.
The rank smell that comes from socks worn overlong is nothing compared to the
stink of hypocrisy...
I didn’t have long to wait for a response to my poem and essay above. It came in
a ballad by Joshua C. Frank entitled “The Certainty of Kelly Green”. This is
the first stanza:
My friend and I went to a coffee shop;
She read her intricately crafted verse
That proved that she alone was at the top
Of all today’s poetic universe.
Somebody please explain how any decent editor could confuse this with poetry. It’s not free verse. But it has no discernible rhythm, so
it’s not classical verse. Or at least not good classical verse. Give a monkey a guitar and it would have more
consonance. The alleged ballad does have the merit of reminding us that she (later
identified as SJB) is, alone, at the top of “all today’s poetic universe.” Parnassus
was never so bleak.
As for the hypocrisy, it soon manifests itself. The poem (https://classicalpoets.org/2023/08/07/the-certainty-of-kelly-green-a-poem-by-joshua-c-frank/)
aligns with Mrs. Bryant’s self-declared concern for children by opposing
the transgender community. But Mr. Frank also makes clear his opposition to all
forms of abortion. (Elsewhere, and frequently, he trumpets his opposition to all
forms of contraception, including those advocated by the Roman Catholic Church.) Were
a child to be raped and impregnated, Mr. Frank would have her carry the result
to birth. So much for a concern for children.
The hypocrisy is widespread. In another post on another poem, “Unholy
Frank offers with seeming pride an endorsement from a notorious Boston paedophile. So much
for a concern for children.
The hypocrisy extends to Mrs. Bryant. She accuses me of trashing her
reputation (what reputation?) when all she is doing, she claims, is trying to
protect children: “Please know, adults can and will do as they please. I have no
particular interest in their conduct or their opinion… unless it directly
affects others, especially our children.” If this were true, she would have no
particular interest in attacking, mocking and deriding the transgender community
and those who support them. However, such attacks have apparently become a perverse obsession
with her: “Alack, the women most revered/ Are those who have a cock and beard.”
The hypocrisy is extensive. Mrs. Bryant claims that she “stands up for our
ever-dwindling right to speak freely, especially through art.” No one, to the
best of my knowledge, has prevented her and her cult followers from speaking
freely. She has a platform where, daily, she can preen and participate in what I
have called a circle-jerk. Yet she endorses the SCP policy of silencing those
like myself, have an interest in what she calls “art” and I call formal
poetry. If your definition of classical poetry doesn’t align with the SCP's, you
will be shown the door, as I was.
As I have argued above, the SCP, in a post-Trump,
MAGA-inspired, hate-filled universe, is far more interested in politics of a
particularly virulent kind than in any discernable form of poetry.
The time has come for me to walk away. And to change my socks.
A Review of the Society's Literary Journal,
Laureates 'R' US,
Susan Jarvis Bryant,
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 Interview and Responses by other Poets