The HyperTexts

The Society of Classical Poets: The Keystone Scops

I think The Society of Classical Poets should consider a name change. Being the helpful soul that I am, I came up with The Society of Gassical Nowits, because the SCP website produces tremendous volumes of hot air but seems lacking in anything that might pass for mental acuity. I also considered The Society of Classless Knowits because the "arrogance of ignorance" seems to permeate the ether there. But finally I settled on The Keystone Scops, for reasons that will quickly become apparent. (Hint: More than one pun is intended, along with the anagram.)

The Society of Classical Poets is an odd outfit, to say the least. What happens when near-infinite pretension has intercourse with massive incompetence? Are poets likely to pop out, or pretenders? Emperors with clothes, or without? And why did Poets & Writers de-list the SCP poetry contest? Was it the glaring grammar errors or, more likely, the hate talk about feminist "bitches" and "faggots" and Native American "savages" (while the virtues of the latter's ethnic cleansers were being lavishly praised)? Was it the overall tenor of a site where one of the SCP's mainstays, Dr. Joseph S. Salemi, recently wrote: "Only a very thin line of American army troops is preventing this horde of illegal immigrant scum from crossing our borders." According to Salemi, thousands of impoverished children and their struggling mothers and fathers are collectively "scum."

After I published this review, the Keystone Scops started nominating each other for Poet Laureate, so I have added a new page: Laureates 'R' US.

A fifth Keystone Scop invited criticism—the invitation was delivered in wrenchingly bad verseso I have obliged him: Bruce Dale Wise or Un-?

Let's begin by comparing the Society's incredible claims to their less-than-credible output ...

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

The Keystone Scops have apparently never encountered a major grammatical error that they didn't immediately fall in love with and proceed to proclaim the height of all art. Surely, you think, he jests! No, I'm quite serious, if sometimes speaking ironically. But I don't want to damn everyone published by The Keystone Scops collectively. Nor do I wish to suggest guilt by association. Therefore, I will focus on those poets making the most extravagant claims for themselves, their accomplices and/or their organization, while providing evidence that they have, quite possibly, failed to live up to their overheated hype. I will begin with Evan Mantyk, the founder of 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."
Did I mention arrogance and incompetence having intercourse? 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?

A second Keystone Scop who raises my suspicions (and hackles) is Joseph Charles MacKenzie. On his also-very-impressive website, Mac informs us that he offers poetry that is "100% Beautiful 100% Meaningful 100% True." His website further informs us that "The appearance of Joseph Charles MacKenzie's Sonnets for Christ the King, marks a significant paradigm shift in the history of Anglo-American poetry." The wayward comma aside, is it not completely obvious that we are in the presence of another staggering genius? Mac's breathless press release tells us that his book contains "major poetry by a major poet" and that he is "one of the foremost sonneteers in the world." Who has made such extravagant claims for Mac? Another Society mainstay, James Sale, a "Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts." (What, no peerage?) As we shall soon see, extravagant claims are also being made for Mr. Sale. While there was only one Shakespeare in his day, we are blessed to have at least four upstart crows in ours. Surprisingly, they are in contact with each other, praising each other's work to the skies, and seemingly best buds to boot! What are the odds?

When one reviews a budding Shakespeare, one really must think and plan ahead:
"Sale is also the first reviewer to have recognized that the Sonnets for Christ the King are a veritable sequence, as opposed to a mere collection, of poems. The distinction is significant because it establishes for future scholars a just evaluation of the work as a whole, sparing generations to come the kind of debates that continue to hover above Shakespeare's Sonnets published in 1610."
Now we can all die and rest easy, knowing that Mac's masterpieces will not be judged on their individual merits, nor as a collection, but as a "veritable sequence"! Are you as relieved as I am? Someone really must transport Sale back in time so that we can properly identify Shakespeare's sonnets as a friggin' sequence! Time travel has no higher purpose!

Curiously, in another review Sale reveals that Mac is an imposter when he says in his usual awkward way: "To take then an overview of how I see Professor Salemi's work, I'd say that all real poets know, but do not talk about, where they are in the pantheon of poets. They know because the Muse informs them; but to talk about oneself in such a way would be to betray the Muse." Since Mac repeatedly talks about where he ranks in the pantheon of poets, he is thus not a real poet, but an imposter and traitor, according to Sale.

But what about Mac's poems? Has your anticipation been building to a fever pitch? How could it not, in the presence of such self-alleged genius? Now, finally, we have come to the first masterful sonnet on Mac's impressively verbose website! (Please keep in mind that, as Muhammad Ali once pointed out, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up.") And so here, tada!, without further ado, is the promised 100% Beauty 100% Meaningfulness and 100% Truth:
The Bridge
On the Westminster Bridge Massacre, 22 March 2017
By Joseph Charles MacKenzie

When Wordsworth stood upon that bridge most fair,
And wondered if some gloomy passer-by
Could be so dim that London's majesty
Would never touch his dullness, unaware, ...
And things go rapidly downhill after that very rocky start. Wordsworth may be rolling over in his grave, but probably not with pleasure. And where-oh-where are the consumer protection watchdogs when we really need them? A non-fan of MacKenzie's work took to calling him "Mck" in our correspondence, adding "the Magnificent" because that seems to be how he views himself and his poetry. I added a "u" and came up with Muck the Magnificent, because MacKenzie seems intent on dragging his readers back into the primordial slime and ooze. Take, for instance, this "poem" he tweeted to his Twitter followers (all 19 of them, he's so incredibly popular):
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
The bells of change are clanging.
My lines for Trump came out today,
now bring back death by hanging.
There are some amusing reader observations about Muck's "poetry" at the bottom of this page. Another Keystone Scop who has my radar pinging is the aforementioned James Sale. Is his middle name Fire, Blue Light, Rummage or Garage? In a strange article about Fire Sale's review of Muck's sonnets, a nameless third party breathlessly reviews the reviewer, informing us that:
"More than a review, the penetrating piece offers many oblique lessons in the art of poetics via the meticulous analysis of MacKenzie's sonnets. Sale possesses a clear, infallible understanding of the unique features of the English sonnet for which his own country is renowned. [The sonnet is in his effin' genes!] ... Indeed, as Sale demonstrates with unimpeachable acumen, it is precisely that fidelity to the sonnet's unchanging form that produces the enigmatic power of the Sonnets for Christ the King. And yet, as Sale suggests, that power has an even deeper source in what he calls 'Mackenzie's attitude to the Christian story,' an attitude he considers 'the nearest approximation we can get to "truth"'."
Wouldn't a "penetrating piece" with "meticulous analysis" offer non-oblique lessons? Are we to believe that Rummage Sale has "infallible understanding" and "unimpeachable acumen"? I, for one, remain unconvinced. And what about Blue Light Sale's poetry? The ever-informative Evan Mantyk asks and answers Art's ultimate question: "Where is beauty today? At a time when it seems merely an elusive myth, James Sale brings us beautiful poetry." But I remain unconvinced, citing the concluding stanzas of Garage Sale's poem "The Funeral" by way of example:
It is with wonder now I think
How Adam strove manfully to hold
His Eve – mother! – breaking down
As touching Abel all his cold.

It is with wonder shall I think
Of earth and that first funeral?
One day ahead, no longer myth,
And God raises One, quite literal.
Now, the argument may be made that it's unfair to judge poets by a few lines each. Here is my counter-argument: Have you ever read anything as remotely bad that was published by any great poet, in the entire history of literature? Shouldn't major poets have the taste and discrimination not to allow the public to read such mediocrities and horrors with their names and reputations attached?

James Sale may not be the world's most popular poet. His website has links to four YouTube videos. The videos have a whopping eight to forty views, with not a single "like." Now mind you, Sale did win the SCP's 2017 Poetry Competition, but I insist on a recount because he won with lines like these: "But then … but then, having deigned to turn, / She turned once more to stare and doing, burn." If we could get paid $500 for writing lines that bad, we'd soon be set for life! But wait, because it gets worse ... much worse, if that is possible. Another "winning" Sale poem is (theoretically) an imitation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 107; it begins: "My love looks fresh, as every lovers' [sic] does, / For dateless ages, or at least until / The cosy comforts of settling down close / Atom-fired collisions of will to will ..."

One can only assume the judge immediately committed Hari-Kari and there was no one left to toss the "sonnet" in the reject bin.

This is the first sentence in James "Fire" Sale's website bio: "James has been writing poetry for 50 years now and has been extensively involved in many aspects of it, as well as writing it!" The bio excitedly informs us that Sale has "run workshops" for young poets, including one related to the "Shell Young Poet of Year" award. But shouldn't someone who runs workshops know that "of Year" is incorrect; where is the missing "the"? The next bio sentence exults: "He has been into dozens of schools and entertained, taught and encouraged children in the classroom and in their assemblies." Been into schools, really? A bit further down: "Also, he has been extensively published in writing poetry books for schools." Presumably Sale means that he has been published in books about writing poetry for schools. And so it goes ... on ... and on ... and on ...

My advice to this Keystone Scop is that he should stop mentoring and hire a ghost writer, pronto!

Sale's bio informs us that he is now on the Advisory Board of the Society of Classical No-Wits, where he must be in good (or very bad) company with other grammar-challenged writers like Evan Mantyk.

It's as if the tone-deaf shower singers who failed most miserably on American Idol decided to create a new "talent show" and appoint themselves the judges. Mantyk and Sale are poetry's William Hung and Keith Beukelaer.

Sale seems to fancy himself a literary critic, despite his herculean struggles with the English language. Recently, Sale reviewed Carol Smallwood's poetry collection In the Measuring with comical results. He also revealed his blond male chauvinist roots in the process. After citing two Smallwood poems as examples, Sale said: "Yes, there are several poems in it that I don't rate much at all, but there are many masterful (if she will forgive that gender-specific adjective) gems which really shine." Thus, mastery is a male thing according to Sale! Women need not apply, or it's a shock if they somehow rise to the alpha male level. Sale's verbal awkwardness is on full display in sentences like: "She really is like, to take an analogy, one of those sword smiths who hammer the metal again and again and again till it becomes unbreakably hard, and sharp, and so is fit for purpose." Does one "take" an analogy or "make" one? Fit for what purpose? Here's more wrenching awkwardness: "'Catching On' demonstrates in its very title a mindful ambiguity in the title." Sale has apparently read Mantyk's instruction manual for classical poets and copied his slipshod style. Once more Sale demonstrates his narrow-mindedness: "Do we ever really 'catch on' to – and genuinely feel philosophies like Copernicus', or Darwin's, or 'women's equality', or do they all simply remain fads that we pay lip service to whilst we remain the ego at the centre of our own universe?" According to Sale, women's equality is a fad, like rising and falling hemlines, or like vacillating between believing the earth circles the sun and vice versa! To make bad matters worse, Sale can't keep his grammar or his pronouns straight in the middle of his woman bashing: "Clearly, reading the whole collection, Carol Smallwood is a feminist, but not an ideologist who as a result of their ideology has sacrificed all their intelligence and so ends up in the Orwellian position of bleating 'four legs good, two legs bad' (for which read: women good, men bad, or any other binary opposition)." Sale then finishes writing off equality of the sexes with: "The fundamental flaw of feminism is that it is purely political; it never addresses the issue of human nature, and the flaws running through both genders. Put another way, it's utopian, and like all utopias, it will fail."

Oink! Oink!

Another SCP regular, James A. Tweedie, responded to this ungrammatical mishmash with: "Heavens to Betsy, James! You are one of the finest communicators in the world!"

Yes, and the Keystone Kops were the world's finest law enforcers!

Tweedie-dum seems to get excited very easily. After posting a ghastly "sapphic" poem along with detailed instructions explaining how to mangle the form, he exulted: "It takes a brave and bold man or woman to bare their sapphic soul on this site! I am glad to be in the company of poets who, like Icarus, seek to rise to new heights on wings of inspiration. Like eagles, they soar, even as the critics' heat melts the wax that lifted them into worlds beyond our ken. And if, in the end, their wings should fail and they be cast into the sea, yet they shall be remembered as those who dared to "slip the surly the bonds of earth;" and the tips of their wings touched the sun."

But it doesn't take "critics' heat" to melt their waxy buildup; their awkwardly expelled hot air is more than sufficient.

I have now arrived at the last of the four upstart crows: Dr. Joseph S. Salemi. I freely admit that I am not a fan of Salemi's intolerant religion, his intemperate politics or his penchant for calling other people "faggots," "feminist bitches," "liberal scum," "immigrant scum," and the like. Salemi also has a bad habit of calling his fellow formalists "cowards," "careerists," "suck-ups," "poseurs" and other derogatory terms for failing to use initial line caps in their poems and other similar trivialities. Salemi reminds me of a Puritan schoolmarm measuring schoolgirls' hems to make sure they're all the preSCRIBEd length. And he frets about homosexuality the way Puritans fret about exposed ankles. Hell, he even compared nonconformist formalists to women who allowed themselves (according to Salemi) to be "molested on Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch." However, I do believe that in literature we must sometimes give the Devil his due, and Salemi is a competent writer. I have published him myself, through The HyperTexts, and have long admired his poem "The Missionary's Position" and a few others. To be a competent writer of poetry would seem to require a degree of taste in poetry, so it will be interesting to learn what Salemi makes of Mantyk, MacKenzie and Sale. How could America's "greatest man of letters" fail to review the work of three major poets who happen to be close acquaintances of his? Alas, to date I have seen nothing complimentary written by Salemi about Mantyk's poetry, but that makes perfect sense to me because Mantyk's poetry is self-evidently hopeless. I also haven't seen anything complimentary written by Salemi about Sale's poetry, which also doesn't surprise me for the same reason. I did find a review written by Salemi about MacKenzie, in which Salemi complimented Mac's learnedness while artfully dodging the question of whether he is a good or great poet. My suspicion—and I freely admit that it is only a suspicion—is that Salemi knows he's scraping the bottom of the barrel with the Keystone Scops and will not stoop to calling terrible, mediocre or possibly passable poetry "good" or "great." I could be wrong, but that is my educated guess. If Salemi publishes something to the contrary, I will be glad to admit my error, although I will then doubt his abilities as a literary critic, or his honesty.
NOTE: After I wrote the paragraph above, I did discover some flattering remarks that Salemi made about a MacKenzie poem, "The Swallows of La Cienega." It's a very odd "love" poem that almost immediately produced premature ejaculations of praise for ethnic cleansers. Could this thread and others like it be the reason, according to an official SCP email to its members, that "Poets & Writers magazine now seems to have banned The Society of Classical Poets. Our Journal was listed by the magazine for years on its website, but has now been removed."

In his copious notes on the poem, Mac explained that its setting was El Rancho de las Golondrinas ("The Ranch of the Swallows") and that the ranch had been used as "rest stop" by Don Juan Bautista de Anza and his expeditionary force in 1780. De Anza was a far-ranging Conquistador and military adventurer who established the location for the Presidio de San Francisco. According to Mac's gushings, de Anza "saved the northern New Mexico pueblo of Taos by winning a decisive victory against the savages of southern Colorado. So efficient were his military tactics, that, by 1784, he had the barbarians suing for peace." Then, long after his death, de Anza was disinterred and reburied in a "magnificent marble memorial mausoleum." In his word choices, one can feel Mac's reverence for the "civilized" conqueror and his disdain for the backwards victims. De Anza's victims were "savages" and "barbarians" even though he was the one invading their native land and savagely attacking and barbarically murdering them. Apparently, Mac would have us believe that de Anza deserves to be honored because he was the good guy. Has Mac watched too many John Wayne movies, not realizing they were heavily fictionalized? Has he forgotten or never learned that Conquistador means "conqueror" and that the conquerors of the New World were the ones who ignited the native resistance with their bloody conquests?

De Anza kept a diary, so we know in his own words what really happened. In a diary entry about one military excursion he led against Comanches, de Anza wrote: "With this loss, those which have been referred to, which the Comanches suffered on the 31st, 2nd and 3rd, with that which is stated at the pueblo Taos amount to fifty-eight men and sixty-three women and children, making a total of one hundred and thirty-one persons." (Juan Bautista de Anza, September 10, 1779). That was just a few days' work for de Anza and his lethal charges. How many other women and children did men under de Anza's command kill, in his years of campaigning?

When James Tweedie questioned Mac's use of "savages" and "barbarians" to describe Native Americans, Mac was quick to set him straight: "To address your question about the savages, I can assure you that only my Puebloan ancestors, by embracing the Catholic faith, were able to progress along the path of true civilization." (So only Native Americans who converted to Catholicism, probably at the point of a gun to avoid being murdered, were able to "progress" to "true civilization." Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn!) Mac then proclaimed: "It is not by virtue of a people's race that they are savages, but by dint of their behavior." But what about the behavior of "Christians" who murdered men, women and children in their lust for land and gold?

In his usual pompous way, Mac rejected Rousseau's image of the "noble savage" while at the same time trying to make a "Christian" savage seem noble.

Unsurprisingly, Salemi chimed in with: "God bless the great Columbus and his far-reaching discoveries. And God bless Don Juan Bautista De Anza, the conquistador who founded our Presidio, and who saved Taos from the savage incursions." Of course there was no mention of the fact that the first savage incursions were made by de Anza and his vastly superior military force.

Mac responded to Salemi's grandiose blessings of ethnic cleansers with one of his specialties, incoherent fawning: "So the world is also grateful that it possesses one such as yourself who has been trained in the traditional disciplines of history and philology whith [sic] their irrevocable insistance [sic] on time and place."

According to Mac, Native Americans were very lucky to have been ethnically cleansed, and were even luckier to have been given a portrait of the ethnic-cleanser-in-chief: "My Indian ancestors were, as Fray Alonso de Benevides reports, the most enthusiastic beneficiaries of Spain's wonderful "entrada" into New Mexico, so much so that our Most Christian King of Spain regaled the Acoma people with a significant token of His Majesty's esteem in the form of a portrait of himself which, when I was young, did hang on the Gospel side of the Santuario de San Esteban at Acoma. This has since been removed by the new barbarians of the Indian left, robotically pre-programmed by Berkely's [sic] fascist identity-makers via our local university system, in what has become a desperate attempt to erase the very history which made the Puebloans of New Mexico a good and devout people."

So according to Mac the "only good Injun" is one who bows down to the god and religion of his immensely superior white masters. Mac is a lock to become the Poet Laureate of the KKK, unless Salemi beats him to it.

Mac concluded his white supremacist revision of history by calling "Cristobal Colon" the "liberator" of the Americas from the "darkness of pagan oppression and internicean [sic] genocide." Yes, how absolutely wonderful and liberating it was to replace pagan genocide with much more effective "Christian" genocide! The good Lord must be immensely pleased! Praise Christ and pass the communion wafers!

Whether "The Swallows of La Cienega" is a beautiful love poem is a matter of opinion. I would not give it high marks myself, so I tend to doubt Salemi's abilities as a literary critic. But to watch the discussion of a "love" poem disintegrate into expressions of complete disdain for the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide, while their "Christian" abusers and murderers were being showered with glory, was to see poetry become an instrument of racism and intolerance. And that seems to be par for the course with the Keystone Scops.
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 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 in the eyes of Puritans like Mantyk and Salemi, 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.)

After I wrote my original review of the Keystone Scops, a fifth scop invited comment by writing verse in broken English, so I have obliged him:  Bruce Dale Wise or Un-?

Reader Observations about Joseph Charles MacKenzie aka Muck the Magnificent

For those uninitiated into the wonders blunders of Muck the Magnificent, he has claimed to be New Mexico's "first lyric poet." New Mexico has been a state since 1912, but only Muck has managed to write a lyric poem! Or does he want us to believe that he is the best lyric poet New Mexico has to offer, just because he says so? Muck's website contains the modest claim that his sonnets are better than "many" of Shakespeare's. Muck promises to "elevate the human mind and heart to God through the finest, most beautiful lyric poetry ever produced in our language." His ego apparently knows no bounds (although his poetry certainly does.) Muck also wrote an "inaugural" poem for Trump that was neither solicited nor acknowledged by Trump or his campaign, to anyone's knowledge. Here are some reader observations about Muck's "inaugural" poem and his various claims to greatness ...

Trump inaugural poet Joseph Charles MacKenzie brags a former prof claimed his sonnets surpassed Shakespeare's. I'm at the threshold of hell. Brock @bdgwrn

One poet suggested that the SCP might not seem as bad when Muck isn't posting: "His absence lately disappoints. His pompous pseudo-erudition can only make [the SCP] look even worse. I miss his inevitable grandiosity."

The same poet noted that Muck is not a model of consistency in his prose: "His abnormal psychology produces radically opposed effects reminiscent of multiple personality disorder. He is alternately possessed by devils and saints. He is always coming across as different people. His mind is radically unbalanced."


Roses are red,
Violets are blue—
Mac pushed his big head
Right up his wazoo
And each night in bed
Sniffed his rich Irish stew.
  SCP Lurker

The claim of an "inaugural" poem was dismissed by Snopes, which noted: "This poem was not commissioned by Donald Trump nor intended to be the official poem of his 2017 inauguration." The "instructions" that accompanied the poem were bogus, because there was no chance that it would be read at the inauguration. For instance, the instruction: "The refrains at the end of each stanza are to be recited by the Inaugural crowd" makes no sense when the crowd never heard the poem or even knew it existed. (As they still don't.)

When I read the poem, I was aghast, along with many other writers. The content itself was shocking if unsurprising: the reference to President Barack Obama as a "tyrant," the glowing description of "Melania the fair," the strained comparison of "Domhnall" (a Scottish form of Donald) to the Highland warriors of old. But it was the poetry itself—rigid, overwrought, and over a century out of date—that sent writers and poets into a tizzy. The poem read like a ninth grader's understanding of poetry. Morbid curiosity led me to MacKenzie's website. His bio is one of the most inflated and grandiose things I've ever read. Claiming to be "New Mexico's first traditional lyric poet" (an unprovable claim at best), Mackenzie states that his professor at St. John's College, Charles Bell, noted that his sonnets "surpassed many of Shakespeare's," a laughable claim even if the doggerel that is "Pibroch of the Domhnall" were any good. Among his listed accomplishments is "[rejecting] the crippling dogmas of modernism and [remaining] faithful to traditional principles of lyric verse." And what is so wrong with the early 20th-century literary movement called modernism? According to Mackenzie, "Backward old elites have censored traditional lyric poetry because it clashes with their Marxist-totalitarian world view. The result has been complete censorship of traditional lyric verse and the loss of the ability to produce it." This claim, at minimum, is blusterous and overblown. MacKenzie's entire bio reads like parody. Whittier Strong

Awesomely bad poem by Joseph Charles MacKenzie for Trump inauguration. Try not to sgeith! — David Meyer @dajmeyer

(sgeith: vomit, Irish sceithim, Early Irish scéimsceithim; also thin excrement as in diarrhea)

Sweet Jesus, read this poem and weep! — @fcummins

Elmer Fudd declined the invite. So there's that. — coachseinberg

Someone has raised William McGonagall from the grave, given him a lobotomy, & renamed him Joseph Charles MacKenzie. — @PaulVermeersch

William McGonagall would be embarrassed by this doggerel. — Peter Curran @moridura

The Trump [inaugural] poem is so bad that the part where he insults Trump's 'tyrant' predecessor is the least offensive part of it. — wonkette.com 

Donald Trump is having a tough time securing performers for his inauguration. Earlier this week, the Bruce Springsteen cover band slated to play an inauguration gala nixed its plans; before that, Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday withdrew her initial commitment to perform the night before, issuing an apology to frustrated fans. If celebrities are boycotting the event, will the president-elect risk the same rejection by trying to secure an inaugural poet? Professional authors have been among the most vocal decriers of Trump, beginning with a strongly worded open letter to voters last spring. But today, The Independent reported ― in a post initially headlined, "Donald Trump inauguration poem calls Barack Obama a ‘tyrant'" ― that a poem has been decided on, written specifically for the event by Joseph Charles MacKenzie, an American poet whose website looks confusingly like a fundraising page, requesting donations on several separate tabs. "Like receiving discounts on MacKenziePoet products?," the site's contact page reads. "Enjoy seeing how your support helps grow my lyric verses? Maybe you just want to stay in touch with a fellow traveler in the kingdom of truth and beauty." Twitter caught on, percolating the news, which, it turns out, was untrue. MacKenzie's poem — written to celebrate Trump's Scottish roots, and including the line, "With purpose and strength he came down from his tower/ To snatch from a tyrant his ill-gotten power" ― is not a confirmed inaugural reading. — Huffington Post

independent article calls him a 'celebrated american poet' but a google search of his name leads to 5 articles of 'fuck this guy' & thats it — @sashageffen

Untalented and overrated Joseph Charles MacKenzie should stick to "delivering products." Is not a poet. Very sad. — @shannonbgoode

dt's inauguration poem was written by a rando who is apparently most famous for trolling fellow catholics online — @sashageffen

I'm going to pull an Anne Sexton if I ever have to read another word this man conjured. — thereisalightontheedgeoftown

"Whilst hapless old harridans flapping their traps / Teach women to look and behave like us chaps." — crtrystate

I was reaching for my smelling salts, but I think this is a fake. — crtrystate (apparently not believing poetry so terrible can be real)

New Mexico's first lyric poet! That's rich! — fannullona

On his website it says "In civilized times, aristocratic patrons showered poets with support." Now that's a golden shower for ya. — amyandomar

Congratulations to Joseph Charles MacKenzie for being the least talented person in the entire world. It's no small accomplishment. — Josh Epstein @drjosh81

One thing is clearer than the bonnie young lassies that fly to the crowd: this poem is terrible. — Ben Yakas

I just read The Poem™ and it sounds like a toast someone wrote about 3 hours into an Irish wedding reception — Pixie Casey @pixie_casey

The evidence doesn't stack up in the poet's favor...whatever his name is... — thegoodmenproject.com

Just a reminder that Obama had Maya Angelou writing poems for his inaugural. Trump gets...Joseph Charles MacKenzie, whoever TF that is. — Casey Lewis @cynical_tutu

Joseph Charles MacKenzie writes poems out of pee. — witchweasel @alendrel

I don't read much poetry, but I know this is bad. Ugh. — maryjve


Ugh gawd! — mx_fizzgold

Wtf — the_kids

That poem ["The Swallows of La Cienega"] and recitation truly are an abomination. When I heard that recitation, it sounded exactly how I imagined somebody so deluded and obsessed with himself would sound. It exposes what he thinks about himself and his poetry. — an anonymous poet familiar with the Society of Classical Poets who says he will no longer publish there

His website is very comprehensive and includes this humble mission statement: "My mission is simple: to comfort human souls through the finest, most beautiful lyric verse the world has not seen in over 100 years." No wonder he loves Trump, this is truly the biglyest poetry in history! — Ben Yakas

MacKenzie Mucks Up Literary Criticism

While it seems impossible, Joseph Charles MacKenzie may be a worse literary critic than he is a poet. Here are various claims made about him on his website and the SCP website:

Muck is northern New Mexico's third traditional lyric poet, after two poets unknown to 99.9% of the reading public. (Thus he would be a minor poet, at best.)
Muck is New Mexico's "first traditional lyric poet." (Muck is quickly moving up the poetic ladder, according to Muck!)
Muck's sonnets mark "a significant paradigm shift in the history of Anglo-American poetry." (A shift toward self-aggrandizement, perhaps?)
Muck's latest book contains "major poetry by a major poet." (Did Muck join the army and get promoted from captain?)
Muck is "one of the foremost sonneteers in the world." (How quickly "major" advancement comes, when one engages in self-promotion!)
Muck's sonnets have "surpassed many of Shakespeare's." (Not just one or two! A whole bunch!)
Muck has produced "the finest, most beautiful lyric poetry ever produced in our language." (Muck has promoted Muck to the top of the class, ahead of Shakespeare as a lyric poet!)
Muck has produced "the finest, most beautiful lyric verse the world has not seen in over 100 years." (Well, the "not seen" part seems accurate, at least.)

Muck has tremendous range as a poet, according to Muck the literary critic. He is both a very minor poet and the greatest lyric poet in the history of the English language! But perhaps he gave us a clue with "not seen." After all, not seeing is not believing!

But once again Muck the literary critic fails to be convincing about Muck the poet. After informing us about the poets he has surpassed (all of them!), he tells us that he has surpassed none of them: "We [Nuevomexicano lyric poets] draw inspiration from our predecessors, never pretending to surpass them, or even wishing to." Muck didn't wish to do all the bragging; the Devil made him do it! Hopefully the Vatican will provide an exorcist.

But once in a blue moon Muck the critic does strike gold in the form of an undeniable truth: "All of this po-biz is really antithetical to me which is why I can only be awkward doing it." I can think of nothing more awkward than reading the muck Muck writes about himself, unless it's the muddled muck he calls his "poetry." And so let me close with something we can all agree on: Muck is antithetical to poetry and incredibly awkward.

Reader Observations about Dr. Joseph S. Salemi

An anonymous poet pointed out that Muck the literary critic insulted two other Keystone Scops: "It's amusing that MacKenzie called Salemi and Yankevich 'greeting card sentimentalists' since they were both published by The HyperTexts! And I thought Krusch crushed Salemi with 'the most elusive Trinacria.' So who is the 'failed editor,' really? Could it be the one who hasn't put out an issue in two years?"

Trinketzia—has it come up with a new issue in the past couple years? 

Whatever happened to Tin-Ear-Crier?

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