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.
NOTE: Updates appear in bold to make them easier to find.
CAVEAT EMPTOR: 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?
PREVIOUS UPDATE: The Keystone Scops are now offering classes on British Romantic Period
poetry. Prepare to get edjicated! According to the scops' sales pitch, "The good values that are inherently
fostered will improve classroom behavior!" Now, that might come as a surprise to
rebellious British romantics like William Blake (who railed against church and
state, advocated free love, claimed to be his own Christ, and called the
biblical god "Nobodaddy"), Lord Byron (accused of incest), Thomas Chatterton
(accused of forgery), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (opium addict) and Percy Bysshe
Shelley (kicked out of Oxford for writing a tract on the necessity of atheism).
The scops' courseware informs teachers and students that William Wordsworth was
"Poet Laurette." If the curious term puzzles you, it's "something like a
national mascot and national monument rolled into one."
Here are some very helpful
instructions for teaching Wordsworth's famous poem about daffodils: "Teacher recites the poem from memory
(or uses a copy in hand) to students adding ample hand gestures and facial
expressions. Immediately after saying 'gay' you may add 'meaning happy.' For the
last stanza, it is suggested that you sit in a desk or chair and put your feet
up and your hands behind your head to express 'For oft, when on my couch I
The teachers frequently struggle to make sense: "The British Romantic Period
poets voiced the inspiration for this general movement away [sic] cities and
science. Thus, there are two dichotomies that character [sic] British Romantic
Evan Mantyk, who claims to be an English
teacher, proved once again that
he's clueless about English punctuation and grammar with the not-so-immortal lines:
There is something there that loves a wall:
The easy car trip when your loved ones' call—
No need to worry cows might block the road
And pepper it with putrid, pie-like load.
When Joseph Salemi called Mantyk’s abysmal poem "a perfect answer" to Robert
Frost's "Mending Wall," I could only conclude that Sam Gwynn was correct when he
observed that Salemi is more politico than poet. Because he surely knows
Mantyk's poem is a "putrid, pie like load" and would never publish it himself,
it seems Salemi must be putting politics above poetry.
Mantyk went on to inform the scops that it's okay to think of illegal
immigrants as "cows" as long as one is "careful not to call illegal immigrants
cows outright." One wonders what Mantyk's Lord and Savior must think about
him calling refugee children and their mothers "cows," since Jesus and Mary were
once refugees for whom there was "no room." According to
the Bible, Jesus told his disciples: "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of
the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Surely "the least
of these" would include refugee children and their families!
Mantyk later announced that the SCP website has been going up and down due to
malware and other server "dysfunction." Mantyk
seemed to see this as a directed external attack, noting ominously: "It is
likely that some of these are related to attacks against the Society as it rises
in influence and reach." But malware typically attacks
EVERYONE mindlessly and robotically, by looking for chinks in a computer
system's security. Malware is as likely to attack a free verse website as a
classical poetry website, or any other computer system. And there is no need for
other poets to hack the SCP website when all they have to do is quote the
terrible writing being published, as I did above. Nor can anyone establish
"influence and reach" in the literary world by consistently publishing pitiful
writing. I hate to see anyone suffer with malware, but the scops are vastly
overestimating their "influence and reach" because they continue to publish
glaring errors on a regular basis. When the editor-in-chief can't edit his own
poetry, what hope is there for the "society" he heads? ... Well, perhaps if they
converted to a sewing circle!
Joe Tessitore wrote a poem imploring Carla Hayden to select a classical poet as the next Poet
Laureate. But every item on Tessitore's poetic checklist works against the Keystone Scops, as I
explain in my updated
Laureates 'R' US. Amy Foreman complained about "snowflake" censorship at
liberal colleges, but the SCP has a full-time censor in
Mantyk, and who is whiter or flakier than
the scops? Meanwhile, the scops' unanimous choice for Poet Lariat,
Joseph Charles MacKenzie, snared him an "oliphant":
Today the wind through winter's unclad bones
Drowns in its woeful howl my soul's discant;
Beyond, a distant hunter's oliphant
Salutes the dead beneath their frost-bound stones.
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,"
"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."
The Keystone Scops have claimed that Joseph Salemi is a "major poet" and "America's greatest man
of letters" so let's examine the evidence:
How The Mighty Have Fallen.
After I published my initial 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 verse—so I have obliged him: Bruce
Dale Wise or Un-?
I will now proceed by comparing the Society's incredible claims to their less-than-credible output
by Michael R. Burch
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 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
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 count, 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,
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:
A fragile yet audacious batch
Seem hopeless until they reveal
A rainbow patch.
"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
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:
Who can the tides of time withstand,
A seasoned duke, of vision strong,
Who sees the picture hard and long.
The male hares' feet go hop and skip
A very good question! Befuddling diction and grammar aside, Mantyk is not shy about
tooting his own and the Society's horns:
And female hares look muddled,
But when their running at good clip,
How can't one get befuddled?
"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
"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
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:
And things go rapidly downhill after that very rocky start. Wordsworth may be rolling over in his grave,
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
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, ...
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
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:
The bells of change are clanging.
My lines for Trump came out today,
now bring back death by hanging.
"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
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
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
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?
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.
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."
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
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."
Since I questioned the Keystone Scops in public, I have been
called a "hillbilly," a "failed editor" who publishes
"greeting card verse," etc.
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."
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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:
half the Bible
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
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
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
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 scéim, sceithim;
also thin excrement as in diarrhea)
Sweet Jesus, read this poem and weep! — @fcummins
Elmer Fudd declined the invite. So there's that. —
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
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
"Whilst hapless old harridans flapping their traps / Teach women to look and
behave like us chaps." —
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! —
On his website it says "In civilized times, aristocratic patrons showered poets
with support." Now that's a golden shower for ya. —
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... —
Just a reminder that Obama had Maya Angelou writing poems for his inaugural.
Trump gets...Joseph Charles MacKenzie, whoever TF that is. — Casey Lewis
Joseph Charles MacKenzie writes poems out of pee. — witchweasel @alendrel
I don't read much poetry, but I know this is bad. Ugh. —
Ugh gawd! —
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
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?
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 Interview and Responses by other Poets