The poetry world is full of “typical social justice weaponized academia bullshit” according to poet Joseph Massey, who for sure has reason to know. His work has been published and deleted for a third time since his poetry world mobbing, this time by The Modernist Review.
A few years ago, he was accused of being a shitty boyfriend, extra drunk, and making people uncomfortable at poetry readings. He admitted it. He apologized. He wrote about the experience in Quillette. For this, he has been basically banished by the society of poets. Apologies are seen as evidence of guilt; forgiveness doesn’t exist.
Every time he is published, which happens not infrequently due to the legit merit of his work in the eyes of those publishers, the mob reaches out to those magazines and tells them to pull his work, or else. The Modernist Review caved to this mob, a group that Massey says only consists of about a dozen poets.
Massey submitted poems to The Modernist Review back in August 2019, when a call went out looking for work related to the environment. He sent in a sequence of poems grounded in the natural world, inspired by time spent with family in rural Delaware. In January 2020, he received word from The Modernist Review that they wanted to publish the work in their upcoming issue.
Editor Cecile Varry wrote “If ‘Backroad Scroll’ is still available, we would love to publish it in this month’s issue of the Review, which should be released next week. We really liked it and think that it fits very well with our plan for the issue!” After some logistical back and forth about graphics, the poems were published on The Modernist Review on January 31. Varry tweeted them out with the message “Wonderful poems by @jmasseypoet.” Massey shared that post.
A few hours later, he noticed that his tweet of her post about the poems showed that Varry’s tweet had been deleted. This is when Massey realized the mob had come for him yet again. He went to the site and saw that The Modernist Review had deleted his work. He contacted Varry, asking “Has my work been removed from the issue? If so I’d appreciate an explanation.”
They have not responded. Massey doesn’t think anyone will ever get back to him. The Post Millennial reached out to Varry for comment, but at the time of writing she has not responded.
This is the third time this has happened since his mobbing. The Academy of American Poets did this too, and Virga Magazine. Neither of these outlets offered an explanation. They are afraid of the mob.
Speaking to The Post Millennial, Massey said that “social justice indoctrination is what makes editors terrified. As soon as they get an email or a tweet saying you published an abuser they just want to wipe their hands of it immediately.” They don’t bother to look into it, or ask Massey, or dig any further. Instead, these poetry magazines do what the spineless internet vigilantes tell them to. “They’ve been able to weaponize this new political regime,” Massey said.
And it’s not just contemporary poets who need to toe the line. “There are poets who are professors who are embedded in academia who are openly banning poets from being read,” Massey said, “eradicating them from the canon.” For his part, he is “against erasure, trying to wipe out Walt Whitman because in the 19th century he may have said something unpalatable to the 20th century.”
“In all likelihood, I’m not going to humiliate myself by submitting poems to open calls,” Massey said when asked about his next steps. “So I need to find alternative means of disseminating my work.” He’s actively working towards that goal.
This is a great time for writers and artists to step out of the framework of the established publishing houses, magazines, and arts cultures, and make their own. If the going outlets, the arbiters of arts culture, can’t handle their responsibility to maintain and uphold free speech, to decry unfounded allegations, or at the very least to offer forgiveness when an artist screws up, they deserve to lose their relevancy and their impact.