How to Be Community

Been thinking about Steve Fellner's post here about perspectives on gay male poetry community.

There are a few things I personally think are important about being in a community, any community, and having good experiences there:

1. Be nice to other people.
2. Don't say shitty things about other people in the community.
3. Help other people get to where they're going.
4. Respect that people have different expectations of the community.

Not saying shitty things about other people doesn't preclude the necessity of critical writing on others' work--but such writing can be done respectfully.

I think about Tyra Banks, how she hates girlfights. A girl got kicked off Top Model a few cycles back for throwing beer in another girl's weave. You know why? You don't throw beer in another girl's weave. This cycle, Tyra called out Celia for revealing to the judges that Tahlia didn't want to be in the competition. She made coy allusions to her feud with Naomi Campbell.

"You don't mess with another girl's money," she said. Or, for us (since there is no money in poetry): you don't mess with another girl's right to write what she (or he) writes.

I don't love all gay poetry. Some of it I don't even really like. But I make no claims of being the arbiter of good taste (in fact, I think we can all agree that I often confess to being the Arbiter of Questionable Taste, or at the very least, the Arbiter of Fourteen-Year-Old Girl Taste). And I wouldn't want to do anything to someone in my community that would, in Tyra's words, mess with another girl's money.

It's not true for everyone. And so what? Everyone has different expectations of the community. So I don't get to say they're doing it wrong if they spill beer on my weave or mess with my money.

I don't go into the community expecting to get something. I try to go with something to give away. Maybe I sound very Buddhist right now, and I'm okay with that, but I always think about what my mom used to tell me when I'd complain about not getting any mail:

"You have to send a letter if you want to get a letter."

Yeah. Community's like that.


  1. Great response, Charlie. Thanks for this.

  2. Charlie:

    I have been trying my best to understand what it is that Steve has been trying to say ever since he started to blog, but I have to confess I can't tell more than half the time. I can't decide what he's trying to say, but then again, I guess I really don't have to.

    I do like what you have to say, so keep it up!

  3. Personally, I prefer honesty from another person over some evasive "niceness" provided in the name of propriety. I want to know what other people honestly think. I don't care what they "ought to say", because I already know what they "ought to say", and if that's all they are willing to say, then what's the point of talking to them at all?

    I like honesty, even when it might hit you hard in the gut. In fact, especially then. It means someone cares enough to break from useless platitudes to risk being true, from what they see.

    It's easy enough to discern when someone is just being a mean little bitch to you, or is simply clueless, imagining themselves authoritative.

    And I feel this should all be done in the interest of #3 -- helping people get to where they're going. We need honesty for that. If you give people generic, vanilla, diluted thoughts, what small help, if any, will that be?

    Of course, our own prejudices and preferences come into play when offering anyone, anything. The diplomacy should be stating those prejudices and preferences outright, then giving our true thoughts.

    THAT is useful to other people. It is helpful. But it is not the easy way -- the slick, silky, glossy, let's just be all smiles and friends and keep our true thoughts to ourselves way. That is what promotes snide, back-biting communities. The little secret thoughts and alliances between people...

    Get it all out there. And yes, always with respect. Everyone needs to learn. And things unsaid, often keep both the listener and the sayer, in their own ignorance.

  4. Oh. Charlie. You steal my heart.

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  6. Hi Justin,

    Since you asked about the purpose of my blog, let me try to clarify: One of the many reasons I began writing my blog was because I wanted to enter into the discussion of gay poetry with other bloggers and poets I respect. That's all.

    I've not written about any poets I dislike, and generally speaking have focused on poets who raise political and aesthetic questions. There are no personal attacks. I HAVE sometimes written critically about poems I dislike. (This is a huge difference). I write microessays to find out what I believe when I'm conflicted, trying to make sense of the poetry and the world around me. I'm not trying to be a spokesperson or an "arbiter" of anything, other than maybe the notion of open debate (both with other poets and internally, within ourselves).

    I have no desire to hurt anyone or cause anyone pain. That's not my goal. But are my posts sometimes contentious? I sure hope so.

  7. Hi Charles Jensen. Here Here. Fellner's "review" confused me utterly.