BlogTalks interview on December 14, 2017, with Andrew “Zen Daddy T” Turman
Topic: Jay Sizemore
Andrew Turman: Welcome back to another edition of Short-Attention-Span Theater, with “Zen Daddy T”, William Andrew Turman. Today I’m lucky enough to have a guest on, Robert Peate. He’s author of the book Sisyphus Shrugged, and he’s done a recent critique of Jay Sizemore, the Poet Who Shall Not Be Named, the poet everyone loves to hate. We’ll be talking with him, and Robert, are you there?
Robert Peate: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me.
AT: Well, thanks for being on, and I think it’s a very important topic for us today: censorship in America’s press. Tell me a little bit about how you found out about Jay Sizemore.
RP: Well, he was just another one of my Facebook friends until about two months ago, and so I knew about as much of him as I do of all my other Facebook friends who are writers and poets—and so, if I see somebody who’s a writer or poet, I’m more inclined to accept their request or send them a request—and I didn’t really think too much about it. But then I saw on his page that he was going through all this stuff, and I just looked at it and read comments by a lot of different people, and it quickly became apparent to me that a lot of people were really upset, but they didn’t really have much evidence or information to back it up. So they were alleging all these things, and they were very upset, but the more I looked at his work and saw his responses, the more I felt that they were more upset than they needed to be or should be, because I didn’t interpret what I was seeing from him the same way.
AT: According to some of his critics, he’s a demon, he’s a misogynist, he’s a child molester—well, I don’t know if you’ve got that charge against him yet—but he is the poet that everyone loves to hate right now [RP: Yeah.], and I really think that criticism is unfair.
AT: And I was really impressed by your review of his book CENSORED, which came out recently. And can you tell me a little bit about that, how that came about?
RP: I just thought these other people were misunderstanding his work so much that I felt the need to write my interpretation and offer what I thought was really going on in his work. And what was funny was I posted the review last Saturday, and Jay asked me to make it public so that he could share it, and I said, “Okay, fine,” and so then I immediately had a lot of people coming over to my page just to attack me and him without even responding to what he wrote or what I said about it.
RP: So it just seems to me this irrational, angry mob from Frankenstein.
AT: I thought we had settled censorship with—what was the last censorship trial? It was Allen Ginsberg and “Howl”, and that was back in the ‘Sixties.
AT: And here we are—here we are, this is 2017, and it’s all over again.
AT: He’s gotten death threats.
AT: Physical harm threats. What’s the latest thing that’s circulating Facebook? He’s moving to Portland and evidently he’s recruited you . . .
RP (chuckles): Which is kind of funny, because his critics really are the ones who recruited me. This week he apologized to me for all the stuff that happened after I reviewed him, and I said, “Um, no need to apologize,” because it was all that stuff that drew me in and made me want to defend him. If anything, they have themselves to thank, because I can’t just sit idly by and see somebody suffering false accusations. This guy hasn’t done anything warranting these charges. It’s just ridiculous. Today I got his book Mein Drumpf in the mail, which is a book of poetry he wrote criticizing Trump.
RP: And I just quickly flipped through it, and I saw—I flipped through it, and I saw that he’s got some pretty strong language in there too. So apparently nobody minds strong language against Trump or other topics—it’s just who he’s directing it at that makes people upset. I’m sure nobody would agree that he’s an evil guy for criticising Trump, but suddenly, if you criticize women, then you’re an evil jerk.
AT: Yeah, it’s really metastasized to something beyond what it should be, I think. He’s had some petty squabbles with some of the—I don’t know what to call them—it’s a poetry cabal, it seems, on Facebook. And he’s directed his anger at some of the members of this group, and some of that, I think, was evident in his book CENSORED.
Can we not use the word “satire”? Can we not use satire anymore? Is satirical language and satirical poetry out of bounds these days? Are we that politically correct that we can’t use sarcasm?
RP: Well, okay, two things. Yeah. Two things. One, apparently this new series of poems of his was written because of the response he received to “Scowl” two years ago, and a lot of people attacked him for that. And I haven’t even read that yet, so I don’t know what that’s about. He’s got a little bit of it at the back of CENSORED, I haven’t read it yet, but the point is he felt attacked over “Scowl”, he responded with some poems defending himself or criticizing his critics, and then they howled with even more rage because he dared to stand up for himself and criticize them, which, by the way, he has the perfect right to do.
And so what if his poems are directed at certain people? They say they felt “threatened”. I mean, really? They’re threatened by someone criticizing them? What sort of standard of maturity and adulthood do they live by? I’m from New York. I’m a big boy. I can take criticism. I’ve had death threats too. I mean, if you put yourself out there on the Internet, you’re going to face all sorts of stuff from all sorts of people.
RP: And if you know that this guy writes pretty strong poetry and you criticize him, really, why are you surprised that he’s criticizing you back?
AT: It’s really so blown out proportion. He got banned from Facebook. He got banned from Instagram. He got banned from Twitter. He got banned from GoodReads. It just blows my mind that in the year 2017—almost 2018—that we can have this kind of bullshit go on, still.
RP: Yeah. I agree.
AT: I read your critique of CENSORED, and I really thought it was so on point and so good that I just had to have you on this show. Can you explain a little bit more about what your reaction was to his book CENSORED?
RP: Well, as you saw, I wrote my responses to the first few poems. I’ve been reading it again today. I read several more of the poems today, and he does write some poems that are directly critical of certain people, I’m sure. He does write some poems in which some bad things happen to people who either represent his critics in general or which were inspired by certain people. But whatever. The point is poets write poems about people.
RP: I guess if he wrote love poems about somebody, nobody would get upset—or, you never know, because people get upset by anything. But apparently people just can’t handle being criticized or fantasized about, because I think their real complaint is that they just want him to shut up. We all have violent fantasies. We have all been angry at people and imagined either doing them harm or seeing harm come to them.
RP: My mother, every day—every day—my mother hates Donald Trump, and every day she just talks about how she wishes something bad would happen to him. Now, is she going to go out and risk Secret Service attention? No, she’s a law-abiding citizen. But we get angry at people, and we just say, “Boy, I’d really like to see something happen to them.” The only difference is this guy Jay Sizemore wrote it down, and apparently some people just can’t handle the fact that somebody wrote down what he thinks when attacked by them! (Laughs.) And they have the nerve to get upset? What did they expect? Are these grownups?
AT: I’m not sure. I’m not sure if they’re grownups or not.
RP: (Laughs.) Well, we seem to live in a society in which everyone seems to think that they have the right not to ever get upset by anything. And it’s not just ‘be offended’, it’s even ‘hear anything unpleasant’. Or you could say that they’re just taking offense where there is no offense. The point is we live in a society with freedom of speech, and George Orwell said that freedom of speech means nothing if it doesn’t mean the right to say things that people don’t want to hear, because the things that they do want to hear will never be threatened. So, freedom of speech means the freedom to say things people don’t want to hear. And we all have that freedom. But as Jay has said repeatedly, “If you don’t like my poetry, don’t read it.”
AT: Don’t read it. Don’t read it. He comes up with some really—when you look at Jay and his whole body of work, I’ve got several books by him, and I keep up with him on his Facebook page. He wrote a fantastic poem about suicide prevention. He wrote a fantastic poem about Charles Manson’s death. I take these poems and I go to open-mike nights, and as long as I don’t talk about who wrote the poem, they’re very well received, very well received. But you mention the name “Jay Sizemore”, and, “Oh! Oh, my god. Fuck that. Fuck that.” It really bothers me, because I really see Jay as a talent. I really think that he’s got talent.
RP: Yeah, he does.
AT: And to have people—there was something circulating, “Oh, my gosh, here’s a poet that’s moving to Portland, Oregon, and he’s violent against women and blah, blah, blah,” just warning the public against this supposed public threat, and I don’t see that he poses a threat to anybody.
RP: Just this week somebody told me that his poems constituted violence and that he advocated violence. Neither of those charges strikes me as true based on anything I’ve seen. I’m not sure that a poem can be considered violence, but he definitely is not advocating violence. He’s writing poems in a fictional persona. You could call the poems a combination of horror and satire. And that’s another thing I wanted to say about satire: people have this idea that satire is meant to be playful, like Jonathan Swift or Monty Python. Okay, that’s one form of satire. There are many forms.
RP: And he happens to use a brooding, dark, serious persona to add to the satirical effect, to show that it’s wrong. His whole thing is to portray the evil of the Patriarchy and the menace as a way to illustrate how wrong it is. And to those who have alleged that he didn’t announce his work was satire, yes, he did. He said this week that he in fact did announce that they were satire when he first released them. So all these people saying that he tricked people or did anything nefarious, I just think that’s all made up.
AT: It’s just been blown out of proportion, and it’s beyond sublime.
RP: He writes disturbing poems. Yeah, I agree, it is absurd and beyond the absurd into the sublime. His poems are disturbing, he uses violent, graphic imagery, but so do other writers.
AT: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: (Laughs.) Dante wrote a great poem about Hell. I don’t know if you’ve read it!
AT: Yeah. (Laughs.) Definitely have.
RP: My favorite one so far that I’ve read is this one called “Immaculate Ejaculation”, in which—I mean, I think that, as I said in the review, most people don’t get past the first two stanzas, because it’s first person and it’s kind of scary in the persona, but once you get past the first two stanzas—if you don’t like that—then it gets to a description of this dystopian, patriarchal society in which women’s bodies are dismembered and their body parts are used to make this gigantic masturbation machine for men. So it’s just a description of how women are dehumanized and used and abused for the pleasure of the Patriarchy. He’s essentially taking the Taliban and twisting it into a nightmarish, Lovecraftian kind of vision—which I think is brilliant. And he’s criticizing the Patriarchy! He’s saying, “This is what the Patriarchy does to women.” Why wouldn’t you want somebody to criticize the Patriarchy by pointing out what it does to women?
RP: Except that he’s very graphic about it, and people, for some reason, can’t get past the imagery to realize the meaning of the work itself.
AT: Well, it’s been all over Facebook, it’s just everywhere now, and I really appreciate you coming on and defending Jay Sizemore. I had Jay Sizemore on as a guest once before, and he tried to explain his whole situation, and it’s just gotten worse. It’s just snowballed into something bigger than it should be.
RP: Yeah, well. People like to get upset. It distracts them from their daily lives. It’s entertainment, really.
AT: I guess it is, but I don’t like the extremes that these secret poetry societies on Facebook have taken it to—how they can blackball a poet in this day and age. It’s political correctness taken to the extreme.
RP: Yeah, I agree. And the question arises: who do they think they are? Are they the arbiters of decency and taste? Are they applying scarlet letters to Jay Sizemore? Are they ostracizing anyone who defends intellectual freedom? And the answer is, yes, they are, because when someone said to me that I, by reviewing and defending him, was “trolling the lit community” [AT: Yeah!], I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of hilarious. Is this the Borg?” I don’t know, but the thing is, I responded saying that I was a member of the lit community. I’m a lifelong writer and artist myself. Is there some gatekeeper on who gets to be a member of a literature community? But the response I got was that, no, I was not a member of the lit community, I was only a member of the Jay Sizemore fan club! And I’m thinking to myself, “Wow.”
RP: That would be laughable—and it is laughable—
AT: It is.
RP: —but it’s also a frightening attempt at intellectual tyranny. So are you telling me that I’m not a writer? Are you telling me that I’m not a member of the global community of writers and artists? Is there some entrance fee? Obviously there are people who think that they get to pass judgement and decide who qualifies as a “member of the lit community”. Wow. (Laughs.)
AT: Well, I want to take a musical break here, and I wanted to get to some of the other things that I wanted to talk to you about, specifically your book Sisyphus Shrugged. I’m really glad that you have taken the time to talk to me about Jay Sizemore. I only wish the best for him. I know he’s moving from Nashville to Portland—maybe I shouldn’t say that. He’s moving, he’s looking to start a new life, and I only wish him the best.
RP: And I live in Portland, so I’m looking to meet him soon.
AT: I hope you do. He’s one of my favorite poets. We’re going to have a quick musical break with the Mayor, and when we come back, we’ll be talking with Robert Peate again. We’ll be talking about his book and what qualifies him as a member of the literary community in Facebook.
AT: Okay, here we go with the Mayor. Hang on.
This interview continues in Part Two with the topics of Ayn Rand and Sisyphus Shrugged.
12/16: Robert here. The one thing I wanted to say in the interview and forgot to say is that Jay has been unpublished by different online literary magazines. What hypocrisy. They considered his work good enough to publish, then when a vocal minority howled against him they took it down in the name of decency? These are our guardians of intellectual freedom and artistic integrity? They should be ashamed of themselves, reverse their decisions, and apologize to him for failing in their mission to publish and protect poets, writers, and artists in general. This kind of abdication is disgusting from those who should know better and renders them unworthy of a Sizemore.