I met Washington D.C. arts maven turned poet I'll call Vassar Belle for the moment last winter and we began to support each other's work, giving each other many accolades. I founded an online writers' group she joined and we became good friends. I'm a very open person and I've posted quite a bit about me on both of my blogs to which she responded lovingly and supportively, and I came to immensely value her input and to be grateful for her presence in my life. She encouraged me to join the One Stop Poetry meme and she interviewed me about my published work and literary career in July.
Several months ago I posted a writing challenge on the group to a few lines from a Mary Oliver poem and she wrote a lovely, albeit very derivative poem for the challenge that was featured on a Christian blog. Not long after that, having never published a word in a literary magazine or journal, she was invited to do a collection with the independent press affiliated with that blog. She asked me to write a little jacket copy and I was happy to do it.
My copy of the book came last week. I thought it was gorgeous. A mere four or five days ago, I decided to try my hand at a review of the book. I was happy with what I produced and posted it on one of my blogs, e-mailing to her that I had done so. Those who have read the review have found it to be very positive as did she appear to in the beginning.
In reviewing this book I put on my serious writer and literary critic hat. I approached the book as a bona fide debut collection from someone I believed to be a serious poet with a burgeoning literary career, who has clearly taken pride in her own book.. I found much to admire in the work, and I had what I continue to feel to be fair and carefully thought out criticisms of it.
I was especially concerned about what I regard as conflation of the book with a weighty title, and in a manner, with that title, not unlike casting your own dog in a noble light by citing the championship of its great grand sire-- even renaming it Champion Foucalt's Bolt of Lightning after its grand-father-- and for the amazingly obvious and glaringly disingenuous reason that everyone would think that the old and new Lightning were one and the same.
Upon reading my review, the person I experienced and thought I had come to know as a loving presence in my life became a block of alabaster with a number of defensive and angry things to say to me via e-mail, to wit: "I make no pretensions to be anything but who I am. (That title poem is the oldest one in there, btw.) I'm not out to be well-known; hell, I don't even submit anywhere, because I don't want to get on that wagon. It's one of the reasons I'm still posting on my blog, knowing what I post can never be submitted to lit mags/journals. I never even expected to see my work between two covers. I was asked and accepted the invitation from TSPP. I didn't raise any objections to what was selected or the title chosen for the book; I deferred."
So let's abdicate responsibility for our own content and the title of our own books while we attempt with one flying leap to place ourselves high up on the rung of contemporary poetry. Furthermore, never expected to see her book between two covers? She loves every minute of it, and we all would.
I protected myself from further b.s. like this by stating we should keep our interaction to business and like a true grown-up, she left the online group of women where she had been very active and which I moderate and all of whom relied upon her daily presence and support, ordering me not to contact her again. There were several other twists and turns that contributed to where we found ourselves; clearly she felt personally attacked when the only criticism of any import made within my text was a sincere one of the title of her book and the presumption of pretending to write someone else's memoirs.. I contend that there is room for improvement in how each of us has handled this, and to say that the last few days have been difficult is to minimize a rift and falling apart of a friendship that has been all but unendurable.
Meanwhile, one of her minions on Twitter also--surprise-- a Christian writer in the spiritual feel-good bunny patch, put up a "review" that is the kind of saccharin fist-bumping that should make any poet wither in dismay, to which she responded by sucking up to the editor and publisher who also weighed in on that review-- after stating to me that she "deferred" to them..
Well, then, defer away, and schmooze on, my dear. I am a published and experienced poet who took the time to sit down with your book, worked for hours on an honest, balanced review and posted it to my blog. This series of actions should have been met with respect and gratitude. It was not. I do not intend to excuse myself from the platforms we now have in common, I will take swift and remedial action if you malign and impugn me and put my personal business--those things concerning my emotional well-being I have shared with you-- out on the public highway, and I would hope that anyone reading this, will understand this immense hurt.
Now may this whole deplorable episode rest in peace.