Thursday, July 7, 2011

Poetry News

By Alexandra Seidel

Poet and fiction writer Mike Allen recently announced that he had resigned from his membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), the single largest and oldest poetry organization in the speculative genre. While many poets and SFPA members will be aware of some of the discussions leading up to this, Mike agreed to tell FU why he decided to leave an organization in which he did once volunteer as President. The current President of  the SFPA, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, kindly took the time to give us a comment on Mike's statement.

AS: Mike, why did you choose to leave SFPA?

MA: It wasn't an easy decision; it took me so long that I guess you could say it happened in stages.

The biggest piece of it had to do with how much time and energy my involvement took up versus what the rewards were for doing so -- and did those things justify sacrificing progress on my novel, generating new short stories, trying to build connections that lead to bigger things outside the poetry sphere, and so on. At first the answer was yes; in fact, I think I am the truly freakish creature who stepped sideways onto the greater genre stage through poetry and landed an occasionally important bit part.

The answer, now, for certain, is no. I'm worn down by fierce, stubborn battles between good people who probably wouldn't be at odds at all if they'd be more reflective about what they're fighting over. And to be honest, I'm no innocent in that regard. I have my own history of trouble making, for sure, and my late father's volcanic temper on top of that. So maybe my absence will help lower the temperature.

I've made posts on my LiveJournal(*) about the "tipping point" that clinched my decision, and Google Analytics informs me that hundreds of people have read those posts, so I don't really want to rehash them here. 

What I find maddening, more than any individual's actions in those instances, is that, while SFPA has a long and wonderful history, there's also a tendency among a few members to close ranks and aggressively brandish verbal weapons at anything that can be perceived as a threat to their desired version of the established pecking order. To new members who aren't down with taking their assigned place in line, this ends up looking a lot like hostile exclusion, not to mention bullying. Because SFPA is so small, and jam packed with strong personalities, behavior like this ends up having colossal, destructive impacts that run counter to efforts to increase the organization's appeal or improve its value. If there's a hole in the ship that needs patching, that's definitely the one.

On the other hand SFPA has a whole new set of officers, all of whom are cool and quite capable people, and hundreds of members who care a lot about poetry and who I imagine are blissfully ignorant of any controversy among its volunteer ranks. The membership at large has always been good to me -- meeting and recruiting people for the poetry cause was always one of the most fun parts of my job. It's time for other folks to share that joy now.

AS: Just to be perfectly clear, your leaving the SFPA is not a statement (you are, after all, a former President) but instead a personal decision?

MA: While my decision is driven in part by recent developments I'm not happy about, I most definitely do not mean my departure to be taken as some sort of blanket condemnation of the organization. And I want to be clear that my frustrations have nothing whatsoever to do with the new officers who are coming in. It's just unfortunate timing.

Mr. Kopaska-Merkel's comment: I appreciate Mike's dedication to writing and his hard work for the SFPA. I prefer that members ride out these unpleasant events and enjoy the good times, the sharing of ideas and poetry, which are most of what the SFPA is about. However, I respect Mike's decision.

FU thanks both David and Mike for taking the time to communicate with us.


*links provided by FU: