I try not to respond to reviews. Heck, I try not to respond to posts, even when... no, especially when, something said in them infuriates me. The internet is a breeding place for Hell Storms and flame wars, and I really can't handle such things
But lately there have been a rash of what can only be called attacks on the SFPA executive, and Debbie Kolodji in specific that have prompted me to speak, despite my wish to remain quietly hidden.
I don't approve of everything about the SFPA. I was a vocal (breaking my own rules again) supporter of a change of name for the association, and I believe that there are many other ways in which the group as a whole could be made better and stronger. I am hugely in favor of promoting a more inclusive, less antagonistic feel throughout the association, and I truly can't wait for a strictly moderated discussion space. I came very close to leaving the SFPA over the actions and behaviors of some of its membership, but more importantly, over the fact that the less volatile members tried to stay out of things instead of condemning the misbehaviors of the few. That's obviously unfair and hypocritical of me, with my own tendency to hide from things, but what the heck, I'm human.
However, at no time have I blamed the SFPA executive for the bad behaviors of some of the members. Why? Because the SFPA executive is not made up of either baby sitters or police. While I want (and I believe they are working on) a moderated area, the existing area used for SFPA discussion does not even belong to the SFPA, but only to one of its members. It is up to him, and him alone, as to whether that area should be moderated. What's more, many of the worst and most commonly brought up misbehaviors have happened in areas not even remotely associated with the SFPA, such as on personal Live Journal accounts. When two children who attend the same school get into a fight well outside of the school grounds and school hours, does the school have the right to hunt them down and punish them? Other authorities have jurisdiction.
The SFPA executive, as far as I know, has no right to penalise its paid members for anything. It is a speculative (yes, my strike for a name change!) poetry group only. It doesn't even have the constitutional right to limit membership, as some of the other associations do, by professional sales. It is a group as much for poetry appreciators as for poetry professionals.
Which is great. The world needs poetry appreciators, as well as poets and editors. And it needs an open association like the SFPA, at least in my opinion.
But again, what this means is that the executive, and Debbie, can't play Big Brother from 1984. They can't play thought control or speech control police, unless they set up a specific place where the rules are understood upon entry, and which does not in any way detract from the normal and more open rights of the membership. If they were to try to do so, they would be open to legal action, and, since the association is not (yet) a non-profit, any legal action could be passed straight through to the executive, none of whom could afford to be sued.
This means that they can't toss anyone out of the association, nor can they limit their basic rights as members, such as participating in membership events, like the SFPA Online Holloween Poetry Reading. There's some great stuff up there, by the way. Take a look.
As for some of worries brought up in recent reviews, well, reviews are bound to offend some people. That's a given. Just as almost any publication will hold some pieces that offend someone. Star*Line, the official publication of the SFPA, has, in the past, published an awful lot of poetry with the potential to offend. It has published poems told from the POV of serial killers, sadists, and world destroyers. It has published poems full of politics, xenophobia, racism, and sexism, and in spec fic where there can be huge numbers of races and sexes, believe me, that opens things up for a whole lot of offensiveness.
And you know what? If there was some way to come to a consensus as to what makes something too political, racist, sexist, speciesist, violent, creepy, sick, or twisted, and every poem that had the potential to offend someone was removed, the issues would become awfully short, bland, and boring. Which is why I don't think that the SFPA executive exists to act as censors of poetry any more than they do to act as censors of member behavior. They, and more importantly the editor of Star*Line, exist to promote good (and yes, that's a very subjective term) speculative poetry. If they were to start writing or including sexist, racist, xenophobic, etc editorials or rants in the pages of Star*Line, or on the SFPA website I'd yell as loudly as anyone, but speculative poetry is, by definition, speculative, and fictional. It does not and can not be seen as reflecting the views of anyone involved.
With any market, writers have the express right to decide if they want to submit, and if they want their work read in such a venue. I respect that. I also respect my right, and that of others, to decide what organizations to join and belong to. Each of us has different buttons, sore points, and requirements. And sometimes we can try to nudge publications and organizations towards being more what we want, through great, thoughtful poetry, and through other, equally thoughtful means of communication.
But, to me, attacks on the SFPA exec for things over which they can have no control, or which really are not part of the SFPA mandate, are a bit too much. I think we are very close to simply losing the exec as a whole, because they are being berated for supposed failing in things they never signed up for. There comes a point where I know that I, were I a member of the exec, would simply throw up my hands and leave, or at least go into hiding to the point where the things my position did require were left undone.
Enough. Can we please, all of us, start giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and (gasp) treating each other as we'd hope to be treated ourselves?