-by Katie Ailes–
When I first read Rebecca Watts’ essay “The Cult of the Noble Amateur” in PN Review 239 (44.3, Jan-Feb 2018), my reactions included frustration and indignation—but almost more so, boredom at the familiarity of the sentiments expressed within it. We practitioners and critics of contemporary poetry which tends towards the accessible (including material composed for both page and stage) are far too accustomed to critical pieces which generalise our entire field as sloppy, inarticulate utterances unworthy of the label ‘poetry.’ So when I read Watts’ excoriation of Hollie McNish’s book Plum, it felt like a reiteration of a tired old script, not worthy of any comprehensive rebuttals defending the art form that we already know is rich and innovative.
However, as Twitter exploded with discussion regarding this article—most of what I observed was well-measured and articulate—I was struck by PN Review’s determination to stand by Watts’ essay and their myopic focus on any praise given towards it (“we’ve had mixed responses as far as we know but mostly positive,” PN Review official Twitter account, Jan 22). In their public statements, they ignored all of the critical engagement with Watts’ claims and instead chalked it up to a populist knee-jerk anti-academic reaction: the implication being that these accessible poets couldn’t handle a bit of serious criticism (“For those following the developments of the Rebecca Watts / @PN_Review debate, you can turn to the final page of @TheTLS for a short defence of criticism!” – Carcanet Press official Twitter account, Feb 12, retweeted by PN Review official Twitter account).
And that pissed me off. I’m sick of the persistent condescension towards contemporary accessible poets and their audiences as ignorant, uneducated, and non-discerning about their crafts. We’re not. The lack of a rigorous critical discourse focused on contemporary accessible poetics has nothing to do with our purported lack of craft and everything to do with our sphere’s generally DIY, grassroots structure and thus the lack of institutional funding and academic critical attention. Given that I’m in the privileged position of writing a funded PhD researching contemporary performance-based poetics in the UK context, I decided to write a rebuttal. The material comprising this essay was adapted from a letter to the editor of PN Review which I sent early in February. It was rejected for publication in the journal (too late and too long), but I wanted to share it here, to add to the many important critical engagements with Watts’ essay that have been published in the past month. Thank you to Sabotage Reviews for publishing this and for your vital work in developing a critical culture for spoken word in the UK.
Disclosure: I am a UK-based poet who composes material for text publication, live performance, and other mediums. I am also a poetry events organiser and a volunteer with poetry institutions working to support live literary events and networks. While I do not know Hollie McNish well on a personal level, I have booked her for events and performed alongside her. I am currently in the final year of my PhD in English at the University of Strathclyde researching contemporary spoken word poetics in the UK context with a focus on the performance of authenticity. Last year I interviewed 70 people across the UK engaged in the spoken word poetry sphere including artists, critics, publishers, event organisers, promoters, and more. My research draws upon their experiences and perspectives; however, in this essay I am expressing my own ideas.
Watts’ essay lacks precision in its targets: it simultaneously excoriates McNish’s work while also blaming her editors, the literary establishment, those who appreciate her work, and other poets that it claims are similar to her in perpetrating this “cult of personality.” This spatter-shot approach to criticism makes it challenging to identify the exact problem with which Watts is frustrated, and thus to identify any solutions.
Initially, Watts specifies her focus as “a cohort of young female poets who are currently being lauded by the poetic establishment for their ‘honesty’ and ‘accessibility’.” She references McNish, Kate Tempest, and Rupi Kaur.
This specific grouping of poets raises several questions. First, why has Watts singled out female poets? For every McNish, Tempest, and Kaur, there are many George the Poets, Solomon OBs, Neil Hilborns, Shane Koyczans, and more male poets who have similarly achieved popular acclaim based on their relatively accessible verse often perceived as ‘honest.’ Watts had the opportunity to explain why, as she perceives, young female poets are enjoying particular commercial success—is it due to their often empowering messages resonating in the current feminist wave? Is it due to readers’ excitement at in seeing their lived experiences (i.e. breastfeeding in McNish’s work) reflected in poetry? Is it (as I will argue below) because female artists’ work is inherently perceived as more ‘authentic’ due to their gender performance, and thus achieves more success in an artistic sphere rewarding authenticity? For a critic to label a cultural phenomenon as specifically female and then fail to specify why is negligent.
Secondly, the poets Watts names are wildly different figures. Comparing Tempest to Kaur is akin to comparing Felix Mendelssohn to Steve Aoki: they compose and disseminate their work in entirely different fashions. Tempest is a rapper, poet, playwright, novelist, and more, whose work not only includes confessional material but also weaves fictional narratives and has engaged in retellings of classic mythology in contemporary contexts. Her work often utilises metrical and rhyming forms and she generally memorises work for live performance. Kaur predominantly composes material for text (print and digital) publication, generally writes purportedly confessional material, and avoids specific metrical and rhyming structures in favour of loose, short verse, often published alongside visual art. The only valid comparison between them—other than their both being relatively young women—is their popularity. It is sloppy criticism to bunch such disparate poets together on the basis of sales figures and their female identities.
On Jan 23rd, the PN Review Twitter account referenced “ad feminam” attacks on Watts in the wake of the essay’s publication. I condemn any sexist and/or character-based attacks Watts has received. As Watts herself argues, there is a problem when “[t]ime and time again, the arts media subordinates the work … in favour of focusing on its creator” whether (I would add) that work be creative or critical.
Given this, there is no small irony in the fact that Watts’ own criticism of McNish is heavily ‘ad feminam’: she continually attributes characteristics of the writing to McNish’s personality, education, mental state, and assumed motivations. Statements such as “her writing is predicated on a truculent anti-establishmentism”; “it’s the [poem] in which McNish most obviously attempts to be poetic”; and “[i]gnorant of any tradition out of which poets write, McNish…” assume authorial background and intent (and as McNish herself pointed out in her response, many of Watts’ assumptions were incorrect). This is the ironic flaw at the heart of this essay: that while attempting to combat a cult of personality which emphasises the poet’s identity and perceived ‘honesty’ rather than their poetry, by focusing on McNish’s biography Watts’ criticism embodies the behaviours it seeks to criticise.
To assume authorial intent is not accepted practice, but might be forgiven as poor criticism. However, to cast aspersions on the intelligence and mental health of an artist is not only bad practice but deeply inappropriate. Watts consistently implies that McNish and other poets have low intelligence, bad faith, and are pandering to an uneducated public drooling for biographical scraps. Concerning a section of McNish’s poem “NO BALL GAMES” Watts writes: “It is such stuff as madmen tongue, and brain not; the product of a ‘(mind)’ with a limited grasp of denotation and the ways in which words can be combined to form meaningful phrases.” Elsewhere, Watts writes that McNish’s work “celebrates the complete stagnation of the poet’s mind.” Either Watts actually perceives McNish to be mentally unsound or she is lightly tossing around uninformed diagnoses of mental instability: both of which are deeply inappropriate acts for any critic to make. I would add that I alongside other poets have had the privilege of working with students who do have limited grasps of denotation and the ways in which words can be combined to form meaningful phrases. I value the poetry they write as I would value any free expression. The endorsement of such lazy ableist rhetoric and careless diagnoses of mental instability by its critics reflects poorly on PN Review’s integrity as a critical forum.
Watts identifies this “cult of personality” in contemporary poetics as a phenomenon which “demands from its heroes only that they be ‘honest’ and ‘accessible’, where honesty is defined as the constant expression of what one feels, and accessibility means the complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, eloquence and the aspiration to do anything well.” She persistently characterises the work of McNish and others as “artless” and argues that “the poetry world [is] pretending that poetry is not an art form” and that people assume that poems are “naturally occurring phenomena.” I am not interested in arguing that McNish’s poetry is art. What I am interested in is exploring the cultural forces feeding into Watts’ argument that it is not.
While Watts lacks clarity in her targets, it seems that the primary reason she considers McNish’s and others’ poetry to be ‘artless’ is because she considers it ‘honest’ and thus lacking craft. The assumption that work rooted in autobiographical experience—or rather, performing autobiography in a manner received by readers as ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’—is artless is a tired assumption. Watts upholds Sylvia Plath as one of the literary icons McNish should be reading: Plath was, of course, one of the targets of a scornful establishment claiming her work shouldn’t be taken seriously as art due to its purportedly biographical content. (Additionally, female artists such Plath, Sexton, Rich and others were criticised more severely for writing confessional material than their male counterparts. It’s hard not to see the contemporary parallels in Watts’ singling out of female poets as the perpetrators of this “cult of personality.”)
However, Watts’ concern regarding the idea of “[h]onesty as an aesthetic priority? The function of poems?” is one I share.
Yet Watts’ persistent blaming of McNish and other poets (plus their editors and their readerships) for this perceived trend misses the mark. It is in assuming authorial intent that Watts’ logic fails: rather than noting that certain ‘accessible’ new contemporary poetics are being perceived as ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ and questioning why that is, Watts instead assumes that everything these poets are writing is directly autobiographical and thus ‘honest’ and ‘artless.’
What is required here is increased precision in language: ‘honesty’ refers to a practice, whereas ‘authenticity’ refers to a perception. Artists may be ‘honest’ or not in their writing and we critics have no way of knowing which it is (aside from references to biography, but I have already addressed why that is both poor practice and fallible as a research technique). However, art may be perceived as ‘authentic’—connoting ‘true’ or ‘real’—by the audience consuming it. Whether or not an artist is actually being honest does not necessarily correlate to whether or not their work is perceived as ‘authentic’, as evidenced by situations such as the scandal over James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces being revealed as quasi-fictional.
In her determination to prove that McNish’s work is ‘artless’, Watts fails to ask the more relevant questions: why is there such a demand for poetry which feels ‘honest’? Why is work by writers from marginalised identities and working class backgrounds more frequently perceived as ‘authentic? How can ‘honesty’ and ‘authenticity’ be performed through contemporary poetics, and how can we analyse that performance?
Although McNish’s recent work is written for print publication and she does not identify as a spoken word artist, there are parallels in the assumption of ‘honesty’ in her work and in the field of contemporary spoken word poetry which I believe are illustrative here. The contemporary spoken word sphere is conscious that often the primary ‘critical’ factor used to evaluate it is not any assessment of craft but rather the audience’s perception of how ‘authentic’ a poem is. As Maria Damon wrote in 1998 in one of the earliest forays into criticism of contemporary performance-based poetry, “the criterion for slam success seems to be some kind of ““realness”—authenticity at the physical/sonic and meta-physical/emotional-intellectual-spiritual levels” (in Close Listening, ed. Charles Bernstein, p. 329).
There are several factors which may contribute to this effect. One is that the art form of contemporary spoken word poetry markets itself as ‘genuine’ through its conventions. The fourth wall is stripped down, as evidenced by a lack of complex staging, costuming, or character titles; performers seated in the audience for many shows; the convention of ‘unplanned’ introductions flowing directly into poems; and so on. Poets themselves are conscious that the space is one of anticipated truth-telling: in the interviews I conducted, the majority of the poets expressed a belief that the audience members assumed everything they were saying onstage was ‘true.’ Thus, the conventions of the genre lend themselves to performances and perceptions of ‘authentic’ narratives and identities.
This can become problematic given that audience/reader assumptions of what is ‘authentic’ are inextricably bound up in our cultural context and stereotypes. Susan Somers-Willetts’ research has investigated how the association of certain performances of black male identity with innate authenticity in the North American slam context affected how these poems were received. Similarly, performances of working class identity may be more likely to be received as inherently ‘authentic’ than performances of middle-class identity due to our cultural stereotypes. Following Judith Butler, there are choices we can make in terms of how we perform our gender, class, etc. But there are also myriad elements of our identities which are less mutable and which may influence the way in which our art is received with or without our consent. Ultimately, if we read material through the lens of the artist’s identity and biography, we are likely to be swayed in our perception of their ‘honesty’ by deep underlying cultural stereotypes.
Watts nearly pinpoints this issue in her essay before her argument gets muddied by attacks on McNish’s character. As previously mentioned, Watts refers to the frustrating phenomenon in which the contemporary “arts media subordinates the work – in many cases excellent and original work – in favour of focusing on its creator. Technical and intellectual accomplishments are as nothing compared with the ‘achievement’ of being considered representative of a group identity that the establishment can fetishise.” I agree with this argument: whilst the increased diversity in contemporary poetry is to be celebrated, too often the media has clumsily reduced artists to their ethnicities, genders, and classes rather than focusing on their work.
Watts also points towards a problematic phenomenon in contemporary criticism when she claims that “[t]he middle-aged, middle-class reviewing sector is terrified of being seen to disparage the output of young, self-styled ‘working-class’ artists. In fact, it is terrified of being seen to criticise the output of anyone it imagines is speaking on behalf of a group traditionally under-represented in the arts.”
There are two possibilities here. First, let’s assume Watts is correct in her allegation that the reviewing sector is walking on eggshells around minority artists. If that’s accurate, it’s deeply problematic: the identity of an artist shouldn’t be a barrier to their work getting reviewed, whether due to the critic’s bigotry or fear of being perceived as bigoted. If critics have genuine questions regarding how to criticise the work of minority artists, I would suggest that they either a) reconsider their reviewing strategy if it’s that contingent on the identity of the artist and/or b) do their research rather than avoiding engagement with these artists.
However, I don’t think Watts is accurate in her depiction of a cowering, overly sensitive reviewing industry. For one, I take her essay as evidence that there are critics who feel comfortable disparaging minority writers not on the basis of their craft but on problematic assumptions regarding their lived experiences. For another, I would attribute a lack of adequate engagement with minority writers more to the lack of diversity of the reviewing industry (see Dave Coates’ research for statistics on this).
Furthermore, any fear within the industry of criticising a minority writer and getting automatic blowback is either exaggerated or unwarranted. Yes, immediate blowback has occurred: consider the public outrage when Sarah Howe was labelled a ‘a very “presentable” young woman’ or when Vahni Capildeo was praised for not ‘parading the wound’ by Peter Riley, in contrast to what he perceived as Claudia Rankine’s less appropriate writing on racism. However, the impassioned reactions to these incidents was sparked not by the mere attempt to criticise minority writers but instead due to the sexist and racist natures of the reviews. Measured, nuanced criticism focused on the work has been (as far as I’m aware) welcomed.
Watts’ valid frustrations concerning the publishing industry are rendered null in her essay by her consistent readings of McNish’s work as “the product not of a poet but of a personality.” When we assume that a minority writer’s material is ‘honest’, reading it through a biographical lens, and when we take ‘honesty’ to mean ‘raw’ and ‘uncrafted,’ we succumb to the problematic cultural pressures which associate minority identities with ‘authenticity’ in our minds. When a young female artist writes purportedly confessional material, it is more likely to be read as ‘honest’ and thus ‘uncrafted’ than her male counterpart: and this is compounded if she is also a person of colour, or working-class, and on, and on. It is the responsibility of the critic to identify where their criticism is influenced by problematic social factors and to resist these by focusing instead on the work. Watts’ specification of her targets as ‘young female’ artists, her lack of clarification as to why this effect is specifically female, and her constant assumption of McNish’s work as uncrafted are evidence of her failure on this account.
Commenting in the Guardian on 23 Jan, Watts claimed that “[t]he fact I wrote the article demonstrates my belief that literary criticism is a valid and worthwhile pursuit; this seems to be the main thing people are objecting to.” That argument reflects a persistent assumption within literary criticism that poets who compose relatively ‘accessible’ poetry by traditional standards (and in this category I include many performance poets as well as poets who publish in text such as McNish and Kaur) reject any criticism of their work. There is a stereotype regarding our community that we like being ‘simple’ (‘accessible’ so often incorrectly translated to ‘dumbed down’) and that we don’t want any academic attention due to some inferiority complex (the idea that if ‘real’ poets study us, they’ll find out we’re sub-par). This is not only condescending but inaccurate. To speak specifically of the performance poetry sphere: in the interviews I conducted with spoken word artists in the UK, the grand majority of artists bemoaned the lack of a rigorous critical culture around our art form. They expressed a wish for spoken word to be taken seriously and criticised within a framework befitting it (i.e. taking into account the fact it is composed for live performance, etc.).
This refutes another of Watts’ claims: that McNish’s work is “predicated on the defiance of all standards by which it could be judged.” Again, to assume authorial motivations is poor critical practice. Additionally, if there aren’t appropriate standards through which to judge the work, that should prompt the creation of new standards, not the constant application of outdated and inappropriate standards to innovative work. Because of the strong appetite in contemporary performance-based poetry for more appropriate critical standards, one goal of my PhD is to develop a more appropriate critical framework for the analysis of this work drawing upon pre-existing critical frameworks from the genres with which it intersects including theatre, comedy, and music. Should any critic find a work that they perceive to defy all pre-existing standards, I would suggest they take the opportunity to craft new critical frameworks and thus expand our vocabularies for how to perceive artistic innovation.
One of the fundamental flaws in Watts’ arguments is her implication that the artist is responsible for the way in which their work is received. Watts criticises McNish for being a personality rather than a poet as though McNish actively welcomed that label. It is certainly probable that the fascination with biography has contributed to the success of poets who write confessionally (the enduring fascination with the Plath-Hughes narrative has unquestionably affected both artists’ sales figures). However, artists cannot control the public response to their work nor the critical light in which it is analysed.
Watts continually refers to poetry readerships/audiences as unified, conscious blocs with organised intentions. The notion that the there is any “deception practiced by … [McNish’s] celebrants” implies that we all gather twice monthly in a chamber concocting plans to deceive the literary establishment into awarding drivel. Readerships are diverse, disparate, and cannot be generalised nor are responsible for mass collectively determined action.
Watts also consistently attacks those who appreciate McNish’s work, claiming this poetry is “unintimidating to anyone who considers ignorance a virtue.” The assumption that anyone appreciating this work “considers ignorance a virtue” is not only generalising and insulting but nonsensical. What person considering ignorance a virtue actively seeks out poetry? The essay fails to recognise the fact that people engage with art for myriad reasons: to find comfort, to relax, for entertainment, to challenge themselves, to see the world differently. People are capable of engaging with a variety of artists in nuanced ways and to hold different standards for different styles of art based on the function of that work in their lives. To read the popular success of a handful of poets as evidence of our collective loss of intelligence lacks that common-sense context.
Furthermore, Watts’ argument that “[j]ust because something is ‘what I think’ doesn’t mean people en masse should be encouraged to listen” again misrepresents the artist-audience relationship. McNish is not lecturing her audience at gunpoint: they are freely choosing to engage with her work. The logical conclusion to Watts’ argument is that publishers and critics have a responsibility not to publish or uphold work with popular appeal: that their role as cultural curators should have made them refuse to print McNish’s work. The notion that accessibility of material should be grounds for pre-emptive censorship is deeply concerning. In addition, contrary to Watts’ inaccurate claim that McNish’s work “renders us more confused, less appreciative of nuance, less able to engage with ideas, more indignant about the things that annoy us, and more resentful of others who appear to be different from us,” her poetry celebrates diversity, cross-cultural and cross-class connection, and mutual understanding.
Watts’ arguments also misrepresent the sphere in which publishers, critics, audiences, and artists operate. Her essay implies malicious intent in the minds of poets—“McNish insults those she expects to buy her books – condescending to an uneducated class with which she professes solidarity”—as well as the critics and publishers of the literary sphere who by “prais[ing] [McNish] for ‘telling it like it is’ debase us as readers by peddling writing of the poorest quality because they think this is all we deserve.” In addition to this again being poor literary criticism for assuming intent, it also naively assumes that poets, critics, and publishers are operating in some pure space in which quality is the only motivation for producing and disseminating work. This ignores the fact that the literary industry is an industry: what gets published is largely contingent on what sells which (again) is not under the artist’s control. What is produced and published in the UK literary sphere is influenced by the artists’ personal tastes, any cultural phenomena affecting readers’ appetites, the work appearing in other artistic industries, the economy’s effect on consumers’ disposable incomes and thus ability to consume art, innovations in technology, and myriad additional factors. To assume that publishers’ willingness to release McNish’s and others’ books is an act of malicious condescension towards an undeserving public misrepresents the capitalist context in which contemporary art occurs.
Finally, in yet another instance of assuming artists have control over who enjoys their work, Watts accuses McNish, Tempest, and others of “dragging their significant and seemingly atypical followings into the arena of establishment-endorsed poetry.” First, neither McNish nor any poet can control the size of their followings; nor should their work be dismissed as ‘artless’ on the basis of any mainstream success. Secondly, this statement raises the ugly question of what is meant by “seemingly atypical followings.” If Watts means to claim that their readerships are atypical for the general readership of poetry in the UK by being (I assume here, not having access to statistical evidence) younger and more gender diverse, then yes, McNish and others have engaged different demographics in an appreciation of poetry. I find it hard to locate any reasonable motivation behind Watts’ implication that these demographics should not be welcomed into the broad church of poetry. A rising tide lifts all ships: when more people from diverse backgrounds feel welcome to engage with poetry, that enriches and expands the art form. The poetry community should not feel threatened by ‘atypical followings’ but celebrate the fresh perspectives they bring to our discourse. Watts’ implication otherwise is deeply troubling.
Perhaps the most insulting element of Watts’ essay is the way in which it smears contemporary poets writing accessibly as not only unintelligent but poorly educated with no context for the sphere in which they’re working. Watts implies throughout her essay that these ‘personality poets’ and their appreciators are acting from knee-jerk anti-institutionalism: that “[p]roud of their imperviousness to literary influence, [they] would have us redefine poetry as whatever the poetic establishment claims it isn’t.” The allegation that these artists have little to no exposure to literary work is generalising and in many cases inaccurate—but it also misses the point. I agree with the idea that artists should be familiar with the previous work in their field: it gives us greater context and capacity for playing with and surpassing previous tropes. However, Watts’ implication that canon literary figures (Shakespeare, Burns, Rochester, Dickinson, Rossetti, Harrison, Ginsberg, Larkin, Plath, Rich, Addonizio, Capildeo and Lee-Houghton) are the (only) required reading for a career in contemporary poetics is narrow-minded. In the interviews I conducted, many of the spoken word artists revealed that their primary inspirations are lyricists and theatre-makers, in addition to more ‘traditional’ print poets. The artists Watts names, while all excellent, are not the only figures capable of providing context and inspiration: and for poets seeking to expand the realm of contemporary poetics, nor should they be. It also bears observation that Watts’ list (with the exception of Capildeo) is entirely white and Western, proving that often contemporary poets need to look outwith the canon to find art more reflective of diverse cultures.
Watts’ essay faults accessible poetry for larger social ills, including the erosion of the power of language. She defines ‘accessible’ as “the complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, eloquence and the aspiration to do anything well.” Watts’ misunderstanding of the term ‘accessible’ is fundamental to the flaws in her argument. To write material which the artist wishes to be accessible to broad audiences does not mean to intentionally write without craft, nuance, innovation, and certainly not without ambition. Rather, it generally means avoiding the use of references, codes, or other systems requiring advanced education in order to begin unpacking the work. This misrepresentation of ‘accessibility’ as intentional poor quality is an exhausted assumption which fundamentally misunderstands artistic craft. Furthermore, the idea that accessible art is inherently dangerous (apparently responsible for the fact that “the reader is dead” and Trump’s success) echoes the furore over every new trend quaking artistic establishments going back centuries. The Beatles didn’t ruin music: nor will McNish ruin poetry.
Watts’ writing style can certainly be read as a rejection of this trend to broaden access to poetry and poetry criticism. The piece is peppered with gratuitous intellectual references: for instance, “If only Schopenhauer could have read Plum! It would have distracted him from his hatred of Hegel.” The only point being made here is that Plum is distracting and/or time-consuming: there is no engagement with the philosophies of either figure. To reference these specific figures serves no point other than to reinforce the perception of the critic’s intellectual superiority. In this light, Watts’ contention that poetry “can no longer be accused of being elitist” is self-defeating.
Watts concludes her essay by trumpeting poets’ responsibility to “safeguard language: to strive, through innovation and engagement with tradition, to find new ways of making language meaningful and memorable” and to uphold language’s power to “communicat[e] and defend civilised values.” Apart from the notion of artists holding a duty to reinforce specific values (I’m wary of artists being burdened by any potentially propagandistic responsibilities), I agree with Watts’ passionate appeal for poetry to experiment with language and foster its fruitful evolution. I also agree that encouraging precision and articulacy in language is one means of improving communication across barriers. I too wish to see an “intelligent critical culture” rise in which citizens take up their rights to free expression and articulately debate one another on various forums across social, educational, and cultural barriers. It is for this reason I have responded so fully to this article: I interpret an “intelligent critical culture” as one which values nuance, mutual respect, and arguments grounded in reason.
The public response to Watts’ article has also reflected these values: it’s been empowering to read so many excellent essays articulating diverse replies in defense of contemporary accessible poetics. Initiatives like Salena Godden’s #FEMALEPOETSILOVE hashtag demonstrate the strong sense of community and mutual support underpinning this scene and insulating us from ill-informed attacks. These replies underscore the fact that our community doesn’t reject any attempts to criticise our work; we love a good chat about our craft, our diverse practices, and how spoken word operates within the wider artistic sphere. We just want that criticism to be done well.