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11:24 pm: Good Intentions Pave, Widen, and Add a SpeedPass Lane to the Road to Hell
I'm F.J. Bergmann. This post is a response to accusations made against me that can be read at storify.com/foxvertebrae/fj-bergmann and rose-lemberg.livejournal.com/354919.html. You cannot imagine how non-delightful it is to discover that people you don't know are calling you "the worst fucking person" and "a shitty person in so very many ways!" for reasons that are untrue.

I do not hate any of the people Rose names, nor do I hate Rose herself, though I find her propensity for misunderstanding me regrettable. My involvement in the incidents referred to at these links consists of 1) calling for due process on behalf of a friend whom I thought worth defending; 2) participating in good faith in an ostensibly open speculative poetry event; and 3) becoming impatient with what I saw as an attempt to impute motives and meaning to a poem that I felt it transparently did not contain.

I normally don't spend time perusing other people's blogs, so I am often late to the party. I was not aware of the appalling comments linked above--or that there were people who disliked me this much--until two days ago, as a result of fallout from comments here: jimchines.com/2013/06/how-to-report-sexual-harassment-by-elise-matthesen/ (I found out about the Hines blog via Ansible).

I have spent the last two days composing a considered response. I'd like to take the incidents in which my involvement is discussed in reverse chronological order:

1) Most recently, I was extremely uncomfortable with the comments made on Jim C. Hine's blog after the posting of Elise Matthesen's "How to Report Sexual Harassment" there. I posted there for the purpose of a) calling for due process; b) providing first-hand, long-term knowledge of Jim Frenkel, the supposed perpetrator; and c) to raise the possibility that the incident had been misunderstood. It is now horribly easy to understand, in the wake of the shitstorm that descended upon me there, why almost no one who shared my views spoke out anywhere. I regret bringing up Elise's deafness (she uses the word "deaf," so I am respecting her choice, I hope); it did seem entirely relevant to the incident as it was described to me.


2) The Moment of Change anthology reading at the 2012 WisCon was billed as an open mike, and I came partly as an overture of solidarity with the publishing of the new anthology, as well as for an opportunity to read my poetry and listen to other speculative poets. I certainly did not come with any intention of "disrupting" the reading; I came to support it, as a fellow spec poet, and I hoped that it might show Rose and others that I bore them no ill-will over the "Green Reich" debacle (3).

The poem I read, "Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen," was written in 2009. In May of 2009 I sent it to a critique group of local poets who include two University of Wisconsin professors emeritae as well as a former Wisconsin poet laureate. It was a persona poem in the voice of an ignorant, sleazy, dishonest, diseased loser who has ordered a Russian bride online--who is savvy enough to turn the tables on her predator. The title was taken directly from a spam subject line, variants of which I still get constantly, and was part of a series of poems I had started writing that used spam subject lines as titles. The bride in the poem is not meant to be shown as a victimizer; it is quite obvious that the women who are imported to the U.S. as brides to internet-met strangers are, in general, exploited and endangered, and that the scam Russian-or-other-foreign-national-bride spam is about as likely to involve actual Russian women as the huge-stash-of-$100-bills-in-Afghanistan e-mails are to originate from actual U.S. soldiers stationed there.

In February of 2012 I submitted the poem to Strange Horizons, where it was rejected in due course. The editor not only discussed the poem on Rose Lemberg's blog, but offered to provide a copy to interested parties. I am amazed that an editor of her stature would publicly comment on a specific submission under any circumstances, let alone offer to provide the poem to anyone else without the poet's permission. Is this in accordance with Strange Horizons staff ethics policy? As an editor, I would not dream of breaching someone's privacy or copyright in this manner. Moreover, the rejection I received appeared to view the poem in a rather different light than her more recent description--it suggested, in fact, that I try submitting it to Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, or Stone Telling! It's quite possible that this recommendation, which arrived shortly before WisCon, influenced my choice of what poem to read.

I am utterly mystified by the interpretations posted by Rose and her friends--especially the portrayal of the poem as anti-Semitic. I will be happy to send the poem myself to anyone who e-mails me at demiurge@fibitz.com to request it, as long as the poem is not made public (I would prefer not to post the poem here as it is not yet published--and I still have hopes in that direction).

I had read this poem at many venues, including local open mikes and slams. I picked it to read because I thought it was more overtly feminist than most of my other speculative poems and because previous listeners had visibly enjoyed it. I generally try to make eye contact with the audience when I read, and I was surprised by the poem's unenthusiastic reception. My husband, who was present at the reading, informed me that there was a distinct unpleasant vibe in the room after I had read, which puzzled me.

I did not know that Rose Lemberg was Russian or an immigrant. Then she read after me and clearly indicated that she was of Russian heritage. At that point, I was worried that I might have unwittingly given offense. I asked one of the anthology contributors whom I know slightly and who was also present whether she thought there was a problem and what she thought I should do. I got the impression from her that she didn't think there was anything to worry about, so I decided not to attempt to explain myself at the time. I have since learned from her that this was not the case; she was very aware that Rose thought I was attacking her, but did not feel comfortable discussing the situation with me. I absolutely did not read that poem to offend or annoy Rose.


3) S.A. Kelly's poem "The Green Reich" appeared in Star*Line 34.2 in June 2011, while Marge Simon was the editor (I have permission from Marge to send a .pdf of the issue to anyone on request; e-mail me at demiurge@fibitz.com). Rose Lemberg insisted that Kelly, a former ally (see the early days of the Absolute Write speculative poetry forum) had written the poem as a deliberate attack on herself. I found this transparently fallacious and said so on the sfpanet listserv and on my LJ (scroll down). It finally transpired that the poem had been posted in an Absolute Write forum in 2009, and critiqued there by some of his accusers, who found no fault with it at that time, as documented here: sak6.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/my-response-to-mike-allen-regarding-the-green-reich/, and I thought that had definitively put an end to those allegations of harassment-via-poem from Rose.


Rose has now twice that I know of attributed deliberate malice, aimed at herself, to poems that demonstrably could not possibly have been intended that way. Let me reiterate here: "The Green Reich" was written in 2008, long before she and Scott Kelly had a parting of the ways. My poem, "Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen," was written in 2009, long before I had ever, to the best of my knowledge, interacted with her in any capacity.


Regarding this year's (2013) WisCon: I went to the panel moderated by Shira Lipkin because I was interested in its topic, and like many in the audience, I asked questions and made what I thought were relevant comments. If I "derailed" the discussion in any way, this is news to me, nor did I have any intention of doing so. I would very much appreciate an explanation of anything I said that gave that effect.

I'm saddened to find out that the speculative poetry reading at this year's WisCon was deliberately structured for the purpose of excluding me. I'm glad that I did not know at the time; it would have spoiled my enjoyment of hearing the participating poets read. I was surprised not to be invited to participate in my capacity as editor of Star*Line, but I assumed that it was because neither Star*Line nor my own poetry has a specifically feminist emphasis.

I've been at WisCon every year for 14 years and love it (except for the norovirus episode). I have been on many panels over the years. I had always thought of it as a safe and welcoming place for everyone, including me. I have contacted safety@wiscon.info and offered to provide whatever information they request; I'm outraged at being labeled as a harasser and a "well-known bully."


To Rose: I don't hate you. I deplore your perception of me and my intentions. I'm astounded and grieved that you thought I deliberately harassed you. I am chagrined that you should have seen fit to forego WisCon on my account. WisCon is a wonderful experience and should be a safe place for anyone. I hope that you come to the next WisCon, and that you enjoy it. If you wish me to keep my distance from you, I'll respect that. If you would like to get together one on one--or one-on-[as many of your friends as you feel safe with]--I'd be happy to try to resolve our differences.

Comments

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From:janefluffington
Date:July 15th, 2013 04:59 pm (UTC)
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Good letter. Thoughts laid out calmly and precisely. I hope this helps.
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From:ysabetwordsmith
Date:July 15th, 2013 06:53 pm (UTC)
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Well, if the accusations consist of more logical fallacies like the examples you cited, they can be dismissed without taking them seriously. People can return to the dogpile if and only if they bring properly framed arguments against you.
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From:ljgeoff
Date:July 16th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
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I have had nothing but positive interactions with you, both at Viable Paradise and Wiscon.

My personal take is that Rose's reaction is over the top. Your letter sounds well reasoned but I doubt that it will make much of a difference to those who've become so upset. Good luck with all of this. Sympathies.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 16th, 2013 11:00 pm (UTC)
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Hang in there. This must be so very upsetting.

I'm also absolutely willing to attest that my own interactions with you have always been pleasant and respectful.
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From:mac_stone
Date:July 16th, 2013 11:03 pm (UTC)
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Oh heck, I didn't realize I wasn't signed in, and I think my previous comment must have gone to moderation since it came in under "Anonymous" -- sorry about that.

I just wanted to say hang in there, basically. This stuff is SO upsetting and difficult, I know.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 20th, 2013 12:30 am (UTC)
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Have you considered contacting Strange Horizons directly about the editor's offer to circulate your rejected poem? I think it would have more force coming from you. I wouldn't mind seeing an official clarification from them myself.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 24th, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC)
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Sonya Taaffe, the editor in question, did not offer to circulate the poem. The cited comment is here:
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From:samhenderson
Date:July 24th, 2013 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Sonya Taaffe, the editor in question, did not offer to circulate the poem. The cited comment is here: http://rose-lemberg.livejournal.com/354919.html?thread=2981991#t2981991
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From:seajules
Date:July 24th, 2013 08:52 pm (UTC)
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Here is the link to the actual public comment by Sonya Taaffe, the Strange Horizons editor referenced in this post. Note that Sonya only offered to share the copy of the poem submitted to SH with "the relevant authorities" in charge of Wiscon safety, as part of their investigation into the open mike incident. She did not offer to share with "interested parties." She also did not share the particulars of the poem beyond confirming what those who had heard the poem already shared.

In addition, I was the reviewer of two of the issues of Star*Line under debate (I had left the SFPA and stopped receiving the newsletter by the time "The Green Reich" was published). I stand by my assessments of "Jaguar Drum" and "oriental girl dances" as racist, though I never said they were deliberately so. My reviews can be found here and here.
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From:popelizbet
Date:July 26th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)
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In February of 2012 I submitted the poem to Strange Horizons, where it was rejected in due course. The editor not only discussed the poem on Rose Lemberg's blog, but offered to provide a copy to interested parties. I am amazed that an editor of her stature would publicly comment on a specific submission under any circumstances, let alone offer to provide the poem to anyone else without the poet's permission. Is this in accordance with Strange Horizons staff ethics policy? As an editor, I would not dream of breaching someone's privacy or copyright in this manner. (emphasis added)

Niall Harrison has made a statement that directly contradicts your misrepresentation of the facts surrounding Sonya Taafe's offer to share your poem with the Wiscon authorities and with no one else. Here is his statement. Are you going to retract your baseless indictment of Ms. Taafe's professionalism and character now?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 30th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC)
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Hi -- I have read "Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen," and I am completely at a loss as to how it could seem anti-semitic, anti-immigrant, or anti-Russian. I read it as a funny extrapolation on a spam email subject header. My son got a lot of these email solicitations when he was searching for a girlfriend. Putting a supernatural spin on the matter was, to me, amusing in a way that is distinctive of Jeannie's wit and poetic voice.

I was shocked to hear Jeannie described as "the worst fucking person" and "a shitty person in so very many ways." She is a fine poet, a good family woman, a hard-working editor, and, in my experience, entirely respectful of otherness and difference.

If she has, as an editor, rejected poetry submissions, it must be understood that the zines that she edits have many more submissions, even very good submissions, than can be printed, and Jeannie must use her judgment to select the very cream. She has rejected my work, and I do not take it personally.

I don't know how this misunderstanding over "Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen" could have arisen, but it is entirely a misunderstanding.

I hope that I will not become the target of opprobrium by virtue of coming to her defense.

Mary Turzillo
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From:Denise Dumars
Date:August 7th, 2013 04:55 am (UTC)
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Wow. If only the people who are all upset over this poem would get a life and realize that there are real threats out there at conventions--such as those posed by real predators--and that this nauseating assault on Bergmann and free speech and incredible stupidity by people who should know better reminds me of the McCarthy era when someone who, for example, was holding a red Solo cup could be accused as a communist. Anyone who has taken any of the so-called "charges" against Bergmann and her poem obviously have no cultural understanding of the situation in the poem at all, nor do they know anything about the ancient Slavic pagan goddess Baba Yaga, which should not surprise me, since no one reads folktales anymore. This nonsense is starting to get to actionable levels, and if any editors decide that they want to do anything with Bergmann's intellectual property that they have no right to do, well, let me just say that I can recommend some good lawyers to Ms. Bergmann.
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From:maryturzillo
Date:August 11th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
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Denise, good comment. I wrote agreeing in much the same vein, but somehow my comment didn't get posted. I have a problem with livejournal, despite being a livejournal blogger.
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