BEWARE UNSCRUPULOUS COPYCAT SITES
I had a talk with my friend Pamela Miller after the John Dickson memorial reading, and she was quite upset about how her friends are fighting with each other. I do not enjoy seeing my friends so upset. So, once again, I will take the higher ground and begin deleting some of the things that I have earnestly written in response to the virtual war a group of fanatics have been waging upon me. If after I delete the offensive materials, these dozen or so poets who have been making all the fuss take it upon themselves to repost my opinions without my permission, like they have done in the past, whether in excerpts taken out of context or in their entirety, then remember that, even though those views were originally either penned or published by me, others beside myself are responsible for filling our poetry community with hostility. I, at least, will now make an effort to stop the nonsense, and I can only hope my effort is not in vain.
I will not delete this page, however, because there have been so many lies spread about me that have caused so much uncalled for animosity toward me that I at least deserve a page to share my side of the story on. So I want to share with you a few words about a poet named Kristy Bowen and about the horrible things that she has been doing in her attempt to sabotage ChicagoPoetry.com.
First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. Every day for ten years I have worked on this website called ChicagoPoetry.com. Through it I have reviewed dozens of books. Through the "Chicago Poetry" Calendar at my site, poets have been able to network. ChicagoPoetry is one of the reasons many poets have met and now know each other. My project has been recognized by the Chicago Tribune, the Sun Times, the Chicago Public Library, WBEZ radio and so on. ChicagoPoetry is known for hosting dozens of poetry events at various venues that have attracted large crowds over the years. ChicagoPoetry is also known for sponsoring successful poetry contests and for publishing popular anthologies including Poetry Cram Magazine.
ChicagoPoetry.com also owns ChicagoPoetry.net and ChicagPoetry.org. It has hosted the "Chicago Poetry" Fest for many years and is also the host of the "Chicago Poetry" Cram that has been featured at Harold Washington Library and at the Printers Ball. Furthermore, I've hosted the "Chicago Poetry" Showcase for the Printers Row Book Fair five years in a row and I was dubbed "Mr. Chicago Poetry" by a former director of the Poetry Center of Chicago. My username is "chicagopoetry" at facebook, at myspace, at youtube, at LuLu, at blogspot, at IMDb and everywhere else on the internet. In fact, like it or not, for the last ten years the 13 letters "chicagopoetry" (all one word, no hyphen) have been synonymous with CJ Laity. There presently exists this group of poets in Chicago who don't like it, but I don't care: it is a fact that they simply need to learn to live with already. I have worked extremely hard to earn the right to my domain name and I plan on keeping it, forever, period.
One of the poets who benefited greatly from ChicagoPoetry is a woman named Kristy Bowen. After moving to Chicago, Bowen participated in many of ChicagoPoetry's events and by doing so she was able to meet those involved in Chicago's open mic scene. One of the first reviews of her work was written by me and published at ChicagoPoetry and that helped her launch her poetry career. I admit I gave her more praise than she deserved in that review; I was simply trying to be nice to her and that backfired on me, and I have learned my lesson. I will be much more careful in the future when reviewing self-published material like Kristy Bowen's. Bowen has also submitted poetry to ChicagoPoetry for publication on more than one occasion. She gave a $20 donation to ChicagoPoetry in order to have one of her poems appear in the 2005 Chicago Poetry Fest Anthology. She even once submitted a full length manuscript when I launched my imprint. That manuscript was rejected; instead I chose to publish the poetry of a South Sider named Kwame Pitts, and this obviously upset Bowen greatly. Before receiving this rejection, Bowen was completely pro-ChicagoPoetry, even appearing in my poetry crams at various venues. Here are Kristy Bowen's own words that were published at her own website: CJ Laity "was very helpful when I came to Chicago in discovering what was going on and introducing me to all sorts of great friends. CJ was even generous enough to review my chapbook and I found his site an excellent source of poetry news and event organization..."
I take it that Bowen is not used to rejection, because some time after having her manuscript rejected by ChicagoPoetry, in a truly manic about face, Bowen suddenly organized a hate campaign against me personally and against ChicagoPoetry.com. Without even bothering to inform me what her problem was, she began telling lies about me and she began mimicking my website on a blog. She used her status in the community, the very status that ChicagoPoetry generously helped her to obtain, against ChicagoPoetry. While I was recovering from surgery, after being a live liver donor in order to save a friend's life, Kristy Bowen was turning people who she would have never even met without me, against me. After a couple of years of bad mouthing me behind my back, in March 2008 she made her contempt toward ChicagoPoetry publicly known. Up until that point, I naively thought we were on decent terms. I certainly never said anything bad about her, but to the contrary, I often praised her and her work at my site. Nevertheless, through her ties to the Poetry Center of Chicago (she publishes their Juried Reading chapbook) she helped get me banned from the Small Press Month Showcase, when originally I was suppose to be the host and sponsor of the entire thing. When I posted a rant about how Small Press Month is actually sponsored by large presses, she expressed her aggressive hatred for me at her blog. While she was doing that, she also snuck online and made a failed attempt to register the domain name ChicagoPoetry.org; when she saw she was one day late in obtaining it, she registered the domain name ChicagoPoetryCalendar.org (the closest she could get to registering my exact domain name). A few months later, she set up a website called ChicagoPoetryCalendar.org and she began inviting others who have shown contempt toward ChicagoPoetry.com to sign up as members, including Kurt Heintz, who has creeped me out for nearly a decade with his absurd rivalry. What Kristy Bowen was doing was no accident or coincidence; she knew full well the problems that this infringement would eventually cause.
It is clear that Kristy Bowen has no idea how pathetic she looks as she copies my listings day by day and posts them on her fake site, because she has a little support group of people who hate me who are egging her on, so she is never given the chance to step back, look at her own actions objectively and think for herself. And I don't expect that to change, because some of the people putting her up to it have pointlessly been at my throat relentlessly for nearly ten years now and I wouldn't be surprised if they were still wasting their time with their anti-CJ hate campaign ten years from now, and clearly Bowen has decided to become part of that. They have quite literally gotten together and have plotted the downfall of CJ Laity. Their objective is to cause me so much aggravation and turn so many people against me that hopefully I will some day just disappear from the poetry scene, but in reality all they have ever succeeded in doing is dividing our community and making it a more bitter, tense place for others. So now, seeing that I will never "just go away" they have lost patience and they have decided upon a new stradegy: create a fluff ChicagoPoetry that has no opinion whatsoever about anything and that promotes themselves! Like any other group of fanatics, they probably truly believe what they are doing is the right thing to do; they refuse to recognize how wrong they are, even when faced with the damage they have caused. And it is a shame that their site was born out of this contempt, because with their combined energies, if they had chosen a unique name for their site and launched it with an attitude of cooperation instead of competition, it could have become a truly great thing for all of us; but as it stands, it will never be anything else but the ChicagoPoetry copycat site.
I waited nearly a year and a half after Bowen began attacking me personally and immaturely mimicking my website, hoping she would just cool off, but that didn't happen. When I finally complained about her infringement, she found some new energy within her hatred for me and she began publicly calling me "crazy" and a "lunatic" and a "psycho" and a "fucktard" and she posted all sorts of hateful things at her blogs and got her friends to post slanderous things at their blogs that called for a "boycott" of ChicagoPoetry.com and that urged people to link to Bowen's site instead of mine. The obvious question is if Kristy Bowen felt this way about ChicagoPoetry why did she submit a manuscript for publication in the first place? Look. I've gone through a lot in my life and I don't appreciate it when someone who doesn't know the first thing about me judges the way my mind works, so I expressed my dissatisfaction with her insensitivity toward those who suffer from depression or who have other mental issues. Did I get an apology? No, instead Bowen upped her rhetoric and became even more insensitive, at one point even comparing me to Ted Bundy, because (wouldn't you agree), if an outspoken poetry critic rants in his own defense he must also strangle, rape and bludgeon people to death.
A heated blog debate ensued in which Bowen and her friends (most of whom I have never even met) called me just about every name in the book, during which Bowen unintentionally exposed that she is actually kind of illiterate. Her nasty postings at her blogs were very poorly written and she could barely write more than a sentence or two at a time. Also, she exhibited a complete inability to communicate; every time a direct, reasonable question was asked of her, she avoided it with biting sarcasm, once even responding to me by saying "your opinions don't matter you stupid whore.". Seemed all she could manage to do was sling insults at me, slinging her mud while hypocritically villifying me for making an off color remark involving her weight that I had already apologized for. It was like trying to communicate with a spoiled child.
Kristy Bowen then resorted to fabricating slanderous lies about me and posting them on her blogs. In order to incite people against me, she claimed that I had contacted "Flourish Bakery" (apparently that's a venue where she does readings?) and that the owner of the place contacted her to tell her what a "psycho" I am, and that the owner said I "scared" her. In fact, nothing like that ever happened. It was completely fabricated by Kristy Bowen in order to get people angry with me and to convince them that it is okay to steal from me because I am "crazy". When I discovered the posting and inquired about it, she deleted it. She also claimed, in writing, that I have a "history of violence" that includes "getting kicked out of a bar at Around the Coyote after a fight with two poets." This is another complete fabrication. Once I got into a verbal quarrel with two poets at Around the Coyote, but they were the ones who got evicted from the bar for causing trouble, not me. And Kristy Bowen knows that. Recently she even went as far as to construct hate propaganda in the form of printed sheets of paper that falsely accused me of "attacking a woman's body" and "impersonating a rape victim" (whatever that is suppose to mean) that her friends passed out at the 5th annual Printers Ball while we were celebrating the release of Cram 6 with a poetry reading. Yes, she has actually gone that far in her hate campaign against me. I would ignore all of this, but Kristy Bowen has indeed managed to convince some people who have never even met me that I go around to poetry venues causing trouble, when in reality the only trouble I've been running into is from people who verbally accost me in public in response to Kristy Bowen's slanderous lies about me. To an uninformed person who witnesses this type of thing happening more than once, it would appear that I am the cause of the trouble, when in fact Bowen and her cult of angry, jilted poets are instigating it.
The excuse she gives for doing all of these ugly, nasty things is that she doesn't "like" the way I run things. She thinks I "pick" on people when I write criticism. She thinks the only person in the Chicago Poetry Scene who should be criticized is me and that if I respond to that criticism that means I'm crazy. She's pissed off that her little circle of unforgiving friends who have insulted and attacked me time and time again aren't the center of attention at ChicagoPoetry, so she has decided to create a fake ChicagoPoetry--run by them--that will create the illusion that they are that important. ChicagoPoetry wouldn't publish her book, so she's invented her own ChicagoPoetry that will. The "members" of her ChicagoPoetry have waged war upon the real ChicagoPoetry, telling lies about me in order to invoke anger, and then using that anger to convince people not to send me press releases and not to perform in my shows; and even when their failure glares back at them, when 53 poets read for me in a show or when Cram Magazine becomes bigger than ever, still, they refuse to recognize how wrong they are. Ladies and gentleman, as you can see, I am not doing anything evil: I am just promoting poetry.
Kristy Bowen thinks she has a "better" way to promote poetry, a way that involves telling lies about me, calling me a "fucktard" (short for fucked-up retard) and stealing from me. But her "better" way of doing things is flawed, to say the least. The most striking flaw in her "better way of doing it" is that there is very little information at Bowen's site about poets of color. It basically promotes the advancement of an all-white, primarily academic Chicago Poetry Scene, with the majority of her listings centering around her Columbia College friends, often promoting workshops with outrageously high fees that none of us can afford. Instead of being objective and including everyone in her "Chicago Poetry" world, she only includes events and links to things that she personally approves of, completely ignoring the south side of Chicago (and, no, I'm not talking about Hyde Park) and often posting a link to an event (like Weeds' poetry contest, for example) that merely directs people back to her own homepage when they click on it, instead of supplying any information about the event. Just about everything outside of Bowen's narrow view of Chicago Poetry that appears at her site has been directly copied right off of my website, ChicagoPoetry.org.
Another glaring flaw in her copycat website is that she often posts inaccurate or incomplete information and she allows others to post incomplete information without editing it. Her calendar often assumes that you already know the address or date of an event, but if that is the case, then why would you need to consult her calendar? Her site is simply drawing people away from the accurate information on ChicagoPoetry.com, and that is doing nothing but confusing people. On at least four occasions I have made it clear to her that Young Chicago Authors' WordPlay does not happen on Friday nights, but on Tuesday nights. Yet, for nearly a year, she listed that event in her weekly calendar as taking place on Friday evenings, sending young people to the corner of Milwaukee and Ashland only to find the doors closed, and she only finally changed it when I made such a public stink about it that she was forced to. Yet other Tuesday evening events, those her friends were hosting, were always listed accurately.
Basically what Kristy Bowen is doing is simply copying and pasting press releases from the emails she gets, a cheap and lazy shortcut around the fact checking, editing and commentary that the real ChicagoPoetry does. And why should she care, since, after all, her goal is not to supply the public with a true and accurate resource, but instead to do damage to ChicagoPoetry.com and to hurt me personally in a truly sick act of revenge, merely because I gave a few of her friends less than positive reviews and rejected her work for that of a woman of color.
Like a small child throwing a tantrum, the argument that she uses to justify her unethical behavior is that CJ Laity "does not have dominion over all things Chicago Poetry." For a while, buttons that said "We are ALL Chicago Poetry" were even passed out at poetry venues, as if I am some type of phantom boogyman who is saying these poets are not part of Chicago Poetry, the majority of whom had featured in my events on countless occassions prior to the blog war. Conveniently, these buttons were passed out at venues that I was not invited to, so that I couldn't be there to defend myself against the allegation being made. If those who passed out these buttons truly think that we are "ALL" Chicago Poetry, then why are so many poets banned from the readings that they dub part of their "Green Zone"? Aren't those poets part of the ALL? One only needs to look at Kristy Bowen's copycat site and then look at the real ChicagoPoetry to see who is representing "ALL" of Chicago poetry. But of course it is ALL pseudological nonsense that is beside the point anyway; because Kristy Bowen knows damn well we are talking about the internet domain name ChicagoPoetry (thirteen letters, all one word, no hyphen or space) not the entire concept of Chicago poetry. ChicagoPoetry.com links to hundreds upon hundreds of other sites. The majority of our readers use it as a reference to find other resources, so how does Bowen imagine it is trying to claim "dominion" over anything. Bowen is just making a bunch of nonsensical excuses in her attempt to steal what I've been working on for ten years, because she is jealous that ChicagoPoetry.com enjoys top ranking on all of the search engines, and she thinks she should be there instead of me. It is not healthy competition; it is an intentional act designed to cause fighting among the poets. If she gets her way, through the conflict she's having with me, people who don't know all the facts, who have been told only her side of the story, and who haven't been paying attention to the history, will feel sorry for her and then they will support her ChicagoPoetry instead of mine, and then, without having done any of the work, she will have stolen what I worked on for ten years. And how did she get in the position to do that? By taking advantage of all the good ChicagoPoetry.com offered her.
Her claim that she can't call her poetry calendar anything else but "ChicagoPoetry" Calendar is also complete nonsense; keep in mind she originally wanted to call it ChicagoPoetry.org. In fact, for a few days in March 2009 the banner at the top of her site actually said "ChicagoPoetry.org". This was right around the time in which my registration of that domain name was about to expire and it seemed Bowen was hoping that I'd forget to renew it. When I did renew it, the banner at the top of her site suddenly said ChicagoPoetryCalendar again. She claims she is not trying to trick people into thinking her site has anything to do with my site, but once she actually copied a listing of mine off ChicagoPoetry.com and posted it verbatim at her site, with my opinions and all, in order to trick people into thinking I write for her. If she really doesn't want people to think our sites are related, then why use the exact string of letters "chicagopoetry" in her domain name?
Here are some examples of possible domain names that won't infringe upon anyone:
There are hundreds of variations that she can use. She is using the exact term "ChicagoPoetry" for one reason and one reason only: to attempt to piggyback off my site, steal my audience, cause conflict in which the woman practically incites violence against the man and then plays the victim and pretends that she is the one being bullied, with the ultimate goal of completely taking over a Chicago Poetry institution that we've all known and loved for an entire decade, an institution that arose out of the Letter eX that dates back to 1985. Who is Kristy Bowen and why does she think she deserves to have what hundreds of people helped to establish? Actually, the irony is that the Letter eX began as a form of protest as well. Debbie Pintonelli describes it here, saying: "We hated the Poetry Letter News, a newsletter then edited by Chris Holda. We were mad, and we weren't afraid to name names. We wanted to stir things up." But the obvious difference is, Letter eX didn't call itself "Poetry Letter News Calendar" but instead chose a unique name, and also I doubt it began by publicly calling Chris Holda a "fucktard".
To the poets who have been convinced by this group that CJ Laity is some type of villain, please, be honest with yourselves. Since Kristy Bowen and her gang of self-righteous jurors started their coup d'tat against me, have audiences at poetry readings gone up or down? My eyes tell me they have gone down--and I mean way down. Several poets have dropped out of the poetry scene altogether because they simply can't stand the bickering. Ask yourselves, honestly, has the poetry scene become a happier place or a more bitter place? When people outside Chicago look at us what do they see? Do they see a thriving poetry scene or do they see a pack of children fighting with each other? Has anything good at all come out of Shelly Nation's efforts to censor and villify me? Has the poetry scene improved as a result of Michael Watson's calls to boycott me? Or have these people and their friends been trying to extort you by threatening to cut you out as well in their efforts to cut me out of the very poetry scene that I helped to create? Who is to blame for all of this bitterness? Am I to blame, for merely writing harmless criticism, like I've been writing for twenty years with none of the doom or gloom they predict ever occurring? Seriously, did the world really end when I suggested that they think their farts don't stink? Or are they to blame, for blowing everything out of proportion and for acting like a mob who takes bits and pieces of that criticism out of context only to constantly shove it in your face and incite you against me. And for what? A domain name? Please, for the sake of everyone else, give the Chicago Poetry Scene a chance to heal already: stop listening to the negativity of this self-serving so-called poetry "society". Allow me to say that Francesco Levato is doing a terrible job with the Poetry Center of Chicago if that is my honest opinion, and disagree with me if you like, but don't crucify me for simply being honest.
I know that ChicagoPoetry.com's audience is mature and is not in any rush to get involved with things like this. We all have better things to do besides fighting someone else's war, right? Unfortunately, Bowen's audience is primarily college aged kids and they have all the piss and vinegar in the world to help her spread her lies about me. So I am asking the poetry community to be aware of what Kristy Bowen is doing, understand that there are two sides of the story, and please do not be tricked into supporting her thievery. If you hear Kristy bowen or any of her friends saying something bad about ChicagoPoetry.com or CJ Laity, please tell them how much ChicagoPoetry.com does for the community; ask them why they want to spoil it for everyone else. If they insinuate that you will not be included in their poetry society if you support ChicagoPoetry, tell them you wouldn't want to be associated with that kind of Harper Valley society. The truth is they have no audience; just show up to one of their readings and you will see that they are merely reading to themselves. It is all an illusion by about a dozen poets who have gotten together to create a great big fantasy that they are the center of the poetry scene. They are just making a lot of noise: that's all.
Kristy Bowen needs to grow up and show a little respect, especially for the history of the Chicago Poetry Scene and for those who helped establish the very poetry scene she mosied on into. Her status in the community has become too influential for her to continue childishly calling people names at her blogs. She needs to learn to communicate, especially with those she disagrees with. If she refuses to talk about it, if she continues to infringe upon other people's property and offers no hope for reconciliation, then she is nothing but a cyberbully who can't be reasoned with. When I complained about her terrible behavior, she even compared me to Jeffrey Dahmer, because, obviously, if a poet rants in his own defense that means he also kills people and eats them too.
Ladies and gentlemen, do not be fooled by Kristy Bowen's wounded bird trick. Anything she claims that I have said about her or done to her, she and her friends have said about me and done to me twenty-fold. Also, don't be fooled by her copycat site. I am doing all the work and she is simply copying stuff off my site and pasting it onto her site, once in a while including something that praises one of her friends. It is nothing but cheap, unoriginal fluff.
Every time I finally get the chance to discuss this problem in person with someone who has been fooled by the propaganda against me, the real me, the kind, loving, generous, dedicated CJ Laity, is rediscovered--and amends are made. So there is an answer to the end of this awful bickering that has been plaguing our poetry scene for years. The answer is simple: stop listening to the bull and come back to the real ChicagoPoetry, the tested, tried and true ChicagoPoetry, the ChicagoPoetry with an audience of a half million people a year, an audience that has been earned, not stolen. Stop letting these fanatic poets--including Kristy Bowen, Kurt Heintz, Michael Watson, Shelly Nation, and Todd Heldt, these unforgiving poets, who are basically just out to get me because they somehow imagine they have been jilted by the real ChicagoPoetry, despite how much I have reached out to them--ruin everything for the hundreds upon hundreds of truly caring poets in Chicago who desire unity and diversity in the community. I am not naming names here to attack anyone; I am naming names hoping that they will stop attacking me, because I have big plans for the future of ChicagoPoery.com, and I would be hononored if ALL of Chicago poetry (even the names I've named) chose to be part of it. Imagine!
Publisher of ChicagoPoetry.com