Saturday, December 11, 2004


Essay by James Abraham

Two Peace River Center for Writers members, co-founder Carol Mahler and local poet Henry Stevens, are at the heart of a controversy involving "Victory," a six-stanza poem about power and conflict that won first place in the Florida Writers Association competition.

Mahler is the featured reader in a CD and video commissioned by Stevens which features several of the poet's works from his first chapbook, also titled "Victory."

The recording of the poem, in which a somber Mahler stridently recites the lyrics against a stark backdrop as cataclysmic music plays in the background, was shown as part of the ceremonies at the recent Florida Writers Association banquet. Almost three weeks after the event Dan Griffith, an FWA member who is seeking the presidency of the organization, wrote Stevens asking the poet to "...include your statement of how 'Victory' should be interpreted."

Stevens said outgoing FWA President Caryn Suarez, whose term ends Dev. 31, had also been approached by Griffith. He worries that Griffith and others like him could be attempting to practice not only prior restraint, by questioning poets whose work is considered politically incorrect, but also future censorship by restricting subjects of a religious or political nature in works affiliated with the FWA.

Griffith, however, said his concern is that the violent nature of the poem offended many at the banquet. He is also concerned that some may take the poem's imagery as an endorsement of religious bigotry and intolerance.

"It reminds me of a Christian jihad," Griffith said Dec. 2 in a telephone interview. "I don't know if that's what the poet intended. I kind of think that that's...opposed to his way of thinking."

Griffith's letter read, in part:
"As incoming President of the Florida Writers Association, I was called upon for several hours after our recent Convention Banquet to explain your poem "Victory". Association members, public guests, and workshop presenters asked my opinion at various times and places that Saturday evening. Not having read your poem but aware of your positive reputation, I could only respond to the poem descriptions in general positive terms. The next morning, I was again interviewed for my opinion and was shown your poem. I must confess I do not understand its intended interpretation, but anticipate additional statement requests.

"Could you sell me by post a copy of your poetry book and perhaps include
your statement of how "Victory" should be interpreted?"

Griffith said he wanted documentation of what Stevens intended when he wrote the poem.
"I'm very concerned about this," he said. "I want to have something in my pocket to say, 'this is what it means, it's just a tempest in a teapot.'"

Stevens said he has no intention of explaining himself.

"Since when do artists include instructions and statements on how their
work should be interpreted, like the printed instructions on the box
of Jell-O or a box of pudding?" Stevens asked rhetorically.

James Abraham is a syndicated book reviewer and free lance writer.

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