Should we forget?

November 19, 2014

Snakeskin has recently received an email from someone whose verse we published several years ago.
The poems are light and witty, and slightly naughty. The poet has now moved on, and now has ‘a position which doesn’t benefit from having this poetry come up’ in Google searches. She has asked us to remove the poems.
I’d like readers’ opinions on this.
On the one hand, we hardly want to cause the poor lady distress if her early work is causing her embarrassment.
On the other hand, it might make matters worse if we replaced the poems in their Snakeskin editions with a notice saying that they had been removed because of inappropriate content. I’m sure people would imagine the poems to be far more outlandish than they are.
Or we could, I suppose, cut not only the poems, but also all references to them in the index pages of the issues in which they appear. But this seems to me a bit like falsifying the historical record. And it will not, of course, affect copies that are archived in various places.
This is one instance of what seems to be a growing problem. When poems were printed only on paper, the author could suppress them fairly easily by not allowing reprints. But what appears on the Internet stays on the Internet. Even when the editor and sole proprietor of Snakeskin passes on to a better world and his site disappears, those archived copies (at the British library and elsewhere) will remain.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that we have a right for our past to be forgotten by Google (though most of those availing themselves of this right seem to be petty criminals.)
So in this case, what should we do?


19 Responses to “Should we forget?”

  1. Ivor Murrell Says:

    When we submit our writing for publication on the web we are very keen that our hard polished words are seen, for we are aware, and hopeful, that they are going to be a permanent record. Perhaps that work might seem naive to our older selves, but it was us.

  2. Mike Cooper Says:

    Leave the poetry in place. There is absolutely no good answer to her request. The world is so much smaller now then the one in which we, and she learned our meaning of privacy. We are now many, many families all living in a one bedroom apartment. Trying to legislate a right to be forgotten? Like asking everybody in the room to turn their heads.

    The good news is that as everyone sees our faults and foibles as clearly as we see their’s, there is at least the possibility that we will all become more tolerant, accepting, and basically grow up. The bad news is that in the interim it is a voyeur’s paradise out there. Your former poet/now embarrassed old person has valid concerns, but they are with the modern world and with technology and with herself. In the meantime, you got a magazine to run right?

    • Jerome Betts Says:

      Halfway house might be to delete author’s name and let her join the mighty ranks of Anon, or replace with an agreed pseudonym?

  3. TM Rezzek Says:

    You know, this is just a waste of time. You’re the founder, editor, proofreader, and all-around housekeeper of Snakeskin. There are hundreds of poets knocking on your door, hoping to get published. You have to READ THEIR STUFF, not waste time digging around the archives because someone has misgivings about their youthful scribblings. I say to hell with this lady’s request. Who does she think she is–Stanley Kubrick? After Kubrick became famous, he tried to prevent his first film, “Fear and Desire”, from ever being shown. But he couldn’t do that, so instead he issued a statement, saying how much he hated the film. That’s fair enough. And this lady can do the same, if she wishes.

    Point is, if you grant this request, then it opens the door for EVERYONE to start bugging you, demanding that their work be taken down because they’re “embarrassed.” Worse yet, people will eventually start making ridiculous requests, i.e.: “I say, George old boy, remember that poem of mine you published FIVE YEARS AGO? I recently revised it, so could you please change the second line of the second verse for me? There’s a good fellow!”

    Again, I say leave the poetry where it is–Snakeskin Stuff STAYS in Snakeskin.

    However (there’s always a ‘however’ in the deal) keep in mind that if you don’t remove the stuff, then one of two things may happen:

    1) If this lady is American, she’ll sue you, because that’s what Americans do.
    2) If she’s British or Canadian or European, she’ll just be enormously piqued.

    Either way, she won’t be a Happy Poet.

  4. Nell Nelson Says:

    George, I have never seen Snakeskin host a poem whose author should be embarrassed by it. I hope I haven’t somehow missed these ones… But I think we should all live with our pasts as cheerfully as possible. Few poets have not published something somewhere they will later forget. And it is the joyous task of researchers to SEARCH out those things, wherever they are. She is obviously human. Hurray!

  5. I think Jerome Betts has the best solution…and, why not accommodate the authors request, since you are the gentlest of Gentlemen.

  6. Robert Nisbet Says:

    I think I’m about to differ from many of your other correspondents, George. It’s a real heart vs. head dilemma. The academic side of me is all against air-brushing history, be it taking the cigarette out of the photos of Jean-Paul Sartre, Bowdlerizing Shakespeare – even objecting to the racist dialogue (a cf. actual authorial point) in ‘Huck Finn’. But I suspect that, were I to be editing an online mag, and received a simple request like this, innocuous as it seems, I’d be inclined to do the gracious thing and quietly take out the poems.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Jerome suggests, Michelle supports. Let me third the Anon solution. It is the best compromise. The magazine keeps the poems up….which were published after all,and with the agreement of the author. The author gets to step behind “Anon”.

  8. Frank Hubeny Says:

    Changing the name to anonymous or some other pseudonym, as others have suggested, seems like a good way around the problem.

  9. Mike Cooper Says:

    …you know on 2nd thought, I just realized the upside for us all to granting this request.

    If past issues are now officially fungible, does that mean that we can now submit our poetry for publication to ANY Snakeskin issue? I have a sonnet that I think would be perfect for Issue 124, June 2006! 😉

  10. Brian Ings Says:

    Well, many younger poet-selves do turn out retrospectively to have been petty criminals! I say let the charges remain on file as a warning to other potential perps. This has the additional advantage for the fully mature poet with a respectable ‘position’ in society, that it does not draw the attention of the merely prurient to the original sins! Far better than un-internetting them, I’d have thought. Now that the subject has been raised, I, for one, am burning with the desire to see those youthful indiscretions, and that can’t be good for either myself or the now thoroughly respectable poet in question….

  11. Clare Best Says:

    Very interesting discussion. Snakeskin: the name says it all. We shed our skins continually – they are no longer part of us but they stay in the world.

  12. First choice: keep as is. Second best: make Anon., and the more fool she is.

  13. Daniel Galef Says:

    I’d NEVER write bad verse and show ’em
    at Snakeskin, Light, or Prole!
    (And if I did, then send that poem
    down the memory hole.)

    I completely understand the request, but 1) altering past issues retroactively, even just to change a name, would be a nightmare for citing later on, as it’s generally assumed that there is somewhere some record of what the issue actually looked like when it was printed, and, in a non-print publication, that’s only in the archive, and 2) it’s a generally acknowledged rule of all internet information that attempts to suppress only increase exposure. I’m sure someone on reading this went through the archive page and screenshotted it (I did, anyway, on the twentieth), if just so I can check later on if something changes and see who it was.

  14. Ed Shacklee Says:

    It’s difficult to see how someone could be happy in “a position which doesn’t benefit from having this poetry come up’ in Google searches” — that must be a very awkward position, indeed — but I think Jerome and those who’ve seconded his suggestion have it right. However, if I were you, I might caution her that the change is irrevocable: once Anon, always Anon.

  15. bhb Says:

    Ask the poet to reconsider. Remind the poet that you cannot remove the poems from other archives not belonging to you. [] Wishing his book “buried and forgot” didn’t help John Cleland, whose book certainly enhanced my late childhood. If the poet still insists, consider deleting them from your archives with a note, “Deleted at Author’s Request.” But I would not allow the poet to appear in Snakeskin again. I’m not going to harbor any ill will if you don’t delete the poets work and will support your decision which ever way it falls.

  16. Jeffrey Loffman Says:

    We place words in the public space fraught with all sorts of consequences of this is one – juvenilia, for example, might be summit we’d all wish to delete BUT…. To delete is, as you say, re-writing history so, not in my view as welll – either to say sorry you freely entered into submission OR delete the name associated with the poems.

  17. Thanks for the comments and suggestions. The poems are now ascribed to a pseudonym.

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