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“Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.” —Heinrich Heine 

There is diction to spurn and there’s fiction to burn
____If the subject is apt to offend
Connoisseurs with a nose for the whiff of foul prose—
____The rank stench only oafs will defend.

There’s a sniff test that’s key for the powers that be
____Who decide all that we have at hand.
If the theme’s apt to stink, they’ll erase wicked ink,
____And announce book and author are banned.

For the rubes gone astray from the finest bouquet
____That arises from chapter and verse,
Every erudite flare from fair nostrils that care
____Will determine the cure for their curse.

They will tell plebs their taste is a misplaced disgrace
____And that torching of tomes is the way.
The naïve who believe all these book-burning thieves
____Are ensuring no soul has a say.

When they cancel your choice they have canceled your voice
____In humanity’s virtuous name.
First, they scorch sinful pages then flesh (the next stage)
____As they claim that your words are to blame.

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Susan Jarvis Bryant is a church secretary and poet whose homeland is Kent, England.  She is now an American citizen living on the coastal plains of Texas.  Susan has poetry published in the UK webzine, Lighten Up On Line, The Daily Mail, and Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets).


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38 Responses

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you, Paul. I truly believe most people are unaware of the underlying evil of the seemingly virtuous eradication of all things “offensive”.

      Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Joe, thank you, my friend in poetry and politics. I am hoping my words will serve as a huge wake-up call… but I truly believe actions speak louder than words and my words will just float above the ignorant “Illiterati” who are pushing an evil doctrine they will come to regret.

      Reply
      • Austin Martin

        Nicely done, I am no master poet nor artist in any sense of the word; I do, however, have an appreciation for wit, grace, poignancy, and flair. Despite finding all of the above in your poem; my shoulders feel heavier. Why do these types of people always feel as if things will end differently? History is an ash heap of burned books and charred bodies. And it always ends the same; the people who burn the first books always end up being the last log.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Austin, thank you very much for your encouraging and interesting comment. I can wholly appreciate your shoulders feeling heavy having read my poem. I feel the same just before I write one of these political pieces… but, simply have to continue because I have a pressing desire to get my message out there. Your closing line says it all… many don’t realize how close we are to losing all our forefathers fought and died for.
        Thanks again!

  1. Sally Cook

    How can a word be evil?
    How can a word be bad?
    Words, if they show on paper
    Must be burnt. It is sad.
    \
    Into the cauldron with these
    Down the drain, to the dark.
    Ignorant indignities —
    Let them erase no spark !

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Sally, you make a salient point with poetic panache… and I thank you for it!

      Reply
  2. Paul Freeman

    A timely reminder of the lengths folk can go to to justify censorship.

    I find that most book-burners these days tend to be either ignorant or crackpots. I recall a country I worked in where I was horrified at school-leavers celebrating finishing school by burning their school books. Then there was that self-styled pastor down in Florida who was burning Korans and hanging then-President Barak Obama in effigy.

    Denying publication and self-censorship are most likely the main reasons books don’t get published – or their message gets lost – these days.

    Orwell’s anti-totalitarian masterpiece Animal Farm (which I finished reading again yesterday) almost had to be self-published because left wing publishers were averse to drawing attention to the purges and revolutionary betrayals in Russia, as well as not wanting to antagonise a wartime ally. The book was finally published the month WWII ended.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking read, Susan.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you for your considered response to my poem, Paul, especially for the snippet of info on Orwell. I’m sure his name is on the eve-growing “to be cancelled” list… his works are too close to the truth for an overbearing government’s comfort.

      Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    Susan, I’m very happy with your title as well as your poem, because it suggests some thought about who the “literati” are. In China, of course, this has long meant artists who are at once poets, painters, and calligraphers, and sometimes musicians as well, and that may have contributed to the choice of a Chinese scene for the illustration. Still, an excellent title for your general reflection on the subject of those who effect the destruction of literature in general. I see that you sympathize with the tastes of those called “oafs, rubes, and plebs,” while Paul Freeman agrees and disagrees. He is not at all in favor of book burning, but in his experience finds that ignorant crackpots are most likely to practice it.

    In my experience there is also considerable danger in our current mass discarding of library books because no one wants to read them. This includes off-site storage in unknown locations that can easily lead to loss and disintegration of unwanted books. And of course the officials responsible for selecting which books will vanish are not ignorant folk, but academic and library professionals. They are in charge of many more books than crackpots ever get their hands on. I have no solution to propose, but this is a very large subject, and I thank you for taking it on.

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodrff

      Margaret,
      What remains on the shelves, especially in public libraries, is driven mainly by use. Mainly, however, is an important qualifier: I wonder whether libraries are meeting the current demand for Dr. Seuss titles, for example.
      By the way, many librarians and academicians are well educated; others not necessarily. Both classes of librarian are involved in collection development, and both classes of academicians at the very least throw their two-cents-worth at the librarians.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Julian, I use mainly academic libraries, but sometimes go to my public library. I am often surprised by what remains out and available (though clearly little used) at the public library. Of course public libraries need to provide what readers want right now, and much-used materials do wear out. However, both kinds of libraries now have large areas of giveaway books–for which we must be thankful, as it provides these discards one more chance of preservation. College and university libraries bear more responsibility for preserving, and it is there that I fear loss and deterioration, as I have already experienced unexplained failure to find items in storage.

        Regarding education of anyone anywhere who is responsible for books, we know that there has been considerable decline in depth of reading. I imagine that we have always been in debt to those who value books and culture–and to their individual tastes. Current attacks on particular books or authors may lead to wider carelessness even in the face of direct attack on libraries themselves. One of my Harvard professors stood on the steps of the university’s principal library in the 1960s to stop a “student” invasion; he and a very few others succeeded, but not due to the physical force they were able to exert!

        You will be happy to hear that Dr. Seuss is being read and heard by fascinated children in private schools. And I apologize for abruptly breaking off a conversation you and I were having about Romanticism a couple of weeks ago. Sudden ill health on my part, from which I’ve recovered.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Margaret, thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my poem… you always have something informative and interesting to say, and for that I am grateful.

      As for the “oafs, rubes, and plebs” – these are the words used to describe the readers of tasteless books that beg to be banned by any authority who judges the content of age-old classics based on whether or not they’re “racist”, “misogynist”, “colonialist”… or any other “ist” that may offend. In other words, the excluded “deplorables” of the literary elite… the ordinary folk. I chose the title to describe anyone who agrees with the cancel-culture… anyone who thinks they have the right to decide exactly what the multitudes are allowed to read based on current politics.

      I have no problem with libraries removing books because they’re unpopular. I have every problem with libraries removing books because current political ideology dictates it.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Susan, do you really mean this? The multitudes of ordinary folk may decide, by lack of interest, what the pink-jacketed librarians are allowed to burn, and you have no problem with that? I do. Ordinary folk rarely check out anything in a foreign language, and they don’t care much for ancient history or medieval literature, but the least popular and least comfortable location in the library where I spend time is POETRY. Still, I think it’s important for all those sections to be available, even if no one except me wants them. And I trust that you too are grateful to past and present heroes of book culture who preserve the delights of rediscovery for us and for the future.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Margaret, I see your point, but, I didn’t say; “The multitudes of ordinary folk may decide, by lack of interest, what the pink-jacketed librarians are allowed to burn”, and I certainly don’t believe that. I should have made myself clearer… our little library has only so much room. Many “unpopular books” are stored off-site and many books are now being offered in a digital format simply because of lack of space. That, I’m happy with. Banning books because they’re “racist”, “misogynist”, “colonialist” etc. is unforgiveable. In other words, censoring and permanently banning books because of a political ideology is unforgiveable. I’m talking about the treatment of content not deciding how best to use one’s space. In a free world every book should be available.

  4. Julian D. Woodruff

    You’ve done it again, Susan. I’d love to see you at a library or school board meeting.
    Burning is spectacular;
    Mere suppression is more kind.
    Learned or vernacular,
    Get ’em before they touch a mind.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Julian, thank you for your comment and your wonderful little poem! I am on the local library board… I have had no cause to complain just yet, but, when I do… I’ll whip out this poem for full effect! It may be the last time I attend. lol

      Reply
  5. Dave Whippman

    Well said Susan. We are sleepwalking toward an insipid, bland literature. I despaired when I heard of the students who banned Kipling’s “If” from a mural in their university. Not because the poem itself was racist, but because Kipling himself was allegedly racist. Where will it all stop?

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Dave, thank you and you are absolutely right… our literature will become “insipid and bland” by design. God forbid future generations ever learn about our history from the likes of the great Kipling. Those times must be eradicated until “Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”… Orwell was spot on. I think he’s next for the doomed publications pyre.

      Reply
  6. BRIAN YAPKO

    Susan, I always enjoy your work even when the subject matter is so upsetting. You capture an elusive tone of justifiable rage which has been sifted through the sardonic wit of W.S. Gilbert. (Some of his lyrics are equally withering.) The title is pure genius and I especially enjoy your use of internal rhyme. I’m working on a poem with a not dissimilar theme because everything about cancel culture enrages and disgusts me. That all aspects of Western culture now require apologists is incomprehensible. Thank heaven people like you are willing to pick up the mantle.

    Reply
    • Susan Bryant

      Brian, thank you so very much for your encouraging comment. I really look forward to reading your new poem (as I do all of your work), and I’m pleased I don’t stand alone in my disgust and rage at the toxicity of this increasingly obtrusive and invasive cancel-culture. As I said (and history backs it up) it starts with books.

      Reply
  7. C.B. Anderson

    What can I say that has not already been said? When I was young I had some Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs that my father read when he was young. When I went to the town library to find the books in the series I didn’t have, I was told that they had been banned because Tarzan and Jane were living together out of wedlock. As it happens, Jane’s father was a judge, and he married them in a civil union at some point in the novel, but the arbiters of decency overlooked this fact. In the 60s the series was revived and reprinted, and I bought every damn one of them, plus the books in his Mars and Venus series (not to mention the Pellucidar series, a personal favorite). I am sure that the youth of others was better spent than my own, but I don’t regret a single thing.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Kip, this problem with gutless American librarians is perennial, and was mentioned many times by H.L. Mencken. Banning the Burroughs books because some people might worry that Tarzan and Jane were cohabiting out of wedlock is typical of our sick Puritan tradition. Swinburne was not allowed in some libraries, and Theodore Dreiser’s novels were often blackballed.

      There is a long Yankee tradition of busybody ministers and “Watch and Ward” committees of self-appointed zealots doing their damnedest to censor literature that they consider “immoral.” All that’s changed today is that the busybody ministers and the “Watch and Ward: committees have been replaced by mobs of “woke” fanatics screaming about racism and sexism. It’s basically the same bunch of uptight Puritan morality-mongers.

      Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      C.B., to my mind, your youth was not at all misspent – I couldn’t think of anything better than burying one’s head in a series of previously banned fictional delights.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        And delightful they were. Tarzan is still my role model. Such prowess! Such thews! A boy can only dream. Philip Jose Farmer resurrected Tarzan in his SF novels Tarzan Alive and Lord Tyger, both of which I found fascinating long after I had finished all two dozen of the books in the original series. Tarzan was just, loyal, crafty and fearless, and he became fast friends with lions & elephants when the opportunities arose. The illustrations in the original hard-cover editions were superb. The heroes of Burroughs’ other series were cut from the same cloth as Tarzan. Read A Fighting Man of Mars or Carson of Venus to get an idea of what I am rambling on about.

    • Damian Robin

      Hi Kip
      I too read a lot of Burroughs works. Not sure if I had all the Tarzan ones – and certainly no first editions. However I did go through most, possibly all, of the Mars ones. I did a lexicon of Barsoom words. Not being thorough in one’s earlier life can have advantages — like not wasting time trying to finish and publish work when up comes someone with a better aptitude and attitude and a sense of wider comprehensiveness as Jeffrey Henning who has done:

      https://www.datapacrat.com/True/LANG/JAHENN~1/BARSOOM.HTM — Barsoomian
      The Language Of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars

      Burroughs’ books are available o the Gutenberg project, for those who’d like a taster
      https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/48

      Reply
  8. Sandi Christie

    Susan, you have an incredible, if not magical way with words, and this piece really hits close to home for me. I have a great love for the non-dualistic wisdom found in the path of A Course in Miracles, which has a very small presence in the western world. It was only a couple of years ago that I was thinking about the burning of ancient scriptures, and I thought that we were living in a world where a book like the Course could not disappear. I no longer believe that to be true. The horrifying reality is any book or books related to a religious path (or any fine-or not so fine- literature deemed racist or immoral for any reason) can easily be extinguished without ever lighting a match. Freedom of religion stands on shaky ground, and freedom of speech has sailed into a darkened sky at dusk.

    I have also been lurking here for a while, and I did want to tell you that your poetry is off-the-charts fabulous. You are provocative and inspiring. Your rhyme, meter, creativity and way with words makes your poetry an absolute delight to read. I had no idea such poetry as I have seen here lately even existed! Thank you for sharing yours!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Sandi, I cannot thank you enough for your appreciative and informative comment. Your eloquent observation; “Freedom of religion stands on shaky ground, and freedom of speech has sailed into a darkened sky at dusk.” is absolutely right and I hope with all my heart that “A Course in Miracles” is around for a long time yet.

      The SCP is a wonderful site for promoting all of the freedoms the draconian are keen to curtail, and it’s people like you who make my poetry seem so worthwhile. Not only do I love meter and rhyme, I am eternally grateful for being able to use traditional poetry to get a grave message across… a message that shouldn’t be lost on any of us.

      Thanks again!

      Reply
  9. James Sale

    A fabulous poem – so many great lines in it – especially love the ‘The rank stench only oafs will defend.’ It’s been a while since I saw the satisfying word, ‘oaf’, but this is the perfect place for it! D’y’know what? A thought is coming to me, Susan: why don’t you get a collection out? Heck, this needs to be ‘out’ there! Keep up the fab work!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      James, I love the word “oaf” and was thrilled to incorporate it in the lines of my latest. I’m glad you like it! Thank you very much for your appreciation and invaluable support of my poetry… now you have said it, I will seriously consider getting some of my non-pc, heretical poetry out there… before I smell a torch ignite behind me. 😉

      Reply
  10. David Watt

    Great writing Susan. I am a fan of internal rhyme, and your poem demonstrates the enjoyment to be had from its skillful employment.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      David, thank you very much. I’m glad to meet a fellow internal-rhyme lover… we’re a rare breed these days. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Norma Okun

    The poem has wit, sadness in what it tells. The Illiterati, the title is totally a surprise. I could not help but giggle as I read what you had to say. It came to me Don Quijote whose books were burned because they thought it made him crazy. How can the bible be 2,000 plus years old with the trying to suppress what people want to express. I do believe though when a poem, a painting, a song, a photograph is good is because everyone has agreed that it is for a very long time. The Mona Lisa is still smiling, and so many poems and beautiful things await us to like them. I know your poems will be read and enjoyed for a very long time.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you very much, Norma. Your comments always give me something to think about. I particularly like this lovely observation; “The Mona Lisa is still smiling, and so many poems and beautiful things await us to like them”… I look forward to all the beautiful art awaiting us and I hope my poems will feature in the future.

      Reply
  12. Tonia Kalouria

    Another triumph in execution and message. Yes, DO get your non-PC “out there” …. before … . (We can still enjoy your talent here.)

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Tonia, I thoroughly appreciate your support – it spurs me on. I am gathering all my non-PC poetry for a possible book… before my non-PC voice is silenced. Thank you very much!

      Reply
  13. Jan Darling

    Dear Susan – I do so enjoy your writing. In the seventies a sports writer journalist friend of mine had a shipment of his books “Lap of Honour” seized in Australia under some kind of public decency law observed by Customs.
    The book was about Olympic athletes.

    Reply

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