an interview with the "Truth Troll," Ted Hash-Berryman
There seems to be a backlash against anonymity in the poetry community. People equate it with cowardice, among other things. What is your response to this kind of thinking? Why is anonymity essential, at least at this juncture, to your mission? Has anonymity hindered you in any ways, e.g. has it alienated any potential allies? Will your true identity ever be revealed?
People fear uncertainty. We want to be able to categorize individuals and ideas in neatly contrived mental containers so that we feel able to ‘understand’ them. This phenomenon accounts for why marketers and politicians rely on vetted catchlines and easy-swallow images for branding purposes. In other words, where the real world changes into simple images, these images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior. Once hypnotized, people become addicted to this kind of ‘understanding,’ and thus they experience fear when faced with anything less superficial. When the scope of one’s perception is strictly limited to the observable immediacy of whatever one happens to be looking at, how else but fearful could one feel when caught in a sudden shower of dust from Saturn’s rings?
The truth is, equating anonymity with cowardice reveals a deep-seated fear in the very holder of that belief; the type of person who upholds such an equation is in direct service of the powers that be.
That being said, I am not anonymous; I am Ted Hash-Berryman. I don’t post pictures of my face on the internet for a number of reasons—namely, privacy, and because I stand in sharp opposition to the propagation of ego.
It is not ‘anonymity’ that alienates me, it is that no one believes in my sincerity. Therefore, my response to people who equate what I do with cowardice is: To know what is right and not do it is the only cowardice there is.
And to everyone who hates me, I only want to say: I forgive you, and I love you all, except for Kenny G., the saxophonist.
It seems to me that the pseudonym begins to takes on a life of its own at some point, in such a way as to undermine the purposes of adopting a pseudonym to begin with. How do you negotiate this?
I don’t. Ted Hash-Berryman negotiates with no one. (Shout out to Barack Obama.)
Believe me, you’re not the first person to obsess over my name. I get it, and it’s unfortunate that I inherited a name in common with a famous poet; however, to focus on my name at the expense of understanding my true intention is to, as Confucius puts it, not see the lawn for the leaves of grass.
Let’s be honest here, if I were merely an impotent sprite or a loveable trickster, no one would care about my name. It is because I ruffle industry feathers that people jab at my name, so that they can return to preening vainly without ever lifting a talon in argument.
I mean really, come on, can you think of any name that sounds more suspect than ‘Bernadette Geyer’? Or, even worse, ‘Sampson Starkweather’? You don’t see anyone accusing them of using pseudonyms—because, like everyone else, they stand in an orderly line at the industry ice cream truck, waiting for their turn to step forward and pay to taste the fleeting sweetness of a Ninja Turtle ice cream bar, only to choke on the bitter gumball eyes in the end.
You have started the completely anonymous, transmission-based (as opposed to submission-based) journal, Guest Room, which has yet to release an issue. People seem to have a hard time engaging with texts without the attachment of certain authorship, and drawing attention to this phenomenon seems to be one of the journal’s core missions. How can readership be generated, knowing that we are programmed to be attracted to a piece of writing by an author whose name is recognizable to us, or worse, that we are predisposed to accepting and admiring a piece of writing by an author whose work has been widely lauded? What is the current status of Guest Room?
Many of your questions can be answered by visiting Guest Room’s FAQ page. I know the readership will come because, despite how the cultural manipulators want it to seem, people inherently crave quality writing that channels our highest selves. No matter how much you love the taste of Coca Cola and loathe water, you must eventually return to the wellspring to cup your hands and drink of the true stuff of life, or else die a shriveled sugary husk.
You’re exactly right in saying that we are predisposed to accepting and admiring writing by writers with a name, and that everyone knows this; so why are so few actively engaged in combatting it? One of my ongoing projects—getting my own poems published using famous names—addresses this particular flaw. In one instance of this project, not only did the journal H_NGM_N fall under the spell of Dean Young’s name, they later colluded with Dean to cover it up. This project eventually led me to the creation of Guest Room.
Once my letters become published, the public will see firsthand how eager editors are to handjob their way to the supposed top by stroking off the most popular phalluses in the game.
I can assure you that such backdoor dealings don’t occur at Guest Room. As a matter of fact, I’ve already handed off control of the magazine to an anonymous guest editor who is handling all aspects of the first issue. What I can tell you, regardless, is to keep transmitting, and that issue one is due out any time.
Making fun of contemporary poets is one of your hallmarks; the satire often reads as more Horatian than Juvenalian, though both are clearly present. What are the criteria by which poets are determined to be deserving of mockery? By way of comedy, what particular holes are you trying to poke into their modi operandi? Are any of these poets actually “in” on the joke?
My use of satire is neither Horatian nor Juvenalian. It is Hash-Berrymanic.
In terms of my targeting system, so to speak, there are no criteria. My process is to open myself through sessions of lengthy meditation alongside a number of esoteric eastern and indigenous practices taught me by yogis and shamans. In a sense, the Fates select the right persons; I merely answer the call. It is an intuition; it cannot be received at second hand. It is not instruction, but provocation that I receive from another source.
However, once I enter combat with another person, I follow strict rules of engagement, which are detailed in my essay, ‘Propositions of War.’
Everyone is deserving of mockery, those whom I love as much as those whom I know must change. Poets have lost the ability to address the absurdity of our reality. Most poets take themselves, and the business of poetry, far too seriously; they dedicate their lives to an illusion. Supplication and nepotism attain careers, publications, and fame. What does honesty attain? Ne’re a penny.
I’m not trying to poke holes at all; I’m trying to expose holes that already exist. I’m trying to bait those prone to egocentrism to fall into trap holes I’ve designed. I’m trying to lead them through carefully tunnelled rabbit holes, which converge in the dungeon of my castle. I’m trying to get the movie Holes, starring Shia LaBeouf, banned from my local Blockbuster due to its stereotypical depiction of ‘holes’.
Oh, and to answer your last question, Jim Behrle, as far as I know, is the only one who has been ‘in’ on the joke.
“Are you making art, or are you making a career?” is one of my favorite quotes of yours and seems akin to Schuurman’s idea of working as a social evil: “Creation is the intense joy of life, working is the intense suffering of life. Under these criminal social relations creating is impossible.” But is it always contradictory for artists to aspire to both artistry and careerism? As artists, can we “have it all,” and even if we can, should we? Does careerism necessarily destroy art?
Thank you very much. It took me one second to think of. Let us not forget what General Sherman also said, “Don’t shoot until you see the white privilege of their eyes.”
Yes, it is always contradictory to aspire to both artistry and careerism. Though it is sophomoric to believe contradiction in its many forms is inherently negative. The poet, like the shaman, must have his daily bread, a safe place to rest her head, and the existential and physical warmth of a lover or friend. However, concerns of the modern world must not phase their central visions; they are there to look after the health of their communities and nothing more.
I guess you can ‘have it all,’ but there are many things you will never be able to have once you choose to do so. Poets need to accept that they must have nothing in order to receive the everything that is their birthright.
I am reminded of a story from my past. There was a rich person who had a great deal of money; he once said to me: “I will invest my money so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my coffers with gold and my houses with material comforts, so that I may lack in nothing, so that I have everything.” These were the things that he was thinking in his heart. That very night he died.
You have made plenty of mention of bad poets who are careerist, but can you name some good poets who are non-careerist? Who do you respect in this rat race? Is it possible to be anti-careerist (and, therefore, quite possibly perceived as anti-community) and still “succeed” as a poet? Why is one’s work alone not enough?
I can name a multitude of great anti-careerist poets, but I won’t. Instead, I will only name a plethora: Walt Whitman, George Oppen, Sappho, my late friend Terence McKenna, Edward de Vere or Sir Francis Bacon (I can’t decide which until more facts are released), my asshole great aunt Gertrude Stein, Fernando Pessoa, my brother and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (I only put him on here because he’s about to die), Malcolm X, Andy Kaufman, Tristan Tzara, Bill Hicks, Heraclitus, Baruch Spinoza, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, and of course the two most ‘successful’ anti-careerist poets of all time: Jesus of Nazareth and Gautama the Buddha.
As for the living, I can think of only two whom I respect: Allyssa Alexandra Wolf and Surazeus Simon Seamount. Wolf has earned my respect because she works without fear to expose frauds, conspiracies, and hoaxes, because she’s trying to start the revolution that needs to happen, and because people fear her. Surazeus has earned my respect because he has truly dedicated his life to his art, because he has the vision that others lack—which allows him to understand that the content of his art is transcendent, and so the system of delivery, or crowd with which it’s associated, is meaningless—and because he does not simply remain apart from the period style, he swims against the trending tide purposely in order to revive the archaic music of the poets of old.
Let me be clear. Careerism is a cancer to community. Once a community degrades into a loose realm of colleagues, the possibility of truly open like-minded human kinship is precluded.
What does revolution look like in the current literary climate? Where does spectacle fit into all of this? How do you prevent your rebellion from being, as Guy Debord says, “purely spectacular”?
Well, as the bard Guy Fieri says, “You can’t make an omelet without grabbing a few chicken tits on the train down to Flavortown.”
Sometimes revolution is spectacular, sometimes it is not. This fact does not matter so much; what matters is whether or not it initiates the catalysis of change. Our literary revolution will look exactly like all revolutions—a movement conditioned by the unification of individuals under the banner of right mindedness via the spirit of awakedness from institutional beguilement.
What would you most like the public to know about the Activist Collective and its mission?
That now’s the time to join.
I recently received an email from your “representative,” who relayed to me that the “guiding principles” of the Artist Collective are: to “embrace the comic nature of being, dissolve ego, forego ideology, decommodify artistic expression, practice non-violent resistance, force fruitful discourse, found a community which propagates compassion, and attain Cosmic Consciousness through diligent practice.” I particularly identify with embracing the comic nature of being, but this rhetoric reads cultish to me, and the idea of a cult seems antithetical to your mission. Is it your intention to start a cult? What does an ideal member of the Collective look like? Will you exploit your followers? Do you plan, at all, to return the favor of their services, e.g. supporting their own creative endeavors (those unrelated to his cause), and how? Do you use love bombing as a tactic?
I’m not saying you don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. It seems absurd to associate cultism with any of the principles listed. What cult has ever enforced the rejection of ideology? What cult has ever been without ego, and therefore leaderless?
If you want an example of how a real cult functions, just look at Poetry Magazine and its parent organization, the Poetry Foundation.
The activist collective has been created to waft change into an air that smells stale. The intention is nothing other than to foster a community of diverse individuals who believe that human beings are capable of evolving beyond our various temporary imprisonments. Simply put, we will support each other, while striving together. That’s how a collective works. Everyone is equal. No one has any power that another does not.
An ideal member of the activist collective looks like someone who has faith in truth; someone whose heart and mind are open to the sentiment of virtue; someone who understands how to understand, how to love, and how to make understanding and love into real things.
Let me be very clear. I’m am no one’s superior. My cause is the human cause. My decision to organize this activist collective is based purely on the fact that something like this has to be done and that no one else is doing it.
In some ways, it seems that you are building a cult of personality that is an anti-cult of personality. For all anyone knows, you could be a super famous, multi-published, well-respected writer beneath the façade, which would actually be hilarious, considering the minimal attention (comparatively) that you have received since your debut a couple years ago. It would be the ultimate demonstration of the kind of literary hypocrisy you have set out to underscore and, hopefully eventually, discharge. But it seems, in some ways, that there is still much ego involved, even under anti-cult circumstances—that you are still, in some ways, a fascist dictator. How do you “dissolve ego” and avoid totalitarianism?
A more self-conscious man would find your question’s suggestion of fascism offensive. A more exacting man would find it obtuse. I find it dumb.
There is nary a fascist bone in my body. My mission is one of compassion and egalitarian sincerity. For one to be a ruler, one must believe in his or her right to rule over another being. A ruler is blind to the fact that each of us is inevitable, that each of us is limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth—that each of us is allowed the eternal purports of the earth, and that each of us is here as divinely as any is here.
But alright, you got me, I’m actually Robert Pinsky.
What role do psychedelics and asceticism play in your initiative?
Five grams dried psilocybe cyanescens in the solitude of a silent dark room.
What psychedelics do, and why they are in all times and all places such social dynamite, is, they dissolve the cultural machinery. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Wall Street executive, a Syrian extremist jihadist, a Tibetan monk in the Himalayas, a nomadic tribesman in the Amazon, or a Hasidic Jew; whoever it is, the psychedelic dissolves their cultural construct and puts them in touch with the fact of being an organism. To be as an organism is to take off your real clothing—the clothing of language, programming, and assumption. Once you bare yourself in this way, you find yourself within the context of organism, outside of the context of culture.
Asceticism, on the other hand, has no place in my worldview. Something like the Buddha’s Middle Way or Aristotle’s Golden Mean makes far more sense to me than ritualistic self-denial and rigorous austerity. In fact, sometimes I’ll jerk off 2 or 3 times in one day.
It seems that the human “fight or flight” instinct is awakened by Internet trolls. People will tend to ignore them altogether, or engage in inflammatory comment threads with them, without much middle ground in between. There is also a lot of rubbernecking that I see with the reaction to trolls. People can’t help but look, yet they don’t want to stop long enough to truly engage. You have been called a “truth troll,” a term that I think is quite cogent and becoming to you. A top tier troll is still a troll, though, so given that, how do you expect to be taken seriously? How do you foster genuine engagement with the public? Are you doing anything to reinvent or reimagine trolling, or to change the way people perceive trolls? Can the troll truly be a wise man?
I learned long ago that I am unable to control what others think about me. I found that understanding my own heart is enough. If others desire to discredit my person, so be it. That is their choice. But those who truly desire to understand me will, and I am sure they will be handsomely rewarded for seeking truth. If you knock, the door will open.
On the other side of that door, awaiting you, will be the embodiment of suffering asking you the question: Can a wise human truly afford not to troll?
Please take another look at my essay on trolling. To say a truth troll is simply ‘still a troll’ is to miss the point. To ‘not stop long enough to truly engage’ is to condone every genocide.
Our current economic and political situation has left us no other choice but to troll, just as the myriad injustices of the past have catalyzed trolling movements throughout history. In order to reinvent trolling, we must stop limiting its scope to the narrow breadth of an internet forum; we must accept that trolling is as much a physical manifestation as it is an attitudinal approach to life.
To protest is to troll the government, to seed disruption is to troll society, to scream is to troll civility, to live in peace is to troll calamity; Socrates was a troll, John the Baptist was a troll, Galileo was a troll, the founders of America were trolls, Harriet Tubman was a troll, Florence Nightingale was a troll, the suffragists at the turn of the century were trolls, Gandhi was a troll, Dr. King was a troll, Tenzin Gyatso is a troll, Malala Yousafzai is a troll; given the value that these people have added to the world, how could a top tier troll not be taken seriously?
There are a handful of living trolls who I have an eye on toward collaboration: master street trolls—who make us question the nature of customary, consensual behavior—Nathan Fielder and Eric Andre, and master truth troll Russell Brand, (and maybe one day Shia LaBeouf if he cleans up his act and disavows metamodernism) who reached what most consider the pinnacle of societal achievement—fame and fortune—but since has chosen to reject that lot in service of art and truth.
I would be remiss if I didn’t here mention my greatest trolling influence, who to this day remains arguably the top troll of all time. He always gives me hope in my times of need. He is the paragon of a troll that I try to live up to every day: my lord and savior, Bugs Bunny.
Let me reiterate; I don’t expect to be taken seriously. I’m not here to gather all of the doubting Thomases and allow them to feel my wounds. I’m not here to garner attention or praise. It doesn’t matter if it’s 200 years before the implications of my actions are well-regarded, or if I remain for eternity under the topsoil of complete obscurity. It’s likely that the public will only take me seriously once it’s too late.
What is Ronald McDonald’s role in all of this?
I set out to pick the most disgusting, despicable, disreputable, and disturbing image that I could find with which to associate my brand. I quested in the corners, in provinces so begrimed the sun’s light is stopped from entering; I squatted in the mung of humanity’s pet devils; I bathed in slop, anointing my bedraggled body with sauce from the karmic cesspool; then, when I pulled my head from the murk of the swamp to draw a fresh breath, dejected and uncertain of whether I would survive another plunge, staring back at me with a dead-eyed leer to match my own was my good friend Ronny McDonny. We have been lovers ever since.
What is the five-year plan for your initiative?
I plan on not dying within the next five years, but if I do, my death will trigger the unfolding of my masterstroke: a complicated series of paradigm-shattering events and cataclysmic gimmickries so layered with meaning and complexity that it will make Rube Goldberg’s ghost build a convoluted machine with which to shit his pants.
Presently, I’m looking for support from people who understand my true motives and trust that my intentions are pure. In particular, I want to collaborate with cutting-edge publishers, editors, and web designers, as well as whistleblowers within AWP and the Poetry Foundation.
As for the future, I have a lot in the works. My next book-length poem, Fucking Apartment: The Lost Leaf of Grass, is set to be released very soon. It has been in a state of suspension due to the intricacy of the web design, but the writing has been finished for some time. I’m also three quarters of the way finished writing my next collection of poetry, entitled Mock Language. In one year’s time, I hope to have been approached by a legitimate publisher with desires to release my first print book: Ted Hash-Berryman Does American Poetry: New and Selected Poems, Essays, Letters, and Tweets.
Also, keep an eye out for the annual Ted Hash-Berryman Awards every January.
I have plenty of gimmicks lined up as well. Most of them must be kept under wraps for obvious reasons, but as an example, look for me at next year’s AWP Conference selling a phony Kenneth Goldsmith book for monetary profit. He’s already blocked me on Twitter; give me five years and I bet I can get him to further betray his persona and sue me.
In fact, in five years, I will have gotten Kenneth Goldsmith fired from his teaching position, and have had him exposed publicly.
Further, I plan to assemble a group of elite ‘social assassins’—to be called ‘The Firing Squad’—who will take on the thankless duty of exposing hoaxes and ego-trippers posing as poets and artists.
I will continue my quest to find a worthy foe who will take on my one-on-one poetry challenge; the list of those defeated by their own cowardice continues to grow longer by the week.
Within five years, the activist movement should be well off the ground and running effectively, changing our world for the better. (Please e-mail email@example.com if you have any interest in joining or if you want more information.) Hegemony beware.
But these are all just a part of my short-term vision; I have much grander things in store for the long-term. I will evolve to the next level of consciousness, whatever it may be, whenever I am ready, and as I do, my methods of communication will approach ever nearer to telepathy.
Ted Hash-Berryman is widely regarded as one of the most unknown American poets. He has won nothing, including every major American award for poetry. Visit him at tedhashberryman.com and follow @TedHashBerryman on Twitter.
This interview was edited on January 19th, 2015 (namely, a question and
answer involving a controversial publication by THB was removed). The editors apologise for any upset caused by the previous version. We are discussing a further response.