The Diarrhea Punk/Lucid Moon Letters
(Originally published in a more condensed version in the Seven Deadly Sins of the Small Press)
Ralph Haselmann published a zine called Lucid Moon. Besides a forum to express his feelings on being manic depressive, overweight and his love for Leonardo de Caprio, Lucid Moon consisted of 200-360 full size pages of poetry, fiction, comics, artwork, letters, reviews and ads, complete with handwritten page numbers, ink smudges, blank pages, idiotic scrawling in the margins, black lines from being misplaced on the copier glass and page after page of mind-numbing drivel. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? What Ralphy did was photocopy the actual poetry submissions and letters he received and just stapled them together with giant staples that were like railroad spikes. He usually took every poem that writers sent to him. Ralphy would then write the people who had sent him the material (using the SASE that they should have included) and inform them that he intended to publish their poems. However, he didn’t give out free contributor copies (nor trades). So in order for the writers to see their work in print they had to send him $10 for a copy. “I cannot afford to give out contributor’s copies […] I don’t know how other magazines can survive by giving free contributor’s copies to all authors, maybe higher paid circulation or selling of ads I guess.”
Ralphy was quite successful with this racket and put out over 35 issues in 3 years. He made no bones about his actions, even flaunting the fact in Lucid Moon and asking for handouts and donations so that he could continue his cause. It seems that, despite raking in all this money (at point he bragged about receiving $160 in one day), he was still in the red with each issue. On the surface, there was something admirable about his endeavors. Writers who normally wouldn’t have been published by other zines were seeing their name and print. Perhaps some of these writers would feel encouraged to continue writing and sending their work out. So in a way, Ralphy was promoting the written word as well as representing all the voices of the small press. But there was no editorial policy whatsoever, and this practice of paying for publication ran contrary to the mentalities of most small press editors as well as most zinesters. What Ralphy was doing was essentially running a vanity press.
Many editors that I communicated with during that time complained about what Ralphy was doing, even though most of these same editors associated with him in every other capacity. Some were even published in Lucid Moon on a regular basis. I never thought much about it one way or another until March of 2000 when he sent out one of his mass emails describing the “restructuring” of Lucid Moon. Every month he sent out a mass email promoting his zine and a slew of ads by other presses. (In full disclosure, my press, Phony Lid, was also included in these emails.) According to this latest missive, Ralphy was no longer going to print ads for free in Lucid Moon.
“Rates for my magazine are $10 a full page one issue run, $6 half page and $3 quarter page. Full page only gets complimentary copy with ad. Smaller ads get page photocopy. I have a circulation of 140 plus 20 more for back issues, so 160 people see my magazine and ads.”
These ad rates were, of course, a great deal, if you looked past the low circulation.
Ralphy was also no longer going to include free press notices in his weekly email updates. The charge for this service would be $5.
In response to this email, several editors I corresponded with at the time send me scathing comments about Ralphy’s new plan. One even wrote a silly poem making fun of Ralphy:
Ralphy pushes the letters aside
pen in hand pencil in ear
he knows he will not take bribe
or publish something that’s really queer
Ralphy, he edits lucid moon
and publishes the best poems he can find
and his next issue will come out soon
two big staples used to bind
Lucid Moon you are the best
so much better than all the rest.
I don’t know who suggested the prank first (does it really matter?), but that night I created an anonymous email account (email@example.com), copied all the email addresses from Ralphy’s email (this was before the days of obligatory bcc mass emails) and sent out a parody of Ralphy’s policies, Lucid Moon and poets in general:
“I always considered myself a fine poet. Everyone around me agreed. My mother thought my rhyming verse was of the same quality as Robert Frost. My best friend, Dilbert (but we all call him “Jeeter”), thought my free-verse dwarfed Ginsberg, WC Williams, TS Eliot, you name a poet. That’s why I just couldn’t understand why I kept getting rejected by these crappy, small press zines. I’d open the mailbox, peek in… rejection letter. Rejection letters flooded my bedroom. Until I submitted some poems to a zine called Lucid Moon. Mr. Haselmann was the first editor to recognize my work as true talent. Fortunately I got my allowance early that week and I sent all $10 of it to him for a copy of Lucid Moon. At a cumbersome 236 pages, I could only assume how many submissions he must receive…. probably hundreds of thousands a month. It is such a masterpiece of literature… Though, once, I fell asleep with it in my lap and it fell off the bed and killed my cat, the gnarly nails sticking out of it pierced his skull. But such is the price of pursuing the written word, eh? Anyway, I’d like to take my hat off to the best editor in the small press today, (conferred by Cedar Hill Press) Mr. Ralph Haselmann Jr. I’m also including a poem I wrote about Ralph that he’s going to publish on his website. I have to wait until I get my birthday money from my grandma to see my other stuff in print, but I an just honored to be included with such a quality publication…”
I included the poem and signed it Halbert Gerblomi. In a late night, caffeine-drenched, marijuana-induced frenzy, I spammed every email I had associated with the small press with the message. There were over 350 names, of which several provided a forwarding service (people with their own lists who would pass on information they found appropriate to the members). I wasn’t sure whether these people would pass the email on, but I was laughing so hard each time I clicked “send” that I didn’t care.
The next morning, I checked the diarrheapunk email account and the Inbox was inundated with responses. The message had gone out to all the lists, so there is no telling how many people received this email. All day long, responses poured in, agreeing with the Diarrhea Punk and congratulating him for standing up and saying what everybody felt.
“Well, that’s quite a refreshing letter. Many thanks. Let’s you and I both jab those fucking pins into those hot air balloon publications filled with Lifshin crapola.”
“Man, I don’t know who the hell you are, but thanks for saying what so righteously needed to be said. I do so wanna hear ralphy’s reply…”
“Hmmm…do I note some cleverly veiled sarcasm in your tribute to good ‘ol loveable Ralphy and his Lucid Moon? Or was it outright sarcasm? ouch. P.S. My mom says my poems are better than yours.”
“THANK YOU!!!! Made my day with a :)…… in debt to my grandmother too, even though she is 95 and at death’s (kaCHING) door…”
Others seemed to miss the point:
“Thank you for sending me the poem. I admit Ralphy does a fine job. Continue to get the word out.”
Others weren’t too happy with my plight:
“I’m sorry you’re not pleased with Ralph or his organization but I’m not interested in receiving your personal e-mails to him.”
Things got serious when Frank Moore, a focal point in the small press with a list of his own, an internet radio station and a magazine, “The Cherotic (r)Evolutionary,” sent out a message telling Ralphy to “get fucked.”
“What you wrote in your “newsletter” is insulting to me personally. But the way you are looking at things is an offensive unreality. you are whining to the wrong people…..people who (if we had the misfortune to view the world this way) spend many hundreds of UNPAID hours and many thousands of dollars per year getting the art and the info out. […] I put NEWSLETTER in quotes because a newsletter is an instrument of information and community building. NEWS items are not for sale! ad sheet sounds like what you have in mind. But you just put people in and expect them to pay…without asking them first… using VOLUNTARY DONATIONS as your cover. it don’t work like that! Not to mention it blows your credibility to shit!”
Ralphy responded by letting it be known that he was going to put Lucid Moon on hiatus “until I can get funding and have it professionally printed at a higher circulation. I will do my free Lucid Moon poetry web and free newsletter, am seeking donations, grants and Art Patrons! […] It is simply too costly at $1000 an issue, 230 pages, 6 issues a year to do as I had planned in my recent Restructuring Note to everyone on my mailing list. I have learned a lot over the three years I have been doing this, made some mistakes, gained a lot of compliments but taken a lot of flak for the big size of the issues and customers pestering me as to when the next issue will be out. Folks, I did this for the love of poetry. I never made a dime. I spent over $21,000 of my own money over the last three years. In the end it was like check kiting, taking money for future issues to pay for current ones. That’s no way to do business. I am bankrupt and $4000 in debt but because I am an honest person I will refund your money, offer back issues instead, or ask that you just donate the money you gave me and enjoy my free website. The choice is up to you and I will definitely repay you if you want your money back, it will just take a few months, ok?”
Then he replied to me, thanking me for sending out my “funnee” letter. He said he thought it was cute and that he was enjoying his life, living on the dole, lounging all day on his mother’s couch where he was “gonna just sleep and eat Elvis sandwiches (1 loaf French bread, 1 pound bacon, I [sic] jar peanut butter, 1 jar jelly, and a bunch of bananas, wash down with a gallon of milk).”
If that weren’t enough he ended his email with, “Thanks for bestowing on me the honor of being called the Best Poetry Magazine Editor in America! My website is destined to be the best poetry website in America too! And I hereby declare that I will become the most famous poet in America one day! Or the richest!”
I wrote back telling him what a fucking idiot he was.
I included the email he wrote me at the bottom and sent it out to all the addresses again. And immediately it went through all the other lists. People were sending it out and including comments with it: “We don’t usually send things like this out, but it had us rolling” and “Keep up the good work!” Most people couldn’t believe how smug Ralphy was being, and the “Elvis Sandwich comment” offended more people than me talking about my bowel problems: “I have to go puke now. You motherfucker, you made my diarrhea worse!”
Since he once received over $160 in checks on one day, I told him that I wanted him to send me $160 or I was going to go to his house and kick his ass. “You better fucking pay me my money… next week the figure is going up. You have the money to pay for web design so you should have the money to pay me for not kicking your ass. I don’t care what excuses you have. Believe me I am an unstable person and I don’t get money from the state so I have all the excuses in the world… pay me or go away…”
Ralphy replied by threatening to anally rape me and called me racist, homophobic and sexist. He accused me of committing libel, to which I responded with: “You are so pathetic that it makes me sick. I believe in raising standards in the small press and the first task in accomplishing this is eliminating the trash. And.. wait.. what is that? I hear the garbage truck coming… yeah, motherfucker, it’s time for you to go bye bye. Either send me my damn money or else I will continue to fuck with you. I want $320 now. You fucked up. Every time you try to come back I am going to increase the amount and soon you will be in debt to me too. Do not underestimate my power. I WANT MY MONEY NOW!!!!!”
Ralphy didn’t want to play anymore after that. He claimed to have contacted a lawyer and was going to sue me. He disappeared for a week and then sent out this message:
“I had to check myself in for a week stay at the local Behavioral Health Center of the Hospital, after receiving death threats form a sick individual via e-mail… Quite frankly, I needed time to regroup my thoughts and compose myself, and under the circumstances I think I did pretty well… The nurses were kind and let me stay up past the 11 o’clock bedtime to watch the Oscars until 12:38. For some reason, in accepting his award, Warren Beatty gave a very moving, artful speech about poetry that touched me, and I fantasized that he or someone in the Hollywood community knows about my site. I wish I could have been home taping the Oscars as I do occasionally… And actor Peter Coyote moderated between commercial breaks from backstage, and I thought of the wolf on my site and how cool it would be if they hired him as a playful joke. He is an ex- hippie and dated Janis Joplin I think… He is a medium, as I believe I can be too when positive vibes are spread… All in all it was a good vacation, and while I in no way deserved the hate mail, I welcomed the break…”
The air was still thick with the dust of so many stones cast at Ralphy. Everybody with an opinion sent out emails expressing what they thought was ethical and what was not acceptable. All these emails were forwarded throughout the lists and cc’d to death. After the smoke cleared, over 2000 people had participated in the Ralphy bashing. Not to mention the writers and editors without email who wrote me letters asking if I’d heard about the whole Lucid Moon/Ralphy fiasco. Apparently, people were calling their friends and reading the stuff over the phone as well as printing it out and mailing it around.
All the while, the Diarrhea Punk had remained anonymous. At first, only three people knew it was me. The one who wrote the poem and another who encouraged my crazy idea when I suggested that somebody should got after Ralphy. These two conspirators eventually put all the emails together in a broadside called The Diarrhea Punk/Lucid Moon Letters.
I was able to protect the identity of the Diarrhea Punk indefinitely. Many folks wondered who it might be, but nobody seemed to care enough to make a probe. Ralphy accused many people of being behind the attacks, and at one point, even accused me, but I denied it wholeheartedly. Even though I had posted all the correspondence on my website, FyUoCuK.com. Not that I cared if he found out it was really me… it was just more fun to see who he would go after next. The people he blamed seemed to get a kick out of being thought of as the Diarrhea Punk.
I even sent out an email: “We are all Diarrhea Punk!”
It was a fun week or two and I reveled in the infamy that I had created in the Small Press. When I posted a link to the tomfoolery on alt.zines, the zinesters were less than impressed. I was instantly accused of stealing the whole diarrheapunk angle from the publishers of a zine called Wet Devoh. Seth Dawg and Faber Montag responded to any and almost all messages on the newsgroup with comments as profound as “I just farted.” Or, “I have diarrhea.” They were childish and inappropriate trolls (though sometimes funny) and almost everybody on alt.zines ignored them and their poopy talk. But the way I looked at it, they weren’t properly offending the targets of their disdain. These were zinesters after all. It wasn’t the talk of diarrhea and farts that bothered them, it was the pointlessness of acting like idiots in what was perceived to be a serious forum for the discussion of their craft. But the small press world was more genial. Most of the writers and editors considered themselves above such puerile behavior. Which is why I took a page from the Wet Devoh playbook and used that tactic to offend the Small Press.
I think, more than I even realized at the time, I wanted to ostracize myself from the Small Press. I never figured all these people would go after Ralphy once I’d opened a wound. The amount of schadenfreude was both horrifying and spectacular. But after the Lucid Moon fiasco, more and more writers and editors began to contact me with grievances they had with other writers and presses. And not just bullshit, either. I was getting reports of outright theft: presses offering to print chapbooks for money and then not actually printing the chapbooks! One writer told me that a well-known Small Press poet had stolen her late father’s work and passed it off as his own. Several women wrote me about feeling bullied by the predominantly male editors, who expected them to buy subscriptions and contributor copies in order to get published.
And that’s how I fell from grace with most people in the Small Press.