Thursday, June 2, 2011

Poetry Contests with a Reading Fee should be Abolished

Anis Shivani writes Poetry Book Contests Should be Abolished: Why Contests Are the Stupidest Way to Publish First Books.

Yep. They're abusive.

I was particularly disgusted, reading the Poets and Writers interview with four contest administrators, at the point where one of 'em admitted that sometimes they don't award a prize, they just keep the money.


Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Oops, just realize that when I pasted the link into the post, I cut off the "h" in the prefix "http". I'm sure everybody who tried the link realized they could add the h and get to the huffpo article, but I've fixed it now.
The actual link is:

pottygok said...

While I agree with some of the sentiments in this article, I have been on both sides of the spectrum.

I understand that this is not the best way to pick a book because "The reality is that only a certain sensibility will get through in a given contest." and "Typically there are two types of aesthetics (following the MFA division of poetry into two major camps): the narrative/formally uninventive/epiphany-based confessional or memoiristic short poem, and the experimental/avant-garde/language poetry camp, which takes its inspiration from deconstruction and makes a fetish of the insensibility of ordinary language." However, having been one of those first round MFA screeners, I can tell you that it really is a simple process and it's something that anyone with half an interest in poetry can do. A majority of submissions (about 80%) are amateurish and underdeveloped--usually Hallmarky "moon/june/spoon" stuff, often overtly religious or sentimental at that, or a collection of three or four previously published chapbooks with no thematic connection beyond authorship. To say that the first round judges are "guessing the sensibility that will most please the judge" is, in my experience, in accurate. Often times, they're not sure who the final judge is going to be until about halfway through the process, and even then, it really is separating wheat from the chafe. The second and third rounds tend to go to faculty members or dedicated MFA students who have had classes in what makes a manuscript work and have studied, in depth, the process of a book manuscript.

And while the argument that "For much less than thirty thousand dollars a publisher could solicit books from poets already being published in the best literary journals, or keep an eye out for burgeoning talent and encourage and promote them to put together a book. The way it used to work, before contests took over." makes some sense, I can see it leading to an even more incestuous and inbred situation, editors publishing their favorites and students from the past two or three years, and so on.

I'm wondering if there can't be a middle ground, somehow.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau