Recently allot has been written about Poetry Contests and Contest judges helping their students to win contests. It has been insinuated that these contests are fixed and that really they are just a way to get financial capital but that the result is already decided.
I think that it is important to separate the mud from the water.
Poetry in the United States is very vibrant-but there is little or no capital to finance the artform outside universities and a few foundations. The result is that many vital important voices never get heard because of the financial costs of publishing their work.
The result of this financial situation is that most poetry is self financed. I did this for my book while it was published by Blaze Vox press; I financed my reading tour myself Self Financing is true for most poets we spend our resources to finance magazines, small presses and reading series' what other artform does this?
What other artform is so self-less?
The financial reality is true for most poets in the USA is that they live simple lives; there are a few who dwell in the rare air of celebrity but even poets like Cole Swensen, Robert Creeley (God Rest His Soul), Peter Gizzi, Liz Willis, and many others live lives that are very simple and austere because our artform has no financial rewards there are no Enrons in poetry no one is losing their life savings no one is dying for a lie.
I wonder how many painters, actors, fiction writers or sculptors would stay with their artform if they knew that they would never ever be able to get paid? Which by the way is how this society shows value for an activity by paying people for their work.
Poetry is a self sustaining artform because it has to be and this includes contests for books that will make little or no money but need to be published. Leaves of Grass was self published, Whitman wrote his own reviews of the book in newspapers to get it read, would it had been better if this 'scandal' has been exposed and the most important work of American literature never been published?
So we have a situation in Poetry where some poets; Ron Silliman, William Fuller, John Tipton, Craig Watson, and Me work full time jobs in business and then we have a second job as poets and critics; another group work full time jobs as teachers and professors, people like Liz Willis, Peter Gizzi, Cole Swensen, Jorie Graham, Charles Bernstein, Ed Hirsch, and many others teach full loads, work as poets and are mentors to many within academia and without, and are paid small sums for this great work.
Poetry continues to produce new poets who are important and interesting even though our artform has a financial and marketing challenge that no other artform faces.
So into this milleu we get Foetry.com . Some of the criticisms are valid, established poets mentor less experienced poets, and they champion their work and sometimes they help their mentees to succeed. Poetry is in many ways a small club of the well connected and many of us are frustrated by this but this and are working to open things up but...
This is a scandal?
The question I have is when Drew Barrymore or Sofia Coppola get a leg up on every other person in the United States in Hollywood do we create websites to attack them?
The reality is that in every industry world-wide people have connections that they have either earned by work or gotten because of birth.
For example many people compete for entrance each year into Brown or Iowa-they have worked very hard, they have written work that is important and that will never be picked up by a big publisher they get into these prestigious programs and they make friends and they study with important poets who want to help them to succeed and these professors do what they can for their students. Most of these MFA students leave with huge amounts of debt and no prospect of ever being financially able to live normal lives.
This is a scandal.
In every other business, artform, profession and trade in these United States connections earned or inherited play a part. But, the plumber who helps his son to get into the Union or the lawyer who gets his daughter her first job are not attacked on websites. But poets do get attacked and written about and slandered in the New Yotk Times.
In the end I am not endorsing fake contests. What I am saying is that without contests and the revenue generated by them many small presses would not exist and most poetry books would not be published and most poets would never be heard. I applaud the work done by poets I embrace them all and I say to the editor of foetry how does your website help the artform?
Do Jorie Graham, Matthew Zapruder, Cole Swensen or other poets deserve to be attacked?
No. What needs to be attacked is a society where art is not funded and is ignored.
No. What needs to be attacked is a society where poets cannot live as poets because all publishing decision are based on the blockbuster novel or self help book?
No. What needs to be attacked is a society where we spend more on dog food than we spend on education.
No. What needs to be attacked is that even the worst of Hollywood movies gets millions of dollars while most poetry books sell 3000 copies.