Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Four Parts: Song + Story. Reality + Inference (Monday Love)

T.S. Eliot--Photo from Wikipedia


On the forum, Jepson said:

I read in one of the blogs an argument about performance poetry. One person argued that there is no such thing. They argued that performance poetry is a cheap tactic needed because the poetry is so bad. I don't think it has to be that way. I think if you start with well written poetry on paper then it will make everything else easier. I think we need to breathe some life back into poetry, and that needs to start before we ever go knocking on the publisher's door.

Poetry has become stuffy. It's mutated into this thing we tote around in university textbooks so that academics can browbeat it all day long. We might as well be selling long division. We need to motivate, uplift, piss off, and inspire our audience. It needs to move beyond the 'poets who love poets' club and start a grassroots movement of new readers.

You find an audience who wants to read/hear your work and there won't be any need to enter publishing 'contests.' The publishers will come to you.

Monday Love's response to Jepson:

I think you are speaking to the heart of the matter. The young Philip Sidney was a rock star before there was such a thing.

I hate to blame TS Eliot, because there's many people to blame, and TS Eliot couldn't help it that he wrote a great poem (Prufrock) and then grew old, but...Eliot with his 'difficulty' agenda and his reading/speaking fame which coincided with his old age did a lot of damage to poetry as an exciting art for the young.

Fame has to be carefully crafted before it 'explodes.' The conditions have to be right. The manufacture of Poetry Fame has been handled very badly in the last couple hundred years. It hasn't really been handled at all. Poetry needs cunning Managers.

I've been listening to the 'Poetry Speaks' series of CDs of famous poets reading their work, introduced by Charles Osgood. Anyway, what one notices is the voices are those of old men who sound like frogs or business executives. This is mostly due to the fact that poets don't acquire the fame to get themselves recorded until they are old, and recording technology was just beginning as poets born in the 19th century were getting old.

Of course old men and women should write and read their poetry. Don't get me wrong. But let's be frank about what it takes to get crowds lining up around the block to 'see' poetry. Old TS Eliot could get such crowds, though I think this was mostly at universities. TS Eliot's best stuff also was not 'difficult.' "Prufrock" and "Hollow Men" and a few others are anything but 'difficult.' Eliot had it, whatever it was, although he was a depressed person, beset with personal issues, and so he couldn't bring it very often, I suspect.

If we divide the world into four parts, we have song and story in the 'fiction' realm and info and inference in the 'reality' realm. The two sides of existence, fiction and reality, each have two distinct parts which are exact opposites of each other.

Song is brief and bounded, but its pleasure is indefinite. Story is long, and its pleasure is more definite. Story's popularity (think of novels and film) is based on the fact that the audience becomes immersed in the story of other human beings--the pleasure is based on an acute identification with another human reality. You watch a good play or movie and you are totally absorbed by character and what will happen to them and what they might do to each other. It is the replication of life which we enjoy, and we escape into its existence.

Song, on the other hand, or the poem, allows our minds to wander. Who has not experienced this at a poetry reading? You find yourself thinking of other things. Or sitting at a concert, listening to a piece of music? We free-associate as we listen to the music, whereas if you are watching a good play or film, you are fixated on the protagonist and watching his every move. Even a simple pop song begins a little concert within our own bodies, a sensual pleasure that is not grounded on exact information, but on indefinite feelings. A good play or movie has you interested in what is happening on the stage/screen. A song affects us differently.

So 'song' produces an indefinite pleasure, while 'story' produces a definite one. And songs are not 'difficult.' I was just listening to the current best-selling rock act, "The Black Keys:" their new album, "Attack and Release." It's new, the band is young, it's selling well, but it's just the blues! Their songs are not 'difficult.' Your mind is allowed to wander as you listen to it. Their songs do not demand you pay attention to every note. The chord changes are terribly obvious (it's the blues!) and the drums are obvious and the lyrics are dreamy and simple.

Let's now examine the other realm. In 'reality,' the info is like the 'song,' since it is brief and has definite attributes and a certain internal logic, but here a 'definite' thing is expressed--the information. "Here's how you fix a roof or bake bread." "Would you hand me that hammer, please?" This is how we convey information to each other: through clear, step-by-step, "information-songs." 'Story' is definite in the fiction realm, but indefinite in the reality realm, for here 'story' stands for all the random bits and sensations and speculations and gossip of which life is comprised. 'Story' is the free, random, immersion aspect of 'reality.' It is indefinite.

So Fiction = Song (brief, indefinite) + Story (long, definite). Reality = Info (brief, definite) + Inference (long, indefinite)

The poets erred with the 'difficult' poem. For as the mind strives to understand the 'difficult' poem, it cannot possibly enjoy the song-pleasure. The song-pleasure never forces the mind to think; on the contrary, it frees the mind and allows the senses to enjoy the song (poem). When I listen to Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens read their poetry aloud in these recordings, I don't find I enjoy it at all. Both men strive to be philosophical and thoughtful in their poems and to listen to them read is just a huge bore. And I like these two guys on the page.

But listening to them made me realize something.



Source: Publishers' Reading Fees: Pro or Con? (Make your comments there)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thread: Uncle Lyle Responds

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(Tuesday, June 17, 2008, 12:43 PM)


After Uncle revealed his favorite poems, I asked him to explain what it is about "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and the other poems that attracts him. He said,

Jennifer, You are giving me too much credit and I love it but I am not deserving all the commentary. As you know I was blessed with 3 boys and felt compelled to be a boy scout leader and felt the army training would make me able to offer some ideas to young boys to compete in the future. The poems you refer to are set in the wild wilderness and immediately survival comes to mind and living with nature. You could find a big gold deposit or silver but the real need is food so these poems tell me how to find, identify and eat roots etc. but most of all they paint a beautiful picture in my mind of harmony with nature catching fish and living off the land. Somehow today's concerts and protests ruin the beautiful mental picture. They also offer 2 options as to which path to take but you are aware that animals made the trails so you know there has to be food on both but evil in man has to try to imagine which path has a sucker to fleece [Bold admin emphasis].

You are in the right mode of thought as I do not know a single today poet.
What are your thoughts on Uncle Lyle's comment about imagining the path that "has a sucker to fleece"?

Monday, June 16, 2008, 2:33 PM

I asked Uncle Lyle two questions:

  1. Who are your favorite all-time poets?

  2. Who are your favorite poets writing and publishing today?

His response:

My favorite poets and I do not know many so you will get a narrow view. Frost and Poe.

"The Road not Taken" = Frost

"Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" = Frost

"A Dream Within a Dream" = Poe
Uncle Lyle didn't answer question #2, which I think is telling and offers a possible commentary on the state of modern poetry: that today's poets tend to write and publish for other poets and academia--and NOT for the literature students that sit in their classes or the general public.

Lyle also noted Poe's short story "The Pit and Pendulum" as a favorite.

So why do these two writers endure while many of their contemporaries have fallen along the wayside? Perhaps we can find clues within their own poems:


A Dream Within A Dream

Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?



Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.



The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.



All three poems seem appeal to both academic and a general audience.

I wonder why that is?

Monday, June 16, 2008

"World Championship in Poem Criticism"

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Has anybody noticed it, but temperatures are rising in the PoBiz. There’s even a controversy raging over at, of all places--about Prosody! Indeed, the ivy on the walls of the Academy of American Poets is quivering, and some say bits of plaster are beginning to flake from the ceilings and the doors won’t stay shut.

Oh dear.

The question is, are the Rules of Metrical Analysis as laid out by the Schoolmasters and Prefects at The Academy’s own Forum going to be mandated as the sine qua non for Aspiring Writers to find Success in poetry today in America? Is that the Certificate every poet is going to need?

Well, there are two camps engaged in the dispute, the AAP 'Academicians' on the one hand, strict, self-righteous and undistracted by humor, and a small group of unwashed 'Irridescent Harlequins' led by the critic, Tom West--who also appears from time to time, you might have noticed, on this site.

The argument is about the role of Prosody today in the definition and evaluation of poetry. The AAP Academicians, whose livelihoods, needless to say, depend on teaching the stuff, want everybody to promise to agree that unless you know the AAP On-line Rules of Prosody, and apply them correctly, of course, any poem you write or critical pronouncement you make will be invalid--no "anacrusis" no line, no line no poetry, no poetry no poet, no poet no prize, no prize no job--as simple as that.

So that’s who the AAP Magister Ludis are, who are the Iridescent Harlequins? They’re essentially critical carpet baggers, which is certainly how they appear on the site, and they feel like most tent-show magicians that every trick in the critical bag is valid as long as it works. More than that, and much more threatening to the Magister Ludis, needless to say, the Harlequins feel that obsessively clinging to just one tool at a time is boring, that it's aesthetically extremely limited and wrong, and that it leads to cruelty, dictatorship, and bad poetry.

Needless to say, the Iridescent Harlequins are a scarcely tolerated intervention on a Forum based specifically on tool-control, and in the past weeks two close friends have been quietly banned from the discussion on the grounds they were someone called Christopher Woodman, based on his style, not his IP. Oh, and do take note that the thread on which all this is transpiring is called "On Aspiring Writers Becoming Successful Writers," a TomWest formulation, of course, but started by 'ACommoner'—another Harlequin who along with his wife, a doctor of traditional medicine, take note, has already been stripped of his AAP gown.

19,446 visits too!

Got it, then? You’re the AAP, so you make the tools essential to poetry, for reading it as well as for writing it, and you make it clear you actually own those tools. You've got them and you've patented them, and the Laws of Po-Land decree that without them no one can get certified as an SP (Successful Poet). Like lawyers, a whole gaggle of AAP Para-Critics control access to the Laws of Poetry by making them so complicated and abstruse, and expressed in foreign languages too, of course, that you have to get down on your knees before those same Para-Critics if you want them to pay attention to you, or to assure your security inside and outside the site, or to intimidate other uninitiated poets as you gradually work your way over their heads and all the way on up to the top of the field.

So that’s the Big Fight in progress over at might want to peak in and gawk at it. Here at we've got a circus as well, I mean, we've got the World Championship in Poem Criticism, ATHENA v. DLUX!--which cuts all the Gordian critical knots of control in one sweet, two-handed swoosh. Don’t miss this beautiful exchange, such a powerful example of Can There Be Poem Criticism without PoBiz Criticism, as it’s billed--which is, in case you hadn’t noticed it, the title of Matt Koeske’s essay that opens the eponymous thread. Indeed, this is the sort of criticism we model on as an alternative to the School-room Capitalist Criticism at"School-room Capitalist Criticism" because it functions like a modern Law School (Medieval Guild?) which owns the subject and then sells it to the highest bidder, so to speak--and then inducts that highest-bidder in turn into the Cartel that controls the Racket!

There have been a number of brilliant moments in the Non-Prize Fight on this thread, culminating in Athena's extraordinary evocation of a cracked recording of Edna St Vincent Millay reading her poetry as an example of..... well, we’re not quite sure of what, not being in the habit of defining other people’s feelings either, but certainly of something pretty "universal!" DLUX hotly proclaims it's "Performance Poetry" but Athena equally passionately proclaims "Performance Poetry doesn't exist." And what is so revolutionary about this irreconcilable amour is that it gives us an insight into the very heart of the critical process of activating a poem in such a way that it's no longer just a commodity, that a poem actually IS something and MEANS something of great value--which in poetry today is extremely rare.

Yes, these two very fine Royals, one semi-human (ATHENA) and the other semi-divine (DLUX), have played out for us the finest performance of "Poem Criticism" we’ve yet seen on any poetry site!

So stay tuned!


Thread: Smackdown!

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This is the place to vent about any topic related to the writing community.

Enough said.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Guest Writer: "What IS Poetry?" (Monday Love)

(This post originally appeared as a comment on Can There be Poem Criticism without PoBiz Criticism?. Monday Love has offered his/her definition of poetry [Big bold letters = admin emphasis]. How might we expand on that definition? Or should we? Is poetry like porn and art in that "we know it when we see it"? )

Matt hates po-biz on a personal and visceral level. Plus, because he's a student of Jung, he seeks ways to understand tribal and universal and personal behavior, so he's not motivated to “let go” of his hatred of po-biz on a personal, or a psychological, or a symbolic, or a philosophical level. This is going to make for some interesting insights--and for some rants.

Poetry should always be at the center of our discourse; if po-biz or Jung take over, we're likely to get lost in the woods.

What is Poetry? Poetry, when significant, engages with universal human pains and pleasures in a unique manner.

The chief problem with po-biz is that it has nothing to do with universal human pains and pleasures, but with day-to-day administrative and commercial aspects of what poetry has become in our day--and what has it become?

Does poetry today serve the audience of a Homer or a Dante or a Shakespeare or a Milton or a Pope or a Byron or a Tennyson or a Frost? No, it does not.

“Star Wars” serves the Homer audience. The Bible serves the Dante and Milton audience. Chick-lit serves the Byron and Tennyson audience. Self-help and naturalist non-fiction serves the Frost audience. Pope's audience has simply withered away, or is scattered here and there among the other audiences.

Why should a “Jung person” or a Christian or a “Star Wars” fan read poetry?

In most people's homes today, there is refrigerator poetry and there are discussions around the table in which “poetry” of the kind that is published today can be said to exist.

Poetry emerged after the dark ages as a substitute for religion, but that role has pretty much run its course. Poets are no longer sages or revolutionaries anymore. They have a very local existence, and they don't provide what can not be easily found elsewhere.

Po-biz adherents will simply shrug when they are accused by those like Matt who say they are not “up to task.” They will say, "Look at what poetry has become. That's not our fault."

Monday Love

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Contest: Hollis Summers Poetry Prize 2009

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Tis' the season.

Announcements for this round of contests are beginning to fill my snail mail mailbox, and yesterday brought a call for manuscripts for the 2009 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize.

The fee is $20.00, and the prize is $1,000--all things considered, not too bad.

However, their statement on judging should be cause for concern (the bold font has been added for emphasis):
Previous judges include: David Lehman, Mary Kinzie, David Yezzi, James Cummins, Alan Shapiro, Rachel Hadas, Carolyn Kizer, Eavan Boland, Andrew Hudgins, Louis Simpson, and Miller Williams. The final judge for the competition will be announced when the winner is named in April. Individual criticism of manuscripts cannot be given.
Based on that policy, I would not recommend this contest (See Ideal Guideline #1).

If the final judge is kept a secret, how can an entrant know whether or not he/she knows the judge?

What if it turns out the entrant has won and he/she turns out to be a student or even relative of the judge? Will the prize still be awarded to that person?

Also, if the judge recognizes the entrant's work and based on that information eliminates the entrant's manuscript, will the entrant receive a fee refund?

Potential entrants might do well to ask these questions before submitting to the Hollis Summers contest. Their website does not offer much more in the way of guidelines, so you might try their contact page.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Florida Florida Florida: Tim Russert 1950-2008

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Tim Russert, political commentator and host of NBC's Meet the Press, collapsed and died earlier today while working on this week's broadcast.

Tom Brokaw, former anchor of NBC's Nightly News, announced, in a broken voice, the news earlier today.

According to current NBC News anchor Brian Williams, Russert was a huge proponent of the First Amendment and was instrumental in assuring that the first amendment greet visitors to the newly constructed Newseum, which opened April 18, 1997, in Rosslyn, Virginia, and then reopened in Washington, D.C, April 11, 2008.

Most of us remember Russert's famous "whiteboard analysis," especially in 2000 when he emphasized Florida's major role in the presidential election. On a simple whiteboard, he wrote,



Russert's whiteboard analysis had continued throughout the 2008 primary season as he numerically showed how Hillary Clinton's candidacy was no longer viable.

His cutting analyses on Meet the Press and his strong journalistic voice will be missed.

Survivors include Russert’s wife, Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair Magazine, and their son, Luke.

Ideal Contest/Reading Fee Guidelines (A Work in Progress)

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As a public service, I am slowly building a Literary Contest/Reading Fee Guidelines document; I'm doing this because paying entrants ought to be well-informed about what a contest or reading fee offers, in terms of entry costs, transparency, fairness, and awards.

The first place to start: Foetry's archive, where you'll find accounts of literary magazine contest misbehavior and cronyism. If these accounts don't cause you to run in the other direction, then look at publisher guidelines themselves. If something about the guidelines isn't clear, then you should e-mail the people in charge of the contest. If they don't answer via e-mail, move on. If you are considering plunking down $20-$30 to enter a contest, you should not have to jump through the SASE hoop just for clear information. If enough people ask questions, perhaps contest organizers will offer better, fairer, and clearer guidelines.

If the answers are less than satisfactory, that in itself offers important information, and you might consider moving on.

In my opinion, fee-based literary contests should offer the following information (along with the usual deadlines, dollar amount of prizes, proper size of envelope, manuscript formatting, etc.):

  1. Name of judges, including their institution affiliations (current and past) and credentials or a link to the judges' websites with this information. Don't accept the argument that judges will be unduly harassed if their identities are known to contest entrants. This is why emails have delete buttons. Within the contest guidelines, it should be clear to entrants that if they initiate contact with the judges, they will be immediately eliminated from the contest and will not receive a refund of their fees.

  2. Explanation of the screening process; for example, how many of the manuscripts do the "big name" judges actually read? Many entrants enter contests because of a certain judge, but if the judge only reads 5% of the manuscripts, then you will have probably wasted your money. Your manuscript is likely to be screened by graduate students, faculty, and staff.

  3. A judging time line and when entrants may expect to hear the results.

  4. How the contest is funded (e.g., is the contest fee- or grant- driven, either private or government). Fee-driven contests can be dicey, especially if the number of entrants doesn't meet the magazine's financial expectations (see Zoo Press and more Zoo Press).

  5. If a university or college contest, whether students, faculty, and/or staff from the sponsoring institution are eligible (if they are, you might want to consider looking elsewhere because, no matter what anyone tells you, insiders almost always have an edge over outsiders).

  6. Whether or not manuscripts will be considered anonymously. You would do well to avoid publishers who pretend not to be running a writing contest--these publishers often refer to contest fee as "reading fees"--and do NOT read submissions anonymously. You should avoid contests and "reading fee" publishers that don't remove your identification before sending your manuscript off to screeners and the final judge. Note: most publishers do not charge "reading fees," and one should be wary of editors/publishers who charge to read your manuscript. Find an editor who will read and consider your work for free.

  7. What happens if the final judge recognizes a writer's work. Will that manuscript be automatically eliminated, or will it be business as usual?

  8. Will manuscripts that have not been specifically entered into the contest also be considered for awards in this particular contest? If, so, run like the wind (See a Chronicle of Higher Education article (May 20, 2005) on Jorie Graham and Peter Sacks).

  9. If, for your contest fee, you will receive something tangible in return, such as a book or subscription. Beware of intangible services, such as Tupelo's 2006 promise to comment on every poetry manuscript submitted to the contest. I recommend that you avoid contests that don't offer something tangible in return for the reading fee.

  10. If the selection of winners will be guaranteed. Only freebie contests should have the "We reserve the right not to award prizes" disclaimer. Otherwise, if judges cannot select a winner, the organizers ought to return contest fees to the entrants.

If I have forgotten something, let me know.

Until literary contests begin policing themselves, it will be up to YOU to do your research, and when you see less than stellar guidelines, hang onto your checkbook, AND let us know about slippery guidelines (along with a link). We WILL take them to task.

Best to all,


(Disclaimer: a version of this post originally appeared on Post Foetry on May 31, 2007. These guidelines are a work in progress; it is hoped that AWP, Poets & Writers, The Academy of American Poets, and CLMP will embrace tougher reading and contest fee standards and suspend member organizations that violate them. Meanwhile, will keep chipping away at po-biz "business as usual." If nothing else,we can do our part to educate potential contest entrants so that they can make informed decisions about literary contests before sending money.

As always, your views are welcome.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Forum Thread: Publishers' Reading Fees: Pro or Con?

As more small publishers begin charging reading fees, you might want to conduct some serious research before writing those checks.

For example, Google "Iowa" + "Foetry" and see what you find. Better yet, try "Tupelo Press" + "Foetry" or even "Tupelo Press" + "" Then make your decision whether or not you'll write and send that check.

Educate yourself. Love everyone, but trust no one until you do a little digging. Trust your intuition, but only after you do your homework.

Make sure that your target publishers don't have a history of taking your money and then engaging in cronyism and questionable publishing practices. It's one thing for an owner/editor to grant publishing contracts to his/her friends when no contest and/or reading fee money is involved, but do you really want to fund the editor's friends' writing career at the expense of your pocketbook?

Twenty-five dollars here, and thirty-five dollars there. After a while it begins to add up.

For a mere $7.00 - $35.00 a year, you could register your own snappy domain name and set up your own online press. It's not difficult to do. Set up a Blogger or WordPress blog for free, publish a "Call for Manuscripts," and in you're in business. You can then publish your friends' work. Your friends can set up their own domain names and blogs and then publish your work. And beyond the domain names, it won't cost either of you a dime. And if you don't mind "blogspot" or "WordPress" in your URL, you don't even need a domain name.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

The 20th Century method: set up a press, send out fliers, and buy ads in all the major writing magazines. Publish a few issues, and then set up a contest, and advertise that as well. Schmooze at conferences and get grant money from your new friends who have been appointed by the NEA, etc., to hand out money. Then when you are appointed to dole out public money, you return the favor.


And if you aren't in this loop, you might as well forget about it.

But don't worry about it--you now live in the 21st century and have the web at your hands for
  • Research

  • Self-Publishing

  • Publishing others' work

You can actually earn a little money by blogging, and some people make a lot of money at it, so why place your writing career in the hands of a stranger who doesn't give a damn about you or your work?

Learn your way around a computer and the web, and forget about the "old" ways of getting published. Learn a bit about Search Engine and Keyword Optimization. And don't be afraid of html. Get computer savvy asap. The web offers a lot of free articles, and much of it is accurate, even Wikipedia.

Other reasons not to pay a reading/contest fee:

  • If you're an unknown, it's basically a crap shoot. As a former editor, I can tell you how easy it is for a screener to miss a good poem, story, or essay. If you are known to the editor, your work will get a more careful reading, and don't believe otherwise. If you are unknown, your work will receive a perfunctory glance.

  • Your work may not be ready for publication (one must always consider this possibility).

  • Your writing style might not suit the taste of the publisher, screener, and/or judge (a lot of hoops to jump through).

Before sending a reading or contest fee, watch for these red flags:

  • The publisher consistently publishes the same poets and writers. If this is a contest that advertises manuscript "anonymity," this is a definite red flag.

  • You receive nothing for your fee except a form rejection letter.

  • The screeners and final judges are anonymous.

  • The publisher consistently selects the work of friends, family, and former students and professors (finding this out may require a little digging).

  • The publisher has a history of dubious behavior.
I last entered a contest in 2005; I sent my contest entry from an Eastern European country (where I was living at the time) at considerable expense. At the time, I was very naive and was under the mistaken impression that the final judge would be reading all the entries.

I then stumbled upon Foetry and quickly discovered the reality: that typically, only 5-10% of all manuscripts are forwarded to the final judge. In addition, unless you know if the preliminary screeners are graduate students or professionals, then you are not properly informed.

As much as I enjoy reading some of my students' work, I certainly wouldn't want them to judge my work because I understand all too well that their critical/ analytical abilities are not yet quite developed; some of them are still writing about wads of snot in search of the Holy Grail (I'm not kidding, either). Would you want a judge who develops piece of snot as the protagonist of his story to make a screening decision about your work?

Obviously I am biased against paying an editor/publisher to read writers' work, and I will not pretend otherwise or apologize for this viewpoint.

However, I am willing to consider what you think about this practice. If someone can make a compelling argument in favor of reading fees as part of the publishing model , I will even elevate it to a post.

By the way, can someone please tell me the difference between a reading and a contest fee?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Can There Be Poem Criticism Without PoBiz Criticism?

This post grew out of the conversation in the Comments section of the post "Thread: Writing Forum Survey" . . . and is oriented especially as a response to Monday Love's comment (#13). As the scope of Monday Love's (and the below post's) topic is much larger than any response to the survey, I thought it would benefit from having a topic of its own.

I'm inclined to take a small (?) detour from the insightful and compelling argument of Monday Love (regarding the dynamic of polarized insider/outsider coteries in the poetry world today and the relation of this dynamic to the functional criticism of poems themselves) posted in the comment section of the post: "Thread: Writing Forum Survey". I'm not so certain that discussion of poetry can or should stand in the place of a discussion about the current social and psychological behaviors and attitudes of poets or of the PoBiz (if that is was Monday was implying). I tend to see it the other way around, i.e., no functional discussion of poetry can take place without first "deconstructing" (and more importantly, understanding) the platforms from which those discussing speak . . . and perceive. My feeling is that this blockage is due to a "tribalization" inherent to the PoBiz organizational dynamic. In other words, various splinter schools of thought in poetry do not have any successful interactions or relationships with one another (no cross-pollination . . . they don't even have an abstracted symbiotic relationship in the same ecosystem).

Take the various tribes that seem to cluster around poststructuralist, academic notions of language, the "post-avant" or those influenced by language poetry and by postmodern, culture-theory-laden, literary criticism and philosophy. They come up with new names for their tribes pretty frequently. They are fashion horses for the clothing of names ("signifiers"), but the mindsets and core beliefs don't change (nor does the love of naming things for the sake of naming things). From what I've seen, the various splinter tribes that could be categorized by these things do not very often self-criticize the writing within the tribe, but often write scathingly about more "mainstream" poetic styles, using intellectually derogatory terms like "quietude" to issue a merely tribalistic or prejudicial rejection of those poets who don't belong to the "post-avant" tribe.

At the same time, those poets who identify strongly with the mainstream, "workshop-bred" writing that most classrooms and poetry journals are devoted to, respond to the "post-avants" with general ignorance. It seems to me that any discussion of poetry and poetics between these two groups is essentially pointless, because tribal prejudices eclipse any functional reflection on the poetry itself. One might as well listen to the politician's campaign ad slam of his or her opponent in the hope of getting a fair, critical assessment of that opposing candidate. If we are to provide useful critiques and reflections on the poetry coming out of these two (perhaps the largest two?) camps, we must write from a perspective that transcends or avoids the tribalistic, Us vs. Them warfare. This doesn't require poetic knowledge or "good taste" or critical expertise so much as it requires a psychological and sociological understanding of group behavior (especially, in my opinion, of tribalistic group behavior . . . which is the conventional social structure of academia, precisely where today's poets inherited it . . . with a surprising eagerness to join and partake of the empowerment of "professionalization", and with a distinct lack of reflection, I might add).

Equally, the understanding of how contemporary poetry publication impacts what kind of poetry is published, taught, and celebrated cannot be derived entirely from an examination of the poems (and the complimentary ignorance of those poems that are generally not getting published). We would need to understand the dynamics of the market, how and why it buys and sells what it does . . . how money comes into the publication system and who is giving and receiving and channeling this money. That seems especially important to me because the two largest sources of funding for poetry today are (I believe) contest submission fees and grants (from government and other organizations). It is hard to calculate another channel of funding, which comes from the tuition of the many thousands of undergraduate and MFA students who are paying universities to make them into poets and/or help give them access to publication venues. Only people as starry-eyed and detached as academic poets could ignore the realities of market systems and economics in this capitalistic day and age . . . divorcing themselves both from modern reality and from the scope of thought beyond their specialized field (as a creationist might ignore evolutionary biology's ideas and research).

I think that what happens all too often in the poetry world today is that the poets are not really analyzing and questioning the system in which they strive to create and find identity and audience. They are not asking how the system affects poetry, defines poetry, determines poetry in America. Poets are not looking at the systemic level, at complexity and interrelation. They are looking only at the short term and only through the lens of abstract ideologies that falsely present contained sets of conditions, as if poetry today existed only in its own little Petri dish. They are thinking in terms of "How can I get published/find an audience/gain status (and maybe a career teaching)?" They are not considering externalities or consequences of the system. They are not asking whether the system commodifies poetry or how that commodification affects what poetry is or how it is defined (by the PoBiz system).

Poets feel their world and their ambitions are so small that there could not possibly be such externalities . . . but if poets were 1/10th as well-read in the psychology of groups and crowds (and tribes) or in the study of complex systems, they might be more inclined to understand how cause and effect occur in such a system. The naive faith that many poets share regarding the "smallness" of the poetry world is effectively negated by the lack of adequate diversity in that world. I mean the lack of poetic diversity, the lack of a diversity of attitudes toward poetry, poetic status, and publication. When the vast majority of the agents (an anthropology term denoting individual volition and some degree of self-interest, not meant to imply anything like "agent provocateur" to the more paranoid readers out there) in this social system are doing and wanting the same things, the system does not benefit from the counterbalances (i.e., "self-regulations") greater diversity could provide.

Another common belief among poets is that anything that benefits the increased publication of poetry is an absolute good. This belief is the typical reaction of poets to the recognition that poetry is not widely read or paid attention to in America. Therefore (they conclude), it requires some kind of "affirmative action". There is no contemplation among most poets of how this "affirmative action at any cost" might negatively affect the system and the poetry it produces. There is also little to no reflection on the fact that boosting poetry book and journal sales with grant and contest money does nothing to encourage non-poetry readers to start reading contemporary poetry. The audience for poetry is an audience of poets, almost entirely. Another fact that is not often noted is that there are more poetry books published each year in contemporary America than there every were in previous (less-academic) eras. Some poets who have recognized this flaw in the notion that poetry publication requires social welfare subsidization have hailed this as a golden age in poetry publication. But again, this glut of poetry publication is funded largely by aspiring poets paying contest fees on the gamble that they, too, can be published poets, poets of status. The sales of contemporary poetry books to non-poets or those who do not aspire to become poets is dismal (as most would expect).

I think it is essential that we look at facts like these and contemplate the effect they could have on the character and quality of American poetry. And this, I think, should be done before any aesthetic discussion of published poetry can be entirely valid. In other words, I suspect that there is a very strong effect on the character and quality of poetry based on a simple observation of the current publication system.

And I mean with this that we should go back to fundamentals in the criticism and study of poetry. We should be asking all over again, "What is a poem? What defines poetry? What defines a poet?" When I read contemporary poetry, one of the primary questions I ask of the poem and poet is "What are you doing to make sure this poem is not a commodity of the PoBiz marketplace? What and where is the individual (unaffiliated) vision behind this poem." Almost every contemporary poem I have read fails this personal criterion, because the poem and its author seem to lack the awareness that poetry is even in danger of commodification. The great disease of today's poetry is a lack of awareness of the larger world, of humanity as a species in its modern predicament. Today's poetry mostly looks academically specialized and small-minded to me in the same way that most academic writing has no appeal or meaning to non-academic readers, readers who are not professionals in the specific field being written about. From my perspective, most of today's poetry looks exactly like it was written within an academic market system like the PoBiz offers . . . and without any awareness of the compromises and dangers such a system presents to art and to the evolution and adaptivity of language itself.

As an additional minor note, although I don't deny that the dynamic Monday Love describes (in which an outsider/insider polarization exists) can potentially occur, I haven't personally seen any real evidence of this in today's poetry world. What I have seen is very few outsiders and poetry dissidents . . . a surprisingly tiny number, in fact, especially considering that I have also observed a great deal of dissatisfaction (even in academia) with the current state of poetry and its publication. Of the dissidents I've met, I've yet to meet one whose poetry (if I had the opportunity to see it) struck me as absolutely aesthetically defiant of PoBiz or contemporary academic conventions. Much, even the well-written and most interesting, was "regressive" and resembled the poetry of an earlier era. "Regressive" is not meant as a criticism here. It's merely meant to indicate that the poetry did not really directly challenge the PoBiz system in its conception or style . . . except in the sense that fundamentalisms always react against modernisms (i.e., not progressively). What I'm saying is that I have yet to read any contemporary poetry that really progressively transcended the inheritance and indoctrination of our PoBiz era.

Back in the days, I once questioned whether one could be a true "Poet" these days by writing poetry at all. Perhaps the qualities and voice that defined and/or should define a Poet (e.g., individual vision, functional innovation in thought and language, the desire and effort to speak to and for a large and diverse social collective, to articulate the thoughts, feelings, and voices this collective can't seem to put into words, etc.) have been barred from the language form published and labeled as poetry. Of course, most poets were and will be nonplussed by this proposition. But I still feel this notion is viable. And by "poetry" here I am not referring to poetic stylings, spoken word, rap, performance oration, etc. . . . but to what is defined (by the PoBiz) as poetry, what literary artifacts are deemed "poems" by the poetry establishment, what is published in "poetry journals" and in "poetry books".

In the very small, very underground, very disorganized resistance to the PoBiz, there is simply not enough mass and muscle to create the kind of self-defeating polarization with the "insiders" that Monday Love describes. As far as I have seen, outsider poetry of literary quality (not just adolescent, neo-Beat, rebellion poetry) has yet to be written in America. Or if it has been written, it has yet to find an audience or be disseminated or recognized . . . even by an underground of "Anti-Foets". I would even venture the guess that we, none of us, know what such poetry would even look like. It hasn't yet been conceived, because in order to conceive it, we would have to throw off the shackles of the PoBiz indoctrinations, monopolies, and colonizations that still imprison our thinking about poetry. I suspect that it is only after these shackles are slipped that we will be able to embark on the creation of such a poetry (or poetries, more likely). And that creation will not begin with a bang of genius, but with fumbling in the dark, wild misses at a glorified goal. Moreover, only when great critics discover, comprehend, and promote this poetry effectively would any sort of movement be able to start.

I think that there is some genuinely good and a great deal of well-written poetry coming out of the PoBiz publication factory . . . but any truly great and revolutionary poetry must, I feel, cut its umbilical cord to the PoBiz clean through and find a wholly new soil to stand on and cultivate in. This has, I believe, been the model of many if not all the major movements in poetry recognized today. Reinvention. Not an absolute reinvention (which is probably impossible), but a recognition and rejection of the element of contemporary poetry that makes it moribund. I believe that this moribund element of today's poetry is the PoBiz. And the PoBiz is a set of beliefs, ideologies, dogmas, habits, taboos, and totems (perpetuated and empowered by an indoctrinating, academic market system). The PoBiz is a culture unto itself, a mindset, a collective way of being a poet that is not only accessible for more aspiring poets than any previous forge of poet-making, but is actually a purchasable commodity. Poethood can be purchased today, and this purchase is significantly easier than earning poethood through the old-fashioned means, an individuating "trial by fire", an initiation not into the tribe, but into unaffiliated selfhood. The kind of selfhood that is not bolstered and comforted by a group of like-minded believers. This poetic selfhood is also every bit as much a strangerhood.

It is this strangerhood, in my opinion, that the PoBiz has emerged to protect aspiring (and practicing) poets against. The fear of individuated strangerhood is a great menace to poets and always has been, claiming many victims in every era of human life and creation. But I think we need to start seriously contemplating that, menace though it may be, such initiation into strangerhood could very well be the truly essential "education" one needs to become a Poet. Accepting and enduring this threshold of self-creation had always been the traditional and ritual poet-maker . . . until it was replaced by the model of purchasable poethood the PoBiz now mass-produces and sells. We must, at the bare minimum, ask of this transformation: what was lost and what was gained? And what is the value of each?

--Matt Koeske

Introducing Poetry, Inc: In Search of 100 Bloggers

We're serious: Let 'er R.I.P.

Poetry, Inc, developed with nary a plan in mind and launched on June 10, 2008, intends to take poetry snark to yet another level--

A lower level?

Who can say? We're too new to know...

Consider us the funny aunt or uncle to

Do you like humor, satire, parody, and just plain snark?

Do you believe that Poetry, Inc (a.k.a. the poetry establishment) has itself become a parody and is worthy of humorous jabs at its antics and perps?

Are you hankering to write comedy for Comedy Central or Conan O'Brien?

If so, apply to join Team Poetry, Inc. In the subject line, type "I Want To Join Team Poetry, Inc!"

We are in search of 100 snarkers (Blogger's absolute limit) to join our snark project.

We can't promise that your participation will lead to bigger and better things--in fact you may even end up on the Poetry Blacklist!

To apply for this double-edged honor, paste in your email a sample of your writing:

--Humorous/snarky poetry

--Humorous/snarky prose

Snark on!


Guest Writer: Monday Love Weighs in on "Foetry Politics"

(This post has been elevated from the comment section of the Writing Forum Survey. In his post Can There Be Poem Criticism Without PoBiz Criticism?, Matt Koeske responds to Monday Love.)

Many who love poetry look at ‘foetry politics’ and say, ‘but what’s this got to do with poetry? If editors and poets use creative marketing and fund-raising methods which are not pure as the driven snow, if coteries exist in which friends support each other, so what? This has always been done and always will be done, and there are enough honest platforms out there for poetry, so what’s the big deal? If I really love poetry, why should I care about this nonsense? It’s trivial to me.’ probably needs to answer this question.

Corruption is more wide-spread than anyone realizes.

Po-biz is very, very small and almost all the coteries are connected, and if you don’t happen to belong to one of these coteries, you really will lose out on a slice of the pie.

'Group-think’ permeates po-biz, due to the existence of coteries. This is a subtle point, because it is true that coteries and ‘group-think’ which arises due to coterie behavior is normal and there is nothing wrong with it, per se.

However, since poetry does suffer from a severe lack of open markets (because poetry doesn’t sell on its own and requires university subsidy and fees collected from contests which are run and won and judged by a relatively small group, consisting largely of these defined coteries) this ‘group-think’ does stifle free discourse, not from any conspiracy, but simply from the nature of coterie group-think, which, again, is quite normal.

“Group-think’ is really a misnomer, because ‘thinking’ isn’t really what occurs; it’s really a non-thinking gesture which prevails, an irritation with lively and original investigation; any ‘thinking outside the box’ is viewed with suspicion, since the insularity of 'group-think' is unconsciously rewarded and defended for the survival of what is essentially an entity which exists accidentally, not out of any necessity.

Coteries exist for themselves, not for the sorting and processing and development of new knowledge, and too much activity in the ‘knowledge’ area sends out warning signals to the coterie or club. Coteries always appear ‘innocent,’ precisely because they are ‘accidental’ (they contain persons X, Y, and Z for various social reasons, and most, if not all, are perfectly healthy reasons).

Coteries are ‘innocent,’ because they exist, not abstractly, but socially; they have no agenda beyond, ‘these are my friends and we together doing what we love.’

These ‘innocent persons’ are the first to protest when ‘necessity’ is introduced: “You are nothing but a coterie, you are not helping poetry, per se, poetry requires a more systematic investigation of…” These sorts of comments are those which immediately send up the flags, and this, in a nutshell, characterizes the current struggle between “Foets and anti-Foets” in poetry, today.

The coteries react with ‘innocent’ indignation (‘you hate us merely because we exist’) and the outsiders reply, ‘yes we hate you because you exist (for yourselves) merely.’

What gives the debate outlined above even more momentum is the following: The coteries become more and more enamored of the 'friendly' nature of the coterie-process and gradually become less enamored with intellectual debate and process, while the outsiders continue to become more enamored with intellectual debate and process, resenting more and more the friendly nature of the coterie process.

The rift widens, and the two sides become more and more irritated with the signals given off by either side. The coteries can smell the type who is ‘desperate for argument,’ while the outsiders feel they are quickly labeled a ‘troublemaker’ for daring to argue about anything substantial. The ‘anti-argument’ and the ‘argument’ sides solidify into their respective identities, and the end result is that the coteries grow more and more anti-intellectual while the outsiders grow more and more ferociously intellectual and argumentative; but even worse, the status quo of the coteries, in order to secure intellectual respect, will strive to be intellectual in highly bizarre and technical ways, while the outsiders, striving to appear friendly, to make up for a lack in that regard, turn timid and acquiescent--thus both the outsider’s passion AND the inquisitive intellectuality of the insider’s coterie-status quo become diminished to such an extent, that poetry loses even the minor edge it once possessed.

A great dishonesty finally prevails, with coteries pretending to be intellectual in more and more Byzantine ways, scaring more and more laypersons away, while poetry outsiders fall into toothless and ‘out-of-touch’ impotency.

Since poetry is ‘market impotent’ in general, coteries come and go fairly quickly, even occasionally receiving new blood from the quarrelsome, anti-social outsider.

So the rift exists in the first place, then becomes diminished, and sometimes disappears, but in a process, as described above, which damages poetry as a social entity and as an art.

Discussion within poetry loses effectiveness, for no one is talking to each other about poetry with an independent spirit; fashionable theories and ideas are repeated and shallowly discussed, everyone looks to each other, attempting to get clues as to what to say next, radical anti-intellectual statements are allowed to pass, since no one is prepared, to defend, in any substantive manner, any intellectual idea or principle, the whole of this idea having been eroded by groups staking out positions in the manner described above.

So here we are back to where we started: “for no one is talking to each other about poetry” and this was the initial complaint upon which I launched this commentary. It may be pointed out that I am guilty of the same thing, since here, at some length, I am demonstrating the problem of which I complain: verbosity which has nothing to with poetry; but the careful reader will see that I am clearing ground so that discussion of poetry might exist in a more fruitful manner; and also I would remind the reader that poetry can not be boiled down to ‘itself;’ the structure of po-biz will always matter, just as who writes the canon and the textbooks and the reviews and who writes the poetry, will always matter, beyond ‘the poetry’ itself.

Monday Love

Poetry, Inc.--The Great Vanity Publishing Network & Cover-up

To comment to this post, please go here.

This anonymous Comment was originally posted on June 5, 2008, at 12.04 p.m. as a reply to HOMPRANG HAMMERED before H.H. was elevated to a post and then deleted from the comment section.

Christopher [Woodman] is like a character in a John Grisham thriller. The law firm of American Poetry, Inc. is a great Vanity Publishing Network and the cover-up is more horrible than the crime.

If not John Grisham, then the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Dracula, or a terrifying scenario more horrific, where poets are zombies who feed off innocent flesh: the minds, hearts, souls and money of ‘paying poetry customers,’ the would-be poet and hasty poetry reader who has scanned a few contemporary poems and said to themselves “I can do that.”

The living dead of Poetry, Inc. are no longer concerned with Poetry and its readers, Poetry and its history, for all “readers” are now would-be poets willing to pay for the privilege of being ‘poets’ in a shadowy realm of ‘contemporary anthology’ pretense, manufactured by the lawyers of Poetry, Inc. You sign on the dotted line at the nearest MFA recruitment center and agree to participate in the game: you agree to never ask why it is always night, why some things are just ‘not discussed,’ why the poets wear blank looks and carry black appointment books and blithely abet the pyramid scheme of money-laundering for the secret muse.

Woodman met a ‘respected’ official of the poetry world, a gentleman calling himself ‘editor’ and ‘poet,’ warm his voice, with unctuous flattery, but once, when Woodman looked away, this smiling editor, with teeth shining like ice, suddenly lurched towards Mr. Woodman’s neck. Woodman looked up in horror. Was it a dream? The ‘editor’ drifted back into the night, complaining he was busy, and had so many clients who needed his expertise. Woodman followed, and met up with a woman who hissed at him like a snake, warning him to leave the gentleman ‘poet’ alone. Woodman went to Policemen and Writers, to the Academy of Poets, Toads, and Spiders, seeking help. Every policeman and toad he encountered had the same blank look and—could it be?—he heard the hissing sound of that woman in a nearby room…

Madness, I tell you! Madness! The record of Woodman’s complaint! Gone! It was all a dream! Come away, Christopher, come away! In the shadows, here, down by the earthen lake, your fate awaits you, the raven flies and beneath the hidden moon, she is waiting, the proper one, with the ghost-white guidelines in her slender hands…the icy caress of the secretary muse…of Police & Writers...Poets.Ogre...

Poetry, Inc.!

Monday, June 9, 2008 Survey: A Narrative Response

Please comment on this post here.

(The following essay by Matt Koeske appeared as a comment to Thread: Writing Forum Survey--admin.)

I'm very happy to see this conversation happening. I mean the one that evolved out of the survey more so than any direct reply to the survey's questions. I am entirely in favor of the ever-vigilant examination of the rhetoric of us who identify as "outsiders" and support's and's missions. And Robocop's points [comment section] are, in my opinion, excellent ones . . . and without the whiff of elitist/insider dismissal of the other that is what we "others" tend to hear so much of the time.

For instance, I think Robocop is entirely correct in suggesting that the rhetoric of this survey is misleading in a partisan way. That is, the subtext of the survey implies and reinforces an outsider/insider or tyrant/victim dynamic between forum moderators ("insiders") and unaffiliated and "dangerous" dissidents ("outsiders"). I found that I was not able to really answer most of these questions, at least not simply . . . as I found them leading and inclined to simplify and pigeonhole responses and responders. Not that I failed to understand and appreciate the subtext of the survey. The sentiment (tinged with necessary outrage and drive to change) is valid and extremely important, but perhaps the time for such a survey and its implication of an Us vs. Them call to arms has not yet come. And I mean primarily that those called on to "join the outsider army" are being asked to pick sides before they have been convinced or otherwise (honestly) wooed. It's not time yet to dig foxholes (and may never be).

That said, my only experiences on a poetry forum have been with and, and a handful of the same people have been involved with both. On I know my voice will be tolerated and probably even appreciated much of the time. My experience with was mixed. Many people seemed to appreciate my more essayistic and "literary" posts, but a number of Foetry regulars made it clear that forum posts were "supposed to be" short, simple, unreflectively emotive, and free of argument (in favor of bald and unexamined opinion). I saw this as small-minded and self-defeating, and I continued to both write my essay-posts and to argue for the value of such a development of argument and idea. I owe it to the awareness and respect of Alan Cordle that he also saw value in my approach and entrusted largely to me after he retired. That is perhaps not the most accurate way to explain what really happened. In fact, when Alan retired, I tried to argue for a coalition of the regulars (the "Anti-foets") to collectively take charge and install no leadership.

As I was perhaps the leading voice in stumping for this democratic coalition, it turned out that (as anyone involved in activism might expect) I ended up with the lion's share of the responsibilities. I tended to see this as similar to the common cartoon scene where one person is volunteered because s/he forgot to step backward along with everyone else in line. Even though I repeatedly declared that I was happy to do anything I could to further the cause of (within the scope of my sense of ethics), I did not in any way want to be in charge of . . . as it turned out, that was precisely what happened (and by default rather than election, I might add).

My one year tenure as's admin was admittedly frustrating for me. I attempted to push Foetry toward becoming a more journalistic PoBiz news source and "poet's advocate" information archive. I argued for organization, better research and presentation, and a new dedication to fair-mindedness and clarity. But I tried to remain conscious of the fact that I was, ideologically, more radical than many of the Anti-foets when it came to my objections to the PoBiz system (which I felt should be both boycotted and critically deconstructed). Recognizing this, I made every effort to not stamp with my personal philosophies. A significant part of doing this was to call for volunteers to take on various projects (research, mission statement writing, organization and verification of evidence against poets and judges involved in contest and publication improprieties, a formal FAQ addressing the many repeated questions and attacks received to which no definitive and readily available answers were available, etc.

But perhaps because this sense of a conscientious and more-professional, grassroots, activist organization required more disciplined (and more carefully reflected upon) efforts from a "staff", combined with the general disillusionment we all shared regarding Alan's retirement, things never came together as I had hoped (and felt was necessary in order to make viable and useful for poets). At the same time, I was an odd "choice" as an admin, because (similarly to Alan) I had already "retired" from the whole poetry game by this time and stopped writing and reading poetry. My investment was based entirely on the fact that I felt what wanted to achieve was a just objective and greatly needed support from those who recognized this (and also had the sense to direct this objective and the grassroots outrage behind it toward useful, ethical, and intelligent reform).

But I came to feel that if I, a person who had lost interest in poetry in almost every way and no longer had any personal poetic ambitions, was the most enthused about the cause, the future of the cause was in sorry shape. I was ready to move off into my prose writing and pursuits of psychology, so I felt ready to retire from along with Alan. We discussed this and agreed that it was time to shut down . . . feeling that handing off the reins to yet another loyal supporter was bound to only pass the buck and stick them with the same burdensome situation that we found impossible to resolve. Our hope was that, if anyone really had the drive to continue the mission, s/he would simply start over and do so on his or her own and sans's baggage.

And this is precisely what Jennifer has done . . . and I hope she can understand that the reasoning Alan and I implemented in our closing of Foetry was intended to be an act of kindness and support for whoever took up the standard next . . . and not an attempt at forbidding access to a resource.

I mention all of this in the hope that it will serve as one example of the difficulties of constructing any kind of forum community and suggesting that there are all kinds of ways in which an ideal of that community fails to function in act. Humanity must be preserved at all costs in any organization . . . and that includes individualism, a right to speak and to disagree even with one's fellows. At, we are just beginning, and there will be growing pains. I am completely tolerant of this, but at the same time, I have already (both privately and publicly) spoken out on behalf or restraint and careful strategy. What I appreciate (and recognize as a rarity in any group dynamic) is that my cautions have been seriously considered by all those involved in This dynamic is pushing us closer to a democratic ideal, where decisions are made with collective reflection while also giving plenty of space for individual expression. Instead of the group (or a dictator's) psychology conforming the published products at, the group has given the right of equality and voice to all who would speak. And so far, there has been a significant amount of self-criticism on this forum.

This is such a unique and wonderful thing, that I hope it will come to be appreciated and respected by more and more who visit And I hope that many of these people will understand that the beginnings of this kind of functional democracy are going to have their hiccups and belches. I'm reminded of the Dr. Seuss story, "Yertle the Turtle", in which a "plain little turtle named Mack" finds that the only way to rock the ridiculous system of King Yertle's oppressive supremacy is to issue a small burp . . . and the whole hierarchical stack of turtles comes crashing back into the pond. I think there should be tolerance for these occasionally "unseemly" burps coming from those people on the bottom of the stack, those people barred from entering the Kingdom of Poetry. This tolerance and understanding of the nature of dissent and outrage are what (as far as I have seen) are most lacking in the criticisms and dismissals of (and coming from "insiders" and PoBiz devotees and wannabes.

The main reason I wanted to be involved with when I joined was to contribute the thing I realized was my most useful attribute: balance and rational (or at least complex and articulate) philosophy. I didn't want to just jump in and amplify the voice of outrage and injury that already rang out loudly from I felt that what lacked was a devotion to credibility and an adequate consideration of how others not in its camp perceived its rhetoric. If the harshest critics and smug dismissers of had been correct about the "shrill, self-centered whining in the name of sour grapes", then Alan and the other devoted people at would have made every effort to dispose of me and my attempts to encourage balance and credible reform. But not only did that not happen, I even wound up as the admin of the site.

That is a testament to the intelligence and fairness of this group . . . the best and brightest of which have reemerged to keep fighting the good fight through These good people are capable of reason and change. But sometimes we will make blunders in the pursuit of a cause. This is, in my opinion, not any kind of justification to dismiss what is being attempted here. What IS being attempted is a bold and original adaptation, the evolution of an entirely new life form in the poetry world. So long as dissent is allowed and listened to here, this evolutionary event with progress toward fitness. Individual voices will be tolerated and yet they will listen to and influence one another. We should not fall into the same position that the original malcontents with democracy voiced. Democracy is a complex system, and it needs time to evolve and self-organize. The alternative is some form of royalism or dictatorship or party elitism.

So I encourage all who would question the way presents itself and its ideas to continue voicing criticism (but not sniping dismissals, which are not in any way useful for anyone). Thus far, has demonstrated that these criticisms, even when they hurt, are being considered and can in fact lead to change. That the people here are willing to listen and reflect on anything that is being said to them already demonstrates the unique and rather wonderful potential this site foreshadows. Where else in poetry today is there this much willingness to self-criticize and even change directions based on well-argued critique?

Even as I have already voiced a number of criticisms and calls for restraint to the people posting, commenting, or being quoted here, they have continuously impressed me with their ability to reflect and seriously consider the values of mission and fairness even over personal desires and injuries. The call-outs Jennifer has posted declaring that freedom of speech is granted and admired here are not blown smoke. For those of you who don't like what is said on, come and voice your dissent and criticism . . . and do so intelligently. That is how progress is made.

My Best,

Matt Koeske

Saturday, June 7, 2008


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Homprang Chaleekanha, the well-known “Maw Samunphrai” (Doctor of Herbal Medicine) and teacher of Thai Traditional Massage and Herbal Medicine all over the world, was not only banned from The Academy of American Poets Forum at on May 22nd, 2008, but on June 4th, 2008, the thread containing all her 20 odd posts was deleted from the Forum altogether.

Along with the unique style and profound content of her posts, which were much admired by everyone who had the good fortune to read them, the whole record of her dispute with has now been expunged.

Homprang’s only transgression was to write a series of clear, cogent and unfailingly interesting letters in defense of her husband, the poet Christopher Woodman, on a thread especially set up for her by the Site Administrator called “Complaints on the Forum.” Unfortunately for her and her cause, her letters attracted very considerable support from Members, and her efforts highlighted the legitimacy of the struggle to speak openly about abuse not only on the Forum but elsewhere on the net, including on the Poets & Writers forum at

On the penultimate day, May 21st,’s case against Christopher Woodman collapsed completely when a key Moderator, sbunch (sic.), posted one of Christopher’s earlier PMs to him, thus breaking not only a key injunction against posting other people’s PMs but exposing the whole argument against Christopher to ridicule. Indeed, in the posts immediately following that faux pas, posts put up, take note, by members of the Forum in very good standing, it was clear that not only was Christopher being framed, he was being harassed—by The Academy of American Poets!

Later on the same day, still May 21st, 2008, Homprang Chaleekanha was issued a warning by the Site Administrator, Christine Klocek-Lim:

Posted: Wed May 21, 2008 1:50 pm


This conversation has become exceedingly tedious. Christopher was banned for violating the Guidelines. Nothing you say here in this thread will change this. It really doesn't matter to me what you or Christopher think happened. It doesn't really matter how unfair you think it all is. Christopher violated the Guidelines, was warned, was let back in, and then violated the Guidelines again. End of story.

You are on the verge of being banned for violating the Guidelines because of your continued agitation regarding your perceived interpretation of other people's behavior, your continued hijacking of threads (not this one, the other one), and your complete inability to understand that has the right to delete, move, lock, and otherwise modify any posts made by any members if the Mods and Admins deem it necessary for the protection of our members and this site.

Homprang replied as follows—and her last post is important to read carefully in the context because it not only gives a good feeling for the tone and human quality of her writing, but demonstrates so dramatically how far such discourse is from anything that Christine Klocek-Lim had said about Homprang in her warning:

Posted: Wed May 21, 2008 10:11 pm

I'm not going to say anything I'm not supposed to say, don't worry.

Just two points.

First of all, both Christopher and I didn't like the Monster Moderator Satires on, or at least we felt they weren't going to be helpful. We felt they were even a bit unfair in some ways because they hit at some things that were good in the moderators too, like what they said about Kaltica. That wasn't a good thing to say at all.

So let me say this. In this whole discussion about what Christopher has done or not done and, most importantly, what he stands for, some very good voices have been heard. I loved Larina's care for me even when she sometimes said things I didn't agree with, and Catherine too was always thoughtful and loving. Hatrabbit was so funny and quirky too, he made me laugh, and I know Christopher really likes his poetry. And Kaltica is always very fair. In fact Kaltica was the first Moderator to greet Christopher when he first came here, and that was very welcoming and positive and Christopher thanked him for that at the time. Kaltica also recognized the honesty combined with skill and professionalism in TomWest, who was a real tear-away (is that the word?) fire-brand (?) before he came here. As Monday Love he burned everyone to a crisp on, and as Sawmygirl he got ousted from after just one month of brilliant but controversial critiques. In a way, Kaltica made TomWest by accepting him, it seems to me, and you are very lucky to have them both. That's my opinion.

So that's a lot of moderators, and they're all very good people I know--even if some of them make me so angry at times, and say different things when they want to.

Christopher often talks about Jonathan Swift. He says Jonathan Swift would have torn any moderator to shreds but that he never confused a moderator with a person. He always loved individual people, Christopher says, but hated people in positions.

The other point which may surprise you is that Christopher freely admits he is very dangerous, and if he had stayed he would certainly have caused you all sorts of problems. Because he's different from all the other poets on this site, you see--he's a poet who has no career as a poet, and never will have. He didn't start writing poetry until he was 50, for a start, and now at almost 70 he knows no one is ever going to read his books, which he loves so much. So he is not afraid to be misunderstood or even humiliated, and he is not afraid to take on anybody. He would have come back over and over again to the same abuses, too, and particularly the ones that involved him personally.

The most dangerous thing of all about Christopher is that he is always considerate and careful, and has no need to insult people. So your rules could never have stopped him, and had he stayed he would certainly have made you think about everything.

He says he's going to write something about all of this for, and hopes very much you will all get to read it. He says he hopes he is going to be able to write it in such a way that you will also like reading it. I think he will.

And me? I'm a doctor, a herbalist, a midwife and a therapist. I've done my best to spread a little healing around here too, and I hope you can accept that. Christopher says I have helped him a lot to understand why there is so much pain and confusion here and everywhere else. I hope I have helped you with that too. I'm not involved myself, you see, so that makes it much easier for me. I couldn't do this in my own country, to stay calm and clear like this when everything is turned upside down.

I wai you, and that's the best I can do. If you go to my website you can see a photograph of my most important teacher on the page with my credits. If you look at her and her husband and then think about yourselves, maybe you will understand why we have all come together.

Homprang Chaleekanha

Immediately following this conciliatory and “healing” post, the whole thread was not only locked, but Homprang Chaleekanha was banned from the Forum altogether with these words from the Site Administrator, Christine Klocek-Lim:

Site Admin

Joined: 07 Jun 2005
Posts: 3708
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 6:48 am

Yes, we are done with this thread now. Apparently, rancor has a longer shelf life than a twinkie.

On June 4th, 2008, Homprang Chaleekanha’s thread was erased from the records of The Academy of American Poets altogether—in the euphemism it was “pruned,” not “deleted.” This indefensible response to Homprang’s dignity, clarity and patience makes any kind of public assessment of Christopher Woodman’s cause now a great deal more difficult. But history shows that such draconian measures tend to have the opposite effect in the long run--many people made copies of the thread, needless to say, and indeed the discussion of the whole matter is just beginning!

Christopher has fought hard against the business interests that are so distorting the work at both Poets & Writers and The Academy of American Poets, and we feel he is to be congratulated for having behaved so politely and constructively in all his dealings with them. Those of you who have followed this saga over the past six months, both for him and against him, surely have by now formed your opinion of why he and his wife were banned and all their writing deleted. Please do feel free to comment as freely as you feel you can below, and Anonymously too if you wish, of course. Do not spare the rod if you feel this couple have been snide, tricky or abusive, and please do not spare the details if you feel they are in fact martyrs to a worthy cause.

Or anywhere in between.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thread: Writing Forum Survey

Please post your comments here.

You may answer this survey anonymously:

  1. Have you ever felt stifled on a writing forum? If so, how? (Feel free to name names and specific writing forums).

  2. Have you ever been banned from a writing forum? If so, why? (If you're not sure why, offer your best guess.)

  3. On some forums, does the application of forum rules/guidelines seem to offer more leeway for administrators, moderators, and forum "pets"? If so, offer some examples. (Feel free to name names and specific writing forums).

  4. In your opinion, should some forum topics be off-limits? If so, what topics should writing forums avoid altogether?

  5. Should forums allow for anonymous (for example, with no name or alias) discussion? Why or why not?

  6. Should forum members be allowed to discuss the policies and behaviors of other forums? Why or why not?

  7. Should forums that accept government funds be required to follow at least a limited "Public Forum Doctrine" policy*? Why or why not?

  8. How would you define "libel"?


Please post your answers on this thread. This survey is being conducted on a public thread because we feel no need to censor any opinion.

* From Public Forum and the Internet (1997):

We can conclude that the Internet is in some respects public and for other features private. The First Amendment does not extend its guarantees to the private property. Only a public electronic forum--owned, operated or sponsored by the state--would obtain protection by the First Amendment. Therefore, only a regulation in this sector could be scrutinized accordingly to the rules applied to traditional public forums.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Proposal: A Self-Publishing Poets Coalition

Gary et al.,

Like Jennifer, I am also fully in support of self-publishing poetry. The current poetry publication system is broken and should not be perpetuated by anyone who either has unique talent or cares about American poetry as an art form. I feel that to place our poetry into this system today is to devalue it (perhaps even to condemn it).

We had a number of discussions about this on Here is the main one. If you check this out, you will see that a number of the Foetry regulars opposed self-publication (in what I felt was a very regressive--sorry guys--attitude). If we don't have the vision and drive to recreate poetry publication in America, then American poetry will continue to be worthless, a disposable commodity. Equally, if we continue to seek poetic credentialing from the PoBiz publication system, I think we do so primarily out of shame and a lack of consciousness . . . we do so in ignorance.

I propose that some kind of loose coalition of self-publishing poets should be formed. Poets who share a feeling of frustration (if not disgust) with the PoBiz publication system and who recognize that it will never change if there is no competition from a superior publication model challenging it.

I think such a coalition has to be very careful not to fall into the same traps and practices that are common in the PoBiz. In other words, I don't think the coalition of self-publishing poets should be a mutual promotion society that thinks it is justified to blurb each other's books. I suggest, alternatively, a renewed dedication to genuine criticism (yes, even of our friends).

What the coalition could offer self-publishing poets is a little protection and the empowerment of numbers in the self-publication game. For instance, these poets should speak up for everyone's right to self-publish and to live or die by the criticism of and reader reaction to what one publishes. We should be honest with ourselves and others about how difficult this kind of attempt is (especially in the face of PoBiz indoctrination prejudice against self-publication). The coalition could be helpful in sharing information about self-publication resources and experiences.

Perhaps, there could also be encouragement among self-publishing poets to post some free poem samples on personal websites (which could be linked through a coalition page). It isn't hard to get a feeling for a writer's poetry after reading a couple sample poems. If the reader likes these, then purchasing a self-published book should not be too radical a move. If they dislike the sample poems, no harm done and no need to spend the money for the book.

The coalition would not have to worry about trying to promote any of the poets who belong to the coalition. And as it grew, it would become more likely that the best self-published books would be read and reviewed (by other coalition members, most likely). As this new publication system evolved, it would eventually attract the attention of those outside the coalition . . . and thus force competition upon the PoBiz publication system.

I think it's important to note that many books of poetry sell only a couple hundred copies or less (and the majority of those go to libraries, friends, and family). The idea that self-published poetry (especially if organized through a coalition system) could compete in sales with PoBiz poetry is not even remotely radical.

But it is up to poets of talent to back self-publication and dispel the stigma that clings to it and is reinforced by PoBiz dogmas and superstitions. As many have said, the PoBiz publication system is really just a more subtle vanity press system. If a coalition of self-publishing poets strove to create and reinforce a merit-based system instead of a vanity system, the weakness and commodification of much PoBiz poetry would be quickly exposed.

The thing such a coalition would need to get past, in my opinion, is the idea that publication is (and must be) the gatekeeping mechanism for poetry. Publication can be manipulated and has only a limited amount to do with the quality of poetry. Fair criticism, word of mouth, and reader interest are the more potent determiners of poetry's value . . . and also its legitimate sales.

This self-publication coalition alternative is entirely viable and not at all difficult to create. The real hurdles are our own vanity and indoctrination into PoBiz dogmas and taboos . . . our precious shame and small-mindedness. What such a coalition requires most is courage. I believe something like this is the only way to change (and I think it's fair to also say, "save") American poetry.

I encourage all to comment on the proposal of a self-publishing coalition and the topic of self-publishing poetry. Please offer your criticisms and feel free to debate. If there is some interest in such a coalition, we will need to do some careful brainstorming to make sure that it cannot become a clone of the PoBiz system. I would suggest that the best way to achieve this is to analyze and understand the PoBiz publication system as thoroughly as possible . . . and use the knowledge gained as a negative model which the self-publication coalition model would seek to reject and remedy.

My Best,

Matt Koeske

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