Monday, March 31, 2008

Forum Thread: Silencing Writers in the Corporate Nation (Anca Vlasopolos)

(The following article has been reposted--with permission from its author--from Post Foetry.

In this article, the author discusses the systemic silencing of writers by corporate America.

As writers, both published and unpublished, think about the ways you and your works have been silenced by corporate America and academic presses.

Feel free to post your comments.)

I come by my interest in silence and silencing honestly—I grew up in Communist Romania, where the price for speaking out, as my father found out, was imprisonment without the right of habeas corpus. In fact, I know specifically where the U. S. sent the "extreme rendition" prisoners when it sent them to Romania. But that’s not the silencing I will be discussing. For a long time during my academic career I pondered the meaning of silence and silencing in women’s writing, not just in the case working-class writers or writers of color, where the problem was exacerbated by class and race, but in women’s writing precisely because that silencing cut across color and class lines, and the most aristocratic women were in many instances as definitively silenced as the milkmaids walking up the path of the estate. But since stellar scholars and writers, whom we in our general cultural amnesia now neglect, such as Joanna Russ (How to Suppress Women’s Writing) and Tillie Olsen (Silences), have brilliantly examined the subject, I will not be discussing that either.

The subject of my essay is the corporation-owned publishing media and the non-free-market economy that govern the present silencing of writers. I also want to address how academia, itself increasingly a corporate mimic, furthers the aims of the manacled and gagged market place. This paper is not a social-science analysis. I do not profess to practice social science without having been trained in its disciplines. But I am a writer and continue to be a voracious and eclectic reader, so I hope to entertain while edifying you, in the ancient manner, with lots of anecdotes and observations.

The most effective way of silencing a writer is not giving him or her an outlet. I’m not talking about the necessary winnowing that goes on constantly in a culture in which many more people write and submit their writing for publication than read and have any appreciation for literature. I’m talking about people who are experienced, published writers, for whom each new book presents the same dilemmas, problems, and humiliations as the first, each time without the hope that one still clings to in one’s writerly youth. We know that publishers commit colossal mistakes; this is not a recent phenomenon. We need only mention James Joyce, whose Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was rejected multiple times before it rose to become a classic. Proust’s first volume of A la recherche du temps perdu was rejected so many times that he ended up publishing it himself. And I could go on to myriad examples.

What I’m addressing here is the systematic, systemic silencing that goes on in what has become the ultra-capitalist business of publishing. About ten years ago, The Nation magazine did a feature on the remaining handful of independent presses in the country, small presses that were not subsidiaries of the petroleum industry or the Disney or Warner entertainment empires. Of those presses, fewer remain today. Picador has been swallowed. Dalkey Press has bit the dust. Coffee House, Milkweed, and Graywolf still limp on, they too trying so hard to find the best seller that they rarely publish the distinguished books that used to make their fame—if not their fortune, and there’s the rub. In the days of independent presses, when the Penguin "group," for instance, didn’t stand for a huge multi-national conglomerate, presses expected to make 8% profits on successful publications. Today, anything less than 25% is considered a marketing failure, and the writer whose book doesn’t see those profits can kiss his/her next advance goodbye and can go back to the starting line in terms of getting a publisher for the next manuscript.

The dominant presses, themselves subsidiaries of larger global corporations, control the market in various other ways that make it difficult for all but the most persistent and informed readers to be exposed to any books but those the publicity departments of these presses want them to see. The presses control the display at your local Borders, Barnes and Noble, and even independent bookstores. They pay for shelf space, so that their books will occupy prime space near the entrance to the bookstore, in the most eye-catching location, and that their books be placed with the cover rather than the spine in the shelves facing the browser. These presses control signings and readings. The pressure has become so great that even independent bookstores are reluctant to set up signings and readings for any but the major presses, even for such presses as Archipelago, with its high-quality and well-regarded international list. So, basically, unless you walk into your local bookstore determined to order the book you want even if it’s not on the shelf, you’re going to buy something on display that catches your eye. Even when you order a book, as I’ve done many times, the bookstore personnel forget to notify you that the book has arrived. They send it back to the publisher, who then charges the author for returned books against royalties, so that through creative accounting, such as that practiced by one of my presses—Columbia University Press, a writer is always in deficit; this despite my memoir having been kept in print for the last seven years (thus clearly making money for CUP).

In addition to the raw rapacity of the multi-corporate presses that dominate the market, the process of publishing with the multis as well as with the independents who fashion themselves in the image of the multis, such the venerable Knopf and Farrar Strauss (the latter no longer an independent), silences writers. No major, and a good deal of minor, presses will look at unagented manuscripts. This barrier between writers and presses sets up yet another profit-making enterprise that depends on the generation of capital, not on literary excellence and lasting power. Agents become agents to make money. They will represent writers who write what’s been written, published, and proved successful. They do not seek fresh, original voices and authors who may create a "market" for their work over time. Agents look for works that fit present, proven, money-making niches. So, apart from the rapaciousness of the corporate publishers, writers have to deal with the cupidity of agents, some of whom moreover have the arrogance to regard themselves as literary critics and to force writers to make major changes in order to make a sale. I had an agent tell me that the political content of my detective novel was too disturbing and that I should make it into a screenplay, which he offered to represent, because he felt the political content would be muted in such a treatment. A famous agent told me that my most recently published book, The New Bedford Samurai (from the small, independent press Twilight Times Books), which she received in manuscript, was a "deliberately noncommercial" production and that I should bide my time and wait for her to read it when she had time because, she said, she was in the business to make money. On one occasion, when my colleague Christopher Leland and I participated as invited speakers at a writers’ conference at Oakland University, we sat at the same table for lunch as other invited speakers, among them two agents from New York. While it’s indisputable that at my age young people look very young, these two were, by their own admission, in their early and mid-twenties. Chris and I asked them what they were looking for when they shopped for manuscripts, and they said: "Edgy young fiction." The publishing industry, like others, depends on the wisdom of people who have hardly lived long enough to have read the literary masterpieces and the discovered treasures that make up expanding canons. They are the gatekeepers.

In the same crass and often ignorant way in which agents manipulate writers toward commercial success, editors at presses regard themselves as great stylists in the mode of Ezra Pound and Toni Morrison, to name but two illustrious editors. With a handful of exceptions, they are not. They’re people whose jobs and renewals in those jobs depend on their finding, the same as the agents, works that fit an already fabricated and commercially developed niche into which they snugly fit, without disturbing readers or upsetting reviewers or making trouble for the bookstores. The phenomenon of Harry Potter, a series that is at least well written and imaginative, nevertheless is exemplary of a book piggybacking on many equally inventive and well-written fantasy novels that made the niche for Harry and were not even mentioned as predecessors by reviewers largely ignorant of a genre they generally treat with contempt.

Which brings me to the reviewers: It is as rare to have a major newspaper review a book by an independent press as it is to spot a wild orchid in Michigan. Local papers will review books by writers who live in the area, thereby bringing the book to the attention of at best 5,000 readers, and major metropolitan newspapers like The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News no longer even have local reviewers—they pay for syndicated reviews from national sources, like the Associated Press. A half a page advertisement in The New York Times Book Review section costs over $22,000 for a single time, so no independent press can afford to advertise the books it publishes in venues where the reviews make or unmake a book. A review in The NY Times Book Review does in fact make or break a book in terms of the agent’s interest and the next publishing contract. The definitive biography of the poet Rilke, for instance, published by Farrar Strauss, had a lukewarm review in the Times Book Review, and although it received a glowing review in The Nation, neither publisher nor agent accepted the writer’s next project, original fiction. This despite translation rights FS sold to Germany, France, and China. In Germany, the book became a best seller, and the writer was invited (travel and honorarium) to present in Europe, repeatedly, for this book as well as for his critical work and translations of Hesse; clearly, the European market is still more inclined toward writing of substance than the American, but our multi-corporate practices are beginning to take hold overseas as well. Shopping for a new agent and publisher in one’s late seventies had effectively silenced this writer for several years.

As for me, I engaged in an email exchange that got increasingly more acrimonious with the book editor of the Seattle Times. I had a limited number of review copies that my publisher expected me to send out—she dutifully sent out her copies to the biggies—and I sent queries as to whether papers such as the Seattle Times or The Providence Journal would be interested in seeing the book because of its Pacific- and Atlantic-rim subject matter. The Seattle Times editor objected to my calling my book a nonfiction novel. I told him that the genre had been so dubbed by Truman Capote for In Cold Blood, and that, if anything, my book as even more of a hybrid than Capote’s. He then riposted that he knew about Capote, which I doubt, but that it was the kiss of death to call a book a nonfiction novel because it would confuse readers as to whether it was fiction or not. I explained to him that parts of my book were fiction and others were research and meditative essays based on science, cultural anthropology, and the most recent ecological data about the Pacific Rim. He, however, got to have the last word. My book has not been reviewed by the Seattle Times. It has a snowball’s chance of being reviewed by any of the well-known newspapers in the U. S., even though it got a great review in the Cape Cod Chronicle and in the Grosse Pointe News.

So, writers battle demographics ("edgy young fiction"), genre (call it something we can easily place on a labeled shelf), agents, who nowadays regard themselves as literary critics, editors at presses who do the same with generally few qualifications other than an M.A. in English, to the corporate structure whose whole interest in literature is to make its 25% or more, to the bookstores that are being owned by the corporate structures in the way that they display, advertise, and order books. In addition to all these modes of silencing, writers must confront academia.

I’ll begin this section of this "j’accuse" by quoting Flannery O’Connor, who, when asked if academia silenced creative writers, responded, "not enough of them." It may seem paradoxical that a writer delineating modes of silencing would side with the need to silence others. However, the problem with creative writing in the academy is two-fold: creative writers who have jobs in universities and colleges become the "wives" of the publishing world, that is, they put out without having to be paid. Forgive the vulgar analogy, but I’m following Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s examination of wives versus prostitutes in her Women and Economics, where she states that wives cheapen and undermine the labor of the sex workers, who at least have the freedom to choose and to be paid piecemeal, so to speak, as opposed to the wives who have been sold or have sold themselves to a single master. So, to some extent, the writers in academia, only in the sense that they have a master—the university, which exacts publications for tenure, promotion, contract renewal, and salary raises. The writers, in turn, can offer their wares for free to the market and generally do. If anyone here takes offence, do please remember that I number myself in this category. The condemnation includes me. I have published over two hundred poems and short stories, two chapbooks of poetry, a collection of poems, a detective novel, a memoir, and a nonfiction novel. The only advance I ever received was so small that I was barely able to cover the upgrade to a newer computer.

If I added up my income from my writing, I’d have made perhaps $5,000 over a lifetime of writing. I’m not counting, of course, the salary increases and the promotion, which are vastly greater than the direct earnings. But what does this practice do? It offers yet another subsidy to the corporate publishing world. Excellent work for free—can anyone get a better deal?

To go back to O’Connor’s quotation: while writers in the academy cheapen the labor of writers who should be able to support themselves through their writing, academics also depend on attracting and retaining students and on getting good evaluations from them. Consequently, professors of creative writing encourage students to submit for publication even when these students have not lived enough to have much to say, have not had time to think enough to have anything worth saying, and have not read enough to have developed skills that outshine or at least rival their predecessors. Thus the market is flooded with free work by a huge amount of scribblers whose white noise drowns out the few genuine talents and the occasional genius. Add to that the fly-by-night or fly-by-screen journals run by equally unformed and uninformed "editors," and the possibility of true talent to be heard becomes more and more remote.

Unlike the corporate publishing world, however, which pays no mind to where a person has published, only to how much, academia worships addresses. Not content, not style, not the felicitous merging of the two, but merely addresses, and this form of worship applies to scholarly as well as to creative endeavors, but I am convinced that the system of peer review that to some extent justifies, though only in part, address worship for scholarship has no counterpart in the world of creative writing. It’s not other fine writers who judge a dossier of a novelist or a poet to say how s/he is doing—it’s the address, and the prize. We know from scandals such as the one that led to the website that contests in creative writing harbor outrageous examples of corruption and nepotism. Grant giving at the NIH, while subject to fads in science, has never approached the utter cynicism of the giving of prizes in creative writing.

The corporate market silences creative writers by looking, always, not at plot, characterization, formal structure, etc., but at the bottom line, which rhymes only with excessive profit. It surrounds itself with safeguards for the production of successful sameness, with agents at one end and influence buying at the distribution end. Independent presses mirror the corporate publishers because the weak desire to emulate the strong. Academia provides shelter for writers who in turn through their own labor and their unwise encouragement of fetal writing from students flood the market with free labor, thereby exacerbating the economic difficulties of any writer of genuine power to be able to count on his/her literary talent to make a living. The result, ladies, gentlemen, and scholars, is the dross we find on the tables of our local branches of the Exxon Mobil bookstore and the mute inglorious Miltons and Jane Austens who write deliberately noncommercial books that remain forever silenced in some hard disk or flash drive or, even in our day, yellowing somewhere in an attic trunk. The system should be a public scandal, but for that to happen we would have to have non-corporate, independent press and media in this great country of ours.

This essay has been posted here with the writer's permission.
Copyright 2007 by Anca Vlasopolos.
Guest writer Anca Vlasopolos was born in 1948 in Bucharest, Rumania. Her father, a political prisoner of the Communist regime in Rumania, died when Anca was eight. After a sojourn in Paris and Brussels, at fourteen she immigrated to the United States with her mother, a prominent Rumanian intellectual and a survivor of Auschwitz. Anca is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She is married to Anthony Ambrogio, a writer and editor; they have a biological daughter, Olivia (a graduate of Oberlin College and a PhD candidate at Tufts University), and an adopted daughter, Beatriz, who came to them from Guatemala in 2000, when she was 10.
Her publications include Missing Members (1991), a police procedural; No Return Address (2000), memoir; Penguins in a Warming World (2007), poetry; The New Bedford Samurai (2007), non-fiction novel.
Professor Vlasopolos presented this essay at a symposium on Silence and Silencing at her university.

Forum Thread: What is the Difference (if any) Between Self-Publishing and Vanity Publishing?

Here is the first in-depth comment on this thread:

From...Spambait (Thanks).
Getting published is where you submit, rewrite, rehash and resubmit until a publisher finally accepts what you've written and pays you for it. A vanity publisher will want you to pay him instead. Self-publishing is where you know you're going to pay for everything pretty much from the start.

With self-publishing the author can choose to pay very little by using photocopy services, staples and hand folding a pamphlet up to hiring a bindery to print and bind his manuscript.

A vanity publisher is going to try to make you believe your book or whatever is the next runaway best seller, charge you a large fee and send you several cases of books for you to do as you please.

Then there's self publishing on the internet by using a blog, webboard or maybe a dedicated website.

Since I run a web hosting company and assist people who choose to "publish" on the web you could consider me a vanity publisher of sorts.

Well, I'm not going to tell a client their writing is outstanding and they should make millions but I'm not going to discourage a client with a good idea either.

Nice thing about web publishing is you can easily revise your writing. Bad thing about publishing is you can easily revise your writing.

On the web your audience knows revisions will probably happen. This isn't really good for fictional works as the reader may see a early version that then gets revised to the point of being a total different work. But web publishing might be great for a chapter or two of a book in pre-release form.

If you have a lot to say in a changing venue or market though, web publishing might be the way to go. If you have a local guide or informational product that will fit the pamphlet format self publishing might work for you.

If you're willing to take a large risk with a novel or a book of poems and can't find a publisher you might want a vanity publisher to take the printing binding tasks off your shoulders. You can then do the distribution yourself.

The risks are fairly large but lots of best sellers started life as self published works. The Christmas Box started out as a self published work for the authors family and friends at the urging of his family.
Feel free to add comments to Spambait's discourse.

Forum Thread: Whatever Happened to Form Poetry? (Discussion Revisited)

Back in 2005, as Bugzita, I started a Foetry thread: "Whatever Happened to Form Poetry?"

It was one of the liveliest threads on Foetry and lasted for over six months (15 pages, 218 comments).

In a July 2, 2005, post, Ed Dupree stated, "Nothing this good ever happened in the MFA lounge."

Boy, was he right! It just got better after that.

In order to bring this topic to this forum, I am reposting some of my 2005 thoughts on the subject on

I would love to post the entire thread, but, of course, the original writers own the copyright to their posts. Maybe some of you original posters will find THIS thread and revive this topic.

Opening Post:

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I love GOOD form poetry; nothing excites me more than a fantastic sestina, sonnet, villanelle, etc.

I don't mean sentimental doggerel or light verse, but important form poems that turn the world on its ear. Why do modern poets tend to shun forms in favor of free verse? Or when they do write them, why do they work so hard to "hide" the fact that their poems are form?

I have nothing against free verse, but it seems so overused.

Reply #3

I agree that a poet shouldn't trumpet the fact that he/she has written a form poem; half the surprise for the reader is "discovering" the form through reading and reciting the poem aloud. I do cringe when a poet announces, "Now I'm going to read a sestina."

Please. Just allow the poem to unfold--trust the reader/listener.

I also agree that content, not form, should drive the poem; if the form doesn't work for a particular poem, then abandon the form or try another form. And, sometimes, free verse works best.

I would just like to see more form poetry--well-written, of course. I do like free verse; I'm not advocating abolishing it--not at all. There's room for all types of poetry.

Reply #5

My students are shocked when I require them to try writing some form poetry--they think I'm a throwback to the ice age. By the end of the semester, however, most of them are pleasantly surprised at how rewarding form can be; some of their best poems are form poems.

Still, I have no wish to "impose" form on a young poet's style; I just want them to break from their old ways and try on different poetic styles.

To be honest, I'd rather see a weak form poem than just an okay free verse poem.

But that's just me.

Reply #24

Wow. I'm not sure how, in August, I'll be able to walk into my creative writing classroom. I won't be able to "teach" as usual--I just can't.

My worst nightmare will come true: walking into a classroom without a clue where to start.

I do know this: this website, particularly this thread, will definitely be required reading (Please, Alan, I hope this thread remains active or at least archived, yet accessible). For once in my academic life, I'm going to ask my students to consider the words and ideas of writers who are anonymous, who are NOT unfurling their credentials like a banner. That's a scary prospect.

But I don't care; on this site, I have read more intelligent and well-considered discourse on poetry (and other topics, too) than I have EVER read in the establishment textbooks. I wonder why? Why aren't academicians willing to ask the hard questions, take to task "the accepted"?

No wonder students hate forms--to them, it's like writing their grandparents' poetry. But it doesn't have to be. Why can't we present form as something "hip," something that can speak for their generation, a generation being sent to Iraq as cannon fodder?

Also who says that form has to be "fixed"? Why can't a poet violate a "rule" regarding a sestina, sonnet, or pantoum? Create NEW forms?

My husband and I have spent all morning arguing about these issues; I want him to create an ID and pop in on this conversation, but I don't know...

Okay, I'm going to return to this thread later--I have to run somewhere. But I'd like to hear from others, even other academicians.

Thanks, all.

Reply #35


I'm happy to hear that form may be making its well-needed comeback among the 20-something set; I hope some of your fellow poets end up in my class. :lol:

I, too, love sonnets, especially well-written ones that surprise. But I must admit a particular fondness for the sestina, a difficult form to pull off. And when I read a good one, it makes my day.

Anyway, I'm glad to see some young poets jumping in on this thread.

Reply #108

[I had been absent for a few weeks, at least on this thread, and I expressed some surprise at the quality of posts on form poetry].

Reply #184 (Addressed to "Matt"): My Last Post on This Thread

Matt, you have a way of zeroing in on what's wrong with modern poetry. "Pretentious" and "mind-numbingly boring" come to mind--modern poets tend to worship at the altar of self: "Look at me, I'm cute."

I want to puke.

No wonder average John and Jane Doe have turned up their noses at modern poetry and stick with Robert Frost and the schoolhouse poets; at least they offer something universal for the reader, the grand themes of love, relationships, death. Relateable stuff.

Aunt Jane or Uncle John from Podunk City are simply not going to read a "free verse" poem about a foet's nose hairs. If they read poetry at all, they'll go for inspirational, such as light verse from the likes of Good Housekeeping and Reader's Digest. The average American doesn't give a damn about what is going on in a foet's body, sexual or otherwise. It used to be that EVERYONE recited poetry, but when was the last time you heard anyone reciting a poem (other than a self-indulgent foet at a stuffy reading)?

The foetry enclave is insular and clicky, and they seem to write a lot poems about each other, and if one doesn't have a key to the club (earned by lapping the brown stuff from each others' butts), then forget about entry. Truthfully, Matt, we're better off on the fringes because we have our integrity intact, whether we write poems or not.

The average American no longer cares about serious poetry because it all looks like a fraud to them. Modern poetry doesn't speak to THEM, so when they do read poems, they resort to doggerel and "precious," but who can blame them? It used to be that EVERYONE recited poetry.

In our seminars, Bill Logan [one of my grad school professors at the University of Florida] didn't buy into that foet crap; he wanted us to pay more attention to craft, imagery, and language. At the time, I was lazy and didn't want to pay attention to those matters, but, in retrospect, he was trying to help us expand beyond the po-biz boundaries. In a sense, he, too, is somewhat an outsider in the po-biz world--maybe that's a good thing: a voice of reason. At least I hope so.

Maybe we need to start over, read Dr. Suess and work our way up to Shel Silverstein; kids are good at detecting BS. At least when they read about someone's nose hairs, they expect the poem to be FUNNY, and it should rhyme and contain a real meter.

I could go on, but I'll spare you; it's tired, and I'm late--and this isn't making much sense right now.

Return to 2008

What are your thoughts on form poetry?

Forum Thread: First Amendment Issues and Forums

"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."

The First Amendment limits the U.S. Government's power to stifle the voice of its citizens; it's a powerful statement that has served us well for almost 217 years (ratified on December 15, 1791).

An in-depth discussion on The First Amendment

Of course, private forums are not bound by the First Amendment and can ban and stifle speech as they see fit. is a private forum, and I, the owner, do not intend to apply for government grants. I'm on my own. Theoretically, I could ban anyone I want.

But what is the rule for non-profit organizations that accept government grants? Are they obligated to follow the First Amendment?, whose forum banned ACommoner and locked his First Amendment thread, does take government money: Number 7 in its FAQ says,

"The Academy is supported by the financial contributions of nearly 8,000 individuals (our members) nationwide. We also receive funding from private foundations, corporations, and government sources such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs." [Bold and burnt red letters my emphasis]

If is accepting government money, should the administrators and moderators be banning the interchange of free speech, no matter how unpopular and "offensive" to other members?

This case is especially ironic, given that the threads in question have to do with freedom of speech issues.

In any case, the code of silence in the literary field is mostly imposed by those in power and thrust upon the rank and file. Often, those trying to work their way up often buy into the power structure, perhaps because they believe that speaking out will hurt them professionally--and they are probably right.

When Foetry closed in May 2007, ACommoner, the banned poster, and others like him, lost an important conduit for expressing important and controversial ideas--and, yes, snark and smackdown as well.

ACommoner's banning was a turning point, the primary reason why I purchased the domain, a likely money pit for me personally.

I wanted an easily accessible forum (with a one-word dead-on GENERIC term) that would be available to everyone, especially the struggling silenced and disenfranchised poets and writers.

They are why exists.

It was simply serendipity that the domain went on the aftermarket at the precise moment I needed it.

It is my hope that this forum becomes a place for lively and heated discussion.

"Forum decorum" can be highly overrated--simply a euphemism for stifling ideas and opinions that those in power deem not worthy.

What do you think?


Forum Thread: Poetry Slams (Discussion)--What Do You Think?

In order to begin a discussion on this topic, I have posted this article from Wikipedia (which allows repostings with proper attribution and a link to its site):

A poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work (or, more rarely, that of others). These performances are then judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of the audience.

Marc Smith is credited with starting the poetry slam at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in November 1984. In July 1986, the slam moved to its permanent Chicago home, the Green Mill Jazz Club. In 1990, the first National Poetry Slam took place in Fort Mason, San Francisco, involving a team from Chicago, a team from San Francisco, and an individual poet from New York. The National Poetry Slam has grown and currently features approximately 75 certified teams each year, culminating in five days of competition. National poetry slam results.


Although American in origin, slams have spread all over the world, with slam scenes in Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, Austria, Nepal, the Netherlands, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Macedonia.


At a poetry slam, members of the audience are chosen by an emcee or host to act as judges for the event. After each poet performs, each judge awards a numeric score to that poem. Scores generally range between a low of zero and a high of ten. In the standardized slam, there will be five judges. The highest and lowest score are dropped, giving each performance a rating between zero and thirty points.

A single round at a slam consists of performances by all eligible poets. Most slams last multiple rounds, and many involve the elimination of lower-scoring poets in successive rounds. A standard elimination rubric might run 8-4-2, with eight poets in the first round, four in the second, and two in the last. Some slams do not eliminate poets at all.

Props, costumes, and music are generally forbidden in slams. Additionally, most slams enforce a time limit of three minutes (including a grace period of around ten seconds), after which a poet's score may be docked according to how long the poem exceeded the limit.

Competition types

In an "Open Slam," the most common slam type, competition is open to all who wish to compete. If there are more slammers than available time slots, competitors will often be chosen at random from the sign-up list.

In an "Invitational Slam," by contrast, only those invited to do so may compete.

A "Theme Slam" is one in which all performances must conform to a specified theme, genre, or formal constraint. Themes may include Goth, Erotica, Queer, Nerd, Dada, Improv, or other conceptual limitations. Theme slams sometimes allow performance of work by a poet other than the poet on stage (e.g. the "Dead Poet Slam", in which all work must be by a deceased poet). Formal constraints include changing the restrictions on costumes or props (e.g. the Swedish "Triathalon" slams that allow for a poet, musician, and dancer to all take the stage at the same time), changing the judging structure (e.g. having a specific guest judge at the Manchester Creatures of the Night slam), or changing the time limits (e.g. a "1-2-3" slam with three rounds of one minute, two minutes, and three minutes, respectively).

Rather than restricting topic matter or style, some slams advocate participation by particular demographics. For example Latino, High School, or Women poets only may be allowed to participate in a particular slam.


Poetry slams feature a broad range of voices, styles, cultural traditions, and approaches to writing and performance. Some poets are closely associated with the vocal delivery style found in hip-hop music and draw heavily on the tradition of dub poetry, a rhythmic and politicized genre belonging to black and particularly West Indian culture. Others employ an unrhyming narrative formula. Some use traditional theatric devices including shifting voices and tones, while others may recite an entire poem in ironic monotone. Some poets use nothing but their words to deliver a poem, while others stretch the boundaries of the format, tap-dancing or beatboxing or using highly-choreographed movements. Bob Holman, a poetry activist and former slammaster of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, once called the movement "the democratization of verse."

One of the goals of a poetry slam is to challenge the authority of anyone who claims absolute authority over literary value. No poet is beyond critique, as everyone is dependent upon the goodwill of the audience. Since only the poets with the best cumulative scores advance to the final round of the night, the structure assures that the audience gets to choose from whom they will hear more poetry. Audience members furthermore become part of each poem's presence, thus breaking down the barriers between poet/performer, critic, and audience. Bob Holman, a poetry activist and former slammaster of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, once called the movement "the democratization of verse."

Responses to Slam

Slam has not been without its critics. Populist responses to slam have included the International SpokenWord and Poetry Tournament, created by the Hip Hop Feminist Nation, and the Anti-Slam, begun at Collective:Unconscious on New York's Lower East Side. The ISPT emphasizes positive messages by all participants. At an Anti-Slam, all forms of expression are given a six-minute set and all participants are given a perfect ten by the judges.

Academia has also responded to slam in various and contradictory ways. In an interview published in a recent Paris Review, literary critic Harold Bloom called the movement "the death of art." In response, poet and critic Victor D. Infante wrote in OC Weekly, "[The death of art] is a big onus to place on anybody, but Bloom has always had a propensity for (reactionary) generalizations and burying his bigotries beneath 'aesthetics,' insisting — as he did in his prologue to the anthology Best of the Best of American Poetry — that the 'art' of poetry is being debased by politics."

Despite the highly-visible animosity between certain members of both groups, a number of poets belong to academia and slam: Jeffrey McDaniel started as a slammer but has published in such mainstream poetry journals as Ploughshares and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College; Sam Pierstorff, [who] created the ILL LIST Poetry Slam Invitational, is the Poet Laureate of Modesto, CA, and has published poems in various conventional journals; Craig Arnold won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and has competed at slams. A less successful attempt at crossover was that of Henry Taylor, winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, who competed in the 1997 National Poetry Slam as an individual and placed 75th out of 150. Poets such as Michael Salinger, Felice Bell, Javon Johnson, Susan B. Anthony Somers-Willett, Robbie Q. Telfer, Phil West, Karyna McGlynn and Scott Dillard have devoted much attention to the merger in their respective scholarly works.

Slam poetry has found popularity as a form of self-expression among many teenagers. Youth Speaks, a non-profit literary organization founded in 1996 by James Kass, serves as one of the largest youth poetry organizations in America, offering opportunities for youth ages 13-19 to express their ideas on paper and stage. Another group offering opportunites in education and performance to teens is URBAN WORD NYC out of New York City, formerly known as Youth Speaks New York. URBAN WORD NYC holds the largest youth slam in NYC annually, with over 500 young people. The non-profit organization provides free workshops for inner-city youth ran by Hip-Hop poet and mentor, Michael Cirelli. Young Chicago Authors (YCA) provides workshops, mentoring, and competition opportunities to youth in the Chicago area. Every year YCA presents Louder Than A Bomb, the world's largest team-based youth slam and subject of a forthcoming documentary by the same name.

Source: Wikipedia (If you would like to see the links included with this article, go directly to Wikipedia.)



Algarin & Holman, ALOUD: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe

Beau Sia, A Night Without Armor II: The Revenge

Daphne Gottlieb, Final Girl, Pelt, and Why Things Burn

Gary Glazner, Poetry Slam

Jeffrey McDaniel, Alibi School, The Forgiveness Parade, and The Splinter Factory

Justin Chin, Bite Hard

Michael Salinger, Neon and Outspoken

Patricia Smith, Big Towns, Big Talk; Poems, Close to Death; Poems; and Life According to Motown

Ragan Fox, Heterophobia

Regie Gibson, Storms Beneath the Skin

Big Poppa E, The Wussy Boy Manifesto

Emanuel Xavier, Americano, and Bullets & Butterflies: queer spoken word poetry


A list of Poetry Slams

More About Slams (from a teacher's perspective)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Forum Thread: Should Poetry be "Polite" and "Genteel"?

In the post ACommoner's Deleted Poll Question spambait said...

Hi Jennifer,

I was raised to have good manners. Forgot all that pretty much but.....

I consider the web boards I've run to be an extension of my living room. I expect visitors to act like they dropped by for a visit. I'm very easy to get along with but I do draw some lines.

And when somebody starts complaining about Freedom of Speech I remind them that they have freedom of speech but not in my living room. If they want to spout off about something taboo on my boards they are welcome to go build their own board.

Since you plan on a web board format here, you'll probably want to lay down some ground rules. Spend some time thinking about them then enforce them as needed.

(Posted March 26, 2008 5:41 PM)

Spambait offers some good advice here, and I should probably post better forum rules and a code of behavior and decorum.

But I have a dilemma: by their very nature, guidelines and rules are forms of censorship, which is exactly what I would like to avoid in this forum.

How does one give voice without allowing for some discontent and, yes, noisy debate?

Certainly, individual forums have the right to establish their own rules and regulations, and evidently the other poetry forums have decided to ban snark and smackdown.

Poetry is often known as a genteel occupation in which poets smile while stabbing each other in the back. Very catty, I must say.

So true poetic politeness seems to be vastly overestimated.

On the other hand, I wouldn't want to see a pack of marauding thieves to ransack my living room and steal my books, paperweights, and rocks, among other things.

So, perhaps, this forum might be moved out of the living room and into the wrestling ring.


Seriously, though, when does so-called decorum become a means of silencing foes as opposed to true gentility, which is kind and real?

Foetry was not at all genteel in its approach, but people listened and much in the literary world changed because of Foetry.

However, I am not Foetry; in my day-to-life life, I am not a smackdown kind of person, though I can be blunt. So I envision as evolving somewhere between Snooty two-shoes and Genghis Khan.

Just how much should Poetry be polite and genteel?

Forum Thread: Poetry Translations (Discussion)

This past weekend, Larry Rubin (a southern poet) and I conducted two poetry workshops at The College English Association (CEA).

One of the participants (who I plan to invite to this forum) presented us with a dilemma: the translated version of a 14th century poem written (I believe) in a Germanic language.

My question to those who translate poems into English (or other languages): how does one "workshop" a poem not an original work by the translator?

I must admit, I was at a loss, but here's my take on what should happen in a translation (but tell me if I'm wrong, please):

1. As much as possible, the translated version should retain the original cadence, structure, and form.

2. The meaning of the translated poem ought to be accessible to the target reader.

Unfortunately, numbers 1 and 2 may often seem to contradict each other.

For example, a word-for-word and exact syntactical translation would accomplish number 1; however, number 1 does not take into consideration linguistic, syntactical, and even cultural differences. Thus, number 2 would suggest that the translator should aim for a poetic structure and syntax accessible to the English reader.

For example, in Macedonia, "leblebija," a favorite snack among the Turkish population, is a dry-roasted chick pea that is sugar-coated with a hard crust. If a Macedonian writes a poem about leblebija, how can that be translated into English so that the reader "understands" the gustatory experience of eating leblebija, or should the reader make an effort to "feel" what the poet feels, even without a good point of reference? For one thing, there is no English word for leblebija, so would the translator keep the original word and footnote it? Or would the translator find a comparable snack, such as those candy coated peanuts called Burnt Peanuts, a.k.a. Baked Boston Peanuts. Or would either be okay?

Larry and I had to tell the translator that we did not feel qualified to critique her translation, and pretty much had to turn her away--not in the spirit of CEA, which is typically the antithesis of, say, the MLA.

I do believe that there is a place for work shopping translated poetry, but it seems that such a workshop should be very specialized, facilitated by actual translators of poetry who could have helped this person re-envision her translation-in-progress.

Any suggestions from translators?

Forum Thread: What is "Flarf" or "Wergle Flomp" Poetry? (Or What Happens When You Submit to Poetry [dot] com?)

If you don't know these terms, here are some sites that can help clarify them:

Boing Boing

The Flarf Files

David Taub, Creator of the Wergle Flomp

A Wergle Flomp Contest

-----(disclaimer: administrator's Squidoo lens)

Wikipedia (Flarf)

Can Flarf, also known as Wergle Flomp, be considered as serious poetry? Can serious poetry be developed from nonsensical poetry?

Have you ever written a Flarf or Wergle Flomp?

Have you ever submitted a poem to poetry.scam, er, poetry (dot) com? If so, when did you realize that it was (is) a bogus publisher?

On the other hand, if you consider a poetry (dot) com publication a valid publishing credit, feel free to explain why.

If you consider the poetry (dot) com company (known as Watermark Media Group, Inc.) an ethical company, feel free to explain why.

Write your own Flarf or Wergle Flomp, submit it to Poetry (dot) com (or some other vanity press), and then post it here. Wait a few weeks and then watch your snail mail and email boxes. What does the letter tell you.

Have fun!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ACommoner's Deleted Poll Question...

Has been recreated and posted here:

"Should ACommoner have been locked out of "The First Amendment and Forums" thread (on

The question refers to a thread on another forum: First Amendment Thread

Technically, forums (unless they are established by the government) are not really bound by the First Amendment.

However, it seems to me that dissenters ought to have at least one place to raise unpopular issues and engage in "impolite" conversation.

In fact, on the surface, poetry is just too darn polite (never mind the backstabbing and deals made behind the scenes). Give me a noisy poetry slam any day.

Nothing that ACommoner has said has raised any legal red flags; it seems he has some questions that no one seems to want to answer.

The Admin of the aforementioned forum said, "If you wish to continue to debate this topic, you are free to create your own blog or website to do so."

So true, and one reason why THIS admin has decided to start up this forum (which is not yet in forum format).

Vote in our poll (see left panel).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Poets (in-your-face) Dot Net is Coming Soon!

Are you tired of being kicked off writing forums because your ideas and opinions do not mesh with that of the literary establishment?

Are your posts being deleted because you would dare to question literary conventional wisdom and practices?

Are you sick of the pap that passes for poetry these days?

Then may be the forum space for you. will offer a great big voice for the serious poet and writer who doesn't have the time or stomach to kiss establishment butt.

What would YOU like to see featured in

Post your ideas here in the comment section. For a limited time (or until the spam becomes overwhelming), the comment feature for this thread will be wide open for your comments.

No captchas to type in.

During summer 2008, a forum format will be launched. will not and could never be a reincarnation of Foetry, but this forum may (with permission) link to the Foetry archives.

Post Foetry will remain active.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

MARCH 19, 2009, ANNOUNCEMENT: Forum is Up and Running Again! Review Seeks Book Review, Literary Criticism, and Interview Submissions


The forum has been moved to a new structure and is now available to new members; if you joined before October 11, 2008, your membership has carried over to the new forum. If you're not sure, just try signing in.

Here's the new link: Review, a new sister site to, publishes book reviews, literary criticism, and interviews. Information on submitting appears on that site, left panel. will continue publishing public domain works and is now actively seeking new creative work.

In that spirit, welcomes submissions of poems, short stories, creative non-fiction, short plays, and stand-alone excerpts. (Please see the left side panel for guidelines and email the editor).

One thing for certain: neither site will ever sponsor fee-based literary contests or charge reading fees. Period.

We simply plan to publish the best work available, including that of writers unknown to us and friends. However, our sites will never act as favor-trading outlets for friends and professional colleagues.

See Friends, Publishing, and Writer! Writer! for our views on publishing the work of friends.

We are Indies

If you are an Indie writer,

please consider joining

on Facebook.