Monday, June 9, 2008
Poets.net Survey: A Narrative Response
(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 Foetry.com's and Poets.net'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 Foetry.com and Poets.net, and a handful of the same people have been involved with both. On Poets.net I know my voice will be tolerated and probably even appreciated much of the time. My experience with Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com (within the scope of my sense of ethics), I did not in any way want to be in charge of Foetry.com . . . as it turned out, that was precisely what happened (and by default rather than election, I might add).
My one year tenure as Foetry.com'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 Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com along with Alan. We discussed this and agreed that it was time to shut down Foetry.com . . . 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 Foetry.com mission, s/he would simply start over and do so on his or her own and sans Foetry.com'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 Poets.net, 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 Poets.net. 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 Poets.net, 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 Poets.net. 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 Poets.net (and Foetry.com) coming from "insiders" and PoBiz devotees and wannabes.
The main reason I wanted to be involved with Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com. I felt that what Foetry.com 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 Foetry.com had been correct about the "shrill, self-centered whining in the name of sour grapes", then Alan and the other devoted people at Foetry.com 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 Poets.net. 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 Poets.net presents itself and its ideas to continue voicing criticism (but not sniping dismissals, which are not in any way useful for anyone). Thus far, Poets.net 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 Poets.net, come and voice your dissent and criticism . . . and do so intelligently. That is how progress is made.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
With All Due Respect to George Orwell: You Know What They Say About Pigs...
It all starts at the piglet stage...
And then they grow into greedy adolescents who pig out at the trough...
The power grab begins in earnest...
Rut Roh! Easter Dinner...
Saturday, April 5, 2008
History of Foetry.com (Wikipedia article)
Also, this will be a safe place to archive a balanced version of the article, should the Wiki article be erased or otherwise changed.
I have archived the Jorie Graham Talk article in draft mode.
Foetry.com, sometimes referred to as just Foetry, was a website that attempted to identify fraudulent and unethical practices in poetry contests. It was active from April 1, 2004 until May 18, 2007.
Members and visitors contributed information which ostensibly linked judges and prize winners in various poetry contests. The site was divided into two main areas: lists of specific contests and relationships between judges and winners which suggested evidence of impropriety, and a forum for the discussion of ethical behavior in the poetry world.
Origins and Evolution
Foetry.com was launched on April 1, 2004, by an anonymous editor, with the motto "Exposing fraudulent contests. Tracking the sycophants. Naming names." After about twelve months, the founder of the site, Alan Cordle, was outed. No longer anonymous, he continued to operate the site until May 18, 2007. Various members, including Cordle, continue to post blogs with foetry-related material .
Foetry.com received press coverage both positive and negative in such outlets as the Boston Globe, the New York Times,  Poets & Writers Magazine,  and innumerable blogs, including that of Ron Silliman. Coverage came to a head around the time of Cordle's outing, amidst rumors that the site would shut down due to the loss of anonymity. The ambiguous yet perceptible impact of the website on the poetry world was summed up in a blog entry at the Kenyon Review about a month after Foetry's closure:
"If its death (if we dare call it that–might it, like King Arthur, lie in wait to rise again at a time of future need?) made almost no noise, its birth and early years sounded a great barbaric yawp. Are contests more fair? Perhaps, perhaps not. It may in fact be the case that poetry contests are more careful about egregious conflicts of interest. They may indeed be more transparent now, as well. But it was never clear if justice or revenge was in the forefront of everyone’s mind in the heyday of Foetry.com (this applies to me and the other voyeurs of foetry.com as well as those who posted for or against the site). As people used to say in the Renaissance and earlier, Astraea (goddess of justice) has left the earth. History may record whether Foetry.com brought her back. Or, it may not." 
Foetry.com's most successful campaign, both in terms of news coverage and action taken because of it, was against the Contemporary Poetry Series run by the University of Georgia Press, and against Jorie Graham in particular. Acquiring documents through the Freedom of Information Act, Cordle and others discovered that Graham, as judge for the 1999 contest, had chosen Peter Sacks. She would marry Sacks in 2000. Graham would also join Sacks in a teaching position at Harvard in 2000.
Among documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were two letters:
-----The Bin Ramke (editor of the series) letter to the editor of the University of Georgia Press explaining that he was selecting Peter Sacks as the winner for that year (although Sacks had never actually entered the contest and was in fact solicited outside the contest) and Ramke's admission that he had read only half the paid manuscript submissions -the rest were discarded
-----Jorie Graham's letter to Ramke advocating for the literary value of Sack's manuscript and its publication in the series. As editor, Ramke chose Sacks as the winner for that year. As a judge advocating for Sacks as winner, someone with whom she had a personal relationship, Graham opened herself to attack on ethical grounds. Graham had previously come under fire at other poetry contests (AWP, The Barnard Poetry Prize, The Colorado Poetry Prize, The National Poetry Series, The Walt Whitman Prize) for selecting former students and individuals she had relationships with.
After Graham judged contests and selected former students several contests immediately changed their contest rules to prohibit judges from selecting former students and other entrants they had relationships with. The rule against playing favorites in literary contests in which entry fees were paid became known loosely among those in the contest industry as "The Jorie Graham Rule." Some members of Foetry.com suggested that she could be charged with mail fraud, as contest fees were collected through the US mail, but no charges were ever filed. It is estimated that the University of Georgia Press took in as much as $250,000 from contest fees over the life of the contest series, which Ramke edited for twenty years.
Graham no longer judges literary contests. Bin Ramke, editor at the time of the Contemporary Poetry Series, resigned from his position as more and more national publicity turned the spotlight on the insider dealings at the University of Georgia Press and criticism mounted over his role in the controversy. Despite the failure of both the editor of the University of Georgia Press and Bin Ramke to release a full and complete list of judges and other information (correspondence) related to the activities of the contest series, Foetry.com has carefully compiled documentation of winners and judges in the series, including notations of conflicts of interest.
It should be noted that throughout the course of the contest Ramke insisted that judges of the contest be kept secret. The Open Records Act was used to obtain records that both the University of Georgia Press and Ramke refused to provide upon request. It is also worth noting that Graham had previously published several books of Ramke's through a press, Kuhl House Press, she operated at the University of Iowa with Mark Levine, a former student of Graham who was selected by Graham as winner in the National Poetry series in 1992.
Another successful campaign, against the University of North Texas Press, resulted in the resignation of Vassar Miller Prize founder and series editor, Scott Cairns. Some judges of the contest had apparent connections to Cairns or to the University of Utah where Cairns and a number of judges and winners had studied, not necessarily at the same time. Other Cairns connections to judges and one winner were through the University of Missouri. At least one judge, Eleanor Wilner, was friends with a contest winner, Constance Merritt, and had co-authored a literary work with Merritt that won the Edward Stanley Award from Prairie Schooner in the same year Wilner selected Merritt as winner of the Vassar Miller Poetry Prize. After Foetry.com alleged the relationships between Cairns, judges and winners, Cairns agreed to resign in e-mails to Alan Cordle, Steven Ford Brown (Brown edited a book of criticism on the poetry of Vassar Miller and was critical of Cairns's management of the Vassar Miller contest series) and the editor of the University of North Texas Press.
Criticisms of Foetry.com generally come in two forms. The first is that the tone is "shrill," as University of Florida professor William Logan put it in the San Francisco Chronicle,  despite agreeing with the overall message and intent. The second is that members tend to assume guilt until innocence is proven and with rare exceptions, such as the CPS case above, do not insist on credible/tangible evidence, or that it is possible to separate personal relationships with writers within an aesthetic community from judgments of literary merit
2. Stephen Burt (July 18, 2004). A muckraking website aims to blow the lid off the cozy practices of contemporary poetry.. Boston Globe. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
3. Edward Wyatt (April 21, 2005). Surrender in the Battle of Poetry Web Sites. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
4. Kevin Larimer (July/August 2005). THE CONTESTER: Who's Doing What to Keep Them Clean. Poets & Writers Magazine. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
5. Joseph Campana (June 28 2007). Out with a whimper? Foetry.com. The Kenyon Review.
6. a b Tomas Alex Tizon, "In Search of Poetic Justice," Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2005. Available at the LA Times (subscription needed). Text is available at New Poetry Review or SFgate (accessed 16 March 2007)
7. a b Thomas Bartlett, "Rhyme and Unreason," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2005, available here (accesed March 16 2005)
8. Alex Beam, "Website polices rhymes and misdemeanors," Boston Globe, March 31, 2005, available here
9. http://foetry.com/wp/?page_id=85 Foetry page on Jorie Graham
10. John Sutherland, "American foetry," The Guardian, Monday July 4, 2005 The Guardian
11. Example of use of the phrase at blog Mobylives
12. Example of the use of the phrase at blog [http://larina.wordpress.com/2007/03/03/a-note-about-rejection-letters-okay-a-rant-but-close-enough/ Significance and Inspiration[ (accessed 3/27/2008)
14. Tomas Alex Tizon (July 10, 2005). Angry librarian's darts sting the world of poetry. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
15. More Foetry (December 5, 2005). Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
Documents obtained by Foetry.com regarding the Graham/Sacks/Ramke collusion in pdf format
"Rhyme & Unreason" from the May 20, 2005 cover story in the Chronicle of Higher Education
University of Georgia Press Poetry Series documentation at Foetry.com
Post Foetry, a blog by former Foetry admins.
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foetry.com"
Posted under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Version: March 27, 2008 (Jeffrey.landis)
Monday, March 31, 2008
Forum Thread: Whatever Happened to Form Poetry? (Discussion Revisited)
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 Poets.net.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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