Thursday, May 31, 2007

Literary Contest Guideline Links

As a public service, I am slowly building a Literary Contest Guidelines Link list; I'm doing this because paying entrants ought to be well-informed about what a contest 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 the 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, forget 'em. If you are considering plunking down $20-$30 to enter a contest, you should not have to jump through the SASE hoop.

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, $ amount of prizes, proper size of envelope, etc.):

1. Name of judges, including their institution affiliations (current and past) and credentials.

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., 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.

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).

6. If, for your fee, you will receive something tangible in return, such as a book or subscription. Beware of intangible services, such as Tupelo's 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, other than just a reading fee.

7. If the selection of winners will be guaranteed. Only freebie contests should have the "We reserve the right not to award prizes" disclaimer.

Team members, 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, hold onto your checkbook, AND let us know about slippery guidelines (along with a link). We WILL take them to task.

Best to all,


Christopher Woodman Speaks

Greetings to Foetry and Post Foetry friends,

Christopher Woodman has asked me to republish his last post from Foetry; I have agreed to do so because he raises some important issues regarding self publishing. I, of course, have my own opinions, but for now I'll simply present Christopher's viewpoint and allow others to jump in, either via the blog team or comments:

« on: May 24, 2007, 05:51:57 AM »

Dear Friends,

I hope I can be forgiven for venturing one more Foetry post—it’s not actually a farewell but more of a greeting, a hope even, a brave new world for those who are being left behind.

Two new ideas have been suggested to me in the last few days, and I want to try to address them because I’ve never seen either of them discussed on this site. Indeed, as we close down they both certainly do open up--wonderfully!

The first is that an uncompromised poet like myself should give up on conventional publishers altogether and do it himself. In this, my last Foetry post, I want to explain why I feel self-publishing can never be a viable alternative to conventional covers and blurbs and reviews, even for an old man like me. For I feel strongly that with the exception of those blessed interventions that friends make in one’s personal life, the True Poetry I crave by my bedside will always have an established Publishing House on its spine—which tells me the poems got verified in the first place, that they got out there, heard and reviewed, and of course that they got sold. For this simple reason the job begun at Foetry can never be over until all the naked emperors have been laughed off the stage, and all the tin-pot cultural tailors and their sycophants, the Jorie Grahams and Bin Ramkes and Jeffrey Levines and Janet Holmes, have been sent packing. Others will come crawling out of the woodwork at that point, of course they will, so I for one am prepared. Because as long as there are tenured positions that depend on what you publish, and students willing to pay to be trained in the skills you need to get one, there will always be unethical editors and publishers, and unethical poets too, mind you, sort of poets anyway, who will fiddle the lists in their favor!

So why, then, can self-publishing never take the place of house-publishing?

Start like this. The authorship of a poem is as much involved in its fineness as the provenance of a prehistoric bone or artifact. If you can’t be sure whether a bit of bone is human or simian, as in the case of the Piltdown Man fragments, for example, it has no intrinsic value. The same can be said of a newly discovered painting by a painter I much admire, the Sino-Cuban Wifredo Lam, because although the painting will undoubtedly be just as erotic and mystifying as any Wifredo Lam, it will almost certainly have been turned out by one of the numerous Cuban counterfeiters that manipulate the contemporary art market. And as soon as I know its not really by Wifredo Lam it’s no longer erotic or mystifying for me—in fact it doesn’t interest me at all anymore because it’s never been touched by him! And the same can be said of a previously unknown haiku by Basho, for example, or a fragment by Sappho—because we all know that such poems are routinely turned out by junior high students under the guidance of gifted teachers. Indeed, one of the most wonderful things about art in general, and poetry in particular, is that on occasion almost any human being can create a work as moving and profound as a master. By the same token, we also know that any master is capable of dashing off an adolescent sketch on a wine-stained tablecloth, yet you or I would give an arm and a leg for it and hang it on our walls forever if we could be sure. And the converse applies too, of course--if some other Tom, Dick or Harriet did it we’d throw exactly the same sketch straight in the machine, and never invite them again!

The fact of the matter is that everyone self-publishes every time they open their mouths or doodle by the telephone, but what is created only becomes valuable as a created object if it can be tied irrefutably to the life-time struggle for perfection and meaning of a man or a woman with a name. I myself have a poem on [the Foetry site]—but because I am so little known by the poetry reading public it is only of value because Alan Cordle, the Founder of Foetry, pinned it up on his bulletin board in imitation of Jeffrey Levine (go for the archives if you’re so new here you don’t get that joke. Indeed, I was so slow myself I didn’t get the joke until a few days after the image appeared on
Alan’s Latest News--I didn’t even see the pins!) If I had self-published the poem it would still be fun, I grant, but it would have only a fraction of the value it gained when both Alan Cordle and Jeffrey Levine chose it for their bulletin boards!

Poems need contexts, they need dates, they need provenances and they need to have been worked on by credible masters, and hard. It's as if they have to be notarized with a heavy stamp, certified as genuine articles—and that’s what publishers do, or at least that’s what we pay them to do. For publishers too must be certified over time. We have to come to trust them or we don’t pay them anymore, as we’ll never pay what-his-name at The Tupelo Press ever again for his services. Great editors win their reputations in time--little ones lose them, for sure and forever!

And as a footnote to that I’d like to say again that it’s my fondest hope the good and worthy poets among those published by The Tupelo Press will not be damaged by their publisher’s subsequent fall from grace—but hear me, I for one would refuse my book to Jeffrey Levine even if he could guarantee me a Nobel Prize in the deal! And similarly, I do hope the Crazyhorse Publishing Institute at the College of Charleston gets off the ground, but it won’t unless it jettisons the baggage of its unsavoury partner!

Yes, a poem does need a pedigree—a found poem can delight you but it remains flotsam for the rest of the world if its provenance cannot be determined. Indeed, without accountability and transparency you’d be foolish to drink too deeply at the source of any work of art in our times!

The other point has already been covered—that I should start up my own blog and write for the world as I am writing for you here in the last few moments at Foetry. But as a writer I too need the sense that someone is listening, indeed I need the sense that you are listening, my friends at Foetry and my borderline acquaintances that are still visiting (are you there Bob’s friend?) and my enemies even (Kate, are we still having fun?).

I’ll stop on this now—but should you approach me with a question or incite me, should you stand before me with a name, even if you made it up, should you be there in front of me as a person, I’d write, oh I’d write and I’d write. What did Jonathan Swift say about Doctors and Generals and Lawyers as opposed to Edward and Edith, that he hated the latter as much as he loved his dear friends with their own private names? Me too!

So no blogs, thank you—round-tables maybe, and forums to good causes or among real people, but even then you’d have to come and get me, and by name!

Christopher Woodman

Best, Bugzita, a.k.a. Jennifer Semple Siegel

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A New Beginning?

Foetry fans and others,

With some trepidation, I started this Post Foetry blog because I believe that Foetry's work is important and should continue in some form. Alan Cordle, founder of Foetry, and Matt Koeske worked very hard on the Foetry forum, but life goes on and people burn out.

Maybe Foetry itself burned out. Maybe Post Foetry will burn out even before it's truly launched.

With that in mind, I would like Post Foetry to consist of a blogging team; this is not a "call for bloggers" per se; I have some people in mind, Foetry members, and I will be emailing them soon.

However, this blog will be open to moderated comments. It's not that I wish to squash opposing viewpoints--I just need to eliminate spambots and comments that could get me sued.

So we'll see how it goes.

On another topic...

I keep getting junk mail from literary organizations who want me to join as a member. Today's invitation was from Poets House, an organization located in New York City. It touts a library and offers "a place for congenial conversation and socialility."

For $40.00, I'll "receive free admission to Poets House programs, discounted tickets to special events, a Poetry Advocate lapel pin and a collectible Poets House Haiku Pencil."

The problem is, I live 150 + miles from New York City. If I get there once a year, that is a lot. I can't afford NYC, and I don't have a lot of money to burn on memberships.

Where do these people get my name?

Best to all,