Saturday, October 04, 2008

Zafusy + other bloghopping

A new site for the always intriguing zine Zafusy.

Goodreads is really a good place to network with other readers and writers. You can create a page for listing your own works, find out what friends and authors you admire are reading, list brief book reviews and make virtual shelves of books you recommend. It's Facebook for the literary, but intimate and friendly, because the numbers aren't so vast. And no gadgets, things to throw, etc.!

A marvelous virtual poetry conference will be hosted soon by members of the Women in Poetry Listserv. The first annual Wompherence (Wompo+conference), a marvelous site filled with resources, activities and a bookstore, is up now. Registration is free. The official conference starts in November, but there's already plenty to see. More soon on the Wompherence.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Continuing -- Alpaugh on Contests

Tim Green (Rattle editor) blogged today about David Alpaugh's excellent article on poetry book contests. He highlights David's contribution to analyzing the state of American poetry and what's wrong in it:

"... he [Alpaugh] might be best known for his influential essay “The Professionalization of Poetry,” first printed as a two part series in Poets & Writers in 2003. That essay detailed the sacrifices poetry has made to become a viable profession within academia–the diluting of talent, the rise of esotericism, the praise of the banal. In Rattle e.5, Alpaugh turns his attention from the university to the free market, exploring the opportunity cost of so much good intention–the founding of (yet another) poetry book contest."

Tim Green goes on to debate a few of Alpaugh's points, which makes for interesting reading, but he really got my attention on the subject of how little contest presses do for winners in promoting their winning books. He contrasts his own positive experience with Red Hen Press with reports from contest winners about essentially receiving, by way of publicity, "a box of books and a letter wishing them luck."

Which makes me want to ask again -- doesn't the self-publishing option seem more attractive, if you're more or less on your own anyway. An ad in P&W isn't all that costly, and Poetry Flash (with a print run of 22,000) is a downright bargain.

Autumn Cleaning in Progress

I've decided to prune my Blogroll, list only the blogs I read regularly. Blogs that surprise, amuse, inform, uplift or involve me -- or simply strike me with awe, which is what good poetry and art should do.

Speak up if your blog has been deleted and you're reading this -- if you want your link back on my Blogroll! My hope is to make it easier to find good reading. I don't mean to exclude anyone. If you don't blog regularly, if your blog is mostly political and not about art or literature, or if you just post announcements of your own news, the link has been deleted.

We're a network, though, and I'm open-minded. Just let me know.

Happy Autumn! A few more leaves may fall in the next few days. Write and let me know if you want yours pasted back on the tree.

David Alpaugh on What's REALLY Wrong With Contests

Before you lick the stamps for that envelope, and slip your newest poetry manuscript into it to head off to a book contest, read David Alpaugh's canny investigation of the whole book contest biz. It's part of the new issue of Rattle, as a free download. (Scroll down to see the link to a pdf.)

Among Alpaugh's many trenchant observations, this really made me think about why the readership for poetry is shrinking:

It is routine practice for contests to throw in the winning book as a consolation
prize for non-winners. In most cases losing poets constitute the main readership
for award-winning books! May I suggest that they are perhaps the least likely
critics to receive the book favorably?—that many of them begin reading with a
question that would not be asked by readers of a traditionally published book?
(How could Judge X possibly choose these poems over mine?).

Combined with the almost suffocatingly academic pall that has been cast over the art form by the machinery of MFA Programs, ever hungry for new paying students, and you have a pretty good explanation of why no one in America takes poetry serious except the poets. It is engineered to leave the rest of society out. Those who dare to write outside the Academy's criteria for good work don't win contests, sell few books or don't get books published at all. You have only to receive a few of these consolation prize books to realize how what a monotone the whole of American poetry has fallen into.

Alpaugh speaks to the causes of this monotone:

"Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, book contests subtly corrupt the art by
substituting the petty goal of winning for the grander one of writing original poetry.
Contests have their unwritten conventions which, if followed, will increase
likelihood of success. Study as many prize-winning volumes as you can; adjust
your style and content accordingly; and you may find yourself in next year’s winners’
circle. Poetry book contests privilege serious poems over humorous ones; pathos over
wit; “sincerity” over virtuosity; they eschew satire and persona; and devalue
variety in favor of consistency of theme, form, tone, and “voice.” A swerve into
the ineffable in the last few lines of each poem will keep your work “open” and
“risky” in conformance with current MFA workshop practice. Prefacing poems
with epigraphs from fashionable poets (usually in translation) will let the judge
know that you are or aspire to be professionally hip."

The rest of the article is even more thought-provoking, and often wildly entertaining. Alpaugh's wit serves his argument well, as the whole business richly deserves parody.

(Thanks, David, for permission to quote the above!)

But yeah, I'm still going to enter a few contests. Pleiades and Nightboat are among my fall deadline picks, because of final judges and staff whose work I like. I'm going to be choosy, though, and send only where I suspect I'm welcome. Why submit a book to a place that has only sent me form rejections? The average $20 fee + $4 postage is too steep to mess around with.

I think they should lower the contest fees, or maybe more of us will get more selective -- or, as some of my colleagues are doing, opt out. Self-publishing is becoming more and more interesting an idea, thanks to the new services. You have to promote your own books anyway!