Sunday, February 13, 2005

I had hoped, in surveying my weekend from the vantage of the work week, to post a bit more than I have, but Anna is really ill and I'm moderately ill and Noah, unfortunately, is as energetic as ever.

Despite all of the acrimony about and around and within Foetry, I've put A Moving Grove through a substantial revision, and I no longer have two manuscripts-in-progress, having used up all of my good new work that doesn't belong to the Los Angeles poem to bolster the sagging ramparts of the old ms. There are now only a handful of poems in there from my grad. school days. Amazing to be throwing out work I used to lead with, and a bit sad, but the poems no longer fit. I feel so mature, so clear-eyed, willing to sacrifice my own babies at the altar of artistic accomplishment! It even almost appears that I believe in the ordering of poems in a manuscript, in (dare I say!) architecture, that it means something, or at the very least tells a story about meaning something. National Poetry Series and Sarabande deadlines on Tuesday, for all of you who, like me, often miss deadlines.

I suppose that the thought that these prizes might be conducted without the most rigorous of scruples does, on occasion, give me pause. But there's a downside to scruples: if the contest is totally fair, then I am left with the equally unsavory possibility that my book just wasn't good. In the end, too, excellent work keeps on getting published, and no-one is really lining their pockets here. Jorie Graham, hyperbolic as her blurbs are, has picked some truly wonderful manuscripts over the years. It may be the case that she truly thought these were the best picks, since they were very strong books. I'm thinking particularly of Madonna Anno Domini and Debt. Plus, poetry books have to get published somehow, and I feel it's my duty to contribute to that endeavor--by buying poetry and, yes, with contest fees. I can fantasize about a country where the goverment kicked down more money for the arts, but with so many programs getting cut, I think I'd rather see kids get afterschool programs first.

See, I managed to write more than a few sentences and not say anything substantive!

1 comment:

Jake Adam York said...


I'm grateful for your comments on the Foetry/rigged contest discussion. You're right to say --- I wanted to say this more clearly in my volume about "The Market" --- that no one's getting rich, especially not Jorie who is already phenomenally rich (if you believe the common knowledge: being paid like $100K to name a perfume?) and nevertheless truly good books do come out.

One might also point to the Yale contest, during the Merwin years. Many people thought he'd violated some ethic by not picking a winner his first year, but then he chose two of what I consider the best books of the last decade, Craig Arnold's Shells and Maurice Manning's Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions. Good books do come through, even when there's the most suspicion that the contest is somehow false.

But I don't think this means that you have to assume your "book just wasn't good." Probably I've spent over $4000 over the last four years writing, revising, and submitting my book and was immensely frustrated and was thinking that my book was little more than scat --- this is what you allow yourself to think. Last year at AWP, however, I met a person who had read my MS in a contest and ultimately turned it down, but he had some very nice things to say. He even remembered specific poems. Now, I didn't win, but it showed me that your book can come back, or not win, but still be good enough to make a strong impression in a judge's mind.

I'm glad you wrote this, because I think it brings up something about the contest system that no one's talking about --- the fact that one can only assume if the book doesn't win that it is categorically not good. I wish there were more communication --- that more people do what Ron Wallace at Wisconsin does, write short notes to a number of contestants --- but the contest system doesn't conduce such communication.