AN OPEN LETTER TO THE COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON
P. George Benson, President,
The College of Charleston
Larry Carlson, Chairman
The English Department Re. The CofC Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press Publishing Institute & Jeffrey Levine
Dear President Benson and Chairman Carlson,
To tell you the truth, I’m not at all surprised you haven’t replied to my letters--I feel sure you understood that my only interest in the matter was that those like yourselves in positions of high authority at C of C were aware of the scandal surrounding the visiting Director of your Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press Publishing Institute, Jeffrey Levine. If, as I feel sure, you have looked into the matter and have already discussed it with your own, resident faculty members, and in particular with Carol Ann Davis and Garrett Doherty, then you will have fulfilled my expectations entirely.
As far as I know, www.foetry.com
is the sole website in the world that is devoted to exposing those who cheat in the business of poetry—which with the advent of Creative Writing Programs like your own at C of C has become not only a significant drain on university budgets but a source of very considerable personal income for some of those involved in its propagation. As the principal watchdog in this field, we would like to be satisfied that whatever can be done in the C of C case is being done. That’s all we ask. Because in fact NONE OF US were aware of the dark, venal side of Jeffrey Levine before The Tupelo Press scandal broke just six months ago when 100s of fake ‘personal critques’ containng solicitations for funds in exchange for favors came to light on this site. Indeed, the CofC English Department prospectus for its Publishing Institute had already been released by then, and for all we know you may already have had graduate students enrolled for the program.
In other words, it was much too late to shut the chicken house door!
On the other hand, the Publishing Institute is a very good idea in itself, and I would encourage you to pursue it but WITHOUT Jeffrey Levine on its roster. Indeed, I would encourage you to endorse not only a Crazyhorse Publishing Institute, but a Crazyhorse First Book Prize as the focus of its syllabus. The big difference would be that you would from the very start call a spade a spade, unlike Jeffrey Levine. You would announce publicly and unequivocally that graduate students enrolled in the program would be fully engaged in the judging process from the start,
that they would most certainly get their hands dirty sifting through the initial slush pile, that they would cast votes cut by cut as well, discussing the issues as they went, and that they would be involved in the final decision.
Indeed, there would only be two provisos, and both would be set in stone--and of course discussed at every twist and turning of the process:
1.) Anyone among the students or faculty who knew anyone for any reason among the candidates must say so, and recuse himself or herself from the judging entirely as long as that manuscript remained in contention;
2.) The Head (or Heads) of the Institute would have absolute and indisputable veto powers, and in the final analysis could over-ride any graduate student communal decision.
And that gets me to the most important point of all. A huge amount of responsibility must be placed squarely and publicly where it belongs, on the shoulders of your faculty. And speaking for myself, the one who has bothered you with all these letters, I'm convinced your own faculty can carry it. Indeed, it’s obvious that this was their intention from the start, because part of the hue and cry was over the suspicious changing of the rules
that took place in your prospectus after the Tupelo scandal broke last November—with the fingerprints of Jeffrey Levine all over it. We feel sure that your faculty were as much in the dark about Jeffrey Levine’s true colors as we were—nobody suspected that the press with the proudest Code of Ethics in America was actually the front for a coporate lawyer and an advertising executive! That’s just a metaphor, of course, but what it means is that we all suddenly realised that Jeffrey Levine was not all that he appeared to be. We woke up to the fact that the fox was already in the chicken house yet again!
From what we know of the very distinguished record of the College of Charleston, of its English Department, and of course of its outstanding poetry review, Crazyhorse, we would have complete faith in its editors, Carol Ann Davis and Garrett Docherty, to run this new program. All we would ask is that you sit down with the two of them and be sure they can satisfy you that they too were taken in by Jeffrey Levine, and that they fully understand the need for the College of Charleston Crazyhorse Publishing Institute to distance itself from The Tupelo Press as soon as it possibly can.
Finally, some sort of public reply to this letter, even just a few words, would be a real boost to the cause of transparency and accountability in the administration of poetry competitions, the focus of your new C of C Publishing Institute. Indeed, the College of Charleston would break entirely new ground if it felt it could acknowledge these issues.
I wish you the very best in this new endeavour—I’m sure everyone at Foetry would join me in that blessing too. It could change the whole landscape of poetry in America!