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Author Topic: I have my opinion  (Read 55139 times)
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alan
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« Reply #15 on: May 03, 2005, 11:34:24 AM »

Just to be clear, Cairns told me that he, White, and Fagan were all at Utah at the same time.  I assume they all studied with Strand; I know White did, and Strand has made his career for him.  So the mentality might be something like, well Strand does it, so it must be ok.  It's not.
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"You especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it -- don't cheat with it.” -- Ernest Hemingway
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Alan Cordle
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« Reply #16 on: May 03, 2005, 11:39:16 AM »

There's not much difference in style between the NPS and Vassar Miller and Tupoelo and many others, especially since the judges change. But then the same names seem to turn up around (or same people with same background) at the same contests or in relation to people they know. So it's not about contests but people. Who is running what contest, who is the judge of what contest? That is what some people are gravitating to.

I know it is a common experience to attend an MFA program in which few if any connections are made with teachers or other students (happened to me). It happens. But clearly in looking at these contests there are systematic principals in place that act as an affirmation action program for certain writers in relation to certain judges. The most troubling is something that is surfacing: the practice of judges announcing that there are no quality manuscripts and then calling for a submission by a certain individual. The submission then wins. That is cheating the others of the process. In the same way that the judges have to select from the dog contest, the ice skating contest or the Miss America contest you are stuck with the entrants, especially when they are PAYING (and guessing that the judge is paid to judge and thus the entrants are PAYING the salary of the judge) to be in the "contest."

If this were not happening there would be no discussion of any of this. And because you attended a certain instituition you shouldn't be banned from life from submitting. But when you taught at the University of Iowa and then submit to te contest that is screened by perhaps some of the same students you taught and then the judge is a fomer colleague there is a problem with that. And no perhaps the judge would not recoginze the manuscript but all you have to know is the name of the manuscript.

The fact is that there are many, many book contests. It is easy enough (and ethical) to not submit to a contest that is judge or run by someone you have had more than a passing relationship with.
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lillylangtry
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« Reply #17 on: May 03, 2005, 02:56:03 PM »

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The fact is that there are many, many book contests. It is easy enough (and ethical) to not submit to a contest that is judge or run by someone you have had more than a passing relationship with.


Oh yes, I agree with you here.
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Wilson
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« Reply #18 on: May 03, 2005, 04:14:53 PM »

If Cairns, White, and Fagan were all in the army, we'd say, Hey, the Army's a pretty big organization.  If we found out they all went through boot camp together, that might raise some suspicions.  If we found out they were all in the same unit, that would probably be enough for most of us to say it's fishy business.  And probably all of them should have thought something about what it would look like to anyone else.
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #19 on: May 05, 2005, 11:02:51 AM »

Sorry not to have kept up. And I'll say now that I'm off to Arizona for a week in a monastery where, presumably (ideally, even), I won't have access to the internet/e-mail/etc. and probably won't be able to respond again anytime soon. Please don't read that silence as a lack of interest.

I'm not familiar with the "Jorie Graham rule" but would be pleased to adopt whatever measures will reassure folks that the Vassar Miller Prize is on the up and up--as, I would insist, it is.

I'm not sure how this will be spun in my absence, but for the record, Kathy Fagan and I overlapped at Utah by a year, during which she was finishing up, and did not attend any workshops.  Mike White and I WERE at Utah almost the entire time together, but Mike and I did not know each other well, nor did we ever really hit it off. I like him fine, but I hardly know him.

At any rate, the screening of the Vassar Miller Prize is done by very accomplished graduate students, none of whom went to school with Kathy or Mike. :-) The judging is also done blindly, with no identifying marks on the mss, and by judges who are not announced ahead of time.

One other factoid: though the mailing address has always coincided with my current university gig, the actual sponsoring institution of the prize is (and has always been) University of North Texas Press. Moreover, folks should know that, in general, a given university's writing program has absolutely nothing to do with that same university's press. That is to say, the Iowa program has no juice with the Iowa Press, the Missouri program has no juice with the Missouri Press, etc.

But to restate: I am very much willing to put into place any logistically reasonable policies that will reassure poets submitting to the Vassar Miller Prize that their manuscripts will be judged solely on their respective merits.

I support the cleaning up of the contest system, and I think foetry.com may yet play a useful role in that necessary clean-up. That said, I'm often perplexed by the tangents that are intermittently taken here (frequently, with a curious, aggressive-if-also-defensive demeanor). Said tangents seem only to diminish (or to make suspect) the valuable work being done here. If I could "workshop" the forum, then, it would be to suggest a more careful, more thoughtful discourse—perhaps, even, a more focused one.

Adios. I wish you all the best.
Scott Cairns
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Chuck Vegas
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« Reply #20 on: May 05, 2005, 12:07:25 PM »

Moreover, folks should know that, in general, a given university's writing program has absolutely nothing to do with that same university's press. That is to say, the Iowa program has no juice with the Iowa Press, the Missouri program has no juice with the Missouri Press, etc.

Good point. At the university where I earned my MFA and interned at the press, this was the case. There were regional affinities, but I can only recall one instance where a former MFA'er was published by that press, and that was years later.
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« Reply #21 on: May 05, 2005, 12:23:08 PM »

I understand your points and I think a sensible conversation about the way a contest is run and what is fine and desirable.

I also appreciate your other points but the University of Iowa Press and the Poetry and Fiction contest are indeed intimately intertwined with the Writing Workshop. I spoke to the atorney there and she confirmed that every single judge for fiction and poetry there for the past five years as been in the Workshop, a recent teacher at the Workshop or a graduate of the Workshop. In addition, all of the screeners are graduate students in the Workshop. This may be the exception to most competitions.  But increasingly as information comes forward we are finding more (and not less) connections between presses and judges and a coterie of writers.

I think the adoption of a "Jorie Graham rule" would be the appropriate thing. What difference would it have made if Michael White and Kathy Fagan had not submitted to the Vassar Miller contest (beside someone else winning). Seems as though they could have just as easily submitted to the National Poetry Series or any other series and it would not leave an impression of connections.
I for appreciate your post and hope that you will adop such a rule.
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« Reply #22 on: May 05, 2005, 12:25:41 PM »

... you attended years ago and I do not university presses where they will have nothing to do wit the students and teachers in the writing program. But Iowa is the prime example. And if you step outside you see problems at any number of presses that have conflicts of interest and are accepting NEA and state grants and solicitig money for contests.
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« Reply #23 on: May 05, 2005, 12:27:18 PM »

... you attended years ago and I do know presses where they will have nothing to do with the students and teachers in the writing program. But Iowa is the prime example. And if you step outside of the university system you see problems at any number of presses that have conflicts of interest and are accepting NEA and state grants and soliciting money for contests from writers. If a press uses its own money, it can do what it wants.
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #24 on: May 05, 2005, 12:33:05 PM »

I wonder if someone could take a minute to explain the "Jorie Graham rule." I think a gather the gist, but not the specifics.

Again, in a couple hourse, I'll be out of the loop for a week or so.

Scott Cairns
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #25 on: May 05, 2005, 12:34:34 PM »

sorry for the typos, I'm packing as I type.

SC
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missblue
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« Reply #26 on: May 05, 2005, 02:24:50 PM »

I understand that Scott is a Christian (Greek Orthodox) poet well-known for his writing on spiritual matters.  And Vassar Miller was known for this kind of writing, too.  So I can see how a certain subject matter might allow certain poets to enter the contest and do well, as opposed to poets who worship at the altar of Slayer or Slipknot.  

Anyway, that's one thing in Scott's defense.  

The Jorie Graham rule, Scott, is a rule that says, in fairly simple terms.  Friends/students/partners and well-known associates of the judge may not apply.  You announce the judge for the contest ahead of time, and then the contest is clean.  Say, however, that your best friend, submits anyways, and it's blind, and her ms. is chosen.  Well, her ms. must get tossed because she knew of the Jorie Graham rule, and she shouldn't have entered.  It's avoiding the appearance of impropriety.  Surely, these friends, etc., if they have good mss., should be able to publish elsewhere, no?  

It's called the Jorie Graham rule, because she's well-known for choosing her student's work and her lover's work for book prizes.  In short, very unethical and probably illegal.  

Your poetry is excellent, Scott Cairns, by the way, in Miss Blue's humble opinion.
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January
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« Reply #27 on: May 07, 2005, 03:53:23 AM »

Quote
The Jorie Graham rule, Scott, is a rule that says, in fairly simple terms. Friends/students/partners and well-known associates of the judge may not apply. You announce the judge for the contest ahead of time, and then the contest is clean. Say, however, that your best friend, submits anyways, and it's blind, and her ms. is chosen. Well, her ms. must get tossed because she knew of the Jorie Graham rule, and she shouldn't have entered. It's avoiding the appearance of impropriety. Surely, these friends, etc., if they have good mss., should be able to publish elsewhere, no?



This is so simple. So easy.  And there are judges who, even when a contest, is blind ask (after choosing the winners) to see the names of those winners for the purpose of excluding those they know.  All businesses have ethical standards and rules they must follow and the poetry world should be no different.  

An annual journal contest that is posted elsewhere on this board recently announced winners of its own annual contest. Two of the winners were from the same town as the journal's managing editor and at least one of the winners has a close connection on the local poetry scene with the managing editor.  In fact, the managing editor, hosted a local reading series for years to which the second place winner was often a reader in the open mic portion. This winner has such a distinctive writing style that even with blind judging,  she had to know it was his work when she passed it on to the final judge.  

Which brings up another topic, the initial screening process.  When a poet pays twenty-five dollars to have an entry considered for a contest, the judge should see all the manuscripts.  It appears that the judges are selecting from a very small handfull of manuscripts in some of these contests.  Also, I hear some editors saying they have to extend contest deadlines because they simply do not have enough entries, but then they pass on only six manuscripts to the judge and it turns out three of those manuscripts are someone they know "because they were the only ones who were worthy."  When we pay a fee the judge should see all the manuscripts.  What I hear editors say is that it takes too long for the judge to go through all the manuscripts so they have to reduce the number of manuscripts they see.  Bullshit. I have judged contests and it does not take that long to weed out the Hallmark entries. Let the judge be the judge. That is what he gets paid to do.  Whatever system he uses to cull those entries is his business but he should look at all the entries that are submitted in a contest where the poet paid a fee.

January
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Wilson
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« Reply #28 on: May 07, 2005, 04:27:13 AM »

When you see a magazine such as Diner which tends to favor people from its own in contests, why would you support the contest or the magazine?  Don't.  I just looked up the contest for the Pittsburgh Quarterly and they tend to favor writers from PA.  Unless I'm living in PA, I don't know why I would enter this contest.   I'd boycott contests where the judge is hog-tied by a screening process.
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alan
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« Reply #29 on: May 08, 2005, 09:09:48 AM »

Here is what Cairns wrote to me about the screening process for Vassar:

Quote
As for the initial screening, that is done by one, two, or three grad students (depending on the year and the available slave labor) and when the pile gets to around 200 I pore over the mss. to get the pile down to somewhere between 10 and 15, though one year I could only get it down to 20. By the way, it starts feeling fairly arbitrary at about 100. This year, I sent 12 mss. to Paul Mariani, and he picked Mike's; I'm pretty sure they hadn't met.

I send the finalist mss. blind (with only a title page, sans author's name, sans acknowledgments, etc.) to the final judge, whose assignment is to choose one, and to write a paragraph saying why (which is usually harvested for a subsequent blurb).


Perhaps he can further illuminate the process when he returns.
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"You especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it -- don't cheat with it.” -- Ernest Hemingway
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Alan Cordle
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