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Author Topic: I have my opinion  (Read 59323 times)
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Vermeer
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« Reply #30 on: May 09, 2005, 06:19:46 AM »

White and Fagan should not have been allowed to submitt.

Fagan was selected by Daniel Halpern for the National Poetry Series. Both were at Columbia at around the same time. Anyobody can confirm she was a student of his or knew him? WOuld Fagan be willing to come here and clarify this?
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alan
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« Reply #31 on: May 09, 2005, 08:24:33 AM »

I emailed Fagan about the Ohio State contest (when I was anonymous) -- she answered many questions (and for me -- generated others).  I don't have time to contact her today, but could later this week.
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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
Lynn
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« Reply #32 on: May 10, 2005, 06:33:33 PM »

Quote

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. ... 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


I just wanted to comment on the screening process, as I have been a screener for a contest, and was the editor of a literary journal. It is very (and I mean VERY) idealistic to think that a poet who is judging a poetry contest could be paid enough money to read 400 poetry manuscripts. Say you and 399 of your closest friends submit your 50+ page manuscripts and the judge is, say, a moderately well known poet who also teaches, as most poets must. When will the poet have time to read or even skim these manuscripts? How much does this judge get paid? Maybe, maybe $1000. Maybe Louise Gluck and Jorie Graham get more, but most average judges don't. So you see the dilemma. (the rest of the money, btw, goes to actually producing and advertising and distributing the book. Which really is quite expensive and not at all profitable).
The up-side to the screening process (in my experience) is that it really is anonymous. And since most of us were in a graduate program at the time, our friends and cronies were excluded from submitting, so we were not tempted to choose our friends and lovers. And we didn't know who the judge was, so we couldn't privilege his ex-students, lovers, friends, etc. who may have submitted to the contest.
I did, in my time as a screener, recognize two manuscripts. And I passed them to another screener I knew would not recognize them. So I feel that a contest can be run fairly. I have seen it firsthand.
I have also administrated contests and even if the contest has a "Jorie" rule, you can't prevent judges from choosing their friends and students. You can only refuse to award the prize because of the rule. And then someone else gets the prize and it all works out fine.
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Steven Ford Brown
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« Reply #33 on: May 11, 2005, 07:09:28 AM »

... Lynn, that's fine but I have observed many people posting who talk about the great sacrifices that editors, judges go through, etc. My take on that is that if you can't do it right, can't judge properly (without including friends, etc.) then don't do it. Please have a judge go tell the employee at Walmart who is making $9.35 per hour for a 35 hour week week with no healthcare that $1,000 -$2,000 is not much money to sit in a luxury lounger and read through 20 manuscripts (judges usually only get the top ten or twenty).

While the screening process  in theory is fine we are finding that too often the judge decides there are not enough "quality" manuscripts and solicits another entry (from a  friend or student, etc.) and the solicited writer 'wins." There are simply too many documented instances of former students of winners "winning." Sometimes, the gap in time between study with the judge and the student is so short you wonder how they have the nerve to do it. The best way is the Jorie rule.

And again, unless you adopt the rule and judges are selecting people they have relationships with then the other 1,000 are merely financiing the contest. No different from running a pyramid scheme. The only people who get the money are the people at the top! Ask 15 people in a workshop if they can identify the other 14 writers by five unattributed poems in their workshop after having spent a semester or two together. I say the answer is yes. Better than 75 %.

The fact is that the system has to be reformed. It can't go on this way.
And once again in light of my comments, I do not submit to contests (and haven't).
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Lynn
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« Reply #34 on: May 11, 2005, 01:57:01 PM »

I'm not disagreeing with you that the system needs to be reformed. But, to use the Wal-Mart analogy, supposedly the judge was chosen to "judge" because of some credentials (books published, teaching, prizes, awards). Granted the "credentials" might be part of the incestous (excuse my spelling) cycle, but the judge does have some qualifications that, say, your average Wal-Mart worker might not have (let's not get into the fairness of that right now). I just don't think any judge would read 400 manuscripts (and having read a fair number of terrible ones, I wouldn't blame the judge for only wanting 20 mss).
Yes, reform the system. But I wouldn't want poetry contests to go away. I have a lot of friends on the academic job market, which requires one or two books as ante. They are talented poets and teachers. They deserve to get jobs. They have good manuscripts that deserve to be published and contests are, right now, one of the few ways to do that. It's not a perfect system, but the alternative is to submit poetry to the market economy. And we all know what will happen then (no market, no poetry, or very little poetry.)
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #35 on: May 11, 2005, 02:22:43 PM »

Hi, I'm back in the world, if briefly. Back to the monasteries in a couple weeks.

Forgive me if I've missed any direct questions as I skim through the posts. (And THANK YOU, missblue, for your kindness re: the poems!!!)

Another tidbit for the record.  Our Vassar Miller judges are paid the embarrassing sum of $500, for which they genuinely pore over 10-20 annonymous mss., reading them many times over as they anguish over who will win. Each of the judges in question generally receives easily four times that amount to give a 50-minute reading, so I'm utterly grateful to them for essentially donating their services and receiving a very minimal honorarium.

As for me, though I cobbled the Vassar Miller operation together about...what? 14 years ago, I've received a $300 honorarium for my duties only during each of the past 3 years. I'm not complaining; I'd keep the thing going in any event, but it's nice to see that little token show up in the mail once each August.

The bottom line is this, I think: these contests are, for the most part, labors of love in which volunteer screeners and underpaid others take great pains to give every manuscript its due. I certainly understand the resentment one feels when a "fix" is exposed, and I'm absolutely in favor of exposing all such fixes. Still, bear in mind that poetry publishing in America (or, 98% of it) pretty much depends on these logistically unwieldy projects. One should take care not to toss the baby with the bathwater, as my old dad was overly fond of saying.

Christos Anesti!!!
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Steven Ford Brown
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« Reply #36 on: May 11, 2005, 03:26:37 PM »

The worker at Walmart was purely used as a metaphor or as an analogy. And it gives rise to the real question: which is why so many poets? Why do we need to keep cranking out  20,000 MFA students a year every year? If books -and the need to publish- is based on the fact that people need jobs, isn't that something the government does in a down economy? WPA for instance in the 1930s. Artists allied with the WPA produced remarkable work but it was a different world and the numbers of actual artists and writers were minimal compared to today. I don't think publication or art should exist simply because because people need jobs. I think we have far too many contests. We have far too many poets. Reduce the number of contests and publishing opportunities and people will not go to MFA programs and will do something else with their lives. Publishers will publish real poetry by real poets.

I first had thoughts about this when I met a guy in his early 30s who told me he had published 500 poems and I had never heard of him. Publication is so easy is why there are so many poets and so much bad poetry. You can publish 100 poems on the internet at the drop of a hat. Oh and by the way his poery was terrible.

You can see poetry as a mass product -not a product for the masses because the masses ignore it anyway- like hamburgers or widgets. You can crank it out with more outrageous blurbs on the back about the poet (when will poets learn that putting a blurb on the back of your book by a teacher you studied with, a friend or someone you published yourself is like having a blurb from your mother?)

You can either get the government to pay you to produce more (the NEA, state arts agencies) or pay you not to produce more (simply take away the funding).

The issue of contests is just part of a larger problem with the system. There are too many poets, too many contests and too much money floating around. People are trying to manipulate the system to give favors to friends so that can get jobs. That's why people cheat. No one would believe it until it was documented at Foetry.com.
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #37 on: May 11, 2005, 04:15:02 PM »

I guess I'm not ready to concede that there are too many poets. Po-biz aside (and it truly is a separate issue), poetry is a vocation, a means by which a tiny percentage of the population apprehends its place in the community, the world, the cosmos. Publication is pretty much beside the point, eh? We write poems because, when we are working away at the mystery of language, we find a glimpse of the greater mystery of being. Some people find their way into that mystery via physics, or mathematics, or theology, or whatever. And a few of us (too many, perhaps, to make a career out of it) find that the closest we come to understanding ANYthing, is when we work it over in densely suggestive terms--terms that, if we're lucky--continue to resist terminaton, conclusion.

Nope, not too many poets. Too few.

Yers for the duration,
Scott
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alan
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« Reply #38 on: May 11, 2005, 04:24:06 PM »

Dear Professor Cairns,

I admire you because you are here and willing to engage in a thoughtful way with the people here.  You are the only editor of one of the prizes who has done that.  Others have sent interns or other mouthpieces, but you're here and talking.  Others, like Milofsky, spout off on other sites, but won't appear here.  At least one other has been a member, but her self-involvement and unwillingness to admit that there may have been problems was her eventual downfall.  So thank you.
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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
leander
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« Reply #39 on: May 11, 2005, 10:24:29 PM »

I expect that number was just thrown out in a prior post to signify a lot and too many, but does anyone know the real number, that is , an approximate but realistic number of ma, mfa, and phd degrees awarded in creative writing in an average recent year?  How many programs are there?  how many students do most of these produce?  As this site is mostly interested in poetry, how many of those creative writing  graduates are primarily "master" poets?  One last question, how many master poets have accumulated over the past twenty or thirty years?  Whether closer to 20,000 or 2,000 per year, that is far too many both  for the marketplace and  for the degree to really mean much .
     Leander
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Vermeer
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« Reply #40 on: May 12, 2005, 01:54:21 AM »

At last count I think that AWP said there was 3,500 writing programs. If only five students per year -both fiction and poetry- graduate, that's 17,500 per year. A decade means 175,000. Could there possibly be 350,000 MFA Graduates over the past two decades?

And again you get back to the question of why contests, why so many writing programs? There's nowhere for them to go. (if 350,000 doctors, dentists or engineers graduated per year and less than 10% can ever get jobs in their field the US government would declare it a crisis and do something about it.) Resourceful writers in order to build a rep start a a magazine, help finance it by starting a contest, and eventually someone who gets hired at a little community college decides to start a new MFA program (whether needed or not) to provide employment for themselves and their writing pals (OK with the community college as they can get cheap help from MFA students who will teach freshmen English for $6,000 per year while in the program.)  A new MFA program means more jobs for desperate MFAers who want to teach writing whether there is a need for more MFA grads per year or not. The NEA funds it (the product- magazines, internet sites, reading series). The contests generate cash. Poets & Writers makes money off advertisements for contests (so they won't do an expose of their own industry). AWP makes money off fees, more attendees at its conferences. Why does anyone want to stop it when you've created this circular whirlpool that keeps sucking in money to produce "art" that no one cares about as the standards for the "art" sink lower and lower (think of the famous lines from the Verse anthology of younger American poets in which the poet muses about a lover and kitty litter in the same sentence)?

The payoff is in that the older poets who control things can manipulate this system to benefit themselves and their minions and finance it all by having the unsuspecting poets pay to enter contests to finance their private publishing empire which advantages their friends, lovers, etc. This in turn provides those friends, lovers, etc with employment, grants, books. Grateful younger poets laud the master poets with tributes, reviews, etc. Again, the circular whirlpool.

What about any of this is honest? What if any of this is necessary? Am I wrong in thinking that Jorie Graham has judged perhaps six or seven major poetry contests (Can someone help me count?) and in every single one a former student, lover, friend, etc has won? 100%? Is that correct? This would be a prime example of what is wriong with the whole system as we have it today. Again, it is fine to reward anyone you want with your own money. The probelm is when $800,000 is generated through contest fees from unsuspecting writers to fund the private promotion machine for a specific poet's dreams of a literary empire.
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Vermeer
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« Reply #41 on: May 12, 2005, 01:57:21 AM »

And again you get back to the question of why contests, why so many writing programs? There's nowhere for them to go. (if 350,000 doctors, dentists or engineers graduated over two decades and less than 10% can ever get jobs in their field the US government would declare it a crisis and do something about it.)
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leander
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« Reply #42 on: May 12, 2005, 08:58:46 AM »

Vermeer,
I entirely agree with your analysis of the problem, but the numbers still seem off.  Several hundred graduate creative writing programs seems more likely--has it really become several thousand?  (Maybe the numbers did explode when I wasn't watching carefully.)  The 3,500 figure quoted seems that it would apply to annual graduates (ma and phd degrees included) rather than programs.

But even if  the smaller figure is closer to the truth, that is still too many.  Over the past twenty or thirty years many conventional phd programs in english literature have greatly reduced the number of students they admit.  And even to those they admit they often send warnings along with the acceptance letter cautioning that the prospects for employment in academia are not very good. But new creative writing programs keep popping up, luring new students and, to a much smaller degree, employing professional creative writers.  But in general the academic prospects are far worse for the mfa graduate.  Sure, it can be argued that it is a free market, and if someone wants to spend a couple years getting an mfa,  then let free choice reign.  But the proliferating programs seem to lack the conscience of other academic programs.  So what we have is the current mess of dubious motives and marginal art.
   Leander
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ScottCairns
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« Reply #43 on: May 12, 2005, 11:00:13 AM »

I think we need to bear in mind that the primary purpose of a writing program (particularly at the MFA level) is to assist writers in their vocational development as writers. Assuming and applying the trade-school (or professional-school) model creates a mistaken analogy, even if it is a common one.

Admittedly, anecdotal evidence isn't the most compelling, but back when I taught in and directed an MFA program (at Old Dominion U.) I was pleased to see the variety of careers our students entered upon graduation. One went on to the Peace Corps, another entered a seminary, several pursued jobs in publishing, technical writing, advertising, teaching in secondary schools, etc. One developed a writing-based program helping children in hospitals to employ writing as part of their healing processes. One became an arts administrator. One became a chef. Several entered Ph.D. programs in literature that included creative writing emphases-programs that are more specifically designed to prepare college and university faculty, and which seem to “turn out” just about as many junior faculty as the market demands/can employ.

In every case, the MFA program helped these graduates to develop skills--interpersonal, stylistic, imaginative, readerly skills--that made their writing better; the heart of the matter, even so, was the richness that this enhanced writing life brought to their subsequent endeavors, their subsequent lives.

All of that is to say that if we assume the MFA to be trade-school, a professional degree program whose purpose it is to supply credentials to job candidates, it WILL inevitably look like (perhaps smell like) a pyramid scheme. If, on the other hand, we appreciate its role as educing-drawing out-the writer within the writer, the writer who will therefore be a richer, more interesting, more alert practitioner of ANY field he or she enters, then we will have a more realistic sense of what these programs are for.

If students are being misled-either by certain, somewhat dated AWP promotional materials or by their mentors who came up in a simpler time-into misconstruing the MFA as “the appropriate terminal degree” for college teachers of creative writing, THAT is the error that sites like foetry.com might work to correct. As for the efficacy of the programs themselves, we should recognize that they are successfully enabling many, many young writers to become more accomplished. And that accomplishment is the sort that becomes something a wellspring, an interior resource for a satisfying life, regardless of how the writer makes his or her living.
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Vermeer
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« Reply #44 on: May 12, 2005, 02:00:07 PM »

Scott,
           Your posts are intended to be thought provoking and I appreciate the opportunity to read them. But I sometimes wonder what it has to do with the real world.

I did indeed make a mistake. From AWP below:

Since 1967, AWP has supported writers and writing programs around the world. We now provide services to over 25,000 writers, 400 member colleges and universities, and 86 writers' conferences and centers.

It must seem like -I swear I thought I read the 3,500 number somewhere recently- that astronomincal number because everywhere you turn is an MFAer. But if you reduce my numbers to 400 programs cranking out 5-10 students per year the max turns out to be 4,000 per year and 40,000 per decade and 80,000 per two decades. Make it an even 100,000 by throwing in anotherdecade. Is that too many?

The thing is that becoming a better person by learning to express yourself in writing is something valuable but it's not really why people go to school. You can do that better in a monastery, by taking a trip around the world or joining the Peace Corp. When people elect to go to graduate school after their B.A. it is to learn a profession they can make a living at. It is not to do an MFA and end up working at Starbucks or a lot of other things. The MBAs I know want to pay off the loans they took out to go to MBA school by geting a high paying job on the Street. I know this because they're sitting right next to me at work.

Most people want to work in the field they took their degree in, especially if they are a PhD. Otherwise why waste the time. You can skip graduate school and the expense and just join the Peace Corp direct.

I think what you have shared is a lot of nice sentiment but I do indeed think a lot of folks goingin MFA programs don't have a realistic view. Most writers can only do one thing (which is not an insult). The poets don't go to school to beome journalists and the fiction writers don't go to the Workshop to write TV scripts for Jerry Springer. I know MFAers who after a decade out of school still plug away at their poetry or fiction. So I think some of the alternative plans you mention is not what people want or intend to do after grad school . They do it because they need to be employed somewhere doing something. And while some grad schools may be touchy feely it was not what I saw and the writers there didn't do a whole lot of educating students about the world of writing. They had their favorites and they helped them with publication, granst and getting a job. The three or four favorites of the poet I studied with all ended up with jobs at one university or another, even if their work wasn't very good. The plan going in to the MFA program was you get your degree, go to AWP and MLA and interview and try to get a job in the ranks of CW teachers.

I just think we have to be realistic about it.

The pyramid scheme I was talking about was not the programs themselves but the contests: when  1,000 people submit to a literary contest and one person known to (or who has a relationship) with the judge wins then it is indeed in efect a pyramid scheme. Everyone pays in but only one person gets paid (in a metaphoric sense). If it's a fair contest then everyone gets paid because they got to compete. When it's not fair and one person who cheated wins then one person gets paid and everyone else is a sucker.
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