I thought the show on NPR was good, and Alan sounded terrific.
Edward Wyatt, the Times reporter, in both the show and his article, did a solid job. He sounds skeptical, but open-minded.
I don't think it's quite correct, however, to say, as Mr. Wyatt does, that Alan's enemies used his own tactics against him. I suppose the claim has a certain delicious dramatic element, but the parallel is dubious. Wyatt mentions in this context that Alan used the Open Records Act to get names of judges at Georgia. But can we compare Foetry's activity--legal, and helpful to consumers--to Whoisfoetry's--secretly hacking away to reveal someone's private identity? These are not the same tactics.
I think it's crucial to make this distinction right at the start. The Foets love to portray themselves as victims, but if public information victimizes them, it should make one wonder.
Mr. Wyatt did make the point that contests are the way to publish these days, because poetry doesn't sell, and entry fees defray publishing costs.
Here's a victim angle, certainly: the Foets' don't sell on the open market, and since the world of poetry, which never makes it into the newspapers, exists under the radar of market forces, there's an assumption that "experts" are required to determine "talent," since the general reader isn't responding to it.
Since the MFA hoop is what the "talent" has to jump through, we find publishing and recognition in poetry living and growing out of the teacher-student dynamic. This is what lies behind the contests themselves.
Liberal arts universities are as good a place as any to breed "experts." These institutions of higher learning are conveniently there, after all, and the Foets can blend in nicely at these places with the American public's generally approved mission of college literacy and writing. Whether poetry-writing as it is practiced today in colleges is furthering literacy, or actually diminishing it, is an issue much too difficult for a dean or a college president to question.
Jorie Graham, Harvard professor, responded to Foetry's charges by writing a letter to the Globe, in which she sought to correct errors, but Foetry had made no errors, because 1) Foetry had reported Georgia's information--Ramke/Graham pick Sacks--as it had been given, and 2) Ms. Graham admitted to having chosen her students in various contests, essentially pleading her innocence by saying she was an expert and she knew her own students' work was the best.
Ms. Graham not only failed to defend herself adequately, but she then took it upon herself to question Foetry's general usefulness, charging that those who were questioning her actions, were themselves hurting young poets and poetry in general.
If a worthy goal is to call attention to poetry in general, to make the sluggish world take notice, Alan Cordle is doing a fine job of it now, perhaps better than Ms. Graham ever has, especially if consequences, both practical and aesthetic, will make themselves felt from the simple truths Foetry is busily uncovering. It is odd that Graham would explicitly charge Foetry with doing harm; she admits that she has selected her students in contests, and feels it was the proper thing to do; how is it wrong then, for Foetry to announce this truth? Or the truth of the Sacks selection? If Foetry shakes things up, and brings more attention to poetry, why should Ms. Graham object? Does she feel that her poetry and her students are somehow being diminished by Foetry, that her students and her poetry--if only Foetry will get out of the way--will lead us to the promised land? Foetry is not questioning her "expert" status, but only questioning how, in very specific instances, it is being used. What philosophical reason does Ms. Graham have for attacking Foetry? It seems to me she is doing so out of blind spite.
Since the status of experts in poetry today is impossible to determine (no recognition by the larger public, no concrete achievements, inventions, breakthroughs which serve the public in any way which is apparent) the "experts" naturally seek each other out to affirm each other's expertise in the forms of favors, advancements and recognition, since any tangible evidence for expertise will be sought, if no other verification is available, for otherwise the "expert" might feel they are no "expert" at all.
If one is personally responsible for a series of poetry contest winners, and these winners then go on to secure positions and write books and further reputations, then here is something at least, some tangible thing the "expert" has made happen. One teaches, one publishes books--books the public doesn't buy, and then, one day, one drops out of sight, one is no longer an "expert," the happy Muse goes away for good.
Ms. Graham, cognizant of the fact that she had power as a poet--power in a good sense, let us say--must have asked herself one day, in what, exactly, does my power consist? Let us assume that because she is a poet, she is selfless and giving and subtle to some degree. A person like this, who feels she is an "expert," and let us assume for argument's sake that she really is an "expert," will not wish to be an "expert" abstractly, for poets, like most people, live in a sensual world, a world of cause and effect. So what could she do to manifest her expertise, besides sell a few books? I can think of nothing, except this: to influence the recognition and publishing of poets who are her students, friends, and lovers. In this, more than anything, does she discover a muscle-flexing in the world which signals her power in the world, her expertise in the world, and her influence in the world. This is how the poet (fearing her writing--which the public hardly cares for--will not be enough) secures her legacy: by empowering those she teaches and touches and loves.
This motive described above, and its attendant actions are generally the object of Foetry's scrutiny. It is this fraternization--much of which springs from good impulses--which produces so much unfairness towards others. In addition, and this may be just as important, it creates a situation in which a context-less expertise is greedy to exploit and further itself.
I should not have been surprised by the number of Ms. Graham's students which she herself gave in her letter to the Globe--700--but I couldn't help thinking this number was awfully small. One could fit Graham's lifetime of studens in an indoor theater or lecture hall quite easily. What if they were told that poetry does not have to be difficult to be good? In a mere hour-long lecture, a reasonable person could improve poetry where Ms. Graham has perhaps damaged it.
We are told the poetry world is small, we are told that the "talented" tend to go to the same places (Iowa, for instance), to study with the best poets (Graham, for instance) and this is why we should not be surprised that there are connections between winners, and between winners and judges of so many important contests. But this is to explain away a wrong (unfair contests) with a right (the judge's friends are "talented") that cannot be proven, since one becomes "talented" the instant one "wins" (or is accepted to Iowa.)