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Author Topic: The Chronicle of Higher Education  (Read 17099 times)
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alan
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« on: May 16, 2005, 08:20:29 AM »

Thomas Bartlett of the Chronicle has the story about Foetry and me.

I have permission to provide a link here:
http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i37/37a01201.htm
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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 #1 on: May 16, 2005, 10:14:16 AM »

1.) That the judges were anonymous for twenty years at Ramke's insistence. Thus no one was ever supposed to know Graham was the judge. This also allowed Ramke to handpick other judges who in turn handpicked other individuals they had relationships with. No one was supposed to know.

2.) Georgia has taken in over $300,000 in fees in the contest in the past twenty years. This is just one contest so add all the others and the years and you have some multi-millions of dollars spent to enter these contests.

3.) Sacks never submitted a manuscript. It was solicited. Sacks probably never paid the $20 entry fee either.

4.) Although Graham says she was not at Harvard in 1999 when this happened, she had to have known that she was going to Harvard in 2000. Graham says she hardly knew Sacks in 1999 and yet she married him in 2000. Harvard does not generally sign people up to come teach there unless there is an interview or some personal contact beforehand.

In 1997 Graham said of Sacks (who later returns the favor by reviewing her in NT Times):

"Traveling across borders, spiritual, cultural, and emotional, Sacks writes deeply American poems from his vantage point as an expatriate South African. " link to rest of her comments:

http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/1997/97-168.html
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Ed Dupree
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2005, 11:23:48 AM »

I think the most glaring omission is the fact that Ramke solicited Sacks' ms. In the Georgia documents Ramke confesses the solicitation outright, and I'm no lawyer but that sure looks like a confession of mail fraud to me. No wonder he's stepping down as series editor.
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missblue
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2005, 01:23:57 PM »

Reads like a fair article, except that they might have listed the numerous student picks by Jorie Graham.  The article makes it seem as if there is some question.  Definitely, there's a pattern of Graham selecting students for prizes.  They don't call it the Jorie Graham rule for nothing.

And she claims it's a "little bit of a lynching".  I'd say that's a "little bit of a lying".

It cracks me up that people keep claiming the poetry world is so small as a defense for picking their students.  How many of 1000 mss. are former students?  Seriously.  A handful?
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Steven Ford Brown
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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2005, 01:59:47 PM »

I spoke to the reporter at the Chronicle and he mentioned that "the world of poetry is a small one" is one of the defenses used by the Foets. I told him it was not true. I pointed out the numbers: 400 CW programs cranking out a minimum of 10 students per year equals 4,000 times two decades would make it 80,000. Add in another decade and writers who have been around longer and include those who never bothered with an MFA program and it must be 150,000.

And what I pointed out to the writer is that the poetry world is small if you only talk to/publish your friends.  They tend to publish together (or each other) in the same magazines, read together, give each other prizes, go to the same conferences, review each other, etc.

I think the most important aspect is the lack of freedom that so many writers in universities and colleges have to speak out about this or to demonstrate their unhappiness with those in control who abuse the privilege. Georgia was asked politely to share the list of judges at their Poetry Series and refused. It actually required the filing (wasn't that you Ed?) of an Open Records Act to get them to produce the records. What were they hiding? Once you see the list of winners/judges you understand why they didn't want anyone to see the list. It's now here at Foetry.com.

As for Sacks he appears to be an unwitting bystander in this. But Ramke watched while the box at Georgia filled up with manuscripts for the prize competition, the Georgia staff neatly removed the twenty dollar checks and deposited them, and then Ramke ignored all the manuscripts and asked Peter Sacks to send a manuscript so that Sacks could be named the "winner." Sacks didn't even have to pay $20 to enter the "competition."

The unfortunat victims are the writers who sent in their manuscripts year after year thinking it was a fair contest. It sounds as though the University of Georgia Press -who never responded to any questions or engaged in any dialogue about this issue- is not going to post on their website an explanation or issue an apology to the writers who sent their money and manuscripts to them year after year for the past twenty years Ramke edited the series.

Without Alan standing up and doing something about it may have gone on forever. Remember, Alan watched his wife submitting to contests, saw judges and winners and smelled a rat. A lot of rats. You know a lot of others did too. But for whatever reason few people are willing to stand up and ask that there be some ethical guidelines that govern these "contests".
Alan stood up and did something about it.

I also pointed out that the Foetry.com/Foets issue is a great human interest story. It beats a lot of the stuff being cranked out in the writing workshops. What is this all about? cheating, power, nepotism, deceit, money, prizes, literary acclaim, dishonesty, consolidation of power, the lure of bright lights, staking out territory, self-dealing, equal access (or the lack of it), freedom of speech (or the lack of it), intimidation. Beats the soap operas on TV for drama. But in the end it's all very sad.

Thanks again Alan.

Steven Ford Brown

"I am not not an embittered contest loser. I don't submit to contests."
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Ed Dupree
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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2005, 03:05:32 PM »

Forgot to say earlier that I hope Alan can post the Georgia documents themselves. Would it be legally tricky?

Ed
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alan
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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2005, 03:55:10 PM »

I just heard back from the Attorney General for the State of Georgia, who said that generally once the documents are "Open Records" they can be posted.  Then he gave lots of reasons why they might not ought to be.  He suggested I consult my own lawyer.

To my eyes, the documents written between Graham, Ramke, and University of Georgia are business correspondence via the University of Georgia, and therefore, public record.  I believe they can be posted here and I will likely do so within the next few days.

I want to again thank Ed for requesting the documents when my anonymous requests were declined.  I also want to thank him for the follow up documents he requested after Jorie Graham claimed in the Boston Globe that she recused herself from selecting her now husband.  I think it's pretty clear from Bartlett's Chronicle article that Ramke and Graham's stories don't match.

If I post the documents, people can make their own decisions.  I have no questions that it was fraud.
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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 #7 on: May 18, 2005, 08:25:26 AM »

Wow.  This Chronicle of Higher Education Article is quite a coup.

Congratulations, Alan, and everyone who has been a part of this, Ed Dupree, Vermeer, Crimson, Wilson, Mallie, etc etc

This article--and I agree it is pretty objective--is obviously something the anti-Foets want and the Foets do not.  Even though it lets both sides talk, it is very apparent which side won.   The Foets lost.

This is a remarkable triumph, really.   Bin Ramke stepping down at Georgia, Jorie saying she'll never judge another contest.  

The Chronicle of Higher Education is no Jim Behrle 'zine.  

It's time now for the documentary.    Anyone interested?

Let a hundred Emily Dickinsons be heard!    Slick, networking poets have been caught.   The Poetry world is small--if, by small we refer to the slick, networking poets who have been exposed.   I would imagine the really good poet would not be into networking so much.  Maybe other voices will be heard now.    

The era of self-congratulation has come to an end.  Prizes and suck-up blurbs will now be suspect.   Maybe we'll start reading poetry and real criticism again.

Yes, there's a lot of work to do, still.  But I'm popping the champagne on this one!
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2005, 09:21:17 AM »

I agree Monday Love.

The thought of a documentary crew filming screeners (22 year-old MFA wannabes) opening envelopes and removing checks (carefully; let's not lose those) at Alice James or Tupelo or the NPS or APR contests is almost too much. And then think a camera crew pursuing Ramke through the streets of Denver shouting, "Why'd you do it Bin?"

The lone individual who stands up at a reading and asks a well known poet, "Why'd you pick your favorite student?" The real story behind the blurbs. The filming of private conferences in which the university press staff and the director fo the series are discussing how to cheat.

Would we, should we, could we call it: Fahrenheit MFA!
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Vermeer
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« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2005, 09:24:20 AM »

It should be no surprise that writers have turned to the legal system, to the media to present the case on the current system of literary contests.
The expectation at the writing programs is for writers to be docile and compliant, cattle grazing in a field in between workshops and private consultations with the “Master Poet.” This has always allowed the smarmy ones to weasel their way into the teacher’s pet position. This is fine as long as the numbers stay small. The smarmy ones –and some with real talent- get ahead and the rest of the cattle grazing in the field eventually go off and become executives, or work in investing or do something else.
The problem is when the numbers begin to get out of control and the number of contests increase and the numbers of writers submitting grow. If 1,000 writers submit to Tupelo or AWP at $25 an entry then you have $25,000. You can pay $1,000 or $2,000 to a celebrity judge, $3,000 for a prize, pay $4,000 to print and a little bit of promo and you still have a very nice amount of money left over.

But as the contests have increased, the number of CW programs have increased, and the number of graduates with PhDs or MFAs has increased so has the growing rancor, the understanding of how some writers have been manipulating the contest system to their benefit. That manipulation takes the form of 1,000 manuscripts thrown into the sea (dramatic metaphor) or recycling bin, the checks deposited by the press, the judge is paid, the winner is selected from among the former students, friends or lovers of the judge (and they are paid) and the press walks away with a nice profit (the only profit they’ve made on a book of poetry they’ve published).

Living in the internet age with Court TV, the Apprentice, the Real World, ten years of Survivor no one should be surprised that people and writers look at these things differently. They ask questions. They look at consumer law. They file Open Records requests because the laws enacted by the representatives of the people say you can when state or city institutions refuse to answer questions or provide documentation of their activities paid for by the taxpayers. The cattle are no longer in the field grazing or drifting off into other professions. They want answers. They want to know why so and so who went to school with the director of a literary contest won the contest when they should have been disqualified from entering. Or why the former student who studied closely with a judge of the National Poetry Series was selected as a winner. The interesting thing is when you ask the judges, when you contact the University of Georgia or Iowa presses there is no response. Or you get the silliness from the Iowa Press director of “our students are the best” and “it’s a small world.” Well, the world ain’t so small anymore and people are asking questions and want to know. And it is their right.
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Ed Dupree
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« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2005, 10:38:21 AM »

Good film, Vermeer. Could we tack on a fictional ending? ---Non-schmoozing poet sits in house toiling at poems. Sends them off in the mail, and they miraculously end up reaching a nonspecialist readership, which _gets_ them and is _moved_.     And they all lived happily ever after.
 
Ed
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Matt
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« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2005, 11:37:12 AM »

Quote from: "Vermeer"
Would we, should we, could we call it: Fahrenheit MFA!


Ha!

Quote from: "Vermeer"
Living in the internet age with Court TV, the Apprentice, the Real World, ten years of Survivor no one should be surprised that people and writers look at these things differently.


How about a faux-reality TV show about a writing program done in the style of The Office?  Painful extended frames of Foets behaving badly, MFAers puppy dogging along after them hoping to win favor, zooms into offices were discussions of awarding prizes to lovers are unfolding with pompous seriousness untinged by conscience.

I could see the MFA version of Gareth . . . and sordid "departmental romances" unfolding.  Meanwhile, pressure from the head of the English department and the administration continuously threatens the existence of the writing program.  “The MFA program needs to be increasingly lucrative or we’ll have to cut it.”

You know, I never realized The Office was about an MFA program before!  But, you know, a paper factory is a paper factory.

Who should play the main roles?  Heck, Ricky Gervais and crew could slip in without any character modifications.  Maybe Christopher Guest and co. could adapt their characters, too.  The Spinal Tap guys would do fine as poets.  They could even use the old Stonehenge set at a reading!
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degustibus
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« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2005, 03:35:54 PM »

Quote from: "Steven Ford Brown"

IWhat is this all about? cheating, power, nepotism, deceit, money, prizes, literary acclaim, dishonesty, consolidation of power, the lure of bright lights, staking out territory, self-dealing, equal access (or the lack of it), freedom of speech (or the lack of it), intimidation. Beats the soap operas on TV for drama. But in the end it's all very sad.


Not sad at all.  Business as usual in the litworld.

& why is anyone surprised?

Judson Jerome wrote about this stuff all the time doing columns 25-30 years ago  at [gasp] Writer's Digest.[/i]

Still, Foetry is doing great work -- keep the spark alive.

[me, I've never entered a contest either ]
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Vermeer
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« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2005, 12:47:29 AM »

Yes indeed. Jerome was old school. Along with Ciardi and John Updike. I don't know that people read Updike a s a poet.

Here's several poems by Jerome:

http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC29/Jerome.htm

http://www.poemtree.com/poems/Alcoholic.htm

Updike

http://judithpordon.tripod.com/poetry/id324.html

http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~emma/poetry/updike.html
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Crimson
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« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2005, 04:22:37 PM »

Boring stuff, both of them.  Sorry, Vermeer, it looks like I'm not gonna get a positive attitute anytime soon.  For me poetry is outside everyday life.  Down this path and into the cave, no phony is allowed.  

I am also grateful that I lack a formal education in american poetry.  I open a browser window and google the names everyone throws around, I read, if I like I like, if I dislike, I even forget the name, then I end up googling it again at some other thread.  Not that I have any vast knowledge of any other type of national poetry, except perhaps a wee bit more in my native country, where it's around more at the pedestrian level and in schools.  
If I ever suspend my critical faculties it is not going to be for someone like Orr, who has blown his chances with me by having bad taste and being conventional in thinking even as he is being against the norm. Yes, that is possible.  Most rebels are conventional rebels; they buy the same proverbial blue hair paint and get piercings in the same places.  

I think my challenge will be to take my poetry directly to the public, no middle man. People embark on impossible journeys every day.  Such is the nature of success and failure that no one can rely on any solid guidepost or take refuge under any illusory guarantee.  If I get lucky, I will succeed.  If I have no luck, all my effort will be in vain.  I have failed before in important quests. I know of several poets who ended badly, and I suspect that if they had had a cushy sinecure and one tenth of the attention they got after death during their lifetime, things would have gone a lot smoother in their lives.  The most beloved romanian poet, Mihai Eminescu, died in his late thirties in an insane asylum - another patient threw a rock at his head.  He was poor and had syphilis. So I cannot complain very much as I am in good health and sleep indoors in addition to coming and going as I please and eating good, nutritious meals most days.

I find the academics so repellent, so perfidious, as to want nothing to do with them now or ever.  They've existed solely to ensure economic security and easy labor for themselves.  They've deformed poetry to make sure they bheeh in synchronicity like sheep looking for the warm comfort of each other's bodies rather than for the sacred fire of artistic excellence.  

It's wonderful what Alan has done, and the impact he has had.  At the same time, revolutions have taught us that the second echelon that comes to power is often worse than the first.  More ruthless, more shrewd.  I am glad for the changes taking place, the public shaming of these foets, but that does not mean that I personally see a door opening for me as a poet.  Professors and professors in training will still dominate the contests and will clog the avenues of publication.  People will still say "let's go easy on Plath, she was a disturbed, sensitive woman" or "let's give Smith a break, she was trying to be different" as if one is handing out alms at a mass grave for paupers.  And so the angel of poetry gets stained and crippled like in Matt's poem, and the best thing you can do is cover up the disfigured heap and go your own way.  

I will say it again, poetry is not written for a career, it is written for glory. As long as poetry is attached to a steady paycheck and dental benefits, it will suck.  

I intend to self publish and self promote.  I do this without any trace of shame or embarrassment.  Cavafy’s poetry would never be read nowadays if he did not publish pamphlets of it and hand it out to his friends and acquaintances.  He was not accepted by the establishment in his lifetime.  He lived with his mom and had a shitty job as a lowly clerk.  But when it’s late and I have insomnia and I am attacked by all kinds of anxieties and plagued by depressive thoughts, it’s Cavafy I turn to, picking up his book, curling into bed with a cat, reading a few poems. I don’t want to go to bed with the winner of the latest ivy league first book contest.  Fuck that person, their kind are the reason I am attacked by depression and anxiety in the first place.  Their uppity mediocrity cramps me like a paralyzed bowel.

An enterprising vanity publisher came on this forum and proposed an anthology of anti-foets’ poems. It seems everyone has recoiled in indignation at the suggestion of the ‘filthy moneychanging jew’.  But actually it’s a great idea.  My only reservation would be that I think if anyone should profit off of something like that it should be Alan, since he has put the blood and tears into this project.  Also, I am reluctant to form a collectivist commune, since any type of association based on sentimental loyalty necessarily excludes talent and includes non-talent, since talent is not the criteria for inclusion/exclusion.  But an anthology of new poetry from outside the system, compiled by a rebel outside the system, attached to the notoriety of foetry.com could do well in the market, I would think.  I leave it up to Alan to ponder it.  Moneychanging will breathe life into poetry at this point, rip it from the grips of the sinecurists and put it into the hands of the man on the street.
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