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Author Topic: Grad Students as Screeners?  (Read 22165 times)
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Bugzita
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« on: May 18, 2006, 07:17:38 PM »

Why not send the winning book via book rate?

Twenty-five bucks IS a lot to charge for a reading fee; it's not too much to ask even a small press to send out the book to contestants who ponied up their hard-earned dough.

Graduate students as screeners? This is precisely why I will no longer enter university contests of any kind. Grad students depend on their mentors for grades and can be easily intimidated. I'm not saying that this happens on a large scale, but the possibility is just too strong.

Graduate students shouldn't be judging/screening contests, period. They should cut their literary teeth on regular submissions, where the stakes for submitting writers are much lower.

If you can't afford to hire outside impartial screeners, then you have no business running a contest.

Bug
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
Alexandra Benjamin
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« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2006, 07:46:54 PM »

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... And their combined reward will be no greater and no lesser than what will be won by a piece of dried turd. It's a reward beyond thought."

Jack Kerouac, The Scripture Of The Golden Eternity
leander
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« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2006, 08:04:13 PM »

Since they as students have very few (if any) connections, are reading the manuscripts "blind" (that is, without the names of the authors attached), and are forbidden to enter the contest themselves, I don't think Alexandra is making much sense in her comments about DNA and country clubs.
__Janet Holmes

Actually grad students have the most vulnerable connections of all, to their professors and mentors.  It's not just the grade but the fellowship and in many ways professional future that the professor holds over the student.  (corollary:in contests it's not the cash prize that is unfairly given that really matters, but the membership in the academic poet's union.)  I work in academia and I'veseen  the students suck-up and the profs bless--and withold their blessing.  Meanwhile, real poetry goes on elsewhere

Janet, I'm not saying having grad students screen is necessarily corrupt, but I would not knowingly enter a contest that operates this way, though I know it is common practice, and some pretty big contests do this (Yale for one).  Besides the difficulty of grad students reading independently, in general I think that most of them lack sufficient wisdom to recognize good original writing, maybe writing unlike anything they've read before.

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Alexandra Benjamin
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« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2006, 08:06:48 PM »

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... And their combined reward will be no greater and no lesser than what will be won by a piece of dried turd. It's a reward beyond thought."

Jack Kerouac, The Scripture Of The Golden Eternity
duckyd
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2006, 08:01:01 PM »

Hi Janet: Thanks for sharing with us that grad. students are screening your entries.  Those of us who've been through grad programs know how unformed even the best students' perceptions are in terms of what and how they read poetry.  Faculty, too, are keenly aware of this--or at least they should be.  

Another contest I won't be entering.
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duckyd
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2006, 08:10:05 PM »

Just as a follow up, if a student is so stellar, so wise as to really understand cannon, craft, and what's being published in the contemporary scene, then why in the world is the student in a grad program?  For the credential alone?  Does a poet who's really on the ball need that credential?  It's an interesting point.  Maybe good for further discussion if anyone's willing.  I think it comes down to whether you need a credential to teach or not, because that's the only situation I can imagine in which a poet who knows what he or she is doing would want to be in a grad. program.  I've seen fiction writers without the MFA teaching in grad programs.  There are poets too I think.  BH Fairchild, I think, doesn't have an MFA.  Yeah I think there are a bunch of others too--mainly minority poets though.  Anyone else care to add some names?  I'd be interested.
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Poet K
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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2006, 09:10:12 AM »

Bob Hicok
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duckyd
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« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2006, 11:20:18 AM »

Yep, there is Bob Hicok.  I like his story for personal reasons.  My dad worked in a factory, I've seen the "science" of dies; anyway, a lot I respect about him.  GC Waldrep has done a lot of workshops, conferences, and retreats, but I don't think he has an MFA.  And he is teaching now at a university I think, as both Hicok and Fairchild are.  So there we have it: you don't need an MFA to be a good writer AND teach in a university/college.  Just to be fair and balanced, any minorities or women we could add to this list?  Jean Valentine comes to mind.  I could be wrong on that though--I mean if she earned an MFA it was quite some time ago.
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Alexandra Benjamin
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2006, 12:16:03 PM »

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... And their combined reward will be no greater and no lesser than what will be won by a piece of dried turd. It's a reward beyond thought."

Jack Kerouac, The Scripture Of The Golden Eternity
duckyd
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2006, 10:51:32 PM »

Yeah I agree.  Actually after thinking about it I can think of a couple people who might have made decent screeners in my MFA program, but ultimately, I wouldn't want to trust even them with a book contest--at least when they were in the program.  They'd have been fine for a journal though.  It's a risky proposition.  I mean why not have faculty screen the contest, then have the guest judge decide?  Or have past graduates screen the entries--those who've been out of the program for a couple years but continue to work in genre.  I've seen that happen before and that works well.  To be honest it looks like the press we're talking about doesn't really have sufficient funds to run the contest the way it should be run.  Speculation of ourse, but that's how it looks from the outside.
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papa_geno
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« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2006, 12:14:11 AM »

Quote
The reason graduate students read manuscripts for the contest is that they are exploring becoming literary publishers themselves.


Big point here. Screeners are not hatched. They have to get those skills from somewhere. I know Bloom popped out of the womb reciting Homer in the original Greek, but for us mere mortals, there's a learning curve involved.

Something tells me that there will always be objections to any winner in any literary contest, just because aesthetic judgement allows for such variety in response to a given text. The average reader doesn't understand why the people who win the Nobel win the Nobel, but Dan Brown, well, that's just a rip-snortin' read. Again, this is a base assumption that does lie near the center of foetry's efforts--that somehow, literary quality can be objectively expressed, and that it conforms to the precepts of liberal economics. But it ain't so, and I do have to wonder how much of the foetry.com mission is driven by a frustrated sense of lack as regards a more easily definable set of aesthetic standards than we have to hand.
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Bugzita
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« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2006, 03:20:52 AM »

Quote
Screeners are not hatched. They have to get those skills from somewhere.


I agree with this basic premise. However, if I pay $25-30 to enter a contest, I don't want an inexperienced grad student who may be beholden to a mentor making screening decisions about my manuscript.

I would want my submission to be read by the announced judge. Period. Pay the judge a fee that will make the work worthwhile; an experienced judge can immediately cull the 75% or so entries that won't make the cut (due to poor quality).

I believe it's foetry's duty to discourage writers from submitting their work to contests that use graduate students as screeners, but it's up to the individuals entrants to base their decisions on complete information.

I do hear that contest submissions overall are down; perhaps writers are getting the message, which would be fine with me.

If grad students need screening experience, then they should get it via the regular submission pile--that is, if the regular submission route still exists.

Bugzita
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
papa_geno
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« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2006, 05:02:28 AM »

I can sympathize, to a certain extent, with the other point of view, but I have to question some of the premises. No doubt there are those members of the literary community that are more capable when securing funds for themselves, but for the most part, even high-profile presses are not profit making machines. Thus the following conundrum:

Quote
I would want my submission to be read by the announced judge. Period. Pay the judge a fee that will make the work worthwhile


Mitigated by this:

Quote
I do hear that contest submissions overall are down; perhaps writers are getting the message, which would be fine with me.


Why? Because that would help literary contests to pay a judge to field all of the contributions? There's an insistence, here, that poetry be bound by the same market forces involved in procuring shipments of sugar cane that's a little bit troubling, as by those standards, Jewel should be feted as a major voice in American letters. Apparently, working in poetry involves either going that route or conforming to some notion of nobility that includes a permanent state of poverty. It just strikes me that there must be some path between two equally unappealing alternatives (but then, when choices are framed in such binary terms, I tend to chafe in any case...)

Buyer beware is one thing, but I'm guessing most people on the Foetry boards would acknowledge that a certain heirarchy of prestige does exist as regards literary awards. Certainly, any submission should be accompanied by research into the award--though that would seem to have been a given for any poet who's got their head screwed on even semi-straight--and part of that research would be in knowing that entrants will be screened by graduate students. For some, that's a deal-breaker. Others might be more receptive to that structure.

Maybe Foetry's clearest offering to the literary world might consist of providing such research. But there's a whole lot of editorializing that goes along with that--starting with the almost laughable sense that many forum members seem to have of the massive profits that are being pulled by our pre-eminent poets, and followed closely by the idea that financial recompense for one's effort in this field are inherently evil. That's where it gets hard to follow the central premise of the place.

I don't speak from within this heirarchy at all, so I really don't have a horse in this race, but from an independent point of view, the information would go over a lot better if it were just presented, with appropriate warnings regarding the possibility of abuse, and without attendant sniping.

Sometimes, that happens here. Not always, though.
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Poet K
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« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2006, 09:10:37 AM »

Quote from: "duckyd"
GC Waldrep has done a lot of workshops, conferences, and retreats, but I don't think he has an MFA.  And he is teaching now at a university I think, as both Hicok and Fairchild are.  So there we have it: you don't need an MFA to be a good writer AND teach in a university/college.
Quote


Personally I think that one of the reasons that so many MFA students have bad experiences in their MFA programs (as I did) is because their faculty are undertrained.  Just because someone is a good writer doesn't mean that he or she will be a good teacher.  I think it's a mistake for colleges to hire professors based entirely on their reputations as writers.  I think that if MFA programs are serious about their degrees preparing people for academic careers, they need to start offering classes in creative writing pedagogy.  As it is, many people graduate with an MFA without having taught at all, and those who have taught, generally only have training and experience in teaching composition.  It's not just MFA programs that have this problem, either.  Five years ago there was a study of English Ph.D. programs that offer the creative dissertation option, and found that only five of them were offering any training in the teaching of creative writing.
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duckyd
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« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2006, 10:26:48 AM »

Well this suddenly turned into a lively thread!  And just when I am about to head out on a week+ long trip.  So this will have to be my last parting thoughts for awhile.  Apologies to all--it is quite long.  But the conversation is interesting, so maybe warrants it.

I think my big grief with grad student screeners is that the young ones (like first year) really don't understand contemporary poetry, but these same students edit journals.  Ok, they are inhouse training grounds, I know that when I submit.  But then to put these same students in charge of screening a contest, that's just reckless, and demonstrably so by seeing who wins the contest when that takes place.  Or maybe not so much the winner but who makes the final cut.  And then to sit through a workshop and listen to these people rant about what is and is not poetry while the instructor calmly listens then placidly disagrees--to see this same student in charge of screening a contest (this student in the ABD phase of a PhD)--yeah, that makes me uneasy.  This is the situation I'm talking about.  Unfortunately, I've seen it happen before, so when a contest tells me they use grad student screeners at any level, that's a contest I'd avoid.  For me, that's a risk.

I get too that we at foetry may appear as frustrated losers.  I wonder about this too.  Am I posting because I didn't win a "big" contest?  Well, my questions with the ethical procedures of contests began back in 1997 when I was considering starting an MFA and a buddy of mine won a contest his professor was the judge for.  That left me scratching my head.  My instincts told me that was wrong, but when I talked with him about it, he seemed to think that was the way the biz. worked, and pretty much told me to do the same thing.  So the only MFA that would suit my lifestyle was also (at the time) I think the most anti po-biz. program in the states, which I didn't realize at the time, but it did teach me about what it means to be an artist and what it means to be an ethical writer, as well as person.  I don't want to repeat myself so if interested see my other posts.  And then when foetry came online, yeah there were more shocks about po. biz.  And I think another shock to a lot of people would be that we are not all failed poets.  Some of us are doing just fine on the credential/publication dept., and feeling good about it.  To be honest, the reason I keep up with this place is I have met a whole new group of fellow writers.  I feel like I have an even broader and supportive group of folks than I once did.  I mean I come here not to complain, but so my fellow writers can see I am alive and breathing, and to occasionally talk about stuff on the writer's end of things.  Po. biz. for me is a starting point of conversation.

I think the question of poverty and poetry is a fascinating one.  Should we be motivated to write for the sake of money/career?  We want to live and die by the sword of our words.  But how do we define a career in poetry?  Is it by being gainfully employed as a, what, teacher/professor?  A poet able to live independently by his or her poems?  Do we know any of these folks not struggling?  Even Ginsberg who sold his archives to a library for $1,000,000 was said to have struggled all his life with money.  That's what he said, I don't know if it's true.  And I hear a lot of poets in the Ivory Tower talk about how they'd like to get out and "just write."  These are all personal choices.  I can't prescribe a pathway to anyone.  I think it's been well demonstrated one doesn't have to teach or win a contest to have a direct (no bs of anykind), meaningful (you write well), and fruitful (you produce good books that the people around you respect and admire) career as a poet.  That's the path I'd like to believe I'm on.

And Poet K, yeah I would have to agree with that sentiment.  I am suddenly coming into an awareness of how many programs place little or no emphasis on craft, because the faculty don't know about it or don't know how to teach it.  Hence the surprising requests lately for essays on craft in anthologies and journals lately.  I welcome that.  These venues are actually paying money too!  

Last thought--it would be nice if there was a way to make the comments here more positive.  I want that.  I also acknowledge though that when taking on a machine that is inherently corrupt, mincing words sometimes plays into the machine's hands.   What happened with Scott Cairns on this board is simply inexcusable from any standard of rightness.
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