I want to thank those of you who held out a hand to me a week ago when I lost the long and I think valuable letter I tried to submit about my experience with the Tupelo Press. In fact the failure made me decide to write Tupelo directly, and I’m happy to say I got some good replies on some of the issues. I also have a feeling that I may have had an effect on their decision to clarify the Guidelines for the current Dorset Prize. You can see the new version now if you go to www.tupelopress.com
Like many of the casual visitors to this site, I am very grateful for your energy and persistence in exposing the judges and competitions that obviously do not provide a level field. You provide an invaluable service to poets like myself whenever you come up with hard evidence. On the other hand, there is a note of stridency that runs throughout this site which does you a disservice, particularly when you assume that editors and judges are motivated by greed for money, which obviously they aren’t.
The fact is there just isn’t any money in poetry, period. Our case in point, Jeffrey Levine, was a corporate lawyer before he became an editor after all, so he could presumably still make $295.00 a minute if he wanted to. Suggesting that his offer to provide a $30.00 review for every manuscript received for last July’s Open Reading was out of greed for money is simply ridiculous—indeed, such a claim makes Foetry look bad, not him! All your talk about "pyramid schemes" and "sleazy scams"—some of you should take a good deep breath, really, and look to the lady too!
No, what principally distorts an editor’s judgement is inflation, the sense that he or she not only has a hotline to the truth but the power to make or break great artists. This is heady stuff indeed, and presumably the drug that got Jeffrey Levine out of the legal firm and into the Tupelo office. Because let’s face it, regardless of how much money Jeffrey Levine made as a lawyer he would never approach the lasting fame and glory he could achieve as a Great Editor—which he’s very likely to turn out to be, it seems to me—not inspite of his faults but because of them!
Here’s what happened to me. When I first became aware of the uproar around Jeffrey Levine’s $295.00 full-manuscript-review offer, I wrote the following to him:
"I heartily agree with your decision not to link your full manuscript review with any Tupelo prize—from all I have heard about you, you would be the last editor to let yourself be influenced by ‘connections’ of any sort, but not everybody is going to believe that. In our times nobody can afford to take such risks, and that makes me feel for you. Indeed, people like you deserve a better world in which such offers could be made with a clear conscience! We deserve a world, you and I, that still has room for the naïve—indeed, in which that word doesn’t exist, just "innocent" in the sense of not-guilty!"
And that’s the word you want, naïve. He’s naïve, Jeffrey Levine—like so many great-hearted facilitators from P.T.Barnum to Bill Clinton!
Then I got that horrible "manuscript review" letter, and as I said in my post of November 22nd, I went crazy trying to figure out what the great man might have meant, I was so ready to hear something truly deep and useful from him. I thought I was blocked, that I couldn’t see what was wrong with my own work because I was too fond of it. Terrible. Then when I realized the letter was a form letter, and not about my book at all, I went wild, and wrote this to dear Jeffrey:
"I'm an old man and have no contacts (or contracts!) with anyone. I've never been in a writing workshop in my life, have no mentor, belong to no school or university, have no links to any editorial board or press, and have no influence anywhere. So I'm a good person for you to listen to, Jeffrey--I will serve you well if you do.
"I'm also a person that should not have been hurt by you, and how I wish I didn't have to say it!
"So here is what you're going to have to do. First of all you are going to have to face the dark, confused, contradictory side of your nature. You are obviously a very gifted editor, but there are clearly other dimensions to your nature which pressure you to do things no self-respecting editor would do, and particularly not someone who is Editor-in-Chief of the Tupelo Press, the fiercest champion of editorial integrity of them all! Yes, you've got to face the fact that you, Jeffrey Levine, are a skillful trickster as well as a facilitator, like Loki or Hanuman, a charlatan shaman so to speak, a huckster --like so many people I admire (name them yourself and you'll see!).
" That's going to be hard, but many, many, many great people have been there, done that. What you do now will determine whether you self-destruct or self-heal."
My name is Christopher Woodman—and I reveal that here because I talk about someone called Jeffrey Levine so openly and it would not be fair to hide behind my pseudonym. Everything I say here I have also written to him as well, using my own name, and I write it again in this forum that it may truly help everybody, you at Foetry as well as Jeffrey Levine. Everybody’s got to get it, Jeffrey Levine if he is to become a great editor—and you Foetry demons if you are going to understand anything about poetry. Jeffrey Levine’s not a cheat, he’s a child—a child, I suspect, who grew up in a world where success is very much over-rated. Poetry, you see, is an anti-dote to all that--probably the main reason he made such a dramatic career change!
Good luck to you all, then, Christopher