The Lenore Marshall Prize and the Doping of Poets

Foetry is frustrated. Barry Bonds and Marion Jones are big news, but even the Nation and The Academy of American Poets will not seriously address our questions about their recent mutual bestowment of the $25,000 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize to Donald Revell. The judges were Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman, and Harryette Mullen.

You will remember that the administrator of prizes for the Academy, Ryan Murphy, first addressed our concerns in October:

The awards that you mention (The Wallace Stevens Award and the Lenore Marshall Award) have different procedures than a book contest. In my experience at the Academy someone is always unhappy, and there are always more deserving books (in the case of the Marshall) and poets (in the case of the Stevens) than there are awards.

I believe that the intent of these literary prizes is to capture the attention of a larger audience for the merits, not just of an individuals work (though that is certainly rewarded), but of the value of poetry to the culture.

My own opinions do not necc. reflect those of the Academy.

One of our favorite members joined the forums later, and did an excellent job of reviving the issue:

So, my first question is, out of the thousands of poets in this country how did at least three out of the final five finalists in the Lenore Marshall Prize end up being tied to Gander? Is anyone out that an expert on probability theory?

Foetry enlisted some help and submitted this essay to the Nation in response to the award and chairperson Hillman’s essay introducing Revell’s work in their recent issue:

So, Donald Revell’s book, My Mojave, was awarded the 2004 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, jointly administered by the Nation and the Academy of American Poets. Many of your readers who follow poetry were not surprised by this decision, based on composition of the committee. Chair, Brenda Hillman, was recently exposed for selecting her friend, Laura Mullen, for the once-prestigious University of Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series Competition. The “open” competition typically receives hundreds of entries and charges $20 to enter.

Hillman and Forrest Gander, your second committee member, together serve as editors of the New California Poetry Series, along with Calvin Bedient, whom Gander chose for the Georgia prize mentioned above. The third committee member, Harryette Mullen, has published in the California Series. This is a too-cozy group of judges.

Gander has connections, some quite strong, to all five finalists. He and his wife, the recent Macarthur recipient, C.D. Wright, served on a panel with Carolyn Forché at the twenty-first annual Key West Literary Seminar. McMorris’s book was selected by Wright for the above-mentioned prize from the University of Georgia. He was her student at Brown University. Shepherd studied with Wright at Brown. Waldrop and Gander are friends, and both live in R.I. and teach at Brown. The winner, Donald Revell, in a review, said of Gander’s writing, “His sharp sense of place has made him the most earthly of our avant-garde, the best geographer of fleshly sites since Olson.” Flattering indeed. And how well do they know each other?

According to the press release from the Academy of American Poets, there were more than 160 books entered. The poetry world may seem small, but is it so small that all of the finalists are linked in a creepy, nearly incestuous, way to one or more of the judges? We don’t think so.

The Nation stands for integrity, and is a source of inspiration for the Foetry Board, and we believe that the journal’s involvement was inadvertent. In the future, will the Nation consider choosing jurors who are known for their ethical decisions, rather than how they might reward their friends and cronies? Will your readers join us in our crusade against insider trading and self-serving behaviors at the expense of thousands of other worthy poets?

Thank you,

We received a prompt response from the Nation’s poetry editor, Grace Schulman. As we initially felt she was an ally, we agreed to not post her comments in full on the site. However, we will disclose a few pieces here.

Schulman said that, “The Nation has no editorial control or participation in the Lenore Marshall Contest.” According to the press release from the Academy, “The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize was established by the New Hope Foundation in 1975 and is now administered by The Academy of American Poets in conjunction with The Nation.” After a second set of emails with Schulman, we learned that she, “would like some time to contact people in authority, in an effort to remedy the situation and to try to do the right thing.”

At that point, we consulted a few interested parties and concluded that we were being put off. But why? Perhaps it has to do with the enormous amount of influence Schulman has in the world of poetry. She appeared in Richard Howard’s selections of the Best American Poetry Series and was even included in Bloom’s Best of the BAP. We thought it sweet she might want to protect Howard, with whom she is surely friends.

Was there more? Of course! This is the world of Foetry. Schulman was likely protecting her own bad deeds. Several years ago she selected Anne Babson Carter’s manuscript Strike Root for the Four Way Books prize. A little research later and we were able to send the message above to the Nation once again — this time with a caveat that it should not go to Schulman. Here’s why:

Schulman and Babson Carter both appeared in the April 1994 issue of Theology Today.

Schulman’s pick for the Four Way contest has published SIX times in the Nation and seemingly few other places . . .

Title: Greed in Potters.

Authors: Carter, Anne Babson

Source: Nation; 3/28/1994, Vol. 258 Issue 12, p428, 1/2p

Title: Cobb’s Barns (poem).

Authors: Carter, Anne Babson

Source: Nation; 5/31/1993, Vol. 256 Issue 21, p746, 1/2p

Title: Domov (poem).

Authors: Carter, Anne Babson

Source: Nation; 7/1/1991, Vol. 253 Issue 1, p26, 1/2p

Title: A Killing Frost (poem).

Authors: Carter, Anne Babson

Source: Nation; 5/6/1991, Vol. 252 Issue 17, p604, 1/3p

Title: Sheep Sacrifice (poem).

Authors: Carter, Anne Babson

Source: Nation; 5/21/1990, Vol. 250 Issue 20, p714, 2/3p

Title: Bells on Taiwan (poem).

Authors: Carter, Anne Babson

Source: Nation; 10/9/1989, Vol. 249 Issue 11, p396, 1/6p

All of those times without even a book! It’s a miracle! How many times have YOU published in the Nation?

With new information, hopefully in the hands of a more senior editor at the Nation, we were confident they would address our observations. Today we received an email from Sumana Raychaudhuri:

Thank you for your interest in The Nation.

Unfortunately, we are swamped and suggest you contact

another publication.

So now the information appears here.

Please share your comments with us in this forum.

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