Friday, June 3, 2011

never be a prisoner to your poems

I try so hard not to talk pobiz here. Usually that's pretty easy, but every once in a while I slip up and here I go dancing on that banana peel. I'm in the mode because I've been up all night working on the lecture I'm going to give next week at UC Riverside. When I was a kid, low-residency MFA programs meant staying in dumpy dorms, eating cafeteria food and hoping nobody walked into the bathroom while you were having a moment after ingesting the cuisine. But now there are low-res programs that are held at spa resorts. If that's not what God intended, I don't know what is.

Anyhoo, anyone who followed my old blog knows I'm not a fan of book contests. I think it's a crummy way to publish books. I think there are a lot of better options. I also understand why so many presses hold contests--because not enough poets buy enough poetry books. So some presses changed their business models to sell hope instead. Hope sells a lot better. As far as I'm concerned, it's a vicious cycle that too many people participate in. Poets should buy more books, review more books, in general do more to support poems by other poets in addition to their own. Clearly the money exists, if poets have the means to afford all of these entry fees, they have the means to buy books. I've written about this extensively and it's a subject I'm pretty tired of these days. Just so you know, some of my best friends have won book contests and you and I can still be friends, even if you do participate in contests. I kind of view it the same as smoking: it's a dirty, disgusting habit that will eventually kill you, but as long as you don't do it around my kid, whatevs. Free country.

Yesterday I came to this article expecting to nod my head and be all, right on, glad more people are writing about this topic. I'm not sure why I assumed that, I've read enough articles by this writer to know I generally don't agree with his assertions or logic. But we can't disagree on everything, can we?

Well, I don't know, maybe we can disagree on everything. For instance, this is flat out false:

Poetry contests are about the only remaining way to publish a first poetry book.

Not true! Every year hundreds of first collections are published outside of the contest system--in a variety of ways. I don't have hard statistics, just the books on my own shelves, but it seems to me that more first books are published sans contests than by them. Certainly a sizable percentage. If you don't know of these books, my friend, you are not reading enough. You can start with my Goodreads shelf for some suggestions. There are certainly some contest winners included, but they are by no means the majority--even in the category of first books. This list is just my personal library, not even a complete list at that. Expand your reading.

Yes, the contest system is sucky. But we are NOT prisoners to it. Not if we don't want to be.

Nobody is killing poetry.

Poetry cannot be killed.

Poetry is the cockroach of literature.