Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What Say You?

It's close to that time of the year again- the manuscript contest crave. Where poets go nutso polishing, revising, and sending out their little children hoping to find lovely homes between two soft covers, but before you send out endless checks maybe read the flip side of the coin. Good stuff on Reb's blog and a first hand account of Cider Press Review's on-going bad reputation here.

This isn't to say that I'm NOT going to send out my MS and eschew contest entirely, however, I will be extremely selective and limit it to only a few. Honestly, I don't have the time, money, or desire to send it out to a bunch of presses I just haven't heard of and who have published poets I've never read. (Which is to say when I have money, I 'd rather spend it on books and keep reading!)

A while back I entered a contest because I liked the journal, but Billy Collins was the judge. Was I crazy? Not that I have an intimate knowledge of Mr. Collins' taste, but I feel pretty comfortable in making the assumption that my poems are not exactly up his alley.

Why did I enter?

I had time on my hands (at my previous job) to work on the submission and money in my bank account. Billy Collins and Tony Hoagland both are judging what (to me, at least) appears to be A LOT of contests. I actually like some of Hoagland's poems, but what does his association with Cider Press Review do for his reputation. They already had problems with their "contest" even before he agreed the judge for them....

What do you think? Do you send out your MS because you think you can get Billy to chuckle, how do you feel about Tony? Do you even look to see who the judges are or check out the press? Or blindly send away to every contest listed in Poets & Writers?

What say y'all?


Bill Knott said...

. . . most of the comments responding to Brown on her site are commiserating with her, and saluting her bravery in exposing this nonsense——

but none are slamming his honor the Hoagland who bops in to these contests and does his ten minute stint as “judge” and then scoots off with another tick on his resume, another notch on his reputation, who doesn’t give a damn if it’s a scam, he doesn’t care if the process is fair and the press treats its poets properly, all he cares about is getting that boost to his ego . . .
Hoagland is a Po-Biz whore who will obviously sell his ass out as a “judge” at every opportunity legitimate or ill- . . .

if you’re going to condemn the presses, you must also damn the “judges” of these contests: they’re part of the scam . . . they don’t give a damn about what happens after they take their money and run . . . Hoagland is as much to blame here as Cider is.

steven karl said...

Thank you so much for your comment Bill. I think that this is yet another conversation that needs serious discussion within the poetry community.

There are judges who only judge every now and again and are quite sincere, but when guys like Collins and Hoagland are ALWAYS judging- well then you're getting an extremely skewed view of what poetry is getting selected (and sometimes published).

How are writers not skeptical, if not outraged, that the collective voices/opinion of Hoagland Collins represent at least 6 contest a year!! These two "gentlemen" are getting richer (in poetry terms of finance) and filling out their lovely CVs while lots of naive writers are getting poorer, wasting their time, and left with feelings of frustration.

brooklyn said...

I've never entered a contest, though I've considered a few chapbook contests because I thought they'd be smallish and they were both linked to journals that I already liked. It's a matter of funds and organization for me. No funds/ too much extra keeping-track-of-crap involved.

I'm not against all small press contests, and I do understand why some presses use them to generate funds. And I do think that if a poet is going to take advantage of a free open reading period, they should first buy one of the press's books. I've been delighted AND disappointed by how different a book turned out to be in-person.

Other things I like:

A.) When a poet no one's even heard of, who comes out of some small place and doesn't have anything to do with universities or blogs or publishing or whatever, who just minds his/her own business, etc., wins a contest.

B.) When presses publish finalists on their sites.

C.) When presses don't want you to send an acknowledgments page at all.

Steven, I wish you all the best, wherever you're sending your manuscript!

steven karl said...

Yeah I agree that there are some reputable small presses, in fact, I wouldn't think twice before enclosing a reading fee check to a press like Octopus or Coconut. I think Reb & Bill & myself are more concerned with writers who blindly send off their ms to any and every press. & to an even larger extent the poets who regularly take these judging positions as a means of financial gain, instead of a burning desire to publish exciting voices.

Oh and on a completely topic I'll be riding a ferry 4 times a week. I shall think of you and your ferryless land:)

steven karl said...

Oh one more thing. As far as chapbook contest- I very much like the PSA chapbook contest. They have an excellent reputation and really support the publishing and promoting of their chapbooks and I have only ever heard glowing things entire process.

I'm not sure what Film Forum Press process is, but that's another small press that I really respect, of course No Tell Books & Dusie are pretty awesome- lucky for us the list goes on & on.

brooklyn said...

Those presses, and I was thinking of Switchback over in Chicago, book-wise, and the Burnside Review chapbooks contests, among others. And, yes, there are SOME presses that I wish WOULD have contests, just because I know they'd do things the right way.

I might sound kinda cold, but I have very little sympathy right now for poets who send off their manuscripts blindly, or near-blindly. It's one thing if the contest itself isn't laid out clearly, but you can't blame a small press if they're getting submissions from poets who clearly didn't research the market very well. For Taiga's chapbook series, we get at least one query a week that STARTS with, "I'm not sure what you're looking for, but hopefully this is it!" I would hazard a guess that these sucker-submissions (as I call them in my mind, maybe unfairly, but hey!) make up the bulk of contest entries, the same way they make up the bulk of journal submissions. It'd be lovely if everyone did their homework, but...

On a related note, who the hell WOULD pay into a contest that was being judged by Billy Collins?? Surely you'd have to realize that your mss would be screened out of the process early on. Altho, and don't hold me too this- didn't he pick Nick Twemlow's mss for the National Poetry Series? I might be getting my Nick's mixed.

Ferry-wise- is your ferry going from Finland to Sweden, by any chance? :)

steven karl said...

Yes, Burnside Review and Switchback are top-notch indeed!

Sadly my ferry only goes from NYC to Staten Island but I will close my eyes and think of it as going from Sweden to Finland.