Foetry! Get it? Faux-etry!
The sordid ghost of Foetry.com has stalked the internets this past week, with much being made of Stacey Lynn Brown’s tale of contest troubles with Cider Press Review.
According to Brown’s blog—and Cider Press’s Robert Wynne --Brown won Cider Press’s contest last year, but had her award subsequently “revoked” for reasons no one can agree on.
Brown says it was because the editor didn’t like her design ideas, and the editor says it was because Brown didn’t meet her contractual obligations (see Brown's comment below for clarification)—but whatever the actual reasons, the whole thing has caused many bloggers to weigh in on the strange mania that overtakes poets when contests are involved.
One of the commenters on Brown’s blog was Alan Cordle, a name inextricably bound to the Foetry saga.
Foetry, of course, was for a time the self-proclaimed “watchdog” for American poetry, honing in on the strange goings on in the contest world.
For anyone not immersed in the world of reading fees, finalists, and yearly judges, here’s a primer: Many poets submit unpublished manuscripts along with “reading fees” to contests put on by presses.
The contests offer the poet a chance to win publication from the press, oftentimes along with a cash award.*
A range of famous and not-so famous literary personages judge the various contests’ entries, picking the winners and sometimes providing lists of finalists. For most presses, the reading fees accumulated from all the poets who submit to the contest fund the winning poet's award (usually about a thousand dollars), along with the production and promotion of the winning poet’s book and the judge’s paycheck. Many times, the accumulated contest fees also fund the production and promotion of other books put out by the press.
Skeptics see these contests as ways for presses to profit from the abundance of poets desperate for readers—an obsolescence tax of sorts--and Foetry.com saw contests as nepotistic cabals through which poets like Jorie Graham got their students published and racked up fee after fee without giving honest readings to all who submit.
Devoted to documenting nefarious poetry publication contest activity in the United States through Drudge Report-style headlines and gossipy forums, the Foetry site caused quite a stir.
Articles appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other places, and poetry publication contests at the University of Georgia and the University of North Texas underwent intense scrutiny.
Detractors eventually unveiled the site’s anonymous crusader as, yep, Alan Cordle, a research librarian whose wife, Kathleen Halme, happened to have won the University of Georgia’s Contemporary Poetry Series prize back in 1994.
The New York Times could hardly muffle its mirth when reporting the news of Corlde’s unmasking.
In the wake of the Foetry years (confidential to Cordle: you have my permission to use this as the title of your memoir), there has been closer scrutiny of the poetry publication contest system, and often a knee-jerk skepticism towards anything even remotely resembling publication nepotism (since, of course, no good poetry ever got published that way).
This week’s twist in the contest kerfuffles (confidential to Brown: see above confidential to Cordle) is the public airing of the usually private details of book publication. The tedium of the table of contents decisions, the author photo back and forth, the haggling over prize money--it’s a tawdry submitter beware, but it’s also pretty fascinating.
*Back in the day, mostly only unpublished poets sought out contests judged by “famous writers,” contests like the Yale Younger judged by Auden and the like, or the National Poetry Series judged by Mary Oliver, Ashbery, Lucile Clifton or the like. Now it seems the line between judge and contestant has become a bit blurred, with judges sometimes having only a few books to their names, and contestants often having a back catalog that would make Rod McKuen blush.
Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...