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February 4th, 2009

08:55 am: Worse than Rejection
I don't mind rejections, but what I can't stand are non-reponses. One of my perennial New Year's resolutions is to remember to send inquiries to the places that have grossly exceeded their stated response time, and withdrawals to the folks that don't respond to inquiries. There's really no excuse for this. If nothing else, they should have a convenient stock response that can be pasted in, like "we expect to be through with our backlog by Feb 1" or whatever. And then, of course, THIS SHOULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.

It has become apparent with the success of many iniquitous practices within the field of literature that there is an ample supply of folks so desperate to be published that they will suffer through ridiculous delays and any amount of abuse. At least 35% of my poem submissions result in acceptances (now if only that were true for the short stories ...), and I send to good places. That means I'm in a position to tell those editors that don't treat writers or their inquiries with respect to shove it. There are a lot of markets out there, and more start up all the time.

If more writers were less tolerant of abusive editorial practices, these places would have to shape up, or see their slushpile composition change to 99%—or even 100%—crud, as the better writers stopped submitting there. I've got to admit I've been remiss in reporting my own stats to Duotrope (and what do they consider an unrealistic acceptance ratio?) or the Black Hole—that's one of the '09 resolutions as well.

Speaking of which, one of my '08 non-responder submission-query-withdrawal sequences was Brutarian. I understand from corresponding with Ralan that the editor deliberately maintains an extremely aggressive spam filter to prevent the number of submissions he has to deal with from becoming excessive—and screw those who wait and wait and never hear back. I think that this is a destructive and predatory practice. I'm disappointed that SFWA would consider it an approved market—doesn't treatment of writers play any part in their rating system? It should.


January 16th, 2009

03:44 pm: Eroding the Base of One's Own Plinth
While I have of late tried to ensconce myself within the relative purity of speculative fiction and poetry, I come originally from a planet of writing "literary," or mundane, poetry, where, lo these many years, the idea of being paid for having one's poems appear in a publication is an increasingly alien concept. On this world, it has, alas, become the norm to not pay for short stories, either. There are a LOT of literary contests, however; most of them sponsored by educational institutions and frequently offering substantial prize money (something that rarely takes place within sf). I've entered many of these contests over the years (and won several). As a result, I've formed a paradigm for assessing whether a contest is reputable and worth entering: among other criteria, it involves at least a 50:1 prize/entry fee ratio; e.g., a $1,000 prize would have no more than a $20 entry fee.

I now send as much of my poetry as fits the genre (to say nothing of my fiction) to SF publications that pay, but I still frequently enter mainstream contests because I have won them often enough to make it worth the investment. Along with the disappearance of remuneration for standard publication in the mundane world, contests as well seem to be becoming more predatory. I know that many stalwart SF writers think a pay-to-enter contest as an abomination anyway, but there is a distressing tendency in the literary community to accept what would have been considered reprehensible practices in the past—and for ostensibly reputable writers to even endorse these competitions.

I'm outside academia. I have no MFA. I'm not dependent on the world of lit po (which is too large at this point for any individual to effectively "ruin my career"), but it distresses me incredibly to see poetry and short fiction become less and less valued by the general public. I think that this has resulted from the abandonment of marketing—or any real attempt at distribution—by literary journals as it becomes no longer necessary to pay the writers. Indeed, it has become the norm to expect lit journals to be supported by the subscriptions of their contributors or would-be contributors! A number of formerly very reputable poetry presses now charge a reading fee for book manuscripts. This is only the forefront of a further insidious creep toward a universe where all writers will as a matter of course have to pay to see their work in print. And believe you me, these practices will, in time, invade and infect the SF universe.

I feel a certain duty as a writer to do some whistleblowing when confronted with things that Should Not Be. In my estimation, Press 53's contest (http://www.press53.com/OpenAwards_2009.html) would fall into that category. Unlike many bottom-feeder operations, they have acquired moderately known judges to lend a spurious cachet to the operation. I assume these folks are paid; judging fees are de rigeur in literary contests these days—and one has to ask oneself how desperate they must have been to ally themselves to such a scheme. To me, this is participating in the looting of one's own edifice.

Which brings me to the letter below, which I have sent a version of to all the judges of this particular contest for whom I was able to obtain an e-mail address (only three, unfortunately—the remainder do not appear to be sufficiently well-known to have either personal websites or to be associated with any literary journal). Two of the judges I wrote edit literary journals (where I shall no longer be submitting, for obvious reasons); one of which, Vestal Review, actually pays its contributors. Apparently this editor is capable of applying different standard of value-for-work to a competition he is asked to judge. The tragedy is that there are enough desperate beginning writers who are under the impression that this is standard practice—and who are impressed by such qualifications as these individuals possess—to make ventures of this sort very profitable.

Some of you, doubtless, know some of these judges. What the hell were they thinking?


Dear Mr. X,

I note with displeasure that you have chosen to act as a judge for the Press 53 "contest." As the "prize," (other than the "etched-glass award" of dubious value--and even more dubious significance) consists only of publication and the contributor's copies which are a standard perquisite of publication in most journals, this is nothing more than a must-pay-to-be-considered-for-publication anthology--in other words, an egregiously predatory scam that no writer who cared about their reputation or integrity would be caught dead submitting to--or associating themselves with in any capacity.

It would further appear, from the guidelines page, that those published who are not the actual winners do not even get contributor's copies, but must pay to obtain the volume in which they were published. This puts the enterprise at the approximate level of poetry.com.

There are many beginning writers, to say nothing of those driven by the pressures of academia, who are desperate to be published somewhere, anywhere. The imprimatur of a writer they've actually heard of in association with a particular contest will doubtless be seen as reassuring, and an indication of the contest's presumed status.

I have seen you listed on the faculty of various writing workshops. Your willingness to become involved in Press 53 will certainly give me pause when I next see your name associated with any future enterprise in which I might have otherwise considered participating.


F.J. Bergmann

October 5th, 2008

12:01 pm: The Only Thing Worse ...
Issue 1 is out, at http://www.forgodot.com/2008/10/issue-1-release-announcement.html. No, not Issue 1 of anything; that is, apparently, the name of the journal. Um, anthology, whatever: a sui-generis compilation of falsely attributed flarf compilations pretending to be quasi-experimental poetry and, in most cases, doing a damn fine job. I'm not sure what qualified me for inclusion. Ron Silliman's blog http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/ for October 5 calls it "at 3,164 names as complete a collection of mostly post-avant poets I have ever seen," but it also includes such luminaries as William Shakespeare and Edna St. Vincent Millay, whom I'm pretty sure qualify as ante-avant. To say nothing of Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound/Confucius—one wonders how they would have classified their own works.

I didn't particularly want to be post- anything, but am willing to masquerade as such to entrap the unwary. QED. For your edification, the poem attributed to me is included. Under the circumstances, I felt that any ordinary considerations of copyright or permissions could be safely ignored. On the whole, I find it quite pleasing.

Plucking made like dark

A sort of steamer
A sort of race
A sort of nighttime
The separated spiders screamed
I advanced without remorse, without questioning the
. visions
I comprehended the lust of the thigh
There was time
. to become the lights
. . that I exchanged
Cold was I
. who unraveled the vastness of
. . the vein, the wisdom of my visions
Untouched as a wood and stirred as a finger
Golden as a chamber and dependent as a hill
Exhibiting an other admiring bee
. from beneath solemn prosaic
. . mention

F.J. Bergmann


Curiously, a few fortunate—or, at any rate, selected for particular distinction—individuals appear more than once. I am not one of those elect. As Kissinger said about Doonesbury, "The only thing worse than being in it would be not to be in it."


June 28th, 2008

02:58 pm: SF Poetry Fracas
My new SF poetry chapbook, Constellation of the Dragonfly was recently reviewed in the Madison, WI, Capital Times (see madison.com/tct/entertainment/292195). A link to the article was posted on the Science Fiction Poetry Association listserv (sfpanet@yahoogroups.com), which occasioned some discussion that I would like to address here. For the record, I am not “tenure-track,” and I have no connection with literary academia; I studied psychology and biochemistry in college and obtained merely a B.Sc., lo, these thirty years ago.

Heather Schroeder, who interviewed me for the article, quotes me thus: "’Science fiction poetry tends to be much worse than mainstream (poetry),’ she said. ‘I really don't know why. It appears to be very much stuck in much older literary conventions. There are exceptions of course, but just to make general comments, I've noticed in sci-fi/fantasy poems, the language tends to be very elevated and antiquated, and the poets pontificate a lot and deal in vague generalities.’”

I’d like to stress that the quote is neither incorrect nor decontextualized, and that the accuracy of the interview is certainly not an issue. I, personally, do feel that as far as published poems in many of the “heavyweight” journals are concerned, speculative poetry in general tends to be worse than general literary poetry (mainstream can have a more specific meaning in poetics, but I’m just using it here as a general term). The quote was “Science fiction poetry tends to be much worse ...”; again, that was intended to be umbrella terminology; fantasy and horror poetry certainly deserve to also be included in my statement.

In any pursuit that involves aesthetics, tastes will differ and a wide range of ideologies will be imposed on its practice. The acrimonious disputes that invariably follow are perennially stimulating, but this isn’t meant to be a discussion of idiosyncratic partialities. What I meant by “worse” is what I see as basic flaws in the craft of writing poetry, which seem more prevalent—or at least more tolerated in published form—in the SF genre.

There are three faults—major problems, in my opinion—that I’ve encountered most often. First, and most annoying, is the use of an artificially-elevated and/or inauthentically-archaic voice (this is usually—but not always—more common in fantasy and horror poetry; the equivalent in science-fiction poems would be the fuzzy, kitchen-sink-faux-physics generalities about how, like, vast the Universe is). No one enjoys sesquipedality more than I, and there are many high-fantasy works where archaic language is appropriate and convincing, but I’ve read too many poems where the highfalutin’ verbiage is used inconsistently or inappropriately at best, and in combination with truly dreadful grammatical and spelling skills at worst. One could do no better than to take Joe Haldeman’s brilliant paired sestina “Saul’s Death” as an sterling example of how to do it right ( see writing-world.com/poetry/schimel4.shtml [where it is incorrectly described as a double sestina, a much longer, and much, much more complicated form]). Haldeman uses plain language to achieve a powerful effect, despite the fact that the setting is “olden times” (see OnSpec’s submission guidelines for a heartwarming diatribe on this subject). And I have had it up to here with hackneyed, generic folk tales or pseudo-chivalric lays in the Ye Olde Faerye Shoppe style. This commonly manifests in the work of beginner poets, genre and non- genre alike, whose reading list ends with the 19th century; the difference being that in the non-genre world, these excrescences go straight from the slushpile to the wastebasket. It also goes hand in-hand with a tendency to write dreadful rhyming poetry, largely accounting for the prejudice that many editors have against formal verse.

Which brings me to my second complaint. I have nothing against well-written poems in form, but formal poetry is very difficult to write well; much more difficult than writing free verse or prose poems (although it’s hilarious to do it badly on purpose!), one reason why I don’t do it often. I certainly admire formal poetry when it’s good; a poem nominated for the Rhysling this year is an absolutely stellar example of a rhymed and metered poem, “Given to the Frost,” by Ann K. Schwader (see strangehorizons.com/2007/20071210/schwader-p.shtml). Note that I do not know Ms. Schwader nor, as far as I can tell, have I ever encountered her, in the flesh or on the internet. However, there are many ill-conceived, poorly-crafted attempts at rhyming poetry (sometimes without any pretense at meter, which is even worse) making it into publication. Again, these are of a quality that would quickly be rejected by the better non-genre journals.

The third practice I deplore is demonstrable failure to do research. This would include improper spellings and word usage, as well as incorrectly-used scientific terminology and “fancy words,” to say nothing of passages in foreign languages apparently written with Babelfish, in the absence of a bilingual proofreader (there’s no excuse for this; most colleges have foreign language departments where a once-over can be arranged, and the planetasf@gruposyahoo.com.ar listserv is full of cooperative SF folks who speak all kinds of languages). These flaws are not merely the poet’s responsibility (it is impossible to reliably proofread one’s own work), but are, in particular, aspects where editors have failed in their duty. The occasional typo will slip through the most stringent editorial practices, but when I see multiple errors in a publication, I cringe.

#


I’m also concerned about the definition of the genre; i.e., what constitutes speculative fiction. While it is meet that SF should be included within, rather than ostracized by, mainstream literature, the reverse is pointless. And it’s appropriate for SFPA to formulate and maintain the “official” parameters that encompass science-fiction poetry. Perhaps SFPA itself should consider being more, rather than less restrictive. As non-genre journals become more open to SF—that’s where most of my published SF poems have appeared, so I can vouch for the trend—if the SF pubs become more inclusive as well, there will soon be little difference. (NB: Billy Collins had an SF poem in the New Yorker a few months ago, which pleases me no end.) Individual editors can and should impose whatever arbitrary criteria suit them—and the wide variety of resultant aesthetics is greatly to our advantage—but I notice that a number of publications claiming to be devoted to a “pure” definition of the genre are accepting works that are not, strictly speaking, SF.

The categories that I think fall outside the genre are works that refer strictly to science, without speculative-fictional aspects; those that use SF metaphorically rather than literally; and poetry that is surreal and/or experimental, rather than speculative. Let me reiterate that I strongly support individual journals differentiating their aesthetics as much as possible—but perhaps it would be constructive for the Science Fiction Poetry Association, for its in-house publications in particular, to maintain a more rigorous focus. I’m guilty myself of submitting—and subsequently having published in the recent SFPA sonnet contest anthology—a poem that should probably not have been accepted, as it uses SF only metaphorically, and only in the last two lines of the poem: “... by gloating, evil wizards./We watch their golden goslings turn to lizards.” I sent it in because hey, I don’t write very many sonnets and was sorta reaching, but mainly because its content was a vituperative castigation of the Bush régime. Possibly that content proved to be an equally-irresistible temptation to the contest judges. Anyway, mea culpa.

I do not consider myself to be strictly a genre poet, and I think it’s sad to limit oneself to that extent. At most, a writer should say, “So far, all my work is ____,” or “Right now, I really enjoy writing _____,” rather than “I only write _____.” And allowing genre to restrict, rather than direct, one’s reading tastes is even sadder, and doubtless one of the practices responsible for the relative poverty of SF poetry as a genre. If you don’t read a wide range of contemporary poetry and contemporary poetry journals, you are grossly hindering yourself as a poet; the same thing goes for other forms of writing. I love speculative fiction better than any other kind of literature, but I try to read enough other stuff to have a basis for comparison. That being said, I think that the best science fiction has for several decades been better than the best mainstream literature, both in originality and in quality of writing, and that the opposite, unfortunately, can be said of SF poetry. No, I’m not going to give bad examples. I’m not out to embarrass or offend individuals—at least, not here and now.

A constant dialogue concerning the preferences and goals of individual poets and editors, to say nothing of the ideal attributes of speculative poetry itself can only benefit the genre. I do not regret stepping in the sacred cowpie, and invite your responses and comments.

November 25th, 2007

08:53 pm: The New Engl Ish
We've heard a lot about dumbing-down, and the idea that the decline of reading, especially of works published in print form, from back when they knew how to do it, is contributing to the appalling writing skills of today's youth. Well, heck; it's contributing to the appalling skills of today's everybody. I'm not talking about the occasional typo or brainfart; I'm talking about consistently bad writing and editing, almost across the board. Even major print publishers don't seem to give proofreading the care and attention they used to: I just finished an excellent new fantasy novel—but the author or his editor or proofreader doesn't know that "callous" is the adjective; the noun is "callus." Or the correct spelling of "all right."

And minor print publishers are even worse, it would seem. I recently came across a novel that had been published with a cover too dark to distinguish its elements, using the same font and weight throughout, including page numbers, chapter headings, etc., and literally at least one typo per paragraph all the way through the book. Self-published? I hear you asking. Well, no. The publishers are a "professional," i.e., doing-this-for-money outfit, and they are paying the author, in order to produce, at some expense, a travesty of a finished book.

What makes people enter a profession in which they have no demonstrable skill or education? Liking to read, laudable as that may be, is no guarantee that one has any skill as a publisher. Why do companies persist in bringing out books that are poorly written in the first place, and then sloppily edited? Aren't they ashamed of their product at some point? Don't their readers notice?

This is said to be worse online, which ain't necessarily so. While bottom-feeders abound, produced with a predictable level of incompetence, the problem doesn't end there. Massive spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors are certainly not what one expects to find in any journal produced by a college English or Creative Writing department—but one does, all over the place. What possesses the faculty at these places (assuming that they have the necessary skills) to let the graduate and/or undergraduate students who are editing and producing these things send them out into the world without having someone knowledgeable give them the once-over? Do they imagine that a demonstration of their students' deficiencies is some sort of advertisement for their programs?

The authors themselves have limited responsibility. Liking to write is where an author should begin, although a certain level of grammatical competence is necessary. If one is fortunate, one may find a compassionate editor or agent willing to fix grammatical and spelling errors if the rest of the manuscript is solid, but the more likely outcome is that a hasty read of a page or two will irretrievably associate the grammatical errors with a general lack of writing talent, and into the rejection pile it goes. But authors can't proofread their own manuscripts effectively, and once accepted for publication, the grammatical shortcomings of a manuscript become the responsibility of the publisher, who in turn should be judged by the quality of the product—and I do judge! I get completely turned off as a purchaser when, starting to leaf through a book I think I might enjoy, I find errors that a good editor should have decapitated in embryo.

Strangely enough, I have the same gut reaction when submitting to journals or presses. When I look at a journal, print or online, and see that they have published a poem, apparently as sent to them, with apostrophes in the possessive "its," "lay" where "lie" should have been used, and other abominations strewn throughout a piece of less than 200 words, I don't really want to see my work appear alongside this mess.

I recently did not enter a chapbook contest that, initially, seemed attractive: reasonable entry fee, generous prize money, tout comme il faut. Why not? I looked at the press's website, and a more grotesquely-designed, unreadable (black text on near-black photo background) home page has rarely been seen outside of geocities. Would I want an outfit like this to design a chapbook of mine? That would be a NO.

What press DO I want to design a chapbook of mine? That's easy. Payseur & Schmidt, she says, wistfully gazing into the distance.

I bet you're thinking, Editing is probably a lot harder than it looks. She should cut those inept bastards some slack. Well, guess what. I have edited a few chapbooks for other people, as well as a local poetry website (where helpful natives are quick to point out errors, bless their little hearts), and, more recently, co-edited and did the design and layout for the Wisconsin Poets' Calendar—a relatively large-scale commercial proposition. I do know how hard it is to spot these mistakes—but you need to set yourself up to be able to spot them. If you don't know grammar, fercryin'outloud hire someone who does! And don't underestimate volunteer labor. Lookit Wikipedia: the internet is full of folks who would like nothing better than to inform others, for free. Q.E.D.

If I can take the trouble to learn where commas and semi-colons and hyphens go, and the difference between "lie" and "lay," to say nothing of "its" and "it's," so can you-all, people.

October 21st, 2007

09:48 am: Mouth where the money isn't
The CLMP Code of Ethics was touted as a major step forward in spiffing up the standards of poetry contests, but, as I've mentioned elsewhere (see article in 2008 Poet's Market), it has no teeth. "Transparency" means "We can do what we want as long as we state what we're doing"—in other words, continuing to hire judges whose relationships with entrants are on otheir own recognizance, not naming the judge at all, and other—what I consider—irregularities.

The most risible instances, however, are the contests who prominently display the CLMP code on their site—and then fail to indicate the judging process at all; i.e., non-transparency. It's sort of Bush admin, don't you think? To make a statement, or give a policy a title, and then engage in actions that directly contradict it.

I've found that many of these folks will divulge the judge's name, and a description of the preliminary selection process, if you ask 'em—but surely "transparency" means stating your process right up front? The CLMP code has gone from toothless to meaningless, if you ask me.

I encourage poets to bombard contests with e-mails if the judge is not named and a notification date is not given. I strongly encourage poets to boycott contests where the entry fee exceeds more than 2% of the prize value. While high entry fee:prize ratios used to be the distinguishing characteristic of local poetry societies and other bottom-feeders, there is a distressing trend toward high entry fees and small prizes—or no prize other than publication—in contests sponsored by formerly-reputable entities.

June 20th, 2007

10:33 pm: More poetry peevishness
There seems to be an ominous increase in "vanity" contests masquerading as the real thing. It has always been an unstated (actually, I'm sure I've read this somewhere) rule that self-respecting poets do not pay for the opportunity to give a reading, or that of merely having their work published, and that legitimate publishers do not charge for considering manuscripts for publication unless a contest—with prize money—is involved. Yet, there has been a distressing tendency among previously-respectable presses to charge "reading fees" for book-length manuscript submissions, and I've seen recently several scam "contests" promoted by entities that should know better.

One was a competition, with an entry fee of $15, as I recall, where the winning poem would be set to music and performed by a symphony orchestra—no prize money; just the glory of having your poem used without compensation. Adult tickets for upcoming performances of this orchestra are $10 each. I have no idea whether the musical performers are paid.

Another was a state literary organization that chose to target poets—by no means the primary beneficiaries of its activities--by charging a $10 entry fee for a poem "contest" judged by a committee of its less-than-stellar members. The prize: to have one's poem and photo printed on a bookmark for free distribution, and a reading slot at an upcoming book festival. No prize money at all; just the most trivial form of publication possible (okay, okay; drink coasters would have been tackier) and the "privilege" of reading—with no guarantee of an audience.

Yet another was this "Best New Poets of 2007" thing: "There is a reading fee of $8 for all Open Competition entries; the fee includes a reading of your work and a copy of the 2007 anthology ..." Again, no mention of prize money that I can find. In my book, that's the equivalent of requiring one to be a subscriber to be considered for publication; a practice in which only a very few bottom-feeder journals engage.

I was sad to see a number of local poets whom I hold in high esteem fall for more than one of these. I think that as poets become increasingly desperate for publication, especially those whose professional careers depend on it, they don't consider the probity of the soliciting entity, or the actual risk/payoff ratio. While some entry fees have climbed to the point where the fees above may seem negligible, I've made a point in recent years of not entering any contests whose entry fees were more than 2% of the prize money. I believe we owe it to ourselves as poets, as well as to our communities, not to support heinous or ill-considered practices with our checkbooks. Boycott these things, and tell 'em why. "Fund-raising" is not an excuse; these folks should solicit donations from corporations, seek grants, or hold bake sales. Or at least offer respectable prize money, which would likely not only draw enough additional entries to make up for it, but ensure a far better quality of competition.

And if you are looking for any more excuses to cull your list of possible contests to enter, here are a few more criteria, after applying the entry-fee-max-2%-of prize standard:
a) Named judge (see 2/18/06 posting)
b) Response date (see 6/23/06 posting)
c) Ease of submission: by this I mean that if I have to reformat my poetry in double-spaced Times New Roman and send in five print copies with the word and line count on each page plus two discs in MS Word, it's not gonna happen, unless the prize money goes into 5 figures.

And no, prize money isn't everything. I happily submit to places that don't pay anything, as long as they don't charge me to do so. But what is everything, or almost everything, is not having your hard work devalued by places that make you pay in order to let them use your poetry

June 23rd, 2006

07:57 pm: Editorial Response Schedules
Time to bitch again about publications and/or contests that don't respond to inquiries. I'm not talking about the what-do-you-think-of-the-85-pages-of-heartfelt-confessional-poems-I-sent-to-you-two-weeks-ago inquiries. I'm talking about contests where I paid an entry fee (and they cashed the check, so I know damn well they got it) and enclosed a SASE, and now it's 2 months past the date by which they said entrants would be notified by, and they don't respond to inquiries sent to the e-mail address given on the website. To name names, which I feel is a salutary pursuit, this has happened with the Poets Out Loud prize and with the Chicago Literary Awards, offered (presumably) by Another Chicago Magazine. In the case of the latter, this is the second year in a row this has happened. I will not be entering that contest again. And let that be a lesson to you.

Editorial prerogative and idiosyncrasy is not unncommon among lit mags, but accepting money for contest submissions puts a whole different complexion on this sort of behavior. I have been fortunate enough to win or place in literary competitions on a regular basis; therefore, I'm pretty sure I'm following the correct protocol for sending in my entries. I include my e-mail address, and I don't have a problem with the occasional competition that e-mails to say that there will be a delay in announcing the results, for whatever reason. But I think it's unconscionable to accept money and then not bother to a) follow one's own schedule, or b) reply to legitimate inquiries. No, wait; it's outrageous, not unconscionable. Unconscionable is best applied to the policies of the Bush régime.

And now, one more rant: can those mags that accept e-submissions please acknowledge their receipt? It's obnoxious to wait for 8 months or a year, and then discover the sub was never received. And regarding lack of timely response: if the Paris Review can deal with e-inquiries, you lesser life-forms should be able to do so without having a hissy-cow. Et na.

February 18th, 2006

10:55 am: Judge not lest j'accuse
I've got some pet peeves on contests. I'd like to see a contest Code of Ethics, that, unlike the wimpy thing recently implemented in the wake of Foetry, deals in specifics.

One complaint I have is about not giving response deadlines, or failing to honor them, AND THEN NOT RESPONDING TO INQUIRIES, which happened to me with the 2005 Pittsburgh Quarterly Sara Henderson Hay Prize: they gave the notification date as Sept. 1 (I ALWAYS include an SASE and my e-mail address). I finally made an e-mail inquiry (polite, no attachments, explanatory subject line, etc.) on Oct. 24. I made a second, also polite, inquiry on January 6th to other e-mail addresses given on the site, mentioning the lack of response to the first inquiry, and have yet to receive any reply to those, either.

My biggest gripe, however, is with contests that don't name judges. For competitions that want to avoid any relationship between the judge and selected winners, the only sensible way of doing this is to put the responsibility in the entrant's lap, where it belongs, by prohibiting them from entering if they have a prior relationship with the judge (and obviously, entrants need to know who the judge is to make that determination). Not that I don't believe we haven't seen some egregious examples of collusion and favoritism for which the judge in question was clearly to blame, but the system as it stands puts an unfair burden on honest and well-meaning judges.

Marilyn Taylor, the Poet Laureate of Milwaukee, a friend of mine and a person of sterling reputation and uncompromising integrity, has been harassed non-stop for the past year by a woman who has posted diatribes on foetry.com and other sites, as well as sending letters to organizations whose boards Marilyn is on, calling for her removal. Marilyn was kind enough to judge a small local poetry contest for the Milwaukee Public Library, with negligible prizes. Another adjunct professor at UW-M, who Marilyn did not know (Marilyn's name was announced as the judge, however), entered and won second place (the would-be watchdog of poetic purity received an honorable mention). The contest was judged blind; Marilyn was not familiar with the other professor's work, and the library staff is not especially knowledgeable about the poetry scene. I find it odd, in this situation, that the judge was blamed for what was clearly, in my opinion, a lack of ethical judgment on the part of the entrant.

A judge (to say nothing of competition staff) cannot be reliably expected to recognize the work of former/current students, family, friends, etc. and it is awkward, tedious, and disappointing to re-judge after winners have been selected (assuming the judge is given the opportunity to do so following disclosure of winners' identities), and even more annoying and embarrassing to withdraw and redistribute prizes after winners have been announced. And yet MORE vexatious to get an undeserved reputation for running a rigged competition!

Contests should be blind-judged—and the names of judges should invariably be announced up front (except where judging takes place by committee at a level where pretending that judges do not know the candidates would be disingenuous). Contest entrants should be required to acknowledge that they will incur legal penalties by ignoring or concealing a relationship with the judge. I guarantee that the first time someone has to give back a prize they won dishonestly—and pay the legal fees incurred by the contest organizer—this sort of backbiting will become a thing of the past (other backbiting will take its place, of course. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

The only logic behind not naming the judge, as far as I can see, is discreditable to the competition sponsors:

a) the judge is not sufficiently prestigious to draw the hoped-for number of entries
b) no one has gotten around to hiring a judge yet
c) a judge has been hired who it is feared might be amenable to bribery (or hey, how about blackmail!)

February 16th, 2006

07:09 pm: Thing One
Well, isn't this sweet! Who says TANSTAAFL? I only wanted to reply to a post on another livejournal, so this may not get a lot of mileage. But you never know ... I certainly intend at some point to make disparaging comments about how obnoxious I find the mood/music indicators. I guess if you can't annoy people with unrequested music downloading into their speakers, you can certainly tell them what you would LIKE to annoy them with. There are plenty of sites for those who WANT to discuss their musical tastes—why not save that information for them?

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