Tupelo Welcomes Your Submissions, But Alan Still Has Questions

An Open Letter from Alan Cordle.

This just arrived in the Scarriet inbox, and I’m still confused. Initially, Jeffrey Levine drew up the most ethical guidelines of them all, yet he still slipped up terribly, and hurt a lot of people. I also don’t get the  “non-profit” angle. So the Tupelo Press gets 1,000 manuscripts at $25.00 each, that’s $25,000 for each contest, right? So how can this be called “non-profit,” even when you subtract $3,000.00 for the prize?

And did Tupelo Press actually manage to match that $30,000.00 matching grant this year? I know some people offered to contribute to the fund if Jeffrey Levine would just clear up some doubts about his ethics, but I don’t think he did. Also, why do you only get $3,000.00 now for winning a Tupelo prize, whereas it used to be worth $10,000.00? Yes, things are getting more expensive as Tupelo says, but nothing like that much more. It makes you wonder how they managed to pay that astonishing sum when they were first just getting started?

And what happened to Jeffrey Levine’s sister-in-law, Margaret Donovan, I think her name was, the advertising executive who used to be Tupelo’s Managing Editor? Why is she no longer an officer at the Press?

It shouldn’t be forgotten that it was, of course, Foetry.com that pressured contests into specifying in their Guidelines that no “former students” of the judge are eligible.   It’s hard to believe, but there was even a time when  Foetry.com was derided for insisting upon just this, and now it’s routinely part of all poetry-contest guidelines.   “The Jorie Graham Rule,” it’s called, for obvious reasons.

Tupelo Press Guidelines

I’m still confused about the Tupelo Press Guidelines. This is what they say. “Readers” reduce the 1,000 submissions to 175, but as to who those “readers” are we are told nothing by Tupelo.    The “readers” also put comments on the manuscripts they like, and then “the editors” take the roughly 175 manuscripts and reduce the pile to 25 which are “ranked” for the Final Judge along with the supporting arguments from the “readers” and “anonymous” editors, so it’s hard to know who is who when it comes to responsibility for following the guidelines.

It could even be argued that the Final Judge makes no judgment at all, theoretically speaking.   For if the 25 manuscripts presented to the Final Judge are “ranked,” no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, etc., “editors” have essentially picked “the winner,” haven’t they, and the Final Judge, who is in the employ of Tupelo as well, presumably, is under no obligation to do anything more than automatically choose No. 1 as the winner of the contest.

What bothers  me is that there are no clauses in the Guidelines that address the relationship between the poets who submit their manuscripts and the “readers” and “editors” who are so crucial in choosing the winner.

Still, in perfect keeping with the published Tupelo Guidelines, couldn’t a personal friend, even a spouse of a “reader” or an “editor,” submit their manuscript to the Dorset Prize competition and “win”?    The Final Judge, who does not personally know the wife, let’s say, of a Tupelo editor, and who receives the manuscript anonymously, sees that the manuscript is ranked No. 1 out of the whole slush pile sifted by the “editors” before him. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, Bin Ramke selected winners at Georgia who were known only to Jorie Graham, and in at least one well-documented case who hadn’t even entered the contest. And, of course, there was that other well-documented case of someone else’s otherwise unrelated almost husband who still managed to win and is now also a professor at Harvard.

Yes, I do worry that a published, well-known poet who submits to a Tupelo contest, and is known to a “reader” and/or “editor” at Tupelo, will have the same advantage.  The “anonymous” character of the judging is suspicious, isn’t it, since the Tupelo editor winnowing the manuscripts down to a “ranked” 25 can “know” the poet who is submitting, and Tupelo can have an overriding wish to declare “a known poet” the winner? Isn’t that exactly what was also done year after year by Graham and Ramke at Georgia? Indeed, there’s nothing in the Guidelines that says the Tupelo editors can’t directly let the Final Judge know which manuscripts they (the Tupelo “editors”) “admire.” It doesn’t take a corporate lawyer to set that one up!

Colrain Manuscript Conferences & Crazyhorse/ Tupelo Press Graduate Program: Matters Arising

I’m also concerned about the students who have paid such a lot for the intimate editing services offered in both the Colrain Manuscript Conference retreats and the Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press Graduate Programs — they even advertise what a large number of their graduates get published. Hasn’t the work of these poets been discussed in fine detail by some of the same people who will winnow down the field in other contests? Does it say anywhere that these “students” are ineligible for the contests, because it ought to, shouldn’t it?

The only interdiction is they can’t be a personal friend or student of the Final Judge. But the Tupelo or other editors can easily make sure that all 25 or so manuscripts the Final Judge reviews are submissions by 1.) their friends, 2.) well-known poets they are keen on recognizing, and 3.) their own Colrain/Crazyhorse students.  So it becomes a fait accompli, doesn’t it? The 999 other contestants who have paid their $25.00 fee, or more, and including you and I, won’t have a clue that the game has potentially been rigged as described above—even while observing the rules set out in the guidelines.

And don’t forget that Joan Houlihan, the director of the Colrain Manuscript Conferences, was published by her colleague in the business, Jeffrey Levine, just as she was defending Jeffrey Levine and Bin Ramke in Poets & Writers — and of course trashing Foetry.com as “losers.” (A lot of us are still waiting for her to address that horrendous indiscretion, and until she does, it’s likely to go on haunting her.)

Also Robin Beth Schaer, the On-Line Editor at The Academy of American Poetry, was shortlisted for a Tupelo prize just weeks before Christopher Woodman was banned for mentioning Joan Houlihan’s P&W Letter about Jeffrey Levine in a comment on the Poets.org Forum. (Robin Beth Schaer appears to be no longer in the job, whether because there was an actual or perceived conflict of interest will probably never be known. The Site Administrator also resigned during the scandal — she was quietly reinstated after all the threads involved were deleted and there was no one and nowhere left on Poets.org to discuss the matter.)

And of course, Carol Ann Davis, the editor of Crazyhorse,  was published by Jeffrey Levine just as Carol Ann Davis announced a new course, The Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press Publishing Institute graduate program at the College of Charleston — taught by Jeffrey Levine. The program also selects the Tupelo Press First Book Prize, and awards yet another $3000.00, and of course, gets you the cred that will really get you the job — which explains why you bite the bullet of the bill!

Ouch, that last one is particularly gratuitous. We addressed it in some detail on Foetry.com, but apparently students still continue to sign up for it, which is disturbing.

Do Jeffrey Levine and Joan Houlihan Care For Poetry?

Of course Jeffrey Levine  and Joan Houlihan care for poetry, and both believe they are working hard on behalf of the art—I don’t deny that. But obtaining money from, or for, poetry is simply not an act in which the end can ever justify the means. Faith must finally reside in the public’s reception of that poetry, whether one is a poet or an investor. If you are producing a product no one wants, put it out there with private money. If you have to defraud part of the public to put that product out there, you shouldn’t be putting it out there at all.

Alan Cordle

A Letter To Tom about “Rhyme”


Tony Woodman and me at the Gran Prix of Czechoslovakia, Brno, 1963

Dear Tom……………………………………………………[November 22nd, 2009]
My hunch is that your emphasis on “rhyme” in your previous article is going to be misunderstood. I think it will give those who don’t want to hear you at all the excuse not to read you, and may weaken your argument even for those that are willing to give what you say a try.

Let me say this first: I’m a curious critic because I’m so sophisticated yet so naive and trusting — I know so much (or at least ought to, considering the length of my education) and yet am so obviously an innocent. I deliberately didn’t say ‘ill-informed’ there, because what I do know I know quite well, and my eyes are always wide-open. It’s just that I’ve only been engaged with the history of ‘Modern Poetry’ since I started writing it in 1990, and I was already 50 by then. I’ve never sat in a Modern Poetry lecture, for example, never participated in a Writing Workshop, and only rarely attended a Poetry Reading. I’ve got Gawain and the Green Knight, all of Chaucer, The Faerie Queene, George Herbert, Christopher Smart, John Clare and Emily Dickinson on my shelves here in Chiang Mai, but very few literary-critical texts written after Wimsatt & Brooks.

The fact is I only came up against ‘Modernism’ when I realized that the 10 precious packets I had sent to a much-respected University Poetry Series between 1994 and 2006 were probably never opened, and that my 8 packets to yet another up-and-coming Press hadn’t deterred its editor from sending me a form letter purporting to be a personal critique of my work. The letter, almost identical copies of which have subsequently emerged, suggested that for a certain sum the editor would help me to improve my book and that I could then resubmit it to his/her competition. I remember that moment very well — I was at my desk with my cheque book in hand when I was first alerted to the existence of Foetry.com which had already started to investigate the letters. When I then complained about my own letter on Poets & Writers (Nov 2006), I was scolded by a well-known critic for my limited understanding of publishing poetry in America today, while the very same judges who had abused me were praised for their hard work and integrity.

That was hard for me — and still is.

But the critic who attacked me on P & W was partly right, of course — even at 66 I was uppity and ignorant, and was nowhere near ready to concede that the situation I found myself in was ‘normal’ what is more ethically acceptable or conducive to the development of good poetry in me or anyone else in America. And the next thing I knew I found myself banned on-line for discussing my disquiet, first by the P&W blog, then by the AoAP blog, and finally by the Poetry Foundation’s new and wonderful Blog Harriet — not a very promising start to my new career, and particularly not at 69.

So what can you call me, then, and how can my input be more useful?

Hardly a “noble savage,” as my style is too perfect even if my content is analphabet. Yet I am a peasant in poetry when you compare me with somebody like David Lehman, for example, what is more Stephen Burt — and indeed, one of the reasons I got put “on moderation” at Blog:Harriet so early was that I annoyed a lot of people who knew a whole lot more than I did about the poetry business, and wanted me to be more practical, respectful, and compliant. Because after all, who was I to strew the nice Harriet ground with metaphors that exploded with such devastating effect, even taking out the management? And my cow pat hammer, that was the last straw [open the ‘Comments,’ then ‘Show More Comments,” then scroll down to July 6th, 2009, “Footnote for Posterity”]. And I was fired a few days later.

What I do have (and this is all about that word “rhyme,” of course, Tom) is my Rip Van Winkle status, a contemporary poet back from the dead. Because my anomaly is that I was so highly educated in the History of Literature (Columbia, Yale, King’s College, Cambridge, summa cum laude, phi beta kappa, Dino Bigongiari Prize for Italian Studies, Woodrow Wilson at Yale, Kellett Fellow at King’s [after Lionel Trilling and Norman Podhoretz but before David Lehman], C.S.Lewis & G.G.Hough as my Supervisors for my work on Edmund Spenser, Tutor for George Steiner at Churchill, Research Fellow at Christ’s) — yet I never got formally educated in Modern Poetry, not once. So I go straight from the ’30s in which I was born and jump straight to the ’90s in which I got published by Marilyn Hacker in The Kenyon Review — sans mentor, sans prize, sans compromise! Indeed, I will be forever grateful to Marilyn Hacker — and to the likes of James Laughlin (only just legible on his old Remington), Theodore & Renee Weiss (I was one of the last QR Finalists, and I still have his notes in pencil), Joseph Parisi ( who read my long poem, Works & Days,  3 times!), and Alice Quinn (who suggested The Kenyon Review for my Connemara Trousers). They made not just my day but my life!

Yes, a “noble non-starter,” I might be called, playing on that P & W critic’s “loser.” Or a “noble non-accredited accomplisher” perhaps.   Because the irony is that in the end my publishing credits have turned out to be not bad at all, considering my age and when I started.

So back to  “rhyme,” then, Tom. I’m sure you know exactly what you mean by the word, and you do know the literary-historical details like the back of your hand. But what you don’t know first hand is the snobbery that lies behind the creation of Modernism, the revulsion with which those early 20th century poets around Pound and Hilda Dolittle rejected the late 19th century mush so loved by those who had just emerged from the crude working class.  Because Edgar Guest/Hallmark-type “rhyme” was not the side of the verse they specifically despised, but rather the feel-good sentimentality which went along with the satisfaction you got when you at last sat down to ‘dinner’ together around a ‘table’ or ‘read’ together  in the ‘parlor’ — which factory workers were still not going to do in Britain or America for some time to come. On the other hand, after 1916 “A Heap O’Livin” sold over a million copies — which opens up a huge social and educational grey area in the History of American Poetry, one which is not yet quite out of the bag like what actually happened when my ancestors put in to Plymouth.

That’s what I know about more than most of you who are reading this and interested in our struggle. Because I was brought up in the 19th century, and I was a snob and “mush” made me feel unclean too, so I know the feeling only too well. I spent my early years in Gladstone, New Jersey, after all, the so-called “Gold Coast,” and in my American childhood I never sat down with a worker, or a so-called ‘person of color,’ or a Catholic who wasn’t a descendant of Diamond Jim Brady (my mother’s family in Boston in the 20s didn’t socialize with the Kennedys, who were Irish like the servants, and my mother was terribly distressed when I named my second daughter “Delia Hilary Orlando Woodman,” (Irish plus a name which could be mistaken for someone of Italian descent???).

And to our great credit, but goodness knows why, we ran, my two brothers and I — my younger brother, Loring, westward to the Gros Ventre in Wyoming, myself eastward across the Atlantic to Cambridge and then on up to remote Eskdalemuir, and Tony just really really fast (he was the first American to have a big success in Gran Prix motorcycle racing in Europe until he broke his back in the Northwest 200 in Ireland in 1965). And how I ran, and kept bees, and fiddled around with Trungpa Rimpoche, and sailed, but mostly just fell in love with my wonderfully wrong women — and little by little I sloughed off that good taste and sense of superiority which went along with the family silver (I still have a trunkful somewhere, and enough 18th century willow pattern china to serve you all at once, though goodness knows where that is as well) — and here I am now writing to you like the fool…

No, it’s not the rhyme, Tom — it’s the snobbery of a new intellectual class that is still not too secure and needs to put a lot of distance between itself and the upper working-class poetry that makes sense when you finally arrive on the first rung of the new upwardly mobile America.

And should the ‘petit bourgeois poetry’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries be re-evaluated, then, should that forgotten corpus be restored to grace? Hardly, but the alternative “Make it New” movement at the opposite extreme must be re-assessed as ‘petit-bourgeois poetry’s’ shadow, in the Jungian sense, so that those aspects of our western poetry tradition that got debased and/or hidden by ‘Modernism’ can be brought out into the open and liberated — like feeling, like music, like value and meaning and even, when its applicable, like rhyme. Indeed, all the underpinnings of Modernism must be fearlessly re-examined, and it’s tendency to sew new clothes for the emperor ruthlessly exposed, as we’re doing — and how the courtiers do kick and howl!

That’s our theme, of course, and it’s a big one, and one for which I think I’m well-equipped even with just a small cow pat as a hammer in my hand.

Christopher
Read the rest of this entry »

Harwood to Abramson: WTF?

David Lehman P&WReady To Serve
Stacey & SethP&W Rankings

Poets and Writers magazine published Seth Abramson’s (middle left) MFA program rankings in the last issue of 2009 [click here].  Stacey Harwood (bottom left), wife of Best American Poetry series editor, David Lehman (top left), wrote on the BAP blog that Abramson’s ratings are “based on bogus research methods. The author of the rankings has no credentials as a pollster.”

In the comments field she says, “we have received several comments from Mr. Abramson, which we cannot post not only because they are far too long but because they are inappropriate and defamatory.”

One wonders if the “inappropriate” comments mentioned that Lehman published Harwood as one of the best American poets without acknowledging their relationship.

AWP sided with Lehman and Harwood.

Now Seth Abramson’s blog is missing.

Luckily, I saved his response to Lehman, which reads in part,

Three years ago I objected (as an artist) to the editorial work of David Lehman on the Best American Poetry series on the grounds that habitually and indisputably publishing your friends, co-workers, students, assistants, and family members in a nationally-publicized, highly-selective annual anthology is not a creditable editorial policy per se–and is therefore an affront to art . . . more than two years ago–I became embroiled in a Wikipedia-editing debate with Mr. Lehman’s wife (Stacey Harwood) about whether the Wikipedia entry for Best American Poetry should acknowledge that, historically, the series has been criticized in the poetry community for cronyism.

Alan Cordle

TRAVIS NICHOLS, POETRY GLADIATOR

Travis BUS

TRAVIS Saturated_________________

Just as Thomas Brady was breathing new life into Blog:Harriet, and even being considered as a potential Contributing Writer by the Board, Harriet’s editor, Travis Nichols, published this article in Poets & Writers [click here to read the rest of the article].

Little could anyone have imagined how literally Travis Nichols envisioned himself as that “poetry gladiator fighting to the death” for his ideals, or how ruthlessly he would strike down those who did not share his vision of poetry on Blog:Harriet. It was certainly a shock to Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords, and Christopher Woodman when virtually out of nowhere a poster named ‘Nick’ popped up on Joel Brouwer’s “Keep the Spot Sore” thread to slam what he felt were people doing bad things on Blog:Harriet:

There are certain sorts of people–I will not indulge in sociological generalities about them, except to say that they are virtually always men–whose thirst for online bloodshed cannot be quenched. Such people ruined the Buffalo poetics list; ruined Silliman’s blog; etc……Michael, I imagine, knows the story. Good places for online discussion are few, and fragile. I’m out, as they say when leaving other forums/
POSTED BY: NICK ON JULY 7, 2009 AT 6:32 PM

Every blog and forum has such malcontents, but what was so different about this intrusion was that the Editor himself, Travis Nichols, actually welcomed the mole and his bile, and even went further in trashing those “certain sorts of people” — an obvious reference to Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman (who has been known as “Cowpatty Hammer” ever since!). Indeed, Travis replied like this:

Hey Nick, I definitely hear you, but I don’t think there’s a formal solution to the problem you’re presenting. We have a couple different formatting changes in the works that I think will help people skip past commentary they have a stated distaste for, but beyond that the only way the discussion becomes valuable for people is if they participate in it. It’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways, and I completely understand using your time for other things, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate you hanging around and offering up your two cents from time to time. It can get a bit cult-like in here (let’s go ahead and talk about it like a room; it feels that way sometimes, like when you’re in a room just trying to read or write down a thought or enjoy a meal and some guy at the next table is going on and on and ON (sheesh!) about his medical experiences or his politics or how he totally almost scored on his last date, and it’s all you can do to not start yelling or making some kind of gag out of napkins and notepads and endpapers or just thinking the world is a terrible no good very bad place full of asshats and douchebags (as they say) . . . but, you know, really it’s not like that. All the time. Is it? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.), and simple one or two sentence sober thoughts can cut through the funk very nicely. As you have done upthread, I think. So a plea for you–and for others reading and thinking of chiming in but holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer or whatever: don’t leave. Your presence will help make things better. Promise. Maybe we can come up with a rewards system. Free candy for pithy on-point commentary! -Travis PS: Clearly, no candy for me this round.
POSTED BY: TRAVIS NICHOLS  ON JULY 8, 2009 AT 9:00 AM

Thomas Brady wrote a critique of this post on the recent thread called  “Harriet Sees Nothing on Harriet” which casts so much light on Blog:Harriet and the mindset of its “Poetry Gladiator” Editor, Travis Nichols, we decided to elevate it to an actual post. So here goes:

~

Nick writes, “there are certain sorts of people…”  certain sorts of people…?? And then Nick tars ‘certain sorts of people’ with his brush, and then announces he’s leaving in a huff… Travis responds:

Hey Nick,

Hey Nick –note the familiar tone…Hey Nick…

I definitely hear you, but I don’t think there’s a formal solution to the problem you’re presenting.

I definitely hear you… in other words I completely ascribe to your ‘certain sorts of people’ tone of bitchiness and disrespect…  but I don’t think there’s a formal solution… Immediately Travis jumps from the bitchy complaint to…oh how can we come up with a solution to make things better for Nick?

Why does Travis have to jump when Nick says jump? How does Nick suddenly become the authority here?

We have a couple different formatting changes in the works that I think will help people skip past commentary they have a stated distaste for, but beyond that the only way the discussion becomes valuable for people is if they participate in it.

And now Travis slips in something that’s actually an intelligent and proper response to Nick (the angry and the deluded)  “THE ONLY WAY THE DISCUSSION BECOMES VALUABLE FOR PEOPLE IS IF THEY PARTICIPATE IN IT.” Bravo, Travis! But where did that come from? If only this had been Travis’ sole reply, the world might be different…

HEY NICK, THE ONLY WAY THE DISCUSSION BECOMES VALUABLE FOR PEOPLE IS IF THEY PARTICPATE IN IT.

But alas, Travis did not respond thusly, and, to please Nick, launched into the following:

It’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways, and I completely understand using your time for other things, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate you hanging around and offering up your two cents from time to time. It can get a bit cult-like in here (let’s go ahead and talk about it like a room; it feels that way sometimes, like when you’re in a room just trying to read or write down a thought or enjoy a meal and some guy at the next table is going on and on and ON (sheesh!) about his medical experiences or his politics or how he totally almost scored on his last date, and it’s all you can do to not start yelling or making some kind of gag out of napkins and notepads and endpapers or just thinking the world is a terrible no good very bad place full of asshats and douchebags (as they say) . . . but, you know, really it’s not like that. All the time. Is it? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.), and simple one or two sentence sober thoughts can cut through the funk very nicely. As you have done upthread, I think.

Now Travis makes this weird analogyposting on a blog is compared to sitting in a restaurant and TRYING TO READ while a conversation is going on at the next table…

Huh????

Oh…so Nick WAS TRYING TO READ…and Christopher, you and I were TALKING…so he couldn’t READ… LOL

So a plea for you–and for others reading and thinking of chiming in but holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer or whatever: don’t leave.

“Holding back for fear of the cow patty hammer…?” Yea…it’s called a METAPHOR, Travis…why would someone FEAR that? What’s to fear in another’s words and opinions? [Click here for some background on that metaphor.]

ANY discussion on the web offers the SAME THREE RESPONSES, cow patty hammer or not, Travis. You 1.) agree, you 2.) disagree, or you 3.) ignore comment X, –or some combination thereof. That’s it! Simple! You can ALWAYS do this–unless you are censored.

These are ALWAYS the choices, whether Christopher Woodman and Thomas Brady are part of the discussion, or not. Travis? Nick? You know this, don’t you?

Let me say it once more. In ANY discussion, you only have 3 choices: Agree, disagree, ignore. These are ALWAYS the choices–no matter who you are having a discussion with. It doesn’t matter if Woodman or Brady are in the discussion, or not. These are the 3 choices one ALWAYS has.

Your presence will help make things better. Promise. Maybe we can come up with a rewards system. Free candy for pithy on-point commentary!
-Travis

Christopher, I think Travis owes us a lot of candy.

Tom