Monday, July 24, 2006

Thanks to everyone who wrote in or commented below with their condolences about Bogie.

Got back yesterday morning from Las Vegas, of all places: in spite of what happened, I decided to go ahead with the bachelor party I'd planned with my friends Richard and Trevor months before. It was a good time, though needless to say none of us won anything playing slots or blackjack. Acting on a tip, on Saturday we dropped in at the Riviera to check out the annual convention of The International Society of Poets, aka the jokers at If you're not familiar with this organization, they're notorious for inviting submissions of poems, then accepting every one of them, no matter how dismal, and writing back to the author as "Dear Published Poet" and fleecing them for all they're worth by selling them expensive yet cheap-looking copies of an anthology that will contain their work but will only be read and purchased by the hundreds of other gullible souls who paid to be included. Other modes of exploitation include plaques, tote bags, laminated wallet cards, and the conference itself, which costs $595 to attend, not counting hotel and other costs. Every attendee receives an Outstanding Achievement in Poetry statuette, plus there are "workshops," an appearance by American Idol Ruben Studdard, and the main event, a chance to become Poet of the Year and win $20,000 (presumably this part has to be legitimate—the society claims to award $100,000 in prizes every year, which they can easily afford given how many people must be paying for anthologies, self-published books, and knick-knacks—for example they'll print 100 copies of a 60-page or less book for $1,285).

The conference resembled nothing so much as a fourth-rate, Bizarro AWP. The Riviera's convention center is dull and dingy, and security was lax, so we could walk right in. Immediately we saw a book table with W.D. Snodgrass meeting and greeting folks. There's no telling if Snodgrass's endorsement of the conference is cynical or criminally naive—maybe he thinks he's being democratic by reaching beyond the academic audience, but the crudity of the exploitation seems too obvious to miss. David Wagoner is the other poet I'd heard of who's bolstering the ISP's reputation with his own credibility: shame on both of them. We saw a workshop which appeared to consist of several hundred people listening to the speaker read off "powerful words" that had been submitted by the audience: I heard "beautiful," "savior," "rich," and "success." Another room held a book fair in which the poets (who each wear a nametag that says POET on it) sat somewhat glumly behind tables that displayed the aforementioned self-published books, laminated cards, etc. Most of them appeared to be working-class types, ranging in age from twentysomething (only a few of those) to sixtysomething and up. The poems on display had a certain dreary family resemblance: a lot of prose broken up into centered lines, a lot of Jesus, and a surprising number of references to poetry itself as a kind of synonym for creativity, inspiration, and soulfulness. It would be easy to laugh at these folks, but mostly I felt sad that their search for some kind of recognition had led them to buy into what amounts to a pyramid scheme. Of course many argue that AWP and the MFA business is also a pyramid scheme, with hopeful students providing the funds to support the few of their number who will actually get teaching jobs. There's a kernel of truth to this, especially if you preoccupy yourself with the financial view, but of course there's a lot of potential value to be gained from attending an MFA program aside from the professional credential. It is, after all, a form of education—the education on view at hardly seems worthy of the name, and in fact, the organization's survival depends on its victims' ignorance. The poets at that conference would do themselves a lot more good to create local writing and reading groups, and to publish their own magazines and chapbooks (you could do a kickass chapbook for twelve hundred bucks). I can't fault them for wanting to write and publish—they're no different from me in that respect. But it's a shame that that desire has turned them into the prey of heartless opportunists.

You can find more info on the scam here.

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