Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The impulse behind Foetry is all too understandable. As someone who spent easily $1,000 on contests before finally winning one (and I neither had nor have any relationship to the judge, Robert Pinsky), and who continues to spend a couple hundred bucks a year on them (I was just a finalist for the Del Sol Press prize, judged by Lucie Brock-Broido; the winner was Austin Hummell), I look more than a little askance on the process. The fact that it worked for me doesn't dispel my sense that some of these contests have been unfair. There's also a learning curve that I had to go up in terms of understanding which judges might or might not be sympathetic to my work—I now know I wasted a lot of money the first couple years of entering contests because I didn't know the territory. (On the other hand, I thought of the Barrow Street contest as something of a reach; I was very surprised to win. I actually thought I'd have a better chance with a judge like, say, Lucie Brock-Broido.) So there's randomness and luck involved. Connections don't hurt, I'm sure—especially when it comes to non-contest oriented publishing, which I paradoxically tend to think of as being a bit fairer. But my experience will forever prevent me from being entirely cynical about book contests. And my experience with the folks at Barrow Street, as I've said before, has been very positive: they have demonstrated tremendous good faith.

A combination of ignorance and bile seems likely to doom Foetry's attempts to be the self-appointed scourge of the contest world. There's something fundamentally creepy about anonymous character assassination (attributed character assassination isn't a big improvement), which is what the site traffics in, however righteous its intentions. Get building, as Jordan says. Poets make for poor policemen.

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