Saturday, November 27, 2010

Judging Poetry Contests and . . .

Last week a poet-friend of mine said she didn’t understand the economic crisis. It was “like way too complicated.” But she justified her ignorance on the grounds that she was a poet. So what did it have to do with her? Maybe she’s right. But I want to tell this story about the judge of a poetry contest. A true story. It happened a while ago . . .

1. It began with a poetry press that was struggling a bit, and it really wanted to survive. It needed to make some money fast.

2. The press decided to run a contest. The editor-in-chief thought that the more people it could entice to enter its contest, the more profit it could make. One way to ensure many entries and lots of attention was to ask a famous poet to judge. He had his heart set on one famous poet.
But the famous poet didn’t want to be a judge. (Who can blame him? Really, reading manuscripts for contests sucks!)

Oh please! You will give this contest credibility, the editor said to the famous poet. And we will make a more money off of the contest because everyone will want to be the poet chosen by a famous poet.

3. So the famous poet made a secret a deal.

The deal was that he would “judge” the contest if he could be assured that his poet-friend would enter the contest, and that the poet-friend’s manuscript would be among the finalists.

4. The deal was made. Many folks entered the contest. The famous poet judged the contest. And his poet-friend was selected. And the press, the famous poet, and the famous poet’s friend were all very happy. And unapologetic.

5. The famous poet said that his friend was much smarter and more talented than anyone else. He said he knew his friend’s book was the winner without even reading the other entries. (Never mind that there are rules against selecting books by friends, relatives, former students, etc. )

What if the story went like this?

1. There was once an investment bank that wanted to make a ton money.

2. The bank decided that the fastest and easiest way to make money was to sell crap to buyers. The more people the bank could entice into buying real crap, the more money it could make

But the bank was unhappy because that there were regulations about selling real crap.

3. So the bank made a secret deal with the government that was supposed to regulate the selling of crap. Or better yet, the bank’s own top people became treasury secretary (for one administration after another)! And soon there were no regulations stopping the bank from selling crap! Ta-dah!

4. So the investment bank sold crap. Lots and lots of crap!

5. And the bank and all its own people made tons and tons of money. And the bank and the government keep saying nothing is wrong with this picture. It’s not their fault that the people keep buying crap. No one meant for the crap-buying to happen like that.

I have heard some on the media say how smart those Wall Street bankers are. (At least certain ones, the ones with the closest link to the politicians.) They’re so smart in fact, they deserve to make billions.

And we're dumb enough to buy that crap, right?

And to think, the dance between bankers and the government just keeps going on.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Difference between Prose Poetry and Poetry, Truth and Bullshit

I am often asked the following questions, and I always forget my own answers. Of course the real answers would be ERF or BERAP, as defined in other blog posts, but in the absence of ERF and BERAP, I decided to compose a few answers that might prove useful at a later date.

Question 1: Can you tell me the difference btw fiction and poetry?

It’s sort of like the difference between potato fritters and crème brule. While potato fritters and crème brule are both food, both made of edible ingredients, both meant to nourish the body, one wouldn’t want to be served one when ordering the other.

Question 2. Can you tell me the difference btw prose poetry and just, you know, poetry?

It’s sort of like the difference btw night and day. I mean, you might think at first glance they are very different. But of course they are both just times of the day. The only real difference is the absence of sunlight, which is rather a relief from time to time. But you are the same person, whether it is night or day, and a poem can still be a poem whether it is in prose or in verse.

Question 3. But what’s the difference btw flash fiction and prose poetry then?

It’s sort of like the difference between life and death. Of course they are very different, life and death, but you are still a body, whether you are alive or dead, right? (Assuming one is only recently passed.) In this way, there can be elements of flash fiction in prose poetry and prose poetry in flash fiction, just as there are elements of life in death and death in life. And one can see life in death and perhaps life in death (or so the faithful say). So just as the apparent structure of you is still you, dead or alive, so it is with prose poetry and flash fiction.

Question 4. So which is more alive, prose poetry or flash fiction?

As noted above, the differences between the dead and the living might seem self-evident but are not necessarily. So it is really a matter of taste. What do like more? What faith or party do you belong to? Are you Christian or Buddhist? Democrat or Republican? Do you believe in the afterlife? Eternal damnation? Or heavenly bliss?

Again, these might seem to be polar opposites, but upon closer observation you might note that soon the collection plate will be passed . . . and you, my dear, must give your heart and soul. But at what price?

Question 5. Do you see any difference between truth and bullshit?

It's sort of like the difference between salt and pepper. While at first taste, they do seem quite different, and while one is deemed healthful and can be used in excess, and the other is not, they are both flavor-enhancing additions to any meal. And I would advise ample use of both.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I really love Facebook. Don't you?

But I think they should add some options below the posts. Something besides LIKE. Again I am thinking of ERF and BERAP. The erf being "I can stand this post, but only barely." The berap being something between a burp and a splat.

Here's how FACEBOOK usually works for writers. And why it's so great . . . for writers. (Are writers the only ones who do this?)

Entry 1.

Wanna be my friend?

Entry 2.

We're friends! You can even look at me now! WOW! Check it out!

Entry 3:

Look at me, friend!

Here I am looking FABULOUS!!

Entry 4:

Look at me, friend!

Here I am with all the literary magazines I was published in this year! Can you believe how big the stack is! What a year! I mean, that's me on the cover of The Paris Review!

Entry 5:

Look at me, friend!

Here I am giving a reading in New York! And here I am in Seattle! And oh, here I am in LA! And here I am in Tulsa! And here I am in London!

Entry 6:

Look at me, friend! Here I am with FAMOUS POETS. I love this photo of me and the FAMOUS POETS!

Entry 7:

Look at me, Friend! I have just won a HUGE award! I AM SO GREAT! I mean, wow!!!! It's me! Me! Me!!!

Entry 8:

Look at me, friend! Here I am celebrating my BIG AWARD! Yep, that's me, looking 20 years younger in that little black dress! I know, I know. Hard to believe how fabulous I look. (Good thing you can doctor photos before you post them, but hey!)

Entry 9:

Look at me, friend! Here I am in my own new reality TV show! Living the life of a FAMOUS POET!!! See me write! See me give readings! See me with my new books! See me with my awards! See me! See me! See me! It's all about me!

I just love Facebook so much. Don't you, friend?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Erf and Berap

I have been thinking more about the need for an erf or a berap. Especially for a writer. First I am still trying to define the terms. I am thinking . . .

An erf :
1. A polite, sometimes longwinded way of saying I have no good answer for that question.
2. An eloquent bit of bullshit, best spoken with a British accent, which often translates into I don't really have an answer for this question. Or: Hell no.
3. A verbal burp or splat ( contents vary depending on the extremity of the circumstances)

A berap: an extreme erf

Another Q and A moment where the erf might come in handy:

Question: Which of your books of poems has spiritual pieces that I could read aloud at the end of yoga class?


Question: Do you have any poems that are sweet? Like you know, greeting cards?



Do you think writers are more spiritual? Especially poets?

Berap! Berap! Berap!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Q & A

I know I probably shouldn't say this, but there are certain questions you always get in Q & A. And in interviews. Certain questions I never answer honestly. If I did, the answer would be either (a) no, or (b) I have no clue, or (c) . . .

I really think there should be another answer: (c) Something between a burp and a splat.
A kind of erf or berap.

So the interview might go:

Question 1: Do you have a certain routine or program you stick to? Do you always write in a certain way? At a certain time?

Berap! (Oh do excuse me) Berap!

Question 2: Why do you write prose poems?


Question 3: What do you think about the fact that no one reads poetry, much less prose poetry?

Berap! Berap! Berap!

Question 4:

When did you first know you would be a writer?


Question 5:

What did your parents think of your poetry?

Berap! Berap! Berap! Berap! (Oh, my insides really are a problem.)

Question 6:

Do you consider yourself a Midwestern poet?

Erf (though I have noticed how many writers are very careful to say that they are transplants to the Midwest. Unless they live in Chicago.)

Question 7:

How/why did you get published? Can you get me published too? Will you read my manuscript? My girlfriend's manuscript? My dead mother's manuscript?

Erf, Brap, Erf, Brap, Erf, Brap, Erf! BRRRRRRAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPP!!!

Yeah, yeah. I know. It's an honor to be interviewed, questioned. So why am I complaining? How dare I? And really, what would I want to be asked?

How about: Did you eat your grits today?

Well, did you?