Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Theodore Ross at New Republic on the Best American Poetry incident "Cheat! It's the only way get published"

First, for those unfamiliar with the incident in question ... it was a topic mentioned over here recently.


Something of note from Sherman Alexie's explanation ...

Rule #9: I don't want to fill the damn book with poetry professors. I really want to choose some poets who work outside of academia. But I also don't want to bias myself against any poems because they happen to be written by poetry professors, so I will not read any biographies or contributor notes about any poets.

So, okay, as a result of these rules, what did I do with Best American Poetry 2015?
        Approximately 60% of the poets are female.
        Approximately 40% of the poets are people of color.
        Approximately 20% of the poems employ strong to moderate formal elements.
        Approximately 15% of the poems were first published on the Internet.
        Approximately 99% of the poets are professors.

While the controversy surrounded that one author and that one poem the thing that struck me was Alexie explaining the process through which he hoped that the published poems would not be completely dominated by poetry professors and then ... well, most of the published works were written by professors.

When Paul Hindemith settled in the United States he reached an unsavory conclusion about the American way of educating people into the arts, he bluntly surmised that in the main music education was good at producing music educators rather than well-rounded and versatile musicians. Here we are half a century later and Alexie wrote about the concern that in the published poetry scene he had some concern that it was being ever so slightly dominated by teachers.

Well, over at The New Republic Theodore Ross has advice


At the time of these submissions, I was a junior editor at an established magazine, and I decided to use this to my advantage. I typed up a cover letter on my employer’s very fine letterhead, slipped it and the story into an envelope embossed with our well-known logo, and rules be damned, sent it to the folks in Brooklyn. A few months later, an editor emailed me at work—stick it, SASE!—to say he would like to buy the story, which I think rose slightly-but-not-significantly above not-half-bad. It was published a few months later after a few skillful edits. I earned $500, which I believe is $495 more than I had earned in my fiction-publishing career to that point.
I determined never again to follow the submission guidelines of any publication. For university-based journals, I knew that the editor was often employed by the school. It wasn’t hard to find a .edu email address and send stories directly to him or her, never failing, of course, to mention where I worked, which seemed to cut more ice than the quality of what I was writing. I sent a story directly to the editor of a California journal after having first asked him to write something for me at my publication. He never did, but he took my story. Another editor gratefully accepted something I wrote and within days of publication had sent me a story of his own to consider. I never again mailed a story to anyone, never used a generic email address for the “editors,” and while my work continued to be rejected, I eventually found a home for everything. After a couple of years of this, I stopped writing fiction altogether, for a variety of reasons, one of them being that what I wrote wasn’t all that good.
... what I’m counseling is cheating: You don’t have to be an asshole. The submission process is a rigged casino game, though, and all is fair in love and literary magazines.
Which reminds me of ...


It’s blindingly obvious that Academia runs as a microcosmic honour/shame society because the one thing that ranks just below actual scholarship in scholars’ concern is prestige or honour as accorded them by their peers.

This is what drives almost all academic endeavours (beyond the actual desire to study): conference papers, journal and monograph publishing, etc..

Every act of publishing is an attempt to gain the symbolic capital of prestige among academic peers, via an act of heroism, which is the public display of scholarly prowess.

It comes off like a prestige racket when someone puts it that way.  And with the rise of "quit lit" there's prestige in quitting academia, too.


I considered grad school a decade ago and then realized that not only did I not have any money to spare for it there wasn't really financial aid available.  If you've already got an undergrad degree and don't have piles of money on hand there's not a lot out there.  Unless you're married, or married with children, or with children, or a vet, or divorced and then you've got options.  But if you've managed to go through life without siring any offspring you're kinda on your own there.

And then there was the question of why go to grad school?  If we live in an age where you can theoretically look up your favorite living composers and correspond directly why not try that? For those who can "make it" in academic life that's fine. I considered academia a path I wanted to try over the years but it wasn't feasible. The more I've read in the last fifteen years about the laments and worries of people IN academia the more I'm relieved I didn't end up in it. I might have more time to compose the music I want to compose, read the stuff I want to read, and write about the things I want to write about by not being in academia.

Ross' advice that cheating is the only way to get published is interesting advice. For those of you who have read this blog for a while, that's an interesting axiom to promote about getting anywhere in the publishing world that may shed some light on why Mark Driscoll's plagiarism controversy came and went and press coverage in the last year has tilted more toward "alleged", regardless of the evidence presented at the time of the controversy.

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