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Published:February 4th, 2006 04:00 EST
You've Been Selected

You've Been Selected

By Sean Stubblefield

 

Recently, I got an email (yet another letter from Howard Ely, Managing Editor, National Library of Poetry) informing me that The International Society of Poets was awarding me for my outstanding achievement in poetry ". There was also an invitation to a poetry convention soon being held in Washington D.C., where I could read any one of my poems to a live audience, be presented with my trophy and interact with other poets ". That`s cool, right? Not so much.

It could all be mine, if only I send them money.

Apparently, it`s all a big hoax, you see. Which makes me feel all manner of special. And not necessarily the good kind.
Through a website called poetry.com, which is sponsored by the International Library of Poetry, a lot of poets "genuine and wanna be " have been and are being defrauded.  Or, at the very least, many people believe that that they are being duped, because, they say, poetry.com is being dishonest.

For some of you, this report that poetry.com is possibly, or partially, a fraud may not be news, but I think it warrants repeating. Several other negative descriptions are being applied to poetry.com, such as hoax, scam, and sham.

Of course, I`d known about the claims of fraud for a while, so I didn`t let my new award " go to my head. It was nice to imagine that maybe it actually meant something, but in the back of my mind I was skeptical. Any excitement " I felt over this recognition would have to be a tad facetious, cautious, and misplaced.

I attempted to contact this organization by phone and email, to give them an opportunity to tell their side of the story and respond to these charges of misconduct, but they could not be reached for comment.
Three years ago, I initially became aware of the poetry.com website; I was solicited, if I recall, through an email about a poetry contest. As a rudimentary poet, of sorts, I decided " on a whim-- to submit a poem. Just to see what would happen. I never won any prize money, but I received a letter in the mail complimenting my unique artistic vision ", that my most awesome poem was selected from among thousands of entries, and could they please print the poem in some anthology, at no cost to me. Somewhat flattered, I thought, Sure, why not? ". And for a nominal fee, I could even have a copy of this finely crafted tome " which I declined.

Encouraged, I decided to send in another poem, which also resulted in a similar letter praising my remarkable accomplishment in poetic artistry, asking me to let them print it in an anthology as well. I was feeling rather pleased with myself, happy that my work was being appreciated by what I assumed were professionals ", and being disseminated out there ".

It was soon after this, I think, that it came to my attention that poetry.com might be running a scam.

I didn`t think much of it at the time, thinking the hoax was a hoax, and dismissed it.

I was merely glad to have my words printed for the world " to see. I wasn`t buying any of their books, so I wasn`t losing any money. It cost nothing more than a stamp to submit my artist`s proof and approval for publication. And they posted my work on their site for free. Sounds like a good deal.

They also assured me that my poems would be published, individually on their own high quality page, even if I didn`t buy a copy of their anthology. And I still own the poems.
No harm done, right?. So I assumed.

Having never actually seen or read one of these books in person, I could not verify if that was really the case. I just took their word for it, figuring that if there truly were anything to this hoax theory, someone would have done something to expose it and shut them down. Their website says that over 5.1 million poets have submitted to the site.

Thanks to the marvel of the internet, some of them began sharing notes and noticed that many of them got the same letters, no matter what they submitted to the site, casting a long shadow of doubt and suspicion on the validity of poetry.com`s operations.

In the past three years, I`ve submitted half a dozen poems to poetry.com (which also led to a request for my work from a publishing company in the United Kingdom).

Each entry was not only highly praised, but also promised to be published, for free, in various anthologies printed by poetry.com publisher Watermark Press.

Two of my submissions even garnered certificates of achievement. I hoped/ let myself believe, perhaps naively and foolishly, that maybe I was just that good, and that poetry.com was authentic in its continual esteem of my work. But I hear that many others got the same or similar positive and glowing response. Too many others for this to be real. All of this was a pleasant sentiment, the idea of my work going out among and being read by others in an actual book " but ultimately a hollow victory, because it was not legitimate. Not what I expected or how I was told, anyway, I realized.

At this newest request for my poetry " as well as my money, the scam charge was again brought to my attention by a friend, and I began to seriously wonder how true it really was. I re-examined the notion. So I Googled key words poetry.com " and hoax ", discovering a plethora of disgruntled poets and critics of poetry.com. Complaints and warnings posted online as recent as last week and going back several years. As it turns out, and as I feared ", the screening " process at poetry.com really is, shall we say, lax. A great many people have issued complaints against poetry.com, publicly and privately, for not being quite as advertised, and betraying their public trust.

Poetry.com indicates to prospective poets that the poetry anthology books are a reputable publication, in which only the best of the best are selected by committee and printed.

According to numerous and multiple accounts from those who have submitted their poems to poetry.com, the opposite is true.
To be fair, in a literal sense, poetry.com does deliver, in a way, what it promises " to publish your poetry in a high quality hard back book. Plus, you may freely have your poems posted on their website for all to see. And everyone keeps the rights to their poems. They also produce a CD of your poem being read, an audio version of the anthology. That`s all well and good.

For many people, it may be sufficient and satisfying enough simply to be published, online or in an impressive looking book, even. Some don`t know, don`t care about or don`t agree with the accusations of a hoax orchestrated by poetry.com, and are content with the service and canvas provided.

But where poety.com gets a bit on the shady side, in my opinion, is their presentation of the process. They regularly and routinely deceive poets, such as myself, leading them to believe, explicitly and implicitly, that poetry submissions are selected for publication because they have been judged by experts to be of the highest caliber.

Accomplishing that, they then try to coax people into spending money on an illusion, under the mistaken impression that this book they offer represents the finest example of contemporary poets, amateur and professional.

However, the truth, it seems, is that just about any poem will be applauded and accepted for publication, regardless of quality (or lack of); every entry gets a letter of commendation and solicitation.

Individuals have submitted bogus and clearly bad poems, to prove this point, and yet still had them accepted and selected. Your great work of art may be placed beside and among complete and utter crap. Which, seems to me, only serves to devalue and illegitimatize its greatness.
Beware that poetry.com is what is known as a vanity press, and will print virtually any poem you send to them " with your permission. It is referred to as a vanity press because it appeals to the vanity or ego of aspiring writers by having their work published.

That, in and of itself, is not so bad a thing. But poetry.com has not exactly been honest about that.

If it is true-- and I`m willing to believe it is reasonably so-- that anyone can get accepted for publication, and that letters of congratulations are indiscriminate, then their form lettered compliments are false and insincere, and in no way reflect the true merit of your poetry. I mean, really, what are the odds that ALL of my poems are as excellent as they suggest? They shower you with praise and accolades in hopes that you will buy their bulls***, I mean books (which aren`t cheap). That`s what this seems to come down to, and what it is all about: getting you to buy their approximately $80 books, and spending over $150 to have your award made and shipped to you.

They never got, and never will get, any money from me. But many people are disappointed and regretful for having spent money on a poetry.com anthology.

Many of these poets feel misled and suckered, the butt of a bad joke.
It`s very difficult to ignore the same grievance from so many disparate people, which lends much credence to the claim that something is amiss at poetry.com.

Is it really?

I suppose that all depends on what you are willing to accept.
As for me, I feel kind of cheated, and cheapened.
It`s an honor just to be nominated?

 



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