Would-be poets and scam artists
BY Allan R. Andrews,
Editor, Pacific Stars and Stripes
Jenijoy LaBelle is professor of literature at Caltech and a critic of modern poetry. In order to read Prof. La Belle's gripe about the scam artists I've described, one would have to subscribe to the Chronicle, the newspaper of The Associated Writers Program. I doubt many readers of this column have seen that publication, so I'll summarize the professor's investigation.
I hope this will alert many sincere and devoted amateur poets to hang on to their money and share their writings with trusted friends, mentors and established and reputable publications.
Prof. LaBelle conducted a test stimulated by an ad for a poetry contest. I've seen this ad in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly. ``New Poetry Contest $48,000.00 in Prizes,'' the headline of the ad screams.
The ad explains that ``The National Library of Poetry to award 250 total prizes to amateur poets in coming months.''
Suspicious, Prof. La Belle talked three friends into submitting entries to one of The National Library's contests. Her first friend submitted a patchwork poem comprised of random sayings collected from Chinese fortune cookies. A second friend copied a lyric poem of Emily Dickinson's and en--tered it in the contest under her own name. The third friend wrote an original piece of irrational doggerel about female breasts.
All three of Prof. LaBelle's friends were notified that they were semi-finalists in the contest and that they should be ``genuinely proud of this accomplishment'' because they were possessed of ``a rare talent.''
By now you see how the bait and the vanity have been hooked. The next step, like one lifted from ``The Sting,'' is to get the ``poet'' to part with his or her money.
``We wish to publish your poem in a forthcoming anthology,'' Prof. LaBelle's friends were informed. To have a copy of this book, entitled, ``Sparkles in the Sand,'' the winners were urged to send in $49.95, plus $4 for postage and handling.
For an additional $20, the publishers would add a short biographical note about the poet. This note was allegedly designed to bring the writers to the attention of the media and the public.
Later, these ersatz poets were offered a chance to have their poems mounted under Lucite on a walnut plaque, an offer costing $38. Furthermore, they could have their poems recorded on a cassette tape for $29.95.
The tape, according to The National Library of Poetry, would feature a well-known narrator and baroque music accompaniment.
LaBelle' friends were offered a chance to join the International Society of Poets, with a membership fee of $125. Each one was notified he or she had been nominated as ``Poet of the Year,'' and could attend an induction ceremony in Washington, D.C., for a convention fee of $495, plus travel and hotel
``Whoever sends in some lame lines becomes a semi-finalist,'' LaBelle notes. From that point on, the scam is on.
The published anthologies, according to the literature professor, are ``jumbles of trivial or downright bad verse.''
Vanity and gullibility, LaBelle concludes, allow this operation to exploit would-be poets for its own greed and profit.
``Maybe nothing illegal is going on,'' LaBelle writes, ``but something unethical as well as unpoetical certainly is.''
And our vanity, this little test shows, can be costly when plied by a scam artist.