Scams, Flimflams, and Poetry.com

Poetry.com tries very hard to appear legitimate.  Anyone visiting their impressive looking homepage will see pictures of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson flashing across the header, as well as a quote about Shakespeare.  But how legitimate is it really?

If you go to their judging page, written by someone with “Dr.” in front of his name and “Educational Director” after it, you’ll see the following:

“Below we have listed the basic elements of good poetry, and we have provided you with actual examples of how previous winners of our poetry contests (along with Pulitzer prize winner W.D. Snodgrass) have mixed these elements with their own creativity to achieve the elusive quality of greatness.”

Notice they didn’t say including Pulitzer prize winner, they said along with, as in “in addition to” and not having anything to do with the poetry.com “prize winners” mentioned just before.  Slick.  Someone reading that might get the wrong idea and think that Snodgrass is not just having his work used as an example in the following text, but is a poetry.com “contest winner.”  I wonder if Mr. Doctor Educational Director thought of that?  Well, of course he did. 

Mr. Doctor Educational Director then goes on to describe just how poems are “judged,” using very official sounding words like “discourse” and “enjambment.”  Their FAQ goes on to state:

“The Judging Committee evaluates your poem based on creativity, originality, style, subject, use of language/word choice, cohesiveness, consistency, interpretability (i.e., does the poem make sense?), and general poetic merit.”

Now, keep that in mind while reading the following poem, Flubblebop, which was “judged” to be a semi-finalist in the poetry.com contest.

flobble bobble blop
yim yam widdley woooo
oshtenpopple gurby
yip yip yip
nish-nash nockle nockle
opfem magurby voey
Ahh! “Wurby tictoc?”
“quefoxenjib masaloouterp!”
bim-burm nurgle shliptog
afttowicky wicky wicky
erm addmuksle slibberyjert!
Reqi stoobery bup dinhhk
yibberdy yobberdy hif twizzum moshlap
dwisty fujefti coppen smoppen dob
tigtog turjemy fydel
saxtenvurskej brisleywum
swiggy swiggy swug
yumostipijjle dobers!

Flubblebop is the outcome of a different kind of contest, one in which people send the crappiest poems they can think of to vanity publishers such as poetry.com to see if they can write one bad enough to be rejected.  David Taub, Flubblebop’s author, is the creator of his own poetry contest — the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest.   Wergle Flomp contestants are encougarged to submit bad poetry to “a contest with low standards whose main purpose is to entice poets to buy expensive products like anthologies, chapbooks, CDs, plaques and silver bowls.”  Wergle Flomp gives out prizes in excess of $3K.

Mr. Taub, not to be deterred by his failure to achieve a rejection slip from Poetry.com, also submitted this gem called Yew Gotta Larf:

“Yew gotta larf at any moreon
who could write, ‘your poem was selected
for publication, and as a contest semi-finalist, on the basis of your unique talent
and artistic vision.’
when we all know this is about as artistic
as vomitting on the neigbour’s porch.
Burp… huey… excuse me while I be artistic on your cat.. so much for
the vision.. I never saw your cat.
Now let’s get down to the real truth..
You hope I am fooled into parting with
my cash to see this in your anthology.
Wot if NO-ONE bought your books, mugs
plaques, keyrings? (have you thought of musical toilet-roll holders?)
I look forward to receiving your standard letter telling me how artistic this drivel is. If nothing else, I get a free envelope
which I can recycle.”

Yew Gotta Larf was also accepted for publication, with the acceptance letter from poetry.com praising the author’s “artistic vision.”

I don’t have a problem with vanity publishing (vanity publishing = paying someone to publish your work regardless of quality).  I do, however, have a huge problem with a vanity publisher who, not only does not disclose the true nature of their business, but actively works to disguise it and present themselves as something they are not.  According to eliteskills.com, poetry.com is one such dishonest publisher:

“Poetry.com is a fraud publishing organization that features its online writing contest. It literally accepts 100% of applicants as ‘Semi-finalists’ in their ‘international poetry competition’ and sends a letter to the poor victims. The letter is full of flattery saying that you are a wonderful poet and the ‘sectional committee’ or ‘panel of judges’ has decided your poetry is good enough to be published. They ask a ‘modest’ payment of $50 plus extra if you want your page on a page of it’s own. Publishing only those who paid, 6000 poems per book at $50-$75 a poem with 60 books published a year is a lot of $$$$.”

You can read more at their site, or check out the eliteskills.com scam list (with poetry.com at the top of the list).

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