2009 Rattle Poetry Prize Math

There are two reasons I’m announcing the Rattle Poetry Prize numbers a full week later than I did last year.  First, our editorial priorities had to be adjusted to fit with Alan’s travel schedule, as he’s going to be gone for much of September.  But the bigger issue was the volume of submissions we received.  You might be surprised by how long it takes just to log them all in.  Here are the totals:

812 hardcopy entries
781 email entries
1,593 total entries

As you can see from last year’s post, this is 433 more entries than we received last year, and we blew past my goal of 1,350 with ease.  This is more than just a record total, it’s also an incredible and unexpected spike in growth rate:

Year / #entries / %change
2006 / 805 / —
2007 / 991 / +23%
2008 / 1160 / +17%
2009 / 1593 / +37%

What was the secret to this year’s success?  It’s impossible to disentangle the variables.  What’s clear is that the growth was digital.  Email submissions increased by 63%, while hardcopy submissions only rose a modest (and expected) 18%.   So I think it’s safe to assume that we don’t have our new print ads in Poetry magazine to thank, as happy to place them as I was.

A better explanation would be the positive change in our internet profile.  Just 14 months ago, Rattle.com introduced its blog-style format, and began posting a new poem or review every day.  In the time since, traffic has swelled — unique visitors per day have doubled to over 1,000, and page views per day have nearly tripled to 10,000.  As more consumers read Rattle online, our demographic shifts toward a more tech-savvy profile, and email submissions for the first time are nearly matching the hardcopy numbers.

But that’s not the whole story.  I also better-utilized email marketing this year.  In the past, we’ve sent flyers to college English departments, announcing the contest, but this year I sent emails as well, asking administrators to forward the information to their students.  I’ve also learned, from trying to publicize events, that people are natural procrastinators — rather than sending our deadline reminder out with a month to go, I waited until five days before the deadline.  As a result, half of the entries came in the last two days.

So the lesson to be inferred this year is that successfully utilizing technology is far more important than traditional means of advertising (not to mention a fraction of the cost) — which is the gospel I’ve been preaching on this blog for years.

I broke down the revenue situation last year, and you can still do the math for yourself.  The honest truth is, production costs haven’t increased much in the last 12 months, beyond the postage rate hike, which was covered by our slightly higher entry fee.  We made an extra $10,000 and get to use all of it to help offset our annual budget.  My long-term, pipedream goal is to make Rattle a fiscally solvant magazine, something unheard of in the literary world.  We’re not close to that goal, at this point, but we’re closer than we were last year. If we keep growing at this rate, a full year out of the red might actually be plausible at some point before print media disappears altogether.

That’s the good news for Rattle, and I’m not too shy to pat myself on the back.  But the bad news for you, if you entered the contest, is that the competition has gotten even tougher:

1,593 entries x 3.8 poems/entry = 6,053 estimated total poems

Obviously that’s 37% more poems than last year, and your odds of placing in the top 11 in a random draw have fallen to 0.18% (from 0.25% in 2008).  As bad as that sounds, it’s still roughly equal to the 1 in 500 odds of any given poem from a regular submission making it onto the pages of Rattle.

So when you read the winners in December, if the honorable mentions seem no stronger than the rest of the poems in the magazine, and there are a few in the open section that seem even better than the $5,000 prize winner, don’t worry — that’s exactly what should happen, statistically (if we assume the quality of a contest entry is the same as that of a regular submission, which is probably the case).  It depends on the slope of the bell curve, but the odds that the Rattle Poetry Prize winner actually is the best poem in the magazine are something like 1 in 5 (pretending we could find an objective measure).

If that sounds counter-intuitive to you, you’re not alone — it sounds weird to me, too, every time I crunch the numbers.  The contest winners won’t necessarily be the best poems in an issue — they’re simply typical of what we always publish.  So if you happen to have a poem already forthcoming in Rattle you should be kicking yourself for not entering the contest — you really might have won!

Poets Cafe Interview with Timothy Green (full)

I assumed KPFK would rather have me send listeners to their website, so I only posted a clip from this last week.  Quite the contrary, host Lois P. Jones asked if I’d post the whole thing, so it has a permanent home.  I just posted the first segment, with Peggy Dobreer.  Here’s the second, with me — about 25 minutes long. I read “Cooking Dinner,” “Playing Our Part,” “After Hopper,” “Impressionism,” and “The Body.” Talk about fractals, the theme of my book, Rattle as a rogue journal, and the importance of poetry to society.

Poets Cafe Interview with Peggy Dobreer

Since the KPFK archives only last 90 days, host Lois P. Jones asked me to make a permanent home for the show I was on last week.  Here is the first segment, with Peggy Dobeer — I thought she deserved her own page.

Photo by Myra Gerrard

Peggy Dobreer is an educator, poet, public speaker, and artisan who works and teaches in the Extension Program at Loyola Marymount University. She was a leading force in the educational vision of the Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence, from 1997-2004, and co-wrote and edited 64 Ways to Practice Nonviolence: A Curriculum and Resource Guide. Her poetry is published in Cracked Pavement and Plastic Trees, Our Gifts To Future Generations: An Anthology of Environmental Poetry, Everything About You Is Beautiful: Really Big Show Anthology (Winter 2004), WordWright’s Magazine, Tamafhyr Mountain Poetry Irregular Poetry Journal, and The Blue House. She has self-published four chapbooks: Henceforth (1999), Bravo Collection (2002), Face of Sky (2004) and B.L.A.B.B. Be Live at Beyond Baroque (2006).

Disclaimer

Yesterday’s post to this blog inadvertently included a well-known, copyrighted image of Charles Bukowski and Georgia Peckham, which has since been removed.  Photo credit should have been given to Joan Levine Gannij.  Because the blog where I found the image didn’t list a credit, I didn’t either, a lazy and careless oversight that I truly regret.

There’s an old proverb, which I have to admit that I only heard recently in the movie-version of Doubt — teacher brings a pillow up to the roof and tells the student to tear it open and scatter the feathers to the wind.  A gust picks up and blows them across the countryside.  “Now I want you to gather every feather and put it back in the pillowcase,” the teachers says.  “But I can’t,” says the student, “that’s impossible, there are thousands of feathers everywhere.”

In the  proverb that’s gossip.  But it might also be copyright infringement.  Every time we use art that is unsourced, we encourage other people to do the same, in an exponentially expanding chain.  And the artist is left scrambling to put her work back in the bag — a frustrating and impossible task.  I feel awful for contributing to that, and foolish for not realizing it sooner.

There were a few other images I’ve used in the past without knowing who to credit; I’ve removed those as well, and would also like to apologize to those unnamed artists who will probably never know that I helped kick their can a little farther down the road.

The Bukowski Myth

Someone had to kick the Mickey Mouse out of our heads.
–William Packard of
NYQ on Charles Bukowski

That’s a good quote, but I hate Bukowski.  And it’s not even for his poetry, which is mostly garbage, littered with gems.  Or his novels, which I mostly haven’t read.

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. this morning, thinking it was 10 a.m.  That’s three hours sleep for me.  Too tired to do much else at first, I thought I’d watch a documentary, and I came upon Born Into This, the 2003 biography by John Dullaghan.  It just confirmed everything I already thought about the man.

Bukowski was a self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, degenerate drunk.  Sexist and probably racist.  There’s a dirty old man at the end of every dive bar in America with just as much insight on the human condition as him.  But the worst part is, Bukowski was also a hypocrite.  He’s held up by his fans as some messiah of truth — he gets down in the dirt, doesn’t have time for metaphor, “cuts straight to the marrow of the bone,” as Bono of U2 says in the film.  But the real truth is, Bukowski is as phony as someone who’d change his name to Bono.  More phony, even — at least with Bono there’s always a layer where we know it’s an act.

You see it in every interview, every poem, every story, every reading he’d show up to drunk; everything Bukowski presents is orchestrated to get a reaction out of his audience.  Shock, disgust, excitement, pity — that’s a big one.  He lies about the facts, he lies about his feelings, and he’s hailed as a champion of truth.  What’s left to be true?  He tells people he was born out of wedlock so he can call himself a bastard.  He publishes under the name “Charles” to avoid the draft.  Says his father beat him, but I doubt it.  Says he was a Nazi, but I doubt it.  Plenty of grist there to be honest about, but all we get is “gritty” bullshit.

Side rant:  Over the last decade there’s been a big ridiculous ballyhoo over whether or not Bukowski was a Nazi sympathizer in his youth.  It started with Ben Pleasants’ feature in The Hollywood Reporter, then picked up again when the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission had to decide whether or not to make his bungalow a landmark.  I don’t understand why Bukowski’s political beliefs at the age of 20 matter with respect to the historical significance of his home — especially at a time when there were hundreds of thousands of members in the German-American Bund.  Hell, Prescott Bush was a business partner with Nazis, and that didn’t keep him out of the Senate, or from raising two future presidents.  The commission approved the ordinance three to one and protected Bukowski’s home, but they took the accusation seriously: “‘If I thought that any of the claims were true, in no way would I consider this,’ said commission president Mary Klaus-Martin.”

I don’t understand why it matters whether or not we can use the Nazi label on a man who so often demonstrated such deplorable traits.  Bukowski was not a good person.  He was the kind of guy who thinks its funny to shout, “Turn on the gas!” in a Jewish diner.  Why should it matter whether or not we can call him a Nazi, too?

That said, I don’t think there’s any validity to the Nazi sympathizer claim.  Ben Pleasants makes the mistake that so many do when encountering Bukowski:  Believing a single word he says.  Reading the article, it’s clear that Bukowski was just trying to get a rise out of his young interviewer.  I’m sure the boasting is somehow spliced onto a partial reality, but if you look closely, there are several inconsistencies within the narrative itself.  It would be mind-bendingly ironic if Nazism ultimately tarnished Bukowski’s reputation — an exaggeration he invented himself, but might as well be true, damaging the reputation that he’s too raw to care about, even though he really does.

But what I can’t get over is the simple fact that people take him seriously.  That they believe in his schtick.  Most of his friends and biographers, of course, believe him into a saint.  It’s grotesque.  He hits his girlfriends and he’s a “handful.”  Screams he’ll “get a Jew lawyer to kick [her] whore ass to the curb,” and they just laugh it off.   In1957, he married Barbara Frye sight-unseen because she was rich, but really “she was trying to control him with money.”  Right.

John Martin of Black Sparrow Press calls him:  “Today’s Whitman. A man of the street writing for the people in the street.”  But Bukowski hated the people: “beware the average man/ the average woman/ beware their love/ their love is average.”  He hated everyone — especially, I think, himself.  I really hope that’s not the voice of the people today.  Please tell me it isn’t.  Especially if it’s because so many people relate to his perspective.

There’s one point in the documentary where Bukowski is reading a poem about bathing with his ex-girlfriend Linda King.  Toward the end of the poem he breaks into tears, then composes himself and apologizes for growing sentimental in his old age.  “I read the wrong poem, damnit,” he says.  Of course he could never write about that feeling, because real feeling wasn’t a posture he was willing to hold — only project.

I know there are a lot of Bukowski fans out there — if you disagree with me, feel free to argue.

__________

NOTE (7/27/09): I turned off the commenting on this post, and deleted the last round of comments. I wanted to let valid objections to my opinion stand, but I was tired of the shouting match, where nothing new was being added.