Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Kathryn A. Morton Prize or "There Must Be a Better Way"

I did not win this year's Kathryn A. Morton prize. I was not a finalist.

I received a letter from Sarabande Books, notifying me of the winner. At the top of the page is a handwritten "Thanks so much for your submission. Please try us again! :)" The emoticon, and the handwriting itself, suggest it was written by a 19 year old girl. The letter concludes, "Attached are a few comments by our first readers that might be of help as you continue in your publishing pursuits."

My first problem is that the entire poetry contest system is a quagmire. Dottie and I talked about this a few months ago, and neither of us could come up with a real alternative, but paying $25 to have your book read by a mystery reader who also has to read 200 ADDITIONAL MANUSCRIPTS (as they say in the letter) seems unreal. Is there seriously a person who can read two hundred manuscripts? Really seriously? Who are you? Come forward and teach me your secrets.

Here is a sample of the "comments" that should "help" me as I continue in my "publishing puruits."

"My very favorite manuscripts were capable of both play and insight, humor and strong emotion--preferably at the same time."

Insert second problem here: that sentence exactly describes what I believe my poems do. Maybe my third problem is that I am insane and a poor judge of my own work and someone should lock me in a tower.

"I found two styles most prevalent throughout the screening process: a tired, almost stubborn adherence to narrative, and an airy, ironic detachment, with a fleeting interest in any particular subject matter. I was always hoping I'd come across an engaging storyteller poet...but...that never happened."

"It's surprising to...think back and remember how many manuscripts didn't use figurative language, even within the opening stanzas!"

"While I admired the skill in many of these poems, I often found myself wishing that something more unexpected might have happened in the individual poems.

My standard was this: I chose only the manuscript that upset me because I had to send them away."

Did you have to read that sentence three times? Me, too. Singular/plural confusion! Oopsies!

I'm not mad I didn't win. I don't win things all the time. I just don't know how to get better at playing a game that feels similar to throwing darts at the face of a mountain.


dingo said...

Two suggestions:

Step closer to the mountain

or, failing that

use bigger darts.

Ana Božičević said...

first i thought you said: throwing darts into a fountain. no need to go into the tower -- your poems do all that and more. keep the course. hugs, a

Nathan Klose said...



"My standard was this: I chose only the manuscript that upset me because I had to send them away."

KC said...

The whole contest system is as expensive and inane as it can be, and seeing the judges idiotic comments seldom softens the blow of not winning. You should be asked to send a 10 page sample of your poems and then be asked for more if the readers are interested in your work. And you should never have to pay more than a $10 reading fee. Oh--and they might want to notify everyone via email, saving on the silly SASEs. So much is wrong with the whole process! But it sounds as if your work is getting through the read pile, and that is something, even if it isn't enough.