ArtsJournal.com carries a link from The Guardian
today for an article about Foetry.com.
We'll cut them some slack for being late to the party, the Foetry.com scandal is
really old news, but this reminds me of some things I've been thinking about
concerning this emphasis on "full disclosure".
First, is the fact that Foetry blogger Alan Cordle is married to a poet relevant to the work he did exposing the cozy set up of poetry contests? What's the difference between someone outing Alan Cordle as the cloaked Foetry blogger and Cordle's outing of Jorie Graham's connection to the winners of contests she judged?
Akin to this is
writing at Media Bistro about anonymous reviewers.
She's unhappy with the Kirkus review of Bulletproof Girl and would like to know who wrote it so she can see if the reviewer had some sort of agenda. (Thanks to Jessa for the link)
Hard on the heels of all this is
Scott Cantrell writing in the Dallas Morning News about classical music composers sorted out by their sexual preference.
All this leads to the big question: what do we need to know about the people who write the stories, the news, or create the art?
Does it make a difference to know Leonard Bernstein was gay to appreciate his music?
Does it make a difference to know who wrote a Kirkus review?
Does it make a difference to know Jorie Graham was involved with (and later married) one of the poets she selected for a poetry contest prize?
My answers: no, sort of, yes.
The fact that Leonard Bernstein was gay, straight, or a closet Republican doesn't matter to me. I love his work and I respect his contribution to the field. Same goes for Wagner, whom many people still cannot forgive for being a favorite of Hitler, even though Wagner was long
dead when Hitler rose to power. West Side Story and Parsifal are works of art apart from their
creator and can be judged or appreciated on their own merits. Wagner being an anti Semite or Bernstein being gay doesn't change a single note of their work.
The reviews in Kirkus are written not for readers to make up their mind about whether to buy or read a book but to influence booksellers. There's a chance of economic damage to an author if a review is negative. That being said, Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly are professional companies and their own reputations depend on being seen as fair-minded. The current set up means it's a Kirkus review, not an individual review.
Kirkus has no vested interest in the success or failure of Bulletproof Girl or any other book. Their vested interest is in writing reviews that help booksellers.
If Quinn Dalton thinks her negative review was unjustified, she should make a hundred copies and send it to every book reviewer in the United States and say "Kirkus if full of crap and I bet you'll see why when you read the book". I haven't made a study of the good or bad reviews in Kirkus or PW to see if either of them have a slant. If Quinn Dalton wants me to take up her battle she better have more ammunition than "this is a bad review I don't deserve". I work with musicians and writers on a daily basis and trust me (ha!) none of them think they are deserving of a bad review.
Jorie Graham giving a poetry prize to a poet she's romantically involved with, and then apparently lying about it, is just ugly. Contest judges are presumed to be distant from the competitors. You can't even enter a random drawing on Cocoa Puffs Prize giveaways if you work for the Cocoa Puffs people, or the media company handling the contest. Should poetry hold itself to a lower standard than cereal?
Poetry contests have a HUGE vested interest in attracting lots of entries and a big name judge: it's how they earn their money.
What makes the outing of Foetry blogger Alan Cordle so noxious is that it's clear to me anyway that people tried to use that to discredit him. Yes, some of his claims of collusion were reminiscent of conspiracy theorists, but he also pointed out some very clear violations of any objective standards in several high profile poetry contests.
Disclosure for the sake of revealing skullduggery even if inadvertent, and disclosure for the sake of trying to silence or embarrass someone are two really different things: like the difference between art and pornography -- hard to define, but I know it when I see it.