Poetic Hubris

Some years ago, for some totally random reason, I wrote a poem about not being able to get out of bed one Sunday morning. It was fairly terrible, and fate conspired to double the mischance, as later that week an Internet site (poetry.com) popped into view that suggested you enter a poem for a possible cash prize. Since the poem was just sitting on my desktop, and I didn’t imagine I would probably write any more poems in the next year, I copied-and-pasted the thing in the pop-up window and sent it off, in hope of undeserved reward.

I had banked on the gentleness of poets. Little did I know what remorseless demons of marketing I had unleashed, more callous than death, and less avoidable. I wish I had preserved all the countless emails they sent, to document the sheer wheedling to which they have subjected me: the invitations to conferences, at my own expense; the holding out of further prizes, further inducements; the leather-bound, gold-inlaid editions of my own work; the subsidiary conferences at which only we elite poets would appear, in Orlando, Florida, etc; the promise that only if I would …

But today they went too far. I received the following:


The Editors of The International Library of Poetry were thrilled to inform you that your poem was bestowed the prestigious Editor’s Choice Award because of your artistic accomplishments and unique perspective–characteristics found in the most noteworthy poetic works. To further commemorate this prestigious achievement we have elected you to receive the 2005 Editor’s Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin.

This stunning pin proudly displays your elevated status in our poetic community. Since only an elite group of published poets were selected to receive this special honor, imagine the sense of pride you will feel when others see you wearing the 2005 Editor’s Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin. What an impressive way to show off your status as an honored poet for the year 2005!

This striking jewelry piece has the International Library of Poetry name prominently displayed across the top, the Editor’s Choice commendation appears on the ribbon, and the entire pin is set in bronze. It is truly a masterpiece that honors your outstanding and well-deserved accomplishments, and it is a must-have for all esteemed poets.

To take advantage of this special offer to commemorate your exceptional poetic talents, simply click here. For a limited time, this exclusive pin is only $19.95, plus shipping and handling…

Each email seems more flattering than the last, only to end in ignominy. I read no further. Any blogreaders who come up with a good reply to Mr Howard Ely, chair, president, and soulless merchant of Poetry.com, please forward to me! Is that all poetry means to him, to sell pins for $19.95?

I have an objection on literary grounds as well. Look at the thickly scattered code words: “elected,” “elevated,” “elite,” “pride,” “status,” “impressive,” “honored,” “esteemed.” If you were going to make a ham-handed, manipulative appeal to a group of poets, would you really choose hubris as an avenue? After all, poets should know something about pride:

Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The vertue of that Fruit, in thee first prov’d..


The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns
The sinew and forehead of our host,
Having his ear full of his airy fame,
Grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent
Lies mocking of our designs.


And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

Back to my pinless solitude. Any suggestions how to spend $19.95, in a karmically satisfying fashion?

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  1. Not your brother
    Posted December 14, 2005 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    You could easily alleviate your desperate need for karmic satisfaction – while maintaining your solitude, I might add – by bestowing upon your dearest brother $19.95 worth of iTunes for Christmas.

  2. Bryant Manning
    Posted December 14, 2005 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    that’s a coincidence: in March I had a graduate class where our professor warned us against the presupposition of poetry.com’s terms. but hey, i wouldn’t downplay your award.

    Also, my good friend here had you as a professor at Indiana. In fact, you sat in on his audition. Sean Mirate. Ring a bell?

  3. Dr. Dick
    Posted December 14, 2005 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Hubris, indeed — what poet could possibly come up with a spare $19.95?

  4. Aafrica
    Posted December 15, 2005 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    lol can we read your poem? 😀

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