Wednesday, March 02, 2005

It starts innocently enough: humid afternoon when I came across a small newspaper notice that announced in large letters, "$25,000 POETRY CONTEST." "Have you written a poem?" the notice began. I had written a poem. I had even considered submitting it to contests, but the prizes offered never amounted to much--a university might put up $100 in the name of a dead professor--and I hadn't sent it off. This was a different proposition. With $25,000 I could pay off my debts, quit my jobs, and run the air on HI/COOL for a while. I submitted my poem that very day.

Two weeks later I had in my hands a letter from something calling itself the Famous Poets Society, based in Talent, Oregon. The Executive Committee of its distinguished Board of Directors, the letter informed me, had chosen my poem, from a multitude, to be entered in its seventh annual poetry convention, which would be held September 16-18 at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel and casino in Reno, Nevada. "Poets from all over the world will be there to enjoy your renown," the letter boasted, "including film superstar Tony Curtis."

...and it just gets crazier from there--one of my favorite Harper's articles of all time.

Harper's Magazine: What is poetry? And does it pay?