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Charles Bernstein

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Doping Scandal Rocks Poetry

by Mike Freakman

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose poetry has been
linked to his use of laudanum and nitrous oxide.

July 30, New York (AHP2 News Service) – The poetry world has been rocked by recent revelations that several of the most prestigious national poetry contest winners in 2005 and 2006 were written with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Over the past decade, poetry contests have emphasized our openness to all participants, with the promise that each manuscript is judged on its merits along,” said Guadalupe Maximino Glumstein, the Chancellor of the International Poetry Contests Federation (IPCF). “Doping is a huge step backward in our efforts, since it gives an unfair competitive advantage to those who are willing to do anything, including risk long-term damage to their bodies and minds, in order to write the best poem.”

The IPCF advocates testing for performance-enhancing drugs as a prerequisite for national book publications, slam competitions, as well a poetry contests. Poets that violate IPCF rules would be ineligible for prizes or anthologies for penalty periods of one year for first offenders to eternity for repeat offenders. Poets that comply with IPCF guidelines get a sticker to affix to all their publications certifying their poems as doping-free.

“Unless we want poetry to sink back into the margins of society, we must assure readers that poets produce their work with their own sweat and imagination. When we teach a poem to a young person in a school setting, to inspire and instruct, we need to be able to say that anyone can aspire to write a poem as good as this. We can’t afford to send a message that doping is necessary to write the best poems. We have to have an even playing field.”

Several leading poets were asked to comment on the scandal but refused to talk on the record, for fear of provoking IPCF investigations of their conduct. Unlike the use of doping in track and cycling, poets often use poetry-performance-enhancing drugs to cause temporary physical and mental impairment or paralysis, in order to hyperactivate their imaginative capacities. The practice has been shown to cause a number of long-term physical and mental maladies.

But 11-year old Daisy Threadwhistle of Incontrobrogliaria, New Jersey, was eager to speak on the record. Ms. Threadwhistle said she was very disappointed when a poem from her school reader was removed when its author tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. “ ‘The Moon Is My Revenge, Venus My Soldier of Midnight’ ” was my favorite poem this year. I feel cheated. I don’t think I want to read any more poems.”

In early 2006, IPCF introduced a battery of blood and psychological tests to detect poetic doping. An IPCF study group is now investigating whether the use of certain computer programs and search engines also should be banned from poetry.

link    |  08-01-06
[reprinted from the Poetics List 7-30-06]

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