Friday, December 30, 2011

Enter the 2011 Poetry & Popular Culture Blurb-Writing Contest Today

At the end of 2010, in the interest of transparency and accountability where outcomes assessment rubrics and measurements are concerned, the P&PC Office made public its first Year-End Report full of statistics and milestones that we used to reassure the P&PC Board of Directors that all is well, that we don't need a bailout from the federal government, and that the blog's C.E.O., office staff, and national correspondents are earning every last cent of their paychecks.

We are currently in the process of assembling P&PC's 2011 Year-End Report, which will be similarly chock full of information—like how the number of unique visitors increased from 29,300 in 2010 to 36,300 in 2011. Or how postings featuring the poetry of zombies, G.I. Jane, geocaching, and The Expendables led the year's most popular reads (in terms of sheer numbers of visitors). Or how we expect to log our 100,000th unique visitor in early 2012.

All that bodes well for the success of our report, of course, but last year the P&PC Board of Directors responded particularly positively to the anecdotal evidence we provided in the form of blurbs from satisfied readers like former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Harvard English Professor Stephen Burt, Princeton English Professor Meredith Martin, and Sally the P&PC office stenographer. So this year we'd like to provide the Board with a similar data set—and that's where you come in.

We're having our first-ever blurb-writing contest.

Sure, we expect some cynics out there will view this as a shameless plea for affirmation, or as a crass ploy to artificially inflate and misrepresent the public's interest in poetry and popular culture, or as evidence that P&PC has simply reached a new low generally speaking.

To which we respond with an emphatic "fie!" The culture of popular poetry and popular literature has included poetry-related contests for decades if not centuries now. Leon Jackson studies some of these nineteenth-century contests in his great book The Business of Letters: Authorial Economies in Antebellum America (Stanford, 2007), for example. Near the turn into the twentieth century, Ivory Soap held annual poetry-writing contests that elicited tens of thousands of submissions including Charles S. Anderson's "Farmer Jones" (pictured here) which placed eighth out of 27,388 entries in 1893.

Likewise, the Burma-Vita Company held jingle-writing contests every year to generate the Burma-Shave poems that advertised the company's shaving cream until the 1960s. And if a 1909 promotional flier or ink blotter (pictured here) is any indication, the Hamilton Brown Shoe Makers Company of St. Louis followed the same strategy, announcing, "We will give a watch each to the ten boys and girls who send us, before July 1st, 1909, the best verse about Security Shoes and Security Watches." In fact, it may well be that this contest history is one of the more obscure foundations for today's poetry slam scene, which regularly features competitions and awards ranging from cold hard cash to white elephant prizes.

So it's not just fitting but perhaps imperative for P&C to at least once dovetail itself with this history. And so it is that we announce the 2011 Poetry & Popular Culture Blurb-Writing Contest—in which the best two blurbs praising P&PC will each win a copy of Poetry after Cultural Studies, a "searching" eight-essay collection from the University of Iowa Press that studies "an astonishing range of poetic practices" including wartime postcard poetry, the poetry of the early U.S. environmental movement, political working-class poetry from nineteenth-century England, the verse of MySpace and avant garde music, and the writing of Sylvia Plath, Edouard Glissant, and James Norman Hall.

A $39.95 value, this set of original essays by Edward Brunner, Alan Ramon Clinton, Maria Damon, Margaret Loose, Cary Nelson, Carrie Noland, Angela Sorby, and Barrett Watten has been described by Stephen Burt as "an important part of debates about what poets do, what their poems are good for." We here at P&PC believe no library is complete without it.

So here's the drill:

1) Write the most poetic, creative, inspired, and provocative blurb that you can about P&PC, its value in the world, and/or its general awesomeness. It's not mandatory that your blurb be in poetic form, but it may be if you choose.

2) Then by Friday, January, 13, 2012, submit your blurb about P&PC, its value in the world, and/or its general awesomeness, to P&PC in one of two ways: either post it (and some sort of contact information) in the comments section of this posting, or email it to

3) The P&PC Office in Salem, OR, will judge, selecting what we deem to be the two best blurbs to headline our 2011 Year-End Report to the Board of Directors. The writers of those blurbs will each receive a copy of Poetry after Cultural Studies and special feature on the blog.

On behalf of the entire P&PC Office, we wish you all the best in the new year, and we look forward to hearing from you by January 13. Happy blurbing!