Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poor Poetry, Rich Deceit: Is POETRY.COM The Most Lucrative Scam In American Poetry?

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye 
In Nigeria, it is called O.B.T. (Obtaining By Tricks). But in America, it is known as Better Business. In Nigeria, they are not registered; they operate under the shadow of darkness. But in America, they are duly registered and given a clean bill of health by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). 

In Nigeria, they are abhorred and isolated by decent society, but in America, they have on their pay roll America’s accomplished poets and professors who use their hard-earned reputation to polish their image. Also, a bevy of lawyers work for and with them. And their business is “legal.” But each time they stretch forth their hands and reach out for the jugular of unsuspecting victims, they leave in their wake excruciating pain, sorrow, loud cries, and bitter anguish.

Dr. Len Roberts
ISP Educational Director

In the State of Maryland, United States, there is a body called the International Library of Poetry (ILP), or POETRY.COM or the International Society Of Poets (ISP) or as they have begun to also answer recently, LULUPOETRY.COM. All they are after is your money, which they get by flattery and lies. And if you are enticed by their carefully worded letters, then you will tell the story of your penury with hot streaming tears! 

But to Grace Cavalieri of the Poetry Faculty of St. Mary’s College, Southern Maryland, one of America’s nationally known poets, who unabashedly associates with this poetry body, ILP is “run by good people” and “honorable people.”

But let’s hear Theresa Coleman, one of the victims of ISP/ILP/POETRY.COM. She told Charlie Hughes, a US poet of repute and owner of Wind Publications who has been monitoring the activities of ISP/ILP/Poetry.com, (quoted here with Charlie Hughes’s permission): “I am a disabled Veteran and live on a very small pension and Social Security Disability pay. I had to borrow the nearly $1,500 to attend this conference (ISP Conference). It will take me over a year to pay all the money back. Not to mention, I did not have clothing suitable for such an event, so there went another $300.00! …There were hundreds of us… I cried like a baby after realizing that I was just ripped off, knowing how long it will take me to pay back all the money I borrowed…

Organizations like this SHOULD NOT be permitted to continue preying on innocent people and robbing them of money most of us didn’t have and had to borrow …I cannot express the deep, emotional anguish this has caused me…I almost feel like suing the BBB (Better Business Bureau, whose approval rating of ILP/ISP/POETRY.COM helps people get caught in their trap)… Now I am so angry with them that I cannot express how badly I would like to choke every one of those rip-off artists! …I am totally appalled that they have remained in business for so long” (Coleman’s testimony).

Fleda Brown: Professor of English and
Delaware Poet Laureate

 Like Coleman, we too are totally appalled that ISP/ILP/POETRY.COM has remained in Business till now. Unfortunately, American laws have no succour for the likes of Coleman. And there are thousands like her, bleeding at all corners, after an encounter with ISP/ILP/POETRY.COM.

Now why would this poor woman plunge herself into debt to attend an ISP conference? Well, she is one of the several victims of ISP/ILP/POETRY.COM grand lies and deceit, who are made to believe they had won some big money, and lured into paying the conference registration fees which Professor Fleda Brown, another poet who associates with ISP, admits is “very high”.                                                              

David Wagoner: Former Chancellor, Academy
 of American Poets

Len Roberts, a brilliant US poet and professor of English at Northampton Community College, was hired about five years ago as ISP “Educational Director”. With his reputation and ISP’s fat accounts, he hires America’s best poets to speak at ISP conferences.         

Some eminent literary figures like  Professor Stephen Dunn (Pulitzer Prize winner),
 Grace Cavalieri,  Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin, Professor Fleda Brown (Delaware  Poet Laureate), W.D. Snodgrass (1960 Pulitzer Prize winner) Lucille Clifton,  Robert Winsky, etc. also associate with ISP and their names are used to  purchase respectability for ISP’s unwholesome trade.

W.D Snodgrass
Pulitzer Prize Winner

Roberts told this writer that most of the complaints about ISP occurred more than five  years  ago, before ISP hired him. But Theresa Coleman got her bitter deal from ISP in 2000!

Roberts insists: “The only valid complaint I find among all these criticisms  is that the phrasing of ISP’s letter is misleading.”  Now what does ISP gain by misleading people? Simple! To make them believe they have won some money in order to lure them to the conference for which they would pay ISP as much as $702.00 dollars as  registration fee. By their own admission, in 2002 alone, not less than  2,500 people got into their trap. This way they can comfortably give  away $74,000.00 to 36 “poets” and still smile to the banks with their millions. So, contrary to the claims in a recent feature article in a Nigerian  newspaper, ISP holds elaborate conventions where interesting lectures are delivered on poetry by nationally acclaimed poets and university  professors. More importantly, it pays all the prize money as advertised. Only  it achieves that by robbing Joseph to pay Josephine.

Grace Cavalieri
Grace Cavalieri:Award-Winning American Poet
And Playwright

 The ISP professors maintain that only those who fail to win prizes complain after the convention. But Charlie Hughes disagrees. “Those people who are disgruntled with ISP convention are not disgruntled because they lost a contest. They are upset because facts were misrepresented to them in order to lure them to the convention,” he told this writer.
Now how can America whose press regularly malign other countries, and whose government regularly issues negative reports about select  countries, including Nigeria, allow an outfit like the ISP/ILP/POETRY.COM to go on “legally” inflicting pain on hapless folks and raking in millions in the process? Their Educational Director has admitted that the “phrasing of ISP letters is misleading”.

So, is there no law in the United States capable of stopping person(s) and institutions from continuing to deliberately circulate misleading letters with the sole aim getting at people’s money and plunging them into huge debts? Even if they have snaked their way through some legal loopholes to make their activities remain “legal”, can’t the US authorities listen to the anguished cries of all their victims and clamp down on them in public interest, as has been done in Nigeria here with even organizations like Umanah I. Umanah’s Resources Ltd in Port Harcourt, whose activities had not even begun to cause any harm to anyone, but was seen as potential time bomb?


Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin: Mellon Poetry Prize

This writer tried to make inquiries about ISP at the Public Affairs Department of the United States Consulate in Lagos, but was told to go to the ISP website, as they do not have any information about them. Also, in June 2001, following “dozens of complaints” it had received, WritersWeekly.com forwarded information to the Maryland State Attorney General about the activities of ILP/POETRY.COM. Now, this is July 2005, what has happened?

Is ISP a sacred cow, beyond investigation? Is it because of its fat taxes?
So what really is the sin of ILP/ISP/POETRY.COM? On their website, they call for poems. Any trash you submit is an instant hit. Then you will automatically become a poet with “unique vision” and great talent, certified by their  “Acceptance Committee” as semi-finalist and eligible for publication in an anthology that costs $59.95 plus another $8.

One Of The Several "Awards" Dished Out By POETRY.COM

And if you want a 150-word introductory note to appear with your “poem”,  you will pay another $25.00. Well, whether you pay or not, your “poem” will still be published. But, of course, many buy several copies out of joy that they are featured in an anthology. So regularly, they churn out these anthologies filled with near rubbish just to get at the money of any one that submits just anything.

Then after this stage, a certain Steve Michaels enters with a letter informing you of your nomination as Poet of the Year. The letter starts with some sort of announcement in front of an imaginary crowd declaring you the Poet of the Year and winner of the grand prize of $20,000! The purpose is to make you believe when you now read of your nomination that you have won the prize. All effort is deployed to make the letter (also sent out to more than a thousand others) appear personal and exclusive to you in order to lure you to register for the conference.

What is the necessity for this deception? What is really happening? Professor Fleda Brown explains: “almost every one who submits poems is ‘accepted’, so they should not understand their invitation as any particular honor”.

But how would these hapless souls know that letters coming from ISP/ILP, an organisation that parades the cream of America’s poets and intellectuals on their website is worthless, not indicative of any honour? Note that, their victims are mostly barely literate “poets”, who are prone to misunderstand letters that have continued to dribble even college graduates!

(Prof. Roberts, ISP Educational Director, is a most charming fellow, as Charlie Hughes confessed to this writer. After a series of interactions in the process of preparing this article, this writer was so affected by Roberts’s personality and manners that he almost gave up writing this article. Apart from his reputation as a distinguished poet and academic, this other personal quality may have influenced the decision of ISP to hire him for the job. He is always handy to charm aggrieved “poets” into silence with his warm personality, beautiful diction, and style.)

Stephen Dunn: Pulitzer Prize Winner

Now, the next in the web of deceit comes from Nigel Hillary of Noble House Publishers with another set of lies and flattery. 

ILP//POETRY.COM subscribes to a Privacy Policy. So, how then does Noble House get people’s addresses and other details in order to write them to announce they had read their poems in the United States and now wished to publish them in the UK also?

Is Noble House just ILP/ISP/POETRY.COM in another name, since both are only all after your money? A question of Esau’s hand, Jacobs voice?

Both flatter you to high heavens with unspeakable lies about a poem they have not even read, which may even contain terrible errors that cannot be accommodated by even poetic license! At the end of the day, you will still be the one to “edit” your "poem."

The Bright Face Of Scam In  American Poetry

In its commitment to publish just any trash, look at ILP’s output posted on its website and compiled by Theresa Coleman:
*In 1997, they published 44 anthologies of “poems”;

*1998, they published 78;

1999,  52 came out (that is, one a week!);

*2000, they had published 46…as of August)…
Source: http://windpub.com/literary.scams/bigmoney.htm).

The Editor of the page estimates that with these publications, the ILP is richer with about $9 million dollars each year at just $50.00 per book. But by this writer’s estimate, based on ISP letters and documents available to him, they realize $84.95 plus additional $8.00 from each “poet” who orders just a copy of their book.

Also, “Greater Maryland Business Bureau reports that ILP has 500,000 customers each year. If only half purchase a single book, that’s $12.5million”! Hughes, also a publisher of long-standing, told this writer that based on his experience as a publisher, the production cost of an ILP book cannot be more than $10.00.

The question is: Can the ILP/ISP/POETRY.COM enjoy a conducive climate in Nigeria? The answer is obvious and it is No! Now, in America, truth is: no one can stop ILP/ISP/POETRY.COM. So, for now, the only way to avoid their trap is: don’t send them a poem; don’t believe anything their letter says. Take time to read them, as Roberts says, and realize that despite all it may say, it is not informing you that you have already won a prize, rather, you are only being invited to a conference where you will then compete for a prize. All the deceptive and flowery language is solely meant to lure you into registering for the conference.

Or, as Ms. Cavalieri says: “Come to learn poetry and have fun at the convention, not to win money.”

Well, tomorrow, American officials will still come down here to sermonize about Nigerians “who obtain money by tricks (OBT or 419)” But can’t anyone out there stand up to them and yell: “Physician, Please, Heal Thyself First? Our boys are merely apprentices of their big brother in BaltimoreMaryland?”

Well, the fault may after all be ours: We gave room for those patronizing insults. Instead of registering our own equivalents of ISP/ILP/Poetry.com in Nigeria, we blacklisted them!

Interview With The Dramatis Personae

Charlie Hughes


Len Roberts

1 comment:

  1. God bless you for this post, am a poet also. Just read the blog now, I had submitted entries for a friend years back, we didnt pay then because we didnt have enough funds then. I think that was like a decade ago. I think BBB in America has a lot of questions to answer. God bless Ugochuckwu


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