ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Their letters are clearly intended to convey wrong information with the sole aim
of obtaining money. . . . I am free to say that the ILP is unethical, that they operate a scam,
but I can’t say that they are engaged in fraud without running the danger of being sued
The ISP Deceives, Misleads, Tricks and Lies
To Amateur Poets to Get Their Money — Says Charlie Hughes
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye Interviews Charlie Hughes
Charlie Hughes, formerly Editor of Wind Magazine, and now owner of Wind Publications, lives in Kentucky, USA. An accomplished poet, short fiction writer, and publisher of creative works, he has been closely observing the activities of the International Library of Poetry (ILP) and its other arm, the International Society of Poets (ISP) for many years now.
In this interview with Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye on July 4, 2003, Charlie Hughes speaks frankly on the controversial poetry body and the bitter experiences of some of their victims who had lodged complaints with him. Excerpts:
Please tell us who you are… your background, and what you do, and why and when you began to develop interest in ISP/ILP? Hughes: I have been employed at the University of Kentucky for over 30 years as an analytical chemist. I am also a writer of poetry and short fiction with nearly 100 publications in literary magazines, and I am the author of Shifting for Myself, a collection of poems. From 1993 until 2000 I served as editor of Wind Magazine, which, though it has a small circulation, is a nationally recognized and respected literary magazine founded in 1972.
Currently, I am the owner of Wind Publications . In 1998, not long after I had established a website for Wind Magazine, I viewed an ABC TV’s 20/20 news program which reported on the activities of the National Library of Poetry. As a public service, I put a report of this TV news program on my website along with a second web page admonishing amateur poets to exercise caution when dealing with the National Library of Poetry.
Soon thereafter, I began receiving e-mails of complaint from all across the US, as well as other countries, from amateur poets who’d had unsatisfactory experiences with the NLP/ILP. These people felt deceived and betrayed by this organization (and by similar organizations using similar poetry contest tactics for financial gain).
As I received these people’s stories I began to do a little research and create other web pages to pass the information along– The result is my web page of links to information regarding unethical poetry contests.Do you know a bit of the history of ILP/Poetry.com and ISP?Hughes: Only rumor. I have been told that they are an offshoot of a poetry contest scam organization which operated back in the 80’s in California called the World of Poetry run by the same fellow who now runs Hollywood’s Famous Poets Society contests. HFP is disreputable enough to even receive a bad report from the Better Business Bureau. The ILP/ISP has in recent years surpassed HFP in effectiveness and profit.Do you think the ISP is genuinely committed to poetry and literature? Hughes: Certainly not. Anyone committed to poetry and literature is committed to quality. The ILP is clearly committed to quantity, not quality — money, not poetry. They will print as a poem anything except profanity, and negative criticism of themselves. If you send them a letter using their on-line form for submitting contest poems, you’ll get an automated letter accepting your “poem” for publication (same letter I sent you in a previous e-mail — everybody gets it automatically). Some of the negative comment poems occasionally get accepted since they seldom read the poems in the books they print. Their computer excludes poems containing certain words, such as profanity and “scam.”But how is it that they are able to draw notable literary figures in the US to their programmes? Hughes: I wish you would contact these literary figures and ask them this question. As an international journalist you may have access to them that I don’t. I have corresponded with a couple of them. I received a cordial response from Steven Dunn, and got the impression that he regretted becoming involved.
These are nationally respected literary figures. They are only involved with the annual conference.
Generally, I do not think they are aware of the day-to-day operation of the organization. Len Roberts is the exception. Because of Roberts’ reputation, he is able to enlist other well-known poets to appear and maybe speak briefly at the convention. I assume that each is paid handsomely for their appearance.
Also, you’ll notice the ILP runs the convention under a different name than the one they use for the contests. The contests are under the auspices of the International Library of Poetry while the convention is run by the International Society of Poets.
Why does any reputable organization need more than a half dozen different names?
Roberts told me that he is attempting to make the organization more respectable. I told him that having big-name poets appear at the convention is not the way to accomplish that.
Respectability can be easily achieved by simply telling the truth to contest entrants. Easy as that. But the ILP wants to purchase respectability rather than earn it. Respectability cannot be purchased, though the illusion of such may be. Now Roberts once told me the ISP letters are ambiguous, and misleads, and hoped that they shouldn’t be. But don’t you think that many would rather see them as fraudulent, clearly intended to convey a wrong information with the sole aim of obtaining money?
For instance, ISP in their letter announces that their “POET OF THE YEAR” gets 20,000 dollars. Now, in the next sentence they inform the person of his “NOMINATON AS (that) POET OF THE YEAR” not “AS ‘A’ POET (or one of the poets) OF THE YEAR,” or “TO PARTICIPATE IN THE POET OF THE YEAR CONTEST” as Roberts has just explained to me now?
Again, you can’t reply to Steve Michaels until you have registered for the convention. Once you write, your mail WILL bounce back: this way, your efforts to make enquiries are frustrated. Hughes: I think you’ve answered your own question. I believe their letters are clearly intended to convey wrong information with the sole aim of obtaining money. In the US, “fraud” is a legally defined term. I am free to say that the ILP is unethical, that they operate a scam, but I can’t say that they are engaged in fraud without running the danger of being sued since they have not been convicted of fraud.
“Ambiguous” is putting it mildly. Nobody is going to say, “I’m a crook.” Actually, I think Roberts is a charming fellow. He is the kind of fellow you’d enjoy sitting next to on the bus. He almost had me agreeing with him at one point. I’d like you to get him into the public spotlight and see how he justifies what he’s doing. I’d like to see him meet face-to-face with some of those who have been deceived by the ILP, some of those who’ve had to borrow money to attend the convention and receive their “award,” such as Theresa Coleman whose story is on this webpage or Crystal McGaffick whose story is on this webpage.
Hughes: I doubt that the ILP can be successfully sued by any individual. I’m told that they have a bevy of lawyers working for and with them. They are masters of doing just enough to satisfy legal requirements. You send them money and they send you a book of contest poems, as promised.
So what if they said it was going to be a beautiful and artistic book — that’s in the eye of the beholder.People don’t understand the difference between a publisher and a printer. Even the dictionary isn’t clear on it.
A publisher pays for production of the book, including promotion and distribution. A printer simply prints the book. Noble House may call themselves publishers, as do all vanity presses, when, in effect, they are simply printers– printing a number of books for a fee. I think it is possible, with sufficient public outrage, that local or state governments might take action against the organization in the public interest, as they did several years ago against Publishers Clearing House in New York.
Unfortunately, poetry is not a high-priority item in this country.You have seen ILP’s books, can you assess the production cost? Hughes: I have not seen the book. I have seen pictures of them and they have been described to me, as having 300 or more pages, each page having 6 to eight poems, and being constructed of inexpensive materials. Having been the publisher of several books, I’d estimate that the production cost of such a book would be less than $10. However, in my opinion, cost is irrelevant.
What’s in question is how the poems in the book are obtained, and the manner in which they are sold. All that is accomplished using deception. How come ILP/ISP were able to register as Better Business outfit in Maryland? Hughes: The Better Business Bureau is not connected with any city, state, or national governmental organization. The BBB in each city or locale is an independent organization which operates under a national umbrella organization, in the same manner that franchise restaurants operate.
Therefore, each local BBB, is operated in a different manner. Any organization can become a member of the BBB simply by applying and paying dues. Dues are accessed based on the size and financial dealings of the organization.
The ILP does enough business that they pay big dues. The Maryland BBB is therefore not apt to issue a negative report on them. In addition, my impression, from what I’ve read on the web, is that the Maryland BBB is one of the poorer BBBs in protecting the public from unethical businesses
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 16 December 2011