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Jack Smith

Closet Poet's Prize Proves a Bit Pricey

August 04, 1988|Jack Smith

As a closet poet, Dick Williams of Shell Beach recently entered a free nationwide poetry contest sponsored by World of Poetry, whose headquarters is in Sacramento.

Williams wrote and innocently submitted a poem called "Amy at Two," a rather sentimental ode to his granddaughter.

The first of its six stanzas reads: "Eyes a deeper blue/Than the seas that kiss the rocks of Anacapa/Can it be that I can see/The pixie glint of Norma there?"

And the last: "Sweet young arms meld/The old with the new/It is then I know that I'm in love with Amy/And we are both in love with life."

Perhaps it lacks the lyricism of Keats, the intensity of Blake, but it is a poem nevertheless, and it expresses with feeling a grandfather's love.

So Williams was pleased when he heard from World of Poetry that his poem had won an Honorable Mention in the contest, and that it was to be published in "The Golden Treasury of Great Poems." He was asked to sign a release.

His euphoria faded, though, when he noticed the attached order form. It gave him the option of ordering one copy of the book at $39.95 and additional copies at $29.95 each. Also, for $10 more a dedication would be printed with his poem; for $45 more it would be accompanied by his photograph; and for $45 more it would be illustrated. Only $139.95 for the lot.

While Williams pondered this value, he received a "Poetrygram" informing him ecstatically that his poem had been selected by World of Poetry's board of directors, unanimously, for a Golden Poetry Award for 1988. "Dear Golden Poet," this communication began, "I am so excited to share the good news with you!"

The Poetrygram looked to Williams suspiciously like a form letter. It said that the Golden Poet Award was to poets what the Academy Award was to actors. "It is the highest honor World of Poetry ever bestows on a poet."

While Williams was appraising this honor, he received a phone call from his 12-year-old granddaughter, Robin. She had also won the Golden Poetry Award for 1988.

"Zounds," Williams said to himself. "If Robin and I both won this award there must be a genetic link to some past poetic genius in our family line."

The Poetrygram also included an invitation for him, as a Golden Poet, to attend the convention of World of Poetry to be held Aug. 26, 27 and 28 at the Anaheim Hilton. The award would be presented on Aug. 27.

There was a registration form to fill out. All he had to do to attend the convention was to pay the registration fee of $425. His spouse or any friends could attend for only $375 each. He would have to book his hotel room and transportation himself. However, the hotel and United Air Lines were giving a convention rate.

Williams began to figure. The contest had been advertised in nationwide tabloid newspapers. How many Golden Poets could there be? Maybe as many as 2,000, he thought. If they all attended the convention that would be $850,000 in fees--quite a piece of change. Or maybe only 200 would attend. That would still be $85,000. And it didn't include the hotel room. (It did include, however, two banquets, a Golden Poet brunch, a gala champagne reception (formal attire OK), 10 $1,000 prizes and a grand prize of $15,000.)

Williams sadly decided to skip the convention and the presentation of his Golden Poet Award. For a closet poet, living on Social Security, he said, it was out of the question. To notify World of Poetry, he sent them another poem. It reads:

"My heart beats sad and anguished/For the days that used to be/Where most poets languished/In a life of poverty.

"Now in this land of Whitman/It's very clear to see/You've got to be a rich man/To win with poetry.

"So thank you but no thank you/I can not raise the price/For your extravaganza/A tuxedo yet, no dice."

I wonder if it's too late for me to enter the contest. Here's my poem:

True poetry is rare, and poets aren't abundant/Yet this game proves, for any poets in it/That Barnum wasn't just redundant/There's one born every minute.

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