The deadline for the 2009 Levis Poetry Prize, sponsored by the independent press Four Way Books, is less than a week away. The annual award, which includes a thousand dollars and publication of a book-length collection, is open to any poet writing in English, regardless of publication history. This year's judge is Mary Jo Bang, author, most recently, of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning collection Elegy (Graywolf, 2007) and the director of the creative writing program at Washington University in St. Louis.
The guidelines for the Levis Poetry Prize are not only practical but also interesting for their description of the press's reading policy, which underscores the lengths legitimate sponsoring organizations will go to ensure that there will be no allegations of unfairness. (Such a description also illustrates how the culture of competition has evolved from what it was four or five years ago, when skepticism and even cynicism about all things contest-related seemed to reach its peak). What's changed, exactly? For starters, the process whereby winners are chosen has become, in many cases, more transparent.
After describing the ways in which poets may submit their work to the contest, the Four Way Books editors end with the following note about a potential submitter's relationship with the judge: "Please do not submit to this contest if you are close enough to Mary Jo Bang that her integrity, your integrity, and the integrity of Four Way Books would be called into question should you be selected as the winner. You may query us if you have questions regarding this matter. We will allow you to submit to us outside of the contest if you feel that you are treading deep water in this regard."
The press's reading policy, which details the path each manuscript travels—from the point at which it's stripped of identifying material to its delivery to preliminary readers to its arrival at the judge's desk—can be read on the Four Way Books Web site.