You may remember I drove seven hours
to get to the South Dakota Festival of Books in Sioux Falls at the end of August, seven hours there and seven hours back. You may wonder why I am not driving the hour and ten minutes to attend the Wisconsin Book Festival, which opens today in Madison. I'll tell you why. I'm angry.
I'm angry that they declined an offer to appear coming from a poet and essayist who lives in Fairwater, Wisconsin; yet they invited authors from Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and Chicago and Chicago and Chicago, from Dorest, England, and London, England, from San Francisco and Woodside, California, from Minneapolis and Minneapolis and Minneapolis, from New York and New York and New York and Boise and Baltimore and Ann Arbor, from Montana, from Petoskey, Michigan, from the University of East Anglia and Southern Illinois University and Virginia Commonwealth and Stanford and Yale. But not from Fairwater, Wisconsin. It might be different if I had an entirely inflated sense of my own worth, but wasn't I one of the three finalists for the recent Wisconsin Poet Laureate appointment? In fact, even as I was interviewing in July for that position, this is the patronizing letter I received from the Book Festival staffers:
Dear Mr. Montag:
Thank you for giving us the chance to consider your work for inclusion in the 2004 Wisconsin Book Festival. Due to the limited size and budget of the Wisconsin Book Festival, the selection process was very competitive, but each submission received careful consideration from multiple readers. Unfortunately, we are not able to extend an invitation to you this year. We commend you for achieving the difficult task of nurturing a book from idea to publication, and we thank you for your interest in the Festival.
Alison Jones Chaim
Wisconsin Book Festival Director
Wisconsin Book Fesitval Coordinator
Let me suggest there is something seriously wrong with a "selection process" that excludes Wisconsin writers who have made the kind of contribution to letters that I have. As I say, I don't think I have an inflated sense of my worth: I know I am a minor regional poet. Nonetheless, my work is admired and I've made a contribution. Didn't the editors of the America Zen approach me for poems for that anthology? Aren't I one of the two writers at this year's Great Lakes Writers Festival sponsored by Lakeland College? Haven't I been invited to make presentations at next year's Celebration of Rural Writing and Rural Writers in Marshall, Minnesota? Don't I have a poem incorporated into the design of the Midwest Express Convention Center in Milwaukee? Didn't my wife and I found the Wisconsin Poets Calendar and publish it in 1982, 1983, and 1984, and later hand it (gratis) to the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets? Aren't I listed as one of the original "founding contributing editors" of The Pushcart Prize?
Don't you think they could leave one of their mystery novelists or romance authors at home, to make room for me? Apparently not.
Should the Book Festival be embarrassed about such exclusions? Yes, they should. I suppose that they're not embarrassed, but they should be. The problem is they don't even know they have a problem.
And that's why I'm not going to the Wisconsin Book Festival.