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Polis Report

Poet Society

By Traci Hukill

Too bad, Walt Whitman. Sorry, Mr. Eliot. Today's Famous Poets keep their literary expressions short 'n' sweet. So the International Library of Famous Poets would have us believe, whose invitation to enter a free poetry contest stipulates pith above pathos and, apparently, brevity above wit.

"We want to find the best grassroots poets among those writing in California, and in the San Jose area in particular," the flier gushes. "To enter, send one poem of 21 lines or less."

Oddly enough, at least four other fine institutions of higher hoodwinking sent strikingly similar invitations to participate in contests. All ballyhooed about their $1,000 cash prizes and just happened to mention that the entries ought not exceed 21 lines.

Patricia Mitchell of San Jose saw the contest announcement in the Willow Glen Resident (a sister newspaper to Metro) and winced. A self-described "poet wannabe," Mitchell entered a free poetry contest seeking inspirational poems about a year ago. She sent her under-21-line poem to a Hollywood address and waited.

"Much to my surprise, not only was my poem chosen to be printed in a special 'Famous Poets' book, but for a fee I could purchase the book and have it on my very own shelf," recalls a bemused and chagrined Mitchell. She also received an invitation to a Hollywood gala book release party where she could mingle with her famous literary brethren and hear a has-been actor read the winning poems. For even more money she could bring all her friends. Realizing her mistake, Mitchell declined the tempting invitations to buy and schmooze. She still, however, gets mail addressed to Famous Poet.

Ever the good sport, though, Mitchell laughs it off. "Like I tell my kids, I may be stupid, but I'm not dumb!"

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From the February 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro

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