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I Smell Felicity Huffman. The Dickman Twins & the Corruption of Writing Contests.

Editor’s note: We’re reposting this because of an older blog post (see link below) dealing with the sketchy and suspect rise of the Dickman twins, and their rancid “style” as it adds greater context to our points about writing contests, the publishing industry, the review industry, and how all of that mirrors the culture of corruption and scandals that dominate the history of the country.



Some months ago we offered a consideration of the inherent corruption in writing contests.

One of the major points was the numbers game of the racket.

Your average writing contest, run usually by a smallish magazine or publisher but also by major publishers, receive for their contests, thousands of submissions. Sometimes, tens of thousands.

These are “read” by a half dozen at most “readers” and over the course of usually a few months at most, they choose a winner.

The numbers involved make betting on horses as logical as calculating the odds that gravity will continue to function.

For novel contests the numbers are both hilarious and sinister.

The average novel weighs in at around 60,000 words.

Multiply that by 300.

And then imagine 6 people reading each novel at least twice if not three times in around 3 months.

While working a full time job.

Dealing with their “private” (out of the office) life, and, as is likely, trying to write as well.

The idea that your novel or anyone’s novel is actually being read is absurd.

And keep in mind each manuscript, selected by one reader must be read by at least two others which effectively triples the number of submissions that must be read.

Consider what two writing instructors at a prestigious East Coast University relayed to us:

The first, explained that while working as a manuscript reader for Harper Collins, he was approached by his supervisor, who told him, he was taking too long on his manuscript evaluations/recommendations.

Pointing to the stack of manuscripts on his desk and rising from the floor, totaling well over a million pages, he was going as fast as possible.

His supervisor, smiled.

You don’t understand the system, he said.

We don’t want you to read them. We want you to read the first few lines, a few lines from the middle and a few at the end.

That’s how the sausage get’s made.

The second explained that they received a call one cay from a friend who is a famous, award winning novelist. Famous said, hey, I’m supposed to judge a writing contest but don’t have time. If you’re interested you can do it, and you’ll get paid.

Not as famous writer said, sure.

The next day a box was delivered via FedEx.

Inside the box were about a dozen manuscripts totaling nearly 1 million words.

Not as famous writer called famous writer to say, there’s no way I can read all of these in the time I have.

Oh, said famous writer, just read a few lines at the beginning, a few lines in the middle and a few at the end and let me know which one you like.

Needless to say someone will say well even if that’s true in those two cases, it isn’t true for the rest of the writing world.

Yeah, right because pigs fly.

Of course it’s true across the spectrum.

America is a morbidly obese catastrophe of corruption, clogged social networks, millions of semi educated people with no jobs or jobs that are beneath their educational level and a sclerotic clusterfuck of corrupt bargains and deals.

Or to put it another way:

I smell Felicity Huffman.

Which brings us to Rattle Poetry Magazine and Mathew Dickman.

Rattle is a medium sized magazine that exists as a causeway between the small magazines you’ve never heard of and the corporate slicks and grifters like The New Yorker, Harpers, and so on.

They have a poetry contest.

As a sop to the open secret of the corrupt nature of the industry (which insists it is not an industry but an organic artisanal happening where reputations rise to the surface like cream, instead of the incestuous network of sketchy deals within the all pervasive corporate gangsterocracy) they offer the following (emphasis added):

“Way back in 2006, Rattle magazine revolutionized the concept of the literary contest.

We’d always been skeptical of these things ourselves, so we designed the Rattle Poetry Prize to be as writer-friendly as we could:

In addition to the huge first prize ($10,000), ten finalists are eligible for a $2,000 runner-up award—and everyone who enters gets a chance to vote.

To ensure a fair and consistent selection, the contest is blind-judged by the editors without any pre-screening.”

That’s mighty White of them but one does wonder exactly why they were skeptical.

Was it because they know the numbers make authentic judgement impossible?

Is it because poets, like the eventual winner, have a recognizable style thus rendering the “blind reading” a con?

Is it because of the Jorie Graham Rule?


Well dear reader, Ms. Graham is about as famous a poet as you can find in contemporary American letters.

All the major prizes, tenure at Harvard and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop – the Triple A affiliate for The New Yorker.

And several years ago Ms. Graham was the judge for a writing contest.

And gave the award for best writing to the man she was having sex with.

A mini scandal erupted when that got out to the wider public and the man running the contest resigned, and Graham got tenure at Harvard and a “rule” was created that says no one in any kind of close relationship with the judges is eligible and the judges must tell everyone else about the relationship and yada yada yada.

Because, when you get caught in a scandal, that suggests you’re as ethical as a guy cooking crack in a basement sink, you get a tenured gig at Harvard.

Doesn’t everyone.

And so back to Rattle.

Where they have just announced that Mathew Dickman (no, that’s really his name) has won their 10,000 bucks.

Who is Mathew Dickman?

Oh only the poetry editor at Tin House – one of the more famous of the smallish literary mafia magazines – and a guy (with his twin brother) profiled in establishment rag, The New Yorker and has (on his own) been interviewed in literary titan, Granta, has had work published in several of the major magazines and of course writes ennui heavy, angry in the approved manner poems about – well, stuff, and it’s important because people at magazines who do business with each other say it’s important because he’s from a working class background and he knows how rough it is out there.

And his step-father is also the father of a famous poet.

Small world.

Now of course Rattle will tell you it’s a blind process. The name of the writer does not appear on the manuscript.

No doubt that’s true.

No doubt it’s also true Dickman has a recognizable style, and as the poetry editor at Tin House has his tentacles inside literary sphincters and cunts everywhere.

Because it’s just a coincidence that a small scrappy, dedicated band of poetry lovers, sifted nearly 14,000 poems, in the space of 2 months, and just happened to pull one from the mountain of paper that was written by a guy who is a medium sized literary mafia don at an important gatekeeper of a magazine.

And crucially, who is to say Dickman didn’t tell everyone he knows that he had entered the contest again making the blind reading irrelevant.

And to be fair, correlation is not causation.

Many things are possible.

Like for example, Felicity Huffman just happened to be wealthy, connected, and knew someone who could put her in touch with the guy who was running the payola scam to fix university admissions.

Because you don’t actually believe she just googled the guy’s name do you?

No, she had to ask, so one might wonder: Who told her?

Her agent?

One of the sound mixers on her husband’s TV show, Shameless?

Her small army of lawyers?

A dealer she knows?

Her pool boy?

And every other day you can read that it’s just a coincidence that the same people, from the same social strata keep getting things – jobs, deals, slaps on the wrist, contracts, awards, positions of power, and how every now and then, one of them gets fed to the sharks – hello Mr. Epstein.

And then back to business as usual.

And a word here specifically about Dickman’s aesthetic – the confirmation bias echo chamber of see, it’s all bleak and I’m telling you how it really is yo in the real America yo.

For example:

Minimum Wage

“My mother and I are on the front porch lighting each other’s cigarettes
as if we were on a ten-minute break from our jobs
at being a mother and son, just ten minutes
to steal a moment of freedom before clocking back in, before
putting the aprons back on, the paper hats,
washing our hands twice and then standing
behind the counter again,
hoping for tips, hoping the customers
will be nice, will say some kind word, the cool
front yard before us and the dogs
in the backyard shitting on everything.
We are hunched over, two extras on the set of The Night of the Hunter.
I am pulling a second cigarette out of the pack, a swimmer
rising from a pool of other swimmers. Soon we will go back
inside and sit in the yellow kitchen and drink
the rest of the coffee
and what is coming to kill us will pour milk
into mine and sugar into hers.”


Teenage Riot

“All of us were boys only some were taller or already in high school, and almost
nothing else
mattered but to learn some new trick,
to pull off something we saw in a skate video, wind cutting
around our bodies when we flew
off the lip of a ramp, grabbed the board and twisted
into a 180, kicking
a leg out and landing it, the only way to run
through the neighborhood

was to run through it
together, flipping off cops and skinheads, I almost
don’t even remember girls but a vague sense of the taste of bubble gum
and how they smelled so different
from us, sitting in some kid’s basement drinking
his parents’ vodka, we grew out our bangs, moved in a pack,
jumped in when some one of us
got jumped,

so when a man we had never seen before
came up and started beating on Simon, one of us dropped his skateboard, walked
over to the man
like someone walking into a bank
and stabbed him.
The man, startled, sat down, right there on the asphalt,
right in the middle of his new consciousness,
kind of looking around. ”


For those of you who don’t know, that’s Raymond Carver. And Raymond Carver (or to be more accurate, “Raymond Carver”) was at one time an important writer of short stories best defined as being Hemingway for dummies or Hemingway Lite.

“Working class” and sparse, in the same way a claw mark on a cave wall is sparse, and “stripped down” if not reactionary, as a sedative in response to the late sixties early seventies stylistic pyrotechnics of “experimental” writers like Barthes and the Barthelme Brothers, Carver was famous and a literary fulcrum for several years.

And then, after he died, it was revealed that his editor, Gordon Lish, aka Captain Fiction (no, really, that’s his nickname) had not so much edited Carver’s stories as he had taken a blowtorch to them and invented, “Raymond Carver.”

But that was more than five minutes ago and no one remembers Carver or “Carver.”

Thus, Dickman’s realism appears authentic.

But it’s not.

It’s derivative, unoriginal and worse, presents its matter of factness as a revelation – a stunning new glimpse at the brutal sociopathic ho hum of the desensitized waste land of America.

Which allows mostly White liberals to wield this shit on a stick as a ghetto pass, turn lives, violence and poverty into a fetish, and pretend that acknowledgement of the writing, alleviates them of the stench of collaboration with the regime. This is no different from “prestige” television shows that turn black Americans into a fetish of their own claims to being “woke” because they claim to be showing you the reality of life in the Hood – while cashing phat checks and living in expensive and/or renovated (i.e., gentrified) neighborhoods where drug use and drug dealing are not criminalized.

Dickman’s claims to working class avatar are analogous to new money sobs who frequent “dive bars” with the same attitude of sex tourists or bourgeois goons who get off on “going native.”

It is stylistically an example of what used to called the Imitative Fallacy (Or, the Fallacy of the Imitative Form) which meant, if you wanted to write about insanity the writing had to be insane and if you want to write about desiccated, emotionless zombie America with its cults of casual violence an cultural ennui, than the writing has to be emotionally dead, detached and a confirmation bias in an echo chamber.

But the literary powers that be have decided that’s not true anymore so no one bothers with it.

And then in truth, the writing is a commercial; a collaboration with the system the writer preciously claims to denounce, while cashing its checks.

Recently we took a member of the “alternative media” to task for his suggestion (insistence) that the left does not tolerate grifters and cult’s of personality.

Aside from a host of problems with that idea, (including but not limited to the extent to which the left is notorious for its cult’s of personality) we added that one could make the case that the entire system is a cult of personality, that capitalism is organized crime and that as a result, everyone is a grifter – by intent, that is willfully, or is forced into it because the system demands it (we type on our slave manufactured, government sanctioned tracking system).

After all, what are The Godfather films except a biography of America – as organized crime.

Brother hypocrite, I salute you, said noted asshole and genius, Baudelaire, surveying the hall of mirrors carnival that was the rise of the mass culture industrial state.

Because it’s just a coincidence that Dickman’s name was pulled from a hat.

And Felicity Huffman wasn’t cheating. She was just doing business

Because as someone said:

“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”





For a look at our previous post on this issue:


And regarding the Jorie Graham Rule see the relevant section below:



It’s worth adding that statically, an authentic outcome is also possible along the spectrum of possible outcomes – but the set whose members are writing contests, exist within a set that is, in every respect, corrupt. A contest winner may be directly untainted but the system remains a cesspool.

Additionally consider the following: Per Rattle’s editor, they received approximately, 14,000 poems which, the magazine claims were read in 2 months.

Assuming a staff of 3 editors (per their masthead) and a staff of 7 assistants/interns (which is highly unlikely and one should assume 4 overworked unpaid, unskilled interns), you have 1400 poems read per person, and then, read again by at least all three editors, meaning each member has to read, 4,200 poems in 2 months.

While eating, sleeping, talking, commuting, and so on.

Anyone who believes that is do-able, and can be done ethically – defined as each poem given due consideration, is a fool.

There is however another possibility: Rattle may employ “pre-readers” or “screeners” who “read” the submissions, cull the flock, and pass on to the editors, a manageable load.

Except, Rattle doesn’t say this is the process they use which means if they are using, unskilled, or inexperienced “readers” to thin the list, it is blatant fraud, as they are required to explain their selection process.

Or perhaps the three main editors mainline a mixture of Ritalin and Red Bull. With a shot of coke to the eyeball.

After all, 4,200 poems, divided by 60 days works out to 70 poems every day for 2 months.

Sounds reasonable.

Like a man coming down from an ether binge.

Update: 9/16/19

For a deeper background on the utterly corrupt nature of the rise of the Dickman twins, and how the poetry sausage gets made, as well as a first rate excavation of the crap nature of the Dickman’s “style” see the following (NOTE: THE LINK BELOW LEADS TO THE CORRECT BLOG. HOWEVER THE INTERFACE IS AWFUL. DO NOT USE THE CURSOR ON THE FAR RIGHT OF THE PAGE AS IT AUTOMATICALLY MOVES YOU TO ANOTHER POST. INSTEAD USE THE DOWN ARROW ON YOUR KEYBOARD WITH THE CURSOR PLACED IN THE BODY OF THE TEXT):,+Me,+Me,+Me:+Matthew+Dickman’s+All-American+Poem


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