Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And now for something completely different

Religious Poem

1. Lottery Stigmata

When he wasn’t in church, our town priest
sat in the church of whiskey,
smoking cigarettes and rattling ice like dice.

No one seemed to mind. Catholics liked
to drink and gamble at bingo.
The confessional smelled like a casino.

The story goes that when he won the lottery he disappeared.

A former priest running
an orphanage in a Tuscany villa?
Purchasing unlimited prostitutes in Vegas?
Living in a beach house with his boyfriend?
Drinking single malt scotch 24/7?

Townspeople sat in barstools and pews,
in classroom desks and dentist chairs,
in the multipurpose room and the Rotary hall,
imagining heaven.

2. Guantanamo of the Soul

God gives you
only what you can handle. That child
drowning in New Orleans? That child
rained down with fire in Baghdad? That child
shrunken with cancer in Panama City? That child
starving in Darfur? That child
raped in Yokohama? Who says
they can’t handle it?

3. Folk Mass

The priest’s hair grew longer, gracing
the edge of his Oreo collar. A man
with a beard and a woman with stringy hair
strummed their guitars at the altar. We sang

“Blowin’ in the Wind.” We sang
“Imagine.” Stained-glass light speckled the floor
and well-fed children imagined a room overflowing
with cream-filled chocolate cookies.

4. Job

is the literary forefather of
the Marquis de Sade.

5. Mormon Boys

They always come in pairs.
At Santa Clara and Fourth they push
their bikes past the City Hall stairs
beneath that billboard plush

with pigeon droppings, years
of shit layered like butter cream
frosting. Their young ears
shine pinkly over the crisp seams

of their button-down shirts.
Their dark pants are vaguely
hip-hop baggy. Is that style
a thirst? An escape valve?

6. Job’s Résumé


7. The Gift

God gave my mother
Alzheimer’s. Her language

is falling away like
chemotherapized hair.

The other day I asked her:
“Mom, why did you leave the church?”

She said: “With Vatican II, the Pope opened
the window and I flew out.”

8. Responses to this Poem


loves you.”
“Any time you think of your dead father that’s

“Any time you think of a legless child that’s

“Any time you think of maggots devouring a carcass that’s

“Any time you forgive those who would murder you that’s

“We are all little
“Praise the lord and pass the atom


isn’t religion.”
“When you feel the wind rustling the leaves that’s

“When you feel your skin crawling that’s

“We can never understand the ways of

is your higher power.”
“Your higher power is


is a man with a long flowing beard who had sex with a virgin.”
“You have legions of virgins waiting for you in heaven, courtesy of

loves the sinner but hates the sin."
hates fags.”

loves fags.”

--Kate Evans

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I thought I was on the wrong channel when I heard people talking about Miley Cyrus on NPR today.

I mean really, why do people care about this?

Is the subtext that Annie Liebovitz is a lesbian who photographs naked girls?

Yes, Cyrus is "only 15." Our society is so stupidly uptight about sexuality. Let's not forget that the center of the greatest love story of all time--Juliet--was 14.

But beyond that, that Cyrus pic is so benign as to be laughable. One of the callers on NPR said her 6-year-old daughter just wanted to know why the picture made Hannah Montana "ugly."

That's Annie Liebovitz for you, working against the grain.

Another new poem

This poem is probably begging to be a story or a memoir piece since it's so stubbornly narrative, but here it is in poem form for now...

The Indoor Pool

It was a town of walnut trees and low houses, sulpher water
that yellowed the toilet bowls and sinks, cement and heat,
a splintery fence we weren’t allowed to climb. Daughters
in school books did not clamber; those books seemed vaults

of other times. The house had an indoor swimming pool
(the former owners had been ill; it wasn’t a pool for wellness,
reeking of chlorine, sulpher and old skin). Illimitable school
spread out low and white beyond the fence. Spelling

tests and cursive practice obliged restraint between thick black lines
on thinnest paper. We guarded our loops to produce their proper
height. The splintery fence loomed between school and home, a sign
of something we weren’t to discuss. Mothers were shoppers,

fathers pounders of nails. Children wore blindfolds
and pinned paper tails on donkeys. When somewhere someone
drowned, a lock and chain appeared on the pool door, cold
as an ancient dungeon’s. Locked away, the water whispered come on.

We found the key. Shadowed and volcanic, the black water
shrouded us. We pretended to drown. Inspired, we ran to the redwood
fence, wet hair smacking our backs. Splinters in our palms, we plotted
our next climb.
From the school roof, the town glowed fairy tale good.

--Kate Evans

Monday, April 28, 2008

New poem (revised again)

(I've been tweaking and tweaking...)


Lowering into the water, the kind
you can’t feel your skin in,

I slide above the spiny, slippery
reef. Tepid embryonic fluid, it’s

the moment of take-off,
the moment of flight and hover.

Silver and turquoise darters turn
to Escheresque camouflage. My lungs

are snorkel-submerged, my breaths
embedded in my skin. I’ve melted

into the world’s belly. Is this what
dying is? What is that clicking,

that sunken squealing? That pulse
of shadow, of gray that grows and grows

to fleshy bodies book-ending me?
They are soft granite. A tomb expunging

thought and being. They obliterate
the soul, or the need for one.

--Kate Evans

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hallucinations from 1973

It's so strange doing this project.

In 1973 I was 11 years old and in 5th grade. Doing these transcriptions forces me to slow down and re-live this time.

It all feels vaguely familiar, like something I dreamt.

In a recent entry, I mention Watergate in the same tone of voice as I mention going to swimming lessons.

A few entries before that, I say I'm reading Nancy Drew and writing two books. Some things never change.

Day of Silence

and this, because in the end, only kindness matters.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ishmael Reed Presents

Our last event (whew!) of the season is tonight, when Ishmael Reed presents poets published by his publishing company: Boadiba, Karla Brundage, Neli Moody & Tennessee Reed.

This free event is today (Thursday) at 7 p.m. in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Second Floor.

Ishmael Reed—novelist, poet, playwright and essayist—has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and was twice a finalist for the National Book Award. He is the founder of the Before Columbus Foundation, Konch literary magazine, and his own publishing company.

Boadiba is a Haitian poet and translator. Her performances mix fragments of traditional sacred Haitian songs with original poetry.

In Swallowing Watermelons, Karla Brundage tracks her life experiences as a biracial woman, a single mother and an artist activist. She has lived in Hawaii , New York and Zimbabwe .

Neli Moody, author of After Altamira, is a lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at SJSU. She was awarded the Virgnia de Araujo Award and the Marjorie Folendorf Award for outstanding achievement in creative writing.

Tennessee Reed is the author of four poetry collections and a forthcoming memoir, Spell Albuquerque . She has traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Mills College , she is running for the Oakland School Board, District One.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In German

My friend and mentor, Gabriele Rico, has translated my poem "Elephant" into German for a book she's doing about angels in poetry.

When I see her tomorrow, she's going to read it aloud to me. I can't wait to hear it.


Ueber deinem Ruecken den Hauch des Wassers zu spueren,
dir vom Gesicht die Huegel-getrocknete Erde zu waschen,
von Elefanten zu traeumen, Ohren gespreitzt

wie die zerknitterten Fluegel eines uralten Engels.
An den Baptismus von der Natur zu glauben,
Dich in den Verlust von Allem zu vertiefen—

nicht nur in den Deiner Mutter, nicht nur deines Liebhabers,
doch auch den Deines Gottes. Es ist alles
Nichts in dem kurzen Grass,

es ist nur das Nichts der Luft—
wir erinnern uns wie Elefanten, dann verschwinden wir

Wir verwehen nicht auf dem Atem des Loewenzahnes,
"Wir fahren nicht aufwaerts. Wir landen. Fest wie Steine,
in Huegeln begraben, unbeweglich und stumm."

(by Kate Evans, translated by Gabriele Rico)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Okay, it's official: I'm weird

I've started a new project here. I don't know why. Maybe because I don't like to watch TV.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dear Mr. Rove

Justin Evans (no relation) wrote a series of letters to Karl Rove--which he promptly sent to D.C.--and has now collected these hilarious, hard-hitting letters in a book that looks and feels suspiciously like the version of the Federalist Papers I was forced to read as a hung-over undergraduate.

Indeed, the back of the book boasts a blurb from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who (ahem) wrote that Dear Mr. Rove is "more important than the Federalist Papers. Well, at least number 47. What was Alexander Hamilton thinking with that one?"

After reading Justin Evans' book, I have come to the conclusion that Justin is doing the work of democracy by reaching across chasms to communicate with "the Other."

To prove this point, let me list the ways in which Justin Evans and Karl Rove are different. (Note to Homeland Security: I'm not condeming these differences, just celebrating diversity):

* Justin served in the military for four years and is a veteran of the Gulf War.
* Karl escaped the draft with student deferments during the height of the Vietnam War.

* Justin is a teacher.
* Karl is retired promoter of Bush's agenda.

* Justin earned a master's degree.
* Karl is a college drop-out (after no longer needing the deferment, apparently).

* Justin is a poet.
* Karl is a memoirist.

* Justin self-published his political satire after no one had the balls to take it on.
* An imprint of Simon & Schuster will publish Rove's memoir for an advance purported to be in the millions.

* Justin is humble (his blog moniker is Untalented Writer).
* Karl is, well, not.

* Justin is funny.
* Karl is funny-looking.

Dear Mr. Rove is available for purchase here (download is $1.25, book is $8... much cheaper than a BLU-82 Daisy Cutter).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Take action: Homophobia in my home town

Michael Rizzo, a student on my campus, has been writing a terrific column in our campus paper called "This Queer Life."

Not surprisingly, a handful of homophobes is writing letters of protest to almost every piece Michael writes.

If you have a moment, consider writing responses to these homophobes on the newspaper's online site. I've written several. You don't have to use your real name, unless you so desire.

Or consider writing some positive feedback to Michael's columns. Sometimes ignoring haters by blatantly loving those they hate is better than arguing with them.

Below are the links to his most recent columns; at the end of each column is a place to comment. (Even if you don't want to comment, these are articles worth reading.)

and there are a few more links to columns here.

Michael also wrote an article here about out professors (including moi). (It's a good piece but it has one mistake. It says I was married to a man for "30 years." Goddess forbid! I was married for five.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pictures of the reading

Check out Howard Junker's blog today.

He has some great photos of yesterday's reading, including an impressive post-reading hair shot. The man has a keen eye.

(photo of Annie and me by Howard Junker)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reading and reading

The ZYZZYVA reading tonight was very cool, in a small little room in the San Francisco public library, surrounded by books. As it should be.

71-year-old Ed Mycue read a few sweet poems and then from a "cultural/social history" piece that honors the lives of a number of now-gone San Franciscans.

Bucky Sinister's poetry is funny and edgy. It's very San Francisco and Beat-influenced, but he's certainly his own man.

ZYZZYVA's managing editor, Kristin Kearns, read part of a quirky story about a woman whose husband leaves her, only to move in next door with a neighbor woman.

I read my poem that appeared in ZYZZYVA along with a few from my book. I was a little thrown when reading "First" because I could feel images of all the loss we've suffered lately creeping into my mind and body, and I began to tear up. I had to will myself to finish.

During the reading, two guys who looked like they probably live in a shelter or on the streets came in and sat in the chairs in front of me. The older man removed his hat and smoothed his hair down with his hand. Not taking his eyes off the reader, he then pulled a little black comb out of the pocket of his leather jacket and combed his hair slowly until it was neatly helmeted on his head. It was poignant gesture to me, as though he felt poetry deserved his finest appearance.

Howard handed them both copies of the issue. A nice touch: giving people copies of the magazine we're celebrating.

I exchanged copies of my book with Ed and Bucky for copies of theirs. Highly recommended: It's a great way to read new-to-you work, to get signed copies of books, and to spread your own work around to people you know like to read poetry.

I finished reading The Book of Salt recently--and wow. It's really good. It's told from the point of view of a Vietnamese cook who works for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The cook is the narrator, and we learn throughout the story his compelling, and devastating, family history and why he left Vietnam.

I was only a few pages into the book when I realized that I don't have the voice yet for my historical novel. Truong has captured a rich, unique voice in her book that is addictive and haunting. I only have ideas and notes, not that voice that will drive the story. And I know the only way to find it is to keep researching and writing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hot read in the city

Tomorrow I'm reading in the city in ZYZZYVA's spring reading, featuring writers appearing in Issue 82.

The reading takes place at 6:30 p.m. in Book Bay, at the San Francisco Main Library and features:

Kate Evans, poetry
Edward Mycue, memoir
Bucky Sinister, poetry

Admission is free.

If you'd like to read some of the pieces from the current issue, click here.

Howard Junker, the founding editor of ZYZZYVA, keeps a blog here, by the way. It's a quirky look into the California literary scene among other things, and he includes great photos of stuff happening on the streets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What would you buy with $3 trillion?

At this site, you can go on a shopping spree and send the results to your friends by email.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Is that any way to write a novel?... And Rushdie as a gynecologist?

In "No Outline? Is That Any Way to Write a Novel," novelist Elinor Lipman writes that people seem shocked when people ask her if she writes outlines and her reply is: "I know almost nothing before I start. I just put one foot in front of the other."

She adds: "Then I bring up Edith Wharton, all-star emeritus on the no-outline team. Legend has it that a completed manuscript she submitted was lost in a fire at her publisher's. The editor asked her to rewrite it, saying, effectively, 'How hard could it be since you already wrote it once?' Wharton replied, 'I couldn't possibly rewrite it. When he asked why, she said, 'Because I already know the ending.'"

Like Lipman, I don't write outlines. However, I do use various versions of notetaking about character and plot ideas, which are very flexible but can serve as anchors during the chaos of discovery. This is true even for memoir, a story in which I ostensibly already know "what happened."

For me, writing is never transcription of what's already in my mind. It's an act of discovery. I wrote a little about this previously here.

Speaking of Lipman, her novel Then She Found Me has been made into a movie by Helen Hunt. In a recent Q&A in the New York Times, this tidbit emerged:

Question: "At one point in the movie the novelist Salman Rushdie pops up as a gynecologist. How did that happen?"

Helen Hunt: "The casting director walked in and said, 'Uh, Salman Rushdie wants to read,' and I said, 'Shut up!' He came in and gave a great audition. It’s one of those things you don’t overthink. It was just strange enough to be a good idea."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Limp Wrist

The new online poetry and art mag, Limp Wrist, is up and running. It features poetry Denise Duhamel, Cecilia Woloch, Collin Kelley, Dustin Brookshire, and many more.

Check it out!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Room for writing

Guess who writes here?

And here?

And here?

The Guardian has a great feature publishing pictures of the rooms where some famous authors write, including commentary by the writers. Very fun to peruse.

Now that our detached garage has been converted into an art and writing studio for Annie, she'll be moving out there, and I'll be reconfiguring my own space in the house. I like to have a room with all my books and papers. But the place I end up writing the most is in the living room, feet up, laptop (that has no internet capability) on my lap.

Answers to above:

#1: Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney

#2: Novelist fantastique Sarah Waters

#3: Writer of one of my favorite novels ever (The Master), Colm Toibin

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sneak preview

We've worked hard over the past few months to create a great 2008-2009 season at the Center for Literary Arts...and now I can announce it:

Caille Millner, author of the memoir The Golden Road: Notes on My Gentrification, which takes place, in part, in San Jose. (Sept. 2008)

Ana Castillo, novelist and poet, whose most recent novel The Guardians is about life along the US/Mexico border. (Oct. 2008)

Four-time Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally, author of many great plays including Kiss of the Spider Woman and Love! Valour! Compassion! Our theater arts department will put on one of his plays to coincide with his visit. (Nov. 2008)

National Book Critics Circle-winning poet and memoirist Mark Doty, author of the best-selling memoirs Dog Years and the recently-released collection Fire to Fire. In one of his events, he will do an on-stage conversation with his partner, the writer Paul Lisicky, about being a literary couple. (Feb. 2009)

Fantastical short fiction writer and novelist Aimee Bender, who teaches at USC, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. (March 2009)

Slam poet and novelist Thad Rutkowski. (April 2009) more major poet whose name I can't yet announce, but as soon as I can, I will.

Political poison

Some think political poetry is anathema to the poem.

Some think political poetry is an ethical necessity.

Still others say all human activity is political because all writing takes place in an historical, social milieu--therefore there's no such thing as an unpolitical poem.

Wherever you stand, Collin Kelley's After the Poison is damn good poetry.
Advanced sales for Collin's collection have just begun at Finishing Line Press.

I wrote a blurb for After the Poison--so did Jim Elledge and Jackie Sheeler. Here's the low-down:

In After the Poison, Collin Kelley faces war, genocide, rape, human trafficking, terrorism—every imaginable form of human-caused and human-condoned tragedy that plagues our planet—with an unflinching gaze and asks us to do the same. In today’s political climate, where monsters in the White House and out on the campaign trail run rabid, abandoning compassion and understanding for self-righteousness and blind hatred, this slim collection is a must-read. In fact, I dare you to read it. I double dare you.
—Jim Elledge, A History of My Tattoo

After the Poison is CNN on truth serum. Collin Kelley writes the brutal truth, harnessing poetry to reveal us to ourselves. –Kate Evans, author of Like All We Love and Negotiating the Self

Collin Kelley skewers the contemporary political landscape with unbearably precise and elegant language. Edgy, immediate, and brilliant…this is the kind of poetry that makes you want to run into the streets with a machine gun.–Jackie Sheeler, The Memory Factory and Off the Cuffs

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Best firsts and a minimalist musical cat posted the American Book Review's list of the "100 best first lines from novels." I chose my top ten from their list. (The numbers indicate where these fell on their list):

1. Call me Ishmael. -- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. -- George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

10. I am an invisible man. --Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

12. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. --Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

26. 124 was spiteful. --Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

37. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. --Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

50. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. --Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

65. You better not never tell nobody but God. --Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

97. He -- for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it --was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. --Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)

For the other 90, click here.


And something that has nothing at all to do with this blog: How can you resist a cat that plays Philip Glass?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Won't you listen to what the man says

I think it's wonderful that Robert Hass won a Pulitzer for Time and Materials, which I think is an amazing poetry collection.

However, can it be that every single Pultizer given this year was awarded to a man? Yes indeed.

And of 21 finalists this year, only two were women?

Interestingly, the board that awards the prizes is composed of 5 women and 13 men.

Here's a list of Pulitzers given to women. Over the course of 90 years, women have received the Pulitzer in poetry only 24 times, in Fiction 27 times, in Drama 12 times, in General Nonfiction 11 times, in History 7 times, and in Auto/Biography 11 times.

Talking about the historical novel

This week on campus we're featuring two events with Nick Taylor, author of the just-released Civil War-era historical novel The Disagreement. (For details, click here.) The novel focuses on the experiences of a young man living in Virginia who becomes a doctor pressed into practice early because of the war. Conflict ensues when he saves the life of a union soldier.

At one event, Nick will be in conversation with ZZ Packer about the writing of the historical novel. I'm especially excited about this since I'm working on an historical novel and would love to hear their thoughts about the process.

ZZ's working on a novel about the Buffalo Soldiers and--based on exceprts of the novel--has been named by Granta one of the Best Young Novelists. (To read an excerpt, click here.) Also, I wrote about her reading from the novel at an earlier event here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The statistics: Reasons for novel's rejection

9%: Love no longer a universal theme
12%: Too many hyphens
22%: Mispelled the word "lotion" on page 367
20%: Cover had Oprah disapproval sticker
18%: Agent not in story as promised
19%: Could be fatally exciting

from The Onion

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Good vs. Good and Adaptations

Peter Nathaniel Malae, author of Teach the Free Man, came to speak to my students about writing.

He said that when writing, what's most important is that you stay true to the vision of the story. And that the great stories are about the "human heart in conflict with itself." (I like this. It reminds me of Tolstoy's famous comment that the greatest stories aren't good vs. evil but good vs. good.)

Peter is one of five finalists for the New York Public Library's Young Lion Prize, which is given to authors ages 35 or under. The otherfinalists are:

Ron Currie, Jr., God Is Dead

Ellen Litman, The Last Chicken in America

Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Emily Mitchell, The Last Summer of the World

I'd love to read all of these. So much to read, so little time...But right now I'm focusing on a big old fat biography of Auden (research for my historical novel).

I just finished Elegy for Iris by John Bayley, which is about his wife Iris Murdoch and her descent into Alzheimer's. Damn he loved her, a fierce and admiring love. A wonderful book--funny and moving and raw and intelligent. Much better than the film based on the book, Iris.

I also read "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," the Alice Munro story that was the basis for the film Away from Her. The film is surprisingly close in style and substance to the story. I think that in general stories make for better film adaptations because with novels so much has to be cut out. It's intriguing to see how a writer's style can be conveyed visually through film images, color, camera movement, and so on.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Books That Changed My Life

Courage to Write wrote here about the books that have changed her life.

Here's my (partial) list:

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Love, Death & the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
Crime & Punishment by Fydor Doestoyevsky
Egalia's Daughters by Gerd Brantenberg
Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Perhaps later I'll write about the significance to me of some of these books.

I'd love to hear your lists of books that changed your life. (I don't have to meme youyou, do I-I?)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

JCO Quote #4

"The ideal art, the noblest of art: working with the complexities of life, refusing to simplify, to 'overcome' doubt."

from this by Joyce Carol Oates

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How's "anachronistic has-been"?

When I wrote this, I predicted it, so it's no surprise.

Revealing himself to be an anachronistic has-been, David Letterman called Thomas Beatie "an androgynous freak."

Not funny, I say. You be the judge.

I think it's revealing that Letterman (at least in this clip) didn't use Beatie's name. To use it would have been to have to recognize him as a human being, not a "freak show."

In a few years, such "humor" will be as revealing of the bigotry of today as phrenology is in 2008.

Okay, I know "anachronistic has-been" is a bit redundant, but most name-calling attempts to achieve its power through repetition.

Which goes to show that Letterman sees androgyny as freakish. Funny, I think it's sexy.

In the meantime, Oprah has announced that Beatie will a guest on her show tomorrow.

Red Morning

For those of you looking to submit your poetry manuscripts, Red Morning Press is now in its open reading period.

Red Morning Press requires no submission fee. Imagine that! This submission fee/poetry contest thing has gotten out of hand. I understand that small presses need to raise funds, but there is such a flood of fee-required contests in the market right now.

And what so often happens is that people whose work isn't quite ready spend a lot of money submitting work that doesn't have a chance. Contests that allow unlimited numbers of submissions (with a fee for each one, of course) end up making money on the backs of naive neophytes.

So for newer writers, I suggest reading a lot, writing a lot, and getting feedback from people you trust, either a mentor or a writing group. Get it really good before you bother spending time and money sending work out. Better yet, get it really good then submit to journals and small presses that require no fee.