Sunday, February 27, 2011


Born of the rocks, of the sea spume

I recently read Diwata, the most recent book of poems by Barbara Jane Reyes (published 2010 by BOA Editions. I found it a many-layered, profoundly moving work. Like Reyes's earlier book Poeta en San Francisco (which I've written about previously in this blog, here), Diwata weaves together multiple undercurrents of experience and perception, mingling creation stories from the biblical Genesis and from Philippine/Filipino tradition, together with moments from the history and politics of imperial colonization in the twentieth century.

The poems in Diwata (sometimes written in prose paragraphs on the page, sometimes in conventional lines and stanzas) move through conjurations of magic, spirit beings and power, animal beings mythical and real and some of each, historical and cultural detail, and tender invocations of love. According to the publisher's webpage for the book, "diwata is a Tagalog term meaning, 'muse.' Diwata is also a term for a mythical figure or being who resides in nature, and whom human communities must acknowledge, respect, and appease, in order to live safely, harmoniously, and prosperously in the world."

From a poem titled "Diwata" near the beginning of the book:

A woman's hands make find thread dance. With needles of carabao horn, of bamboo, she embroiders names into silk--serpent ulap scale luna fire lihim gem azul eye liwanag river mariposa light talà--when she weaves these words into the fabric of the sky, a charm against forgetting. With ink and thread she draws her own hands pero siempre esta manos desaparecen; she weaves enkanto contra palabras vaporosas, poemas contra vacía alma. And when her face begins to resemble the porcelain virgin's face, for this firelight causes much to appear, still she sings: o diwata, your words are our breath! O diwata, our words are our offering to you!

Running through the varying times and places in the poems, and the subtly shifting voices and perspectives, I feel a consistent essential thread of storytelling, bringing knowledge to light, knowledge often obscured by the fogs of long colonization (both beyond and within the borders of empire) but not entirely lost. This, for example, from the poem "Again, She Tells the First Story":

She who was born of the rocks fell in love with the one who was born of sea spume. There upon the rocks, they spread seeds and soil, and from these the bamboo sprouted. It rooted itself in those rocks, and some say lightning, some say a bird split this bamboo open.

Others say a great serpent ruled the sea, and set upon his crown, a gleaming stone upon which the skyfolk spilled dark earth. I do not know why they tried to bury the serpent, but because of this, he hissed and lashed at them. The sea was once sweet and cool as rainwater. In the north, a medicine woman told of her people's prayers for salt. Hot winds brought to them fragrances of the dead. After the waters receded, the shores became the color of clear crystals and blood.

Not all stories are mythology. Not all mythological stories are pure fiction. Literal truth runs through much story, in the same way that dreams and waking life make a kind of background for each other. In the world in which we live we often find ourselves forced to awaken to realities that it would be fatal to turn away from.

At midnight, the old men gather with oil lanterns aboard their fishing boats. This is when I feed. With rosaries in hand they stab the water with machetes. Their sons say, "Do not be foolish. There are no more mermaids here. It it the crocodiles who are stealing our brothers."

Crocodiles! Ridiculous!

Crocodiles are not slick. My dolphin skin withstands the men's machetes. But make no mistake; the old men give me many scars. [...]

[...] As for their sons, their bodies come slipping deep into my home. Hands and feet, bound. Salvaged bodies full of soldiers' bullets, blooming blood flowers in my water. I sing them to sleep in my garden. If the old men only knew what care I take, bedding the sleeping sons of fishermen, warming their bodies in blankets of mud.

(From the poem "Duyong I." I'm guessing, or maybe assuming, that "duyong" is a Tagalog word for the animal called, in English, "dugong," a sea mammal similar to a manatee.) In an endnote, Reyes explains that in the context of political conditions in the Philippines the word "salvage," as used in the poem, refers to assassination or "extrajudicial execution" (a phrase used by Amnesty International and similar organizations).

At times the poems rise to the level of almost pure incantation, with lines and phrases repeating and rounding back through each other in the manner of a pantoum and similar forms. Reyes shows a keen ear for such music; the repeating lines, when they occur, are not a mere mechanical device, but rather work toward an accumulating power through the poems.

she knows the stars, an ascension of pearls
she is mother, the deepest ocean
she weeps silver tears when the moon is full
leaf storm, rice terrace, color of midnight

she is mother, the deepest ocean
sunrise, black pearl, blood, and serpent
leaf storm, rice terrace, color of midnight
leaping, spinning, fingertips skyward

sunrise, black pearl, blood and serpent
with tobacco and fruit to appease the silence
leaping, spinning, fingertips skyward
she is a silver-winged bird in flight

with tobacco and fruit to appease the silence
the medicine woman prays for salt
she is a silver-winged bird in flight
she has marked her own flesh with thunder

In several of the poems the poet voice speaks as Eve, the first woman named in the book of Genesis. Invocation to being is an act that pulses through all of Diwata, a calling out to union with another that is both general and universal and also specific and intimate. I can hear Reyes's trust in her own voice at such moments in the poems. From the poem "Eve Speaks 2":

Come ashore, my winsome pilgrim, kiss the earth if you must. See how this collection of stolen bones becomes a wolf. Place your open hand there, and the delicate skin of your wrist supine, so that she may know your scent. Within salt circles, unlock this cage of skin with a hairpin. See the flesh burn away, until all that remains is the seashell. Place your ear gently against her heart, a memory of ocean. Take a lock of her hair; bind it with silk. Do not speak your intention. Bury it beneath your fragrant tree in this garden, and remember to taste the wind. Dear pilgrim, now there is cause for prayer, even for one who has forgotten the words.

In the face of the daily hammering madness of the world, the thousand cynical schemings in high places by those who persist in trying to suck the earth dry, under the weight of the alienation and numbing isolation that each of us encounters periodically in such a world, the poems in Diwata offer a quiet insistent countercurrent. The shadows of fear have not darkened the earth. It is still possible for us to be human beings with each other. There is a way through this.

Ever shall there be a we, a ceaseless, insistent we, the fiercest we, bound only to the knowledge of scars upon my flesh, and the segment of my spine which aches to sprout wings. Deep within lightless dovecotes, this we shall remember the lamentation of songbirds as it remembers the lingering warmth of your retreating form. Ever shall this we know how tender, your flesh at the throat, how you fecund black loam scent sates me.

Do not let the sun steal you from my side and set you wandering, for now we know red hibiscus blooms here in your city of constant sirens. Bring me your bones and your fire, and I will keep them safe.

(From the poem "Eve's Aubade.")

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Some poems of mine online

In Pemmican, here. (Once you've gone to the page at this link, click on the individual poem titles to read the poems.)

Some additional poems of mine are posted in the Pemmican site in an informal online chapbook, here.

Pemmican includes much wonderful work by other writers. The main page for the magazine is here. (Scroll down a little and click on the word "enter" to get to the index page.) I encourage you to go and read.

Friday, February 11, 2011


A couple of quotes

Among the sea of books and literary magazines and other reading matter at the AWP bookfair, American Poetry Review was selling an assortment of copies of back issues of the magazine, for a dollar apiece. Most were from ca. 1980 or later, though there were a few from earlier; I came away with the September-October 1973 issue, Vol. 2 No. 5, featuring poet Yannis Ritsos on the cover page.

The issue was unusually full with poetry and other writing (essays, columns, book reviews, etc.) that offer an inkling to anyone (like myself) who doesn't remember, or wasn't aware, that there was a time, early on, when APR was at least somewhat politically and aesthetically relevant. The issue includes poems by Etheridge Knight; a translation of Yannis Ritsos's long poem "Romiosyne" (with a critical essay on the poem by William V. Spanos), and translations of several other poems by Ritsos; a three-page essay, published first thing in the issue, by Robert Coles, titled "Watergate Lightning," reflecting on the political scandal that was unfolding daily in the news media at the time; regular columns by Adrienne Rich (apparently, in this issue, the last installment of hers), Robert Bly, Diane Wakoski, Joyce Carol Oates, Clarence Major.

Not everything in the issue held my interest; I didn't spend much time with Richard Howard's essay/review about poet John Logan, or a long review (by Jerome Mazzaro) of Robert Lowell's Imitations.

In September 1973, roughly when the issue would have come out, the Vietnam War was still the ongoing event most affecting society and culture and politics in the United States, although the "mainstream" news media coverage of the war, and of the anti-war movement, had started to go to sleep. Earlier in 1973, members and supporters of the American Indian Movement had physically taken over and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices at at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, as an act of protest and action against brutal and repressive U.S. government policies and practices in dealing with Native American people; police and F.B.I (and whoever else the government could find to send there) laid siege to the site, and a standoff ensued that lasted for weeks. Sometime during that year the Vice President, Spiro Agnew, who had once characterized anti-war protesters as "an effete corps of impudent snobs," resigned from office, and sometime after that pleaded "no contest" in Maryland to bribery and related charges, growing out of the time when he had been governor of the state.

And on September 11, 1973, the "other" 9/11, the U.S. military engaged in a series of terrorist acts, in collaboration with the military and political right-wing in Chile, to overthrow the elected government there; events of that day included the bombing of the Chilean presidential residence by planes supplied by the U.S., resulting in the death of President Salvador Allende. Poet Pablo Neruda, seriously ill with a brain tumor, died days later, at least in part from intentional medical neglect under the new military government. In the months and then years the followed, untold thousands of other people in Chile were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered, because they opposed the government there, or because for whatever anomalous reason they posed an inconvenience for the government.

This for a little bit of context.

Here are excerpts from a couple of the essay columns in the APR issue.

First, from Adrienne Rich's column, titled "Caryatid;" Rich discusses several topics in the article, among them three recent books of poems by Robert Lowell: History (containing reworked poems from the second edition of Lowell's earlier book Notebook), For Lizzie and Harriet (containing a group of poems, previously published in Notebook, concerning Lowell's second marriage and his daughter), and The Dolphin (dealing with Lowell's love affair with his wife, his divorce, and remarriage); the above descriptions are roughly how Rich characterizes the books. Rich continues:

"I don't know why Lowell felt he wanted to go on revising and publishing old poems; why not let them stand and proceed on, since life itself goes on? Perhaps, as he says, "the composition was jumbled" in Notebook; but he chose, as a mature poet, to publish that jumbled composition, and it represents his poetic and human choices of that time. What does it mean to revise a poem? For every poet the process must be different; but it is surely closer to pruning a tree than retouching a photograph. However, the intention behind History is clearly to produce a major literary document encompassing the élite Western sensibility of which Lowell is a late representative; a work to stand in comparison with the great long poems of the past.

"The lesson of Notebook/History is that brilliant language, powerful images, are not enough, and that they can become unbelievably boring in the service of an encapsulated ego. I remember Notebook as a book whose language sometimes dazzled even though it often seemed intentionally to blur and evade meaning, even though Lowell's own rather pedantic notion of surrealism led to a kind of image-making out of the intellect rather than the unconscious. I remember saying to a friend that in poem after poem, at the moment when you thought Lowell was about to cut to the bone, he veered off, lost the thread, abandoned the poem he'd begun in a kind of verbal coitus interruptus. In History it strikes me that this is poetry constructed in phrases, each hacked-out, hewn, tooled, glazed or burnished with immense expertise...but one gets tired of these phrases, they hammer on after awhile with a fearful and draining monotony. It becomes a performance, a method, language divorced from its breathing, vibrating sources to become, as Lowell himself says, a marble figure. [...]

"[...] There's a kind of aggrandized and merciless masculinity at work in these books, particularly the third, symptomatic of the dead-end destructiveness that masculine privilege has built for itself into all institutions, including poetry. I sense that the mind behind these poems knows -- being omnivorously well-read -- that 'someone has suffered' -- the Jews, Achilles, Sylvia Plath, his own wife -- but is incapable of a true identification with the sufferers which might illuminate their condition for us. The poet's need to dominate and objectify the characters in his poems leaves him in an appalling way invulnerable. And the poetry, for all its verbal talent and skill, remains emotionally shallow."

And, from Robert Bly's column, titled "The War Between Memory and Imagination":

"For about fifteen years, American poetry has been marvellously free from coercion by academic critics. Students have not been so fortunate. We have all known how evil the influence of the professional academic living in Ulro consciousness can be on students of literature. The graduate schools are full of living wrecks, unable to see anything personal in The Wasteland [sic], harboring lifelong rages against their teachers, living daily with a distrust of their own body perceptions, incapable of talking to an animal, unable to write prose except in the codified phrases of memory, feeling their spirit has been stripped as a tree of its bark, determined to get revenge, or sink into listlessness and sneers, and spend their lives in Kansas complaining of the poor quality of undergraduates.

"It seems to me that after years of freedom from it, poetry is about to come under that sort of pressure again. I believe Blake is right that there is a mental war going on always between the two principles of 'memory' and 'imagination.' Strangely, only those who put their lives on the side of imagination think there is a war. The academics, or those on the side of memory, are always saying that they see no conflict between their ideas and the ideas of the poets -- why must the poets be so rude, etc.? Why can't all of us who love poetry just live together and be kind to one another? I sympathize with their longing to see less rudeness, yet it is clear also that the professional academic is parasitical, and the eternal cry of the parasite of all nations and vegetable states is for less conflict so they can go on eating. [...]

"[...] Under the pressure of this longing, the gap between memory and imagination, between recording experience and experience itself, grows wider. The tape recorder appears in all fields. The earlier New Critical restraint on imaginative life -- ruling out political poetry, for example -- ended when the poets now about 45 refused, in the late Fifties, to follow the restraints any longer. Williams had hated it for years before that, and hated the critics' refusal to answer for their opinions. One of Blake's most firmly stated ideas that there are 'hirelings in the camp, the court, and the university' whose soul delight in life is to decrease intellectual war: "who would, if they could, forever depress mental, and prolong corporeal war." But 'Without contraries there is no progression.'

"The danger we face is that the academics in the U.S. will try to affect the flow of poetry itself, much as people who handle logs at a harbor eventually try to buy the forests. Academic critics for centuries have tried to affect the course of poetry, to buy up the forest, by overpraising poets of 'memory.' These poets are usually relatively tame and decorous. In the last decade, which were the American academics who triumphed Vallejo? The New Yorker, edited by an academic critic, Howard Moss, prints Borges, not Vallejo. The New York Review of Books triumphs Auden, the prototype of Blake's 'state poet,' or 'angel of mediocrity.' Blake insists there is an eternal war, more important than any of our personalities, between the state poet and the prophet, between the passive imagination and the active imagination, between memory and imagination, between the academic critic and the imaginative critic."


I've selected excerpts here that are fairly blunt in tone and substance, because I think it's important to remember that poetry, and writing about poetry, doesn't necessarily have to be polite or obedient; we're not required to fill out the proper forms and wait for approval before we say what we want to say. There are, certainly, places in the world where it may not be safe to say what you want to say, where there might be reprisals; this though is because of the political and economic conditions of the world, and not something embedded in the innate nature of poetry. I read both of the articles while I was at AWP in Washington, and I found it valuable to read things that prodded me, a little, to remember what poetry is, and what it's not, and why I (and so many others of us) keep writing it, and reading it. I like, most of all, that what Rich and Bly say here remains alive and relevant and timely, even now nearly forty years after the articles were written.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


To do something well

One of the events I attended at AWP was a panel called "Hands On: A Conversation about DIY and Craft Culture in a Digital World." This touches on a range of things I've thought a great deal about throughout my life, and especially in the past 20 years or so.

When I write poems, I write them by hand, on paper, in a spiral-bound stenographer's notebook (the kind that measures roughly 6" x 9", with the spiral binding along the top. I've found it nicely compact and portable. Writing on paper has a number of advantages: I don't need electricity to write. (That's not altogether true -- at night I do need some source of light, which generally means electricity, although once or twice in the middle of the night I have in fact written by moonlight through the window.)

I can write in almost any environment: I've written poems in shopping malls, at the bus stop on a busy street, sitting on a park bench, sitting on a stone ledge a couple of hundred feet above the Mississippi River, alone in my apartment, at the library, at various of the dozen or more coffeehouses in the neighborhood. I worked a little on a poem during a couple of the panel events at AWP in Washington.

For many years I typed my poems (once I had finished handwritten versions), and whatever else I needed to type, with a portable manual typewriter. It's a bit noisier than a computer, and slightly more cumbersome to carry around (though I don't carry a computer around with me either), and it does have the disadvantage that if you make a typing mistake, you either have to use correction tape or liquid white-out, or -- if the mistake is more than a couple of letters, or an omitted word, etc. -- you have to retype the whole page.

In recent years I've typed my poems on my computer, using MS Word. Much easier to edit, if I make a mistake I don't have to retype the whole page. I have a (limited) choice of fonts. (I say "limited" -- years back I did typesetting for a living for a little while, and became familiar with hundreds of fonts and their variations.) MS Word is basically what you get when you take a typewriter and turn it into software. Typesetting is making software from one of the old linotype machines that printshops used to use.

I write most of my poems with irregular margins on both the left and right sides, and all things considered, it was easier to do the irregular margins with the manual typewriter (just move the carriage to the spot where you want to type, fine tuning with the spacebar if needed) than with MS Word.

With all of the (essential) talk about saving trees, I find it quietly ironic that when I type poems with MS Word, using the standard default formatting, it actually takes more paper to print the poems from MS Word than it did to type them on the manual typewriter. (On the typewriter I could get about 55 or 56 lines on a page, leaving margins at the top and bottom; with MS word, in standard formatting, I can get 45 lines on a page. I could, of course, tinker with the linespace formatting in MS Word, though as the space between lines shrinks the copy becomes harder to read.)

When I type poems on my computer, I can e-mail them to people. I can also send paper copies by paper mail. It takes longer, and costs a little money. (How much does internet service cost? How much does a computer cost?) Am I really in that much of a hurry to send someone something?

Paper doesn't crash. It can, of course, catch fire, be damaged by water, blow away in the wind. Though not usually without warning. I've sat typing at a computer that suddenly went dead. (Total crash, permanently dead.) On the other hand, never once when I've been writing in a paper notebook has it suddenly burst into flames.


I'm not dogmatic about paper vs. computers. Each has its advantages. Each is a tool. (Here I am writing this in this blog. This blog is, among other things, a tool.)

The panelists at the DIY/Craft Culture panel handed out a (paper) handout, with (in addition to short bio notes about the panel members) a list of questions related in one way or another to the panel topic, and relevant quotes from a couple of other sources. Here's a little of what was in the handout:

Some questions

Why are there (still) books?
Why are there (still) handcrafted books?
What is a book (for)?
What does letterpress mean now that's similar/different from what it has meant in the past?
What advantages, if any, does a physically published book offer over its digital version?
In what ways is the digital book (re)defining the physical book's form/function?
What does the xeroxed 'zine have to say to the Copper Canyon broadside?
What are advantages/disadvantages of a micro print run?
What is ephemerality?
How are the digital and handcrafted/hardcopy distinct? At odds? Synonymous? Symbiotic?
What can theories and practices of craft offer us about teaching and learning in the 21st century?
How about reading and writing? Thinking? Living?

And, from an interview with Richard Sennett (by Suzanne Ramljak) in the October/November issue of American Craft magazine:

"The modern economy privileges pure profit, momentary transactions, and rapid fluidity. Part of craft's anchoring role is that it helps to slow down labor. It is not about quick transactions or easy victories. That slow tempo of craftwork, of taking the time you need to do something well, is profoundly stabilizing to individuals. When people are forced to do things quickly it becomes a type of triage. In the process of working very fast, we don't have the time for reflection and being self-critical. We tend to go into autopilot and mistakes increase. Self-critical faculties decrease with speed, and the brain does a better job of processing when it goes slowly than when it goes rapidly. The capitalist economy sacrifices the logic of craft, which results in poorly made objects and a degraded physical environment. This capitalist model of productivity then feeds back into the schools, so the very training of people becomes industrialized. The craft model of education -- slow, concentrated, repetitive -- is seen as dysfunctional and irrelevant in the modern world... Pedagogically, we teach people that the moment they learn to do something, they can move onto something else rather than dwell on that lesson. When musicians practice something over and over again, they get deeper into the music, expanding it from within, exploring problems, and so forth. Our pedagogy doesn't tend to do that. We go by the notion that once you've solved something, the actual experience of doing it is secondary. That whittles down attention. This is a terrible problem in the teaching of music in schools, where the length of time that children can practice becomes reduced. We disable the actual experience of repetition, and that eventually cuts down on our capacity to concentrate."


At the heart of this whole discussion, for me, is the basic and obvious fact that we're not machines. We're animals. We're human beings, who live in (and as part of) the animal world, the plant world, the land and ocean and sky world, the sun and moon and stars world. We can (when we choose) use machines, but we're not the machines.

I self-published my first book of poems, The C.I.A. Plans the Invasion of Portugal, in 1976, in the spring and summer, while I was a student at the U. of Minnesota Experimental College. I had a limited budget, and did as much of the work myself as I knew how to do.

I typed the book pages on my typewriter. I typed one poem to a page; the book was going to be 5 and 1/2" by 8 and 1/2". On a manual typewriter, it's standard to insert two sheets at once, one to type on, and one as a "backing" sheet, to act as a slight pad or cushion so that the typewriter keys don't cut all the way through the first sheet. On the backing sheet, I measured and drew (with a dark marker) a 5 and 1/2" by 8 and 1/2" rectangle centered in the sheet. When the two sheets were inserted in the typewriter, the rectangle on the backing sheet showed through enough that I could use it as the guideline for keeping the poem text inside the page area.

I did the front cover type using Press Type -- I'm not sure if the stuff still exists -- pressing the letters onto the paper sheet by hand. (I was lazy and didn't bother to get the letters evenly spaced or in a straight line, which lent a nice, if inadvertent, graffiti-like effect to the cover lettering.)

I took the pages to a local printer who worked in the basement of his house. I knew of him through many friends who had had things printed there at one time or another. As I recall, it took a week or two for him to print and fold the pages and cover, 500 copies, a 32 page book (as I remember) including the cover, 14 poems. The print run on the book cover came up a little short, so I had to make another trip over there to pick up the rest of them.

The pages weren't collated or bound; I did that myself. I found an extra-long stapler that would reach from the edge of the page to the book spine. (I still have the stapler -- never know when I might need it again one day.) I collated every one of the 500 copies by hand, and stapled every one of them, two staples in the spine. I didn't know how to hand-sew books, and not sure if I would have attempted that, though might have, at least a few copies, if I'd known how. It took me at least a few days to collate and staple all of the books.

Altogether it cost me easily under $100.00 to self-publish the book, most of which (about $70.00) was for the printing and folding. That was in 1976 -- don't know offhand what it might cost these days, with the available minimum technology. I can imagine doing it for not a great deal more.

I gave away nearly all of the copies over the next couple of years. I'd been writing poems for just a few years at the time, and I doubt that I would republish any of the poems at this point, though over the years I've reworked a couple of them -- one basically a revised version, another more of a rewrite from scratch -- that I've included in later books.

I've you've never done anything like this -- making a book by hand, or partly by hand -- I encourage you to try it, at least once. The earth needs us, and we need each other, with our animal minds, with our friendship with trees, with our human bodies, with our living hearts, singing in the sun and rain, dancing in the moonlight.

Monday, February 07, 2011


AWP report

I made it to AWP in Washington, D.C. this year. Here are some scattered and more or less random moments that stick out in my mind from the several days there.

I gather that quite a few people either didn't make it, because of flights cancelled because of the weather in the midwest (and then in the northeast), or arrived a day or so after the start of the conferenced, for the same reasons. I know specifically of several people in San Francisco and the surrounding area who didn't get there; on the first day (Thursday) there were empty tables at the bookfair, some of which eventually filled up by Friday. Various panels and other events were missing people, or had substitutes filling in at the last minute.

I had luck with my flights (and the blizzard missed Minneapolis), and got there and back without problems.


The events I found particularly worthwhile included Undivided: Poet as Public Citizen, sponsored by Split This Rock, an excellent panel featuring Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Toi Derricotte, and Mark Nowak, and emceed by Melissa Tuckey of Split This Rock. Each of the panelists talked about various ways in which politically conscious poetry, and poetry in general, has engaged with the larger world; each quoted from the work of other poets as examples of the relavance of poetry in people's lives. The event was in a large "ballroom," one panelist guessed maybe 250 people were in the audience (and the room looked large enough to have held at least twice that number).

Also, The Dream the Dreamers Dreamed, a tribute to Langston Hughes (also sponsored by Split This Rock), featuring panelists Sarah Browning, Derrick Weston Brown, Sonia Sanchez, and Jericho Brown. Each of the panelists read from Hughes's work, and talked about the importance of his poetry and other writing in the overall spectrum of literature in the United States, and in the culture beyond the literary world as such. (Langston Hughes once worked for a living as a busboy in the restaurant of what is now the Marriott Wardman Park hotel, where most of the AWP events took place; when he learned that poet Vachel Lindsay was staying in the hotel, he tracked down Lindsay and more or less physically pressed a manuscript of his poems into Lindsay's hands. According to one panelist, shortly after that a headline appeared in a local paper, "Busboy Poet Discovered in Washington." As the panelist pointed out, Hughes had already been writing for some time, and had published in a number of literary magazines; he wasn't so much "discovered," rather the corporate media of the time decided to take notice for a moment.) Panelist Sonia Sanchez spoke last, and read one of her own poems, a stunning thrilling song/chant/jazz/blue/wail of a poem that tore up the room and brought people cheering to their feet.

And, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Writings of Leonard Peltier, a panel featuring Ana Davis, Cassondra Vizenor, Sonny Vizenor, and Harvey Arden; author Peter Mathiessen was also scheduled on the panel but was unable to attend. * In 1975, a shootout took place at the Jumping Bull ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, between FBI agents and some number of Native American people. Two FBI agents and one Native American man were killed during the shooting. Three members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) were subsequently charges and tried in connection with the deaths of the FBI agents. Two were acquitted; in a separate trial, writer and AIM activist Leonard Peltier was convicted, and sentenced to two life sentences in prison. * Many issues were raised before and during the trial, and in the years since, concerning FBI and prosecution misconduct, and racist bias on the part of the judge. At present, Peltier has been in prison 35 years; he has serious medical problems, including prostate cancer and diabetes. * Panelists read from Peltier's writings, particularly his writings from the years he has been in prison, and talked a little about the history and current state of his legal case. * If you are not familiar with Leonard Peltier or the background of the trial and sentencing, I encourage you to check out the website of the Leonard Peltier Defence/Offense Committee, here; scroll down a little in the page for the relevant links in the left-hand column.

And, Poetry of Resistance: Poets Take on Reasonable Suspicion (Arizona SB 1070), a panel exploring poetic (and other) responses to the anti-immigrant laws enacted recently in Arizona, featuring panelists Francisco X. Alarcón, Carmen Calatayud, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Abel Salas, and Hedy M. García Treviño. (There was also an off-site reading event the night before, of numerous poets reading poems in response to the Arizona anti-immigrant laws; I had hopes of making it to the reading, but wasn't able to pull it off. I heard afterwards that it was great.)

And, Hands On: A Conversation about DIY and Craft Culture in a Digital World; scheduled panelists included Mathias Svalina, Kathryn Bursick, Timothy Schaffert, Liz Ahl, Jennifer S. Flescher, and Betsy Wheeler. (One of the scheduled panelists wasn't able to make it, and another person substituted; unfortunately I don't quite recall who was missing, and who filled in. If you're reading this and you happen to know, feel free to put the information in the comment box and I'll make the correction here.) The panelists had all been involved with letterpress printing and publishing in one way or another, some had done handmade books; panelist Liz Ahl talked about having her writing students hand-sew books in order to experience the relatively slower and more thoughful work of doing this (compared with faster high-tech publishing). The panelists all raised questions and issues that I found highly useful, regarding why books still exist, why (specifically) handcrafted books still exist, what books are for, what ephemerality is, and other related topics. * I'll talk in more detail, in a separate blogpost in the near future, about some of the questions raised by the panel.

I also attended the panels The Good Review: Criticism in the Age of Book Blogs and, Poets/Editors on Inclusivity and Race, and Camino Del Sol: 15 Years of Latina and Latino Writing.


I also visited an art exhibit, Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children's Paintings, that was on display in a room at the Marriott during the conference. I found the exhibit profoundly moving: paintings by children of Vietnam, depicting scenes of war and of peace, collected over the past 10 years by the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, paired by poems by American people, some of whom may not have been "professional" or full-time poets in the usual sense. The room where the paintings were on exhibit was in a somewhat out-of-the-way corner, and there were no more than four or five people in the room at any one time while I was in there; this made it possible to take in the images slowly, in the quiet of the room. They were paintings that strongly urged a reflective silence. (There was also an AWP panel in connection with the exhibit, which I didn't get to -- my energies were fading somewhat at the time, and I decided to give priority to seeing the actual exhibit.) * The exhibit was sponsored by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, the Kent State School of Art Galleries, and the organization Soldier's Heart. * A website about the exhibit, with samples of the paintings and poems, is here.


I took the shuttle van in from the airport, and the van driver gave us a short historical tour on the way to the hotel, pointing out buildings, a civil war battleground, and other landmarks along the way. At one point we went past the infamous Watergate building. Weather was fairly mild during the conference; the temperature during the day stayed above freezing (up into the 40's a couple of days), it snowed briefly and lightly one night, and drizzled rain for a little while one day. (I call this "mild" -- when I flew to D.C. on Wednesday last week, the temperature here in Minneapolis in the morning was around zero, with 25 mph northwest wind.)

The Marriott Wardman is (according to the van driver) the largest hotel in Washington, D.C. The place was a freaking castle, a labyrinth of corridors and rooms hidden in back corners. I kept the floor map with me constantly -- even when I knew where I was, it was easy to take a wrong turn and get lost, even in the middle of the main lobby. The hotel was on a hill, more or less, with a steep walk down to street level, and a steeper climb back up. Some conference events were at the Omni Shoreham hotel a half block away. There were some places to eat nearby, though most weren't cheap. Washington, D.C., is an expensive city to live in -- the shuttle van driver said 70 percent of people who work in the city commute from outside the city (40 percent by Metro train or bus, the rest by car), because living in the city itself isn't affordable.


I was pleased to meet, face to face, poet bloggers Elisa Gabbert, Reb Livingston, and Kelli Russell Agodon, and to meet poet Sy Hoahwah, who I'd known of previously only through his poetry. I was also happy to connect (however briefly) face to face with poet friends Erika Wurth, Marianne Broyles, Gina Franco, Robert Bohm (our first face to face meeting), and Athena Kildegaard. I spent a little while hanging out at the West End Press table talking with publisher and friend John Crawford, and had a chance to talk briefly with M. Scott Douglass, publisher of Main Street Rag.


And I came home with the following items from the bookfair.

My Father's Love, Volume 2: The Legacy, a memior by longtime poet friend Sharon Doubiago, just out this year from Wild Ocean Press. (The publisher's webpage for Volume 1 of Sharon Doubiago's memoir is here.)

Amnesty Muse, book of poems by poet friend Doren Robbins, published this year by Lost Horse Press.

Spirit Birds They Told Me book of poems by Mary Oishi, published this year by West End Press. (As of this writing, the publisher doesn't yet have a specific page for Oishi's book, which is just out; the link above is to the publisher's main page. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for contact info.)

Walking Backwards, book of poems by Shirley Geok-lin Lim, published 2010 by West End Press. Here again the link is to the main page of the publisher's website; scroll down to the bottom of the page for contact info.

Bone Key Elegies, book of poems by Diane Sellers, published 2009 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

New Poems by Tadeusz Rosewicz, translated from Polish by Bill Johnston, published 2007 by Archipelago Books.

One River, book of poems by Christina Pacosz, published 2001 by Pudding House Publications. (The publisher's website doesn't have a specific page for the book; contact info for the publisher can be found at the bottom of their submission guidelines page, here.)

The Poet and The Sea, poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated from Spanish by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney, published 2009 by White Pine Press.

The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel - Second Floor, edited by Reb Livingston and Molly Arden, published 2007 by No Tell Books.

I also came home with the exhibit catalog for the Speak Peace art exhibit, which contains a selection of the paintings and the accompanying poems. See the link in the paragraph (above) about the exhibit.

And, in addition to all of the above, American Poetry Review was selling back issues of APR for $1.00 each. Most were from 1980 or later, though a view were very early in the history of the magazine; I came away with the September/October 1973 issue (Vol. 2, No. 5). It gives a startling indication of how (relatively) politically and aesthetically relevant the magazine once was, and (by comparison) how much of a sleepy rut it has settled into over the decades. Poems by Etheridge Knight and Yannis Ritsos (and a photo of Ritsos on the front cover page); A. Poulin, Jr.'s translation of Rilke's Duino Elegies; essays/columns by Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly, Donald Hall, Clarence Major, Joyce Carol Oates, among others; a review by Grace Schulman of Adrienne Rich's Diving into the Wreck; an essay by Robert Coles on the Watergate political scandal (this would have been shortly after the Senate investigative hearings were broadcast live on network T.V. through the summer of 1973); and other work. * I'll say more about some of the items in the APR issue in a separate blogpost in the near future.


And that's probably enough for now. I paced myself pretty well during the conference days, though even with that I tended to fade toward evening, and retreated to my hotel room, where I dozed a little, and then stayed up reading, and writing.

High temperature here today was something like 9 degrees.

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