Monday, March 03, 2014


AWP in Seattle 2014

I went to the annual AWP conference in Seattle this past week. The conference took place from Thursday Feb. 27 through Saturday Mar. 1; I flew out on Wednesday the 26th and flew back to Minneapolis on Sunday the 2nd. Here's a brief rundown of the events I attended and other miscellaneous stuff about the conference. I didn't take notes much during any of the conference days, so this will be a little disorganized.


The conference event I liked best was a panel and reading in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of poet William Stafford. I've always liked Stafford's poetry -- his quiet plain-speaking manner, his poems that often seem simple and innocent, or just odd, at first reading, and that seep more deeply into bedrock after sitting with them a little. Panelists were writer Kim Stafford (William Stafford's son), and poets Brian Turner, Toi Derricotte, and Coleman Barks; the panel moderator was Jeff Schotts of Graywolf Press (Graywolf has published several of Stafford's books). The panel members recalled their encounters with William Stafford, and read poems of his, with much warm humor and quiet reflection. * If you're not familiar with Stafford's poetry, a useful recent collection is Ask Me: 100 essential poems, edited by Kim Stafford, published in 2014 by Graywolf Press.

Another good one was a panel exploring the poetry and life work of Hayden Carruth. Carruth is a poet whose poems I've only read a little over the years; I've known him mainly through the anthology he edited in the 1970's, The Voice That Is Great Within Us, which has been widely used by poetry teachers over the years since. Panel members were Malena Mörling, Lee Briccetti, Douglas Unger, Sam Hamill (who, when he was publisher of Copper Canyon Press, published several of Carruth's books), and moderator Shaun Griffin. The panel began with an audio recording of Carruth, in his sonorous baritone voice reading his poem "The Impossible Indispensability of the Ars Poetica." Each of the panelists in turn then talked a little about the importance of Hayden Carruth's poetry, his long difficult life (especially his struggles to make enough of a living to survive from week to week, and his struggle to publish and to keep his books in print in the face of academic and critical indifference); each of the panelists read a few of Carruth's poems.I found myself following along with the poems sometimes in a copy of Carruth's book Toward the Distant Islands (see the list of books at the bottom of this article); I don't usually do that during poetry readings, though I found it useful in keeping pace with Carruth's sometimes tangled and insistent poems of philosophical argument. One of the things I like to do at writing events (such as AWP) is to seek out the work of writers I'm not deeply familiar with, to try to see what I may have missed; I'm glad I went to the panel on Hayden Carruth's work.

The panel Hyphenated Poets: Ethnic American Writing Against Type featured electrifying readings by poets Barbara Jane Reyes, Cathy Park Hong, and Solmaz Sharif. (A fourth scheduled panelist, Farid Matuk, wasn't able to attend; the panel moderator was Kaveh Bassiri.) While I found some of the poetry difficult at first (sometimes made of broken sentences, sometimes code-switching rapidly from one way of speaking to another), I didn't find the occasional difficulty or unfamiliarity alienating; I generally found that the poems spoke to me through the initial difficulty I found in them; I was usually able to reach past my own unfamiliarity with what the poems were doing. For some time I've been reading poet Barbara Jane Reyes's blog, and was pleased that we were able to meet face to face at the event.

Other AWP events I attended and enjoyed were the panel "Writing Inside Out: Authors' Day Jobs;" the panel "Native American Poetics: The Fourth Wave" which featured poet friends Erika Wurth and Marianne Broyles;and a reading by several poets to celebrate the 25th year of the magazine Image, which included poet friend Gina Franco.

There were a couple of other events I had hoped to get to, and as usual at these things, my energies started to fade toward late afternoon, and my concentration started to wander, and I had to retreat and rest.


When I wasn't at readings and panel events, I spent quite a bit of time wandering the giant bookfair, which filled a couple of huge exhibit halls and a connecting space between them. I had a chance to chat with John Crawford, publisher of West End Press; also with poet friend Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, publisher of Mongrel Empire Press; Bryce Milligan, publisher of Wings Press; Gary Willkie of Anthology Books in Portland, Oregon, who was filling in briefly at a bookfair table for someone else; I also had the pleasure of meeting again poet Pamela Uschuk, and poet Natalia Treviño (her book is listed in the book list below). * (Note regarding the above link to Anthology Books: although the web address says "acequiabooks" -- the previous name of the bookstore when they were in Albuquerque -- the webpage itself now shows their new name Anthology Books.) Also talked a bit with M. Scott Douglass, editor and publisher of Main Street Rag.

Most of the AWP events, and the bookfair, were at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. I found the maps of the convention center fairly confusing, with floors layered one atop another at apparently impossible angles to each other. I found it a little easier to find my way around just searching on foot, though still almost became lost once or twice. The building seemed to have been designed randomly, with escalators to some floors but not others. In one instance, an escalator from the 4th floor went up one level to the 6th floor, with no mention of a 5th floor. There were a couple of sets of rooms with identical room numbers in different parts of the convention center; some were being used and some weren't, and to find the ones that were being used it was necessary to follow a twisting passage to another wing of the building with its own set of conflicting escalators. There was yet another set of event rooms, and the only way I found to get there was to go down an escalator that could be reached only by making your way through the entire bookfair to an access doorway at the back of the largest exhibit hall. One runs into such things sometimes in cities that are built on hills.

There were also some AWP events that took place in meeting rooms at the Seattle Sheraton a block from the convention center. Occasionally I saw people running madly up or down multiple escalators, trying desperately to get from one event to another during the 15 minute interval between events. Reminded me of trying to get to class on time in high school...

There were plenty of places to just sit between events, which I appreciated, especially as the days eased toward late afternoon. The weather in Seattle was beautifully mild; high temps around 60 degrees the first couple of days with plenty of sun, then a little cooler after than with grayer skies (though the highs were still in the low 50's or early 40's). It rained a little on Saturday. Here in Minneapolis the temperature was something like minus 10 the day I flew to Seattle, and was around 10 above zero when I got back on Sunday; the Seattle weather felt like spring. Here and there, if I looked in the right direction, a glimpse of mountains or water; seagulls floating above the downtown Seattle roofs.


As I've done each of the previous years I've been to the AWP conference, I brought home too many books from the bookfair. Here's a list of the items I found, all of which I recommend:

Life's Good, Brother by Nazim Hikmet, a novel (published originally in 1962) by the great Communist poet of Turkey, translated by Mutlu Konuk Blasing (Persea Books, 2013).

Sueño by Lorna Dee Cervantes, her most recent books of poems (Wings Press, 2013).

Toward the Distant Islands: New and Selected Poems by Hayden Carruth (Copper Canyon Press, 2006).

Lavando the Dirty Laundry, poems by Natalia Treviño (Mongrel Empire Press, 2014).

The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan, poems by a poet of China from the T'ang Dynasty period, translated by David Hinton (Archipelago Books, 2004).

Woman on the Terrace by Moon Chung-hee, poems by a present-day poet of South Korea, translated by Seong-kon Kim and Alec Gordon (White Pine Press, 2007).

4-Headed Woman, poems by Opal Palmer Adisa (Tía Chucha Press, 2013).

Engine Empire, poems by Cathy Park Hong (W. W. Norton, 2012).

Eye of Water, poems by Amber Flora Thomas (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005); I found this one on the Cave Canem table at the bookfair.

Poems of Love and Madness: Selected Translations by Carlos Reyes, a gathering of translations of various poets; includes the English translations and the Spanish originals (Lynx House Press, 2013).

M. Scott Douglass, published of Main Street Rag, also kindly gave me a copy of the Winter 2014 issue, after I realized that my subscription had lapsed. * Thanks, Scott -- I'll be sending a renewal shortly.

 **  I haven't inserted weblinks for the items in the book list here. All of the publishers have websites -- I encourage you to go and find them online.


Next year the AWP conference will be here in Minneapolis the second week of April. Weather can be variable here that time of year. Bring a winter coat and shorts.

Nice review of it. I have to confess I was quite happy to have missed it. But it's always fun to read your notes on the conference.
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