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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