Wednesday, March 13, 2013


AWP in Boston

I went to the annual AWP conference last week, which was in Boston this year, March 6 through March 9. Here's more or less what's floated to the surface a few days afterwards. I didn't take detailed notes while I was there, so most of what I'll tell here is from memory, and is as accurate as I can make it.


The best event I went to was a panel celebrating the life and work of poet Muriel Ruykeyser. The panelists who were able to attend were poet Olga Broumas, poet Sharon Olds, and the moderator Jan Freeman (publisher of Paris Press, which has reissued several of Rukeyser's works in recent years). Poets Galway Kinnell and Michael S. Harper were also scheduled to be on the panel, but were unable to make it there because of a two-day-long snowstorm in New England on Thursday and Friday during the conference.

The Rukeyser panel was beautiful, transcendent, one of the greatest things I've ever been to. Jan Freeman read from Rukeyser's great prose book The Life of Poetry, a wide-ranging exploration of the social and psychological forces that shape and affect poetry, and the importance and uses of poetry in the world. Broumas talked about her encounters with Rukeyser's poetry, the importances of Rukeyser's work in her own poetry, and she then read Galway Kinnell's poem "Jubilate" which (among other things) describes a poetry reading Rukeyser did in the last years of her life, during which Rukeyser suffered a stroke but insisted on finishing the reading.

Sharon Olds gave a deeply personal moving account of having been in a class Rukeyser taught in New York, a "poetry appreciation" class (rather than a writing workshop, though I have no doubt some people in the class wrote poems). She talked about Rukeyser's warm open welcoming presence, her deep understanding of what might be possible, her bearing and posture when she stood in the room, her strong speaking and reading voice.

Someplace in there Jan Freeman read notes Michael Harper had sent, that he had intended to use during the panel.

Toward the end of the event, a couple of the panelists commented that the discussion during the panel kept tending toward a recognition of the erotically alive qualities of Rukeyser's poetry and other writing -- this in particular, of the many facets her writing exhibits, political consciousness, compassion, scientific acumen, a strong democratic and communial oppenness to possibilities.

The panel took place in a large room, filled end to end with rapt listeners. I'm not sure if I would quite describe the mood in the room as ecstatic, but it was at least elated. People applauded continuously. William Rukeyser, Muriel Rukeyer's son, was in the room, and at one point he stood briefly as Jan Freeman introduced him.


I attended two other really good panels.One was about Nazim Hikmet, the great 20th century Communist poet of Turkey.Panelists included Sidney Wade, Dorianne Laux, David Wojahn, his longtime translators Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, and two other people whose names aren't listed in the AWP website and I unfortunately didn't note down. The panelists talked mostly about how and when they first encountered Hikmet's poetry, and its importance to them in their own work. The panelist were warm and enthusiastic in their comments -- nobody, as far as I can recall, sat and read a paper out loud. A couple of people did read one or two of Hikmet's poems. The event was hugely attended, the small meeting room was packed, standing room only -- I did in fact stand by the wall through the whole event -- people sitting in the aisles, spilling out into the halls.

And, a good panel on the life and work of poet Adrienne Rich. Panelists were Alicia Ostriker, Jenny Johnson, and Beatrix Gates. I particularly liked Ostriker's strong clear comments about Rich's poetry, her capacity to bring together in her poems the pieces of a fragmented world. Ostriker talked specifically, in this regard, about Rich's poem "An Atlas of the Difficult World" (from Rich's book of the same name).

I also went to panels titled "Teaching Creative Writing to Teens Outside of the Classroom," "Poetry for the People" (at which the panelist were current and former poets laureate of Northhampton, Massachusetts), and "Masters of Noise: Surviving and Thriving without an MFA," all of which I enjoyed.

I especially liked the energetic discussion and comments from the audiences at all of the events i attended this year. People weren't just passively listening. At one of the panels I attended, one of the panelists got up and went to the podium mike, said "I want to stand up so I can see you," and then she proceeded to read a paper, barely looking up from it the whole time. This, however, was the only instance of the paper-reading syndrome I encountered at the events I went to.

Aside from the panel events, I spent a lot of time during the days wandering the gigantic bookfair, on the off-chance I might find something to read.


It snowed here in Minneapolis early last week, and I was a little worried about getting out of town for the conference, though the snow finally let up and moved on about a day before I flew to Boston. The weather in Boston was seasonably gray and chilly and damp on
Wednesday when I flew there, then on Thursday and Friday there were two days of non-stop sideways-blowing snow, with stiff east wind off the Atlantic. (My hotel room was on the 27th floor, and on clear days I had a good view of the Charles River a few blocks to the north; on the blizzard days, the river and the buildings on the far side disappeared in snow and fog.) The temperature stayed at or a little above freezing during the days, and although the weather made the streets messy and sloppy and played havoc with traffic, from what I could tell a lot of the snow melted right away. By Saturday morning the snow had stopped.

The hotel and the convention center were in a block of adjoining buildings, and it was possible to go from one to the other without going outside, and I was greatful for this during the lively weather days. (In downtown Minneapolis, most of the buildings are connected by enclosed overhead walkways, which is likewise a big help getting around during the long winters here.)

It was my first time in Boston, and I didn't get a chance to see much of the city outside the immediate area of the convention center, though I did get a good look at the riverfront on the way two and from the airport. I definitely want to go back to Boston sometime and just spend some time there, without anything specific to get done.


One of the enjoyable things about these conference events is meeting and seeing people you don't see often. I had a chance to talk a couple of times with poet friend Jeanetta Calhoun Mish (publisher of Mongrel Empire Press); John Crawford (publisher of West End Press); Gary Willkie (owner of Acequia Books in Albuquerque) and Marilyn Stablein; M. Scott Douglass (publisher of Main Street Rag magazine and books); and poet blogger Mary Biddinger. I also enjoyed meeting for the first time Gary Metras, publisher of Adastra Press; Adastra publishes beautifully made letterpress books, as well as modern-style offset print editions.

As I have at these things in past years, toward late afternoon I tended to get a little wiped out, and retreated to the hotel room and holed up for the evening, though I did wander out briefly a couple of times. Here and there I managed to write a little, when I coiuld get my mind focused enough.


As I have each of the previous years, this year I brought back too many books, and am enjoying them. Here's the list of what I found and brought home:

Before There Is Nowhere To Stand: Palestine/Israel Poets Respond to the Struggle edited by Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler with Edward Morin, published 2012 by Lost Horse Press. Contributors include Ruth Fogelman, Samuel Hazo, Nizar Qabbani, Alicia Ostriker, Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said Esber), Rachel Barenblat, Tawfiq Zayyad, Mahmoud Darwish, Sam Hamod, Doreen Stock, Fadwa Tuqan, Judy Kronenfeld, Khaled Abdallah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Philip Metres, Sharon Doubiago, Rachel Corrie, Lahab Assef Al-Jundi...these among many others. A truly powerful collection, just excellent.

The Orgy, a novel by Muriel Rukeyser, a somewhat fictionalized account by Rukeyser of traveling to Ireland for the last surviving pagan goat festival. Originally published in 1965; reissued 1997 by Paris Press.

Marginalia Poems from the Old Irish, translated by Louis McKee, published 2008 by Adastra Press. This is one of those beautiful rarities you never find anywhere. A beautifully made letterpress book, nineteen poems, the medieval Irish originals and modern English translations. I've probably spent more time this with this book than any of the others I found at the bookfair this year. (Adastra Press does not have a website. The publisher can be reached by paper mail at: Adastra Press, 16 Reservation Road, Easthampton, MA 01027. The book is cover priced at $18.00. He asks $3.00 for shipping and handling in the U.S. His brochure also says you can order his books online through the Small Press Distribution website,

Check Points, poems by Michael Casey, drawn very much from his experience as a soldier in the U.S. war against Vietnam. Published 2011 by Adastra Press.

Something More Than Force: Poems for Guatemala 1971-82 by Zoe Anglesey, published 1982 by Adastra Press. I love book. Zoe was a longtime friend; she died in 2003. For many years I've had the original letterpress edition Adastra published of her book. The copy I found at their table at AWP this year is the second edition, published by offset print, also very nicely made. I wanted another copy, to give to someone at some point.

Shortly Thereafter, poems by Colin D. Halloran, published 2012 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Poems made mostly from Halloran's experience as a soldier in the U.S. war against Afghanistan.

From the Fishouse, edited by Camille T. Dungy, Matt O'Donnell, and Jeffrey Thompson, published 2009 by Persea Books. An anthology of poems drawn from the website of the same name.

Capital of Pain by Paul Eluard, poems translated by Mary Ann Caws, Patricia Terry, and Nancy Kline, published 2006 by Black Widow Press. Bilingual edition.

Poetics of Dislocation by Meena Alexander, published 2009 by University of Michigan Press. Collection of essays and other prose writing; one of the "Poets on Poetry" series published by the press.

Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, Series 3, Spring 2012. This is a bundle of eight pamphlets, reissued publications (or, in some cases, first publication) of various historic works by poets, often obscure and "lost" (or buried in an archive somewhere) for many years. The bunch I found this year (at the Small Press Distribution table at the bookfair, if I remember right) includes writings from the 1930's on the Spanish Civil War by Langston Hughes, Nancy Cunard, and Louise Thompson; "Homemade Poems" by Lorine Niedecker, published in a facsimile edition of her handwritten pages; two volumes of selected correspondence between poets John Wieners and Charles Olson; Charles Olson Memorial Lectures by poets Diane DiPriima and Edward Dorn; selected letters of Michael Rumaker; and letters to and from poet Joanne Kyger. * The document series is curated and published by the City University of New York Center for the Humanities. The Center's webpage for the Series 3 (the group of publications listed above) is here. In the page at this link, if you hover your mouse pointer over the "Series" link, you'll get a dropdown with links to Series 1 and Series 2. Series 4 is forthcoming.


Apart from the above, Persea Books will be publishing a translation of Life's Good, Brothers, a novel by poet Nazim Hikmet. Persea had uncorrected proof copies of the book at their bookfair table, which I didn't get one of; they said they're expecting that the finished edition will be out in April this year.

Also, poet friend Margaret Randall reports that The Feminist Press,in association with City University of New York, last I knew) will be publishing Costa Brava (Savage Coast), a previously unpublished novel by poet Muriel Rukeyser that takes place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The novel is named among the forthcoming items at the back of the CUNY "Lost & Found" pamphlets listed above, with a projected publication date of 2013.

I plan to look for both of these.

Thanks for the detailed report, Lyle. And for the many links. I've never been disappointed by one of your recommendations! And how good to read an account of AWP that takes the event for what it has to offer instead of what it fails to offer. I've never been to one of these—I just hate crowds—but your piece makes me wish I'd been there. Did you happen to run across Nicholas Samaras? He was there in connection with his new book from Ashland Poetry Press. I love his work and can't wait to get my hands on a copy....
Joseph, thanks for your comment. I didn't encounter Nicholas Samaras, himself or his book, -- there was a lot to take in at a bookfair with several hundred tables, as you can imagine -- but I'll keep him in mind to check out.
Lyle: Appreciate all your comments, especially your list of treasures that you brought home. Sadly, I am scheduled to go to the west coast and could not handle both fares. Next year will be different. I hope you are well. Muriel was a teacher of mine at CUNY and we used to meet in her apartment around the corner from the Museum of Natural History. I remember her regale bearing and her particular kindness to me around the time that my father died....hope you are well
Hi, Lenore -- thanks for dropping by. That had to be just remarkable, to have had Muriel Rukeyser for a teacher.

It's a little far ahead yet, but I definitely have notions about going to AWP in Seattle next year.

Hope you're well also.
Sounds like you had a great experience! I just barely survived, but I, too, came home with some great books. And I did attend a few excellent panels. And one or two bad ones, esp. the one with Tracy Kidder. I should know that just bc you wrote a book about Paul Farmer doesn't mean you are even remotely like him . . . But I thought he would be inspiring. Hah!
The one that stood out for me was the reading by the Syrian poet, Adonis. He was really great as are the books I took home from him. But I did feel totally wiped out by the conference.
Hello, Nin -- I did have the Adonis reading marked down, though it was a late-afternoon event, and by the time of the event I was starting to fade and decided to skip it.

That happened to me with a couple of the events that were scheduled later in the day. I'd had a strong notion to attend the Conversation event featuring Alison Bechdel and Jeanette Winterson, but I fizzled and decided to skip that one too.

Thanks for dropping by.
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