March 12, 2007

Echoes of Atlanta

First, I'd be remiss in not linking to this superb mini-essay on AWP from Patricia Smith, part of the Poetry Foundation's new "Harriet" blog. There's a lot of work to be done on the ways the Foundation is spending its money, but I do like these entries from Smith, Kwame Dawes, and others. Worth a look.

I did not make it to World of Coke (boo). I did not get food poisoning like last time (yay!). Some thoughts on Atlanta...

Best panel: "Inventors in the Temple: Avant-Garde Formalism," with Catherine Daly, Timothy Donnelly, Annie Finch, Brian Johnson, and Ravi Shankar. I'm not a practitioner of Oulipo; to be honest, I don't even like most of the Oulipo works I've read. I went into this panel simply wanting to feel more comfortable with the style, even if it was for the purpose of using a more accurate language to express my criticisms.

The panel started off on a difficult note, comments rife with jargon--it reminded me of college debate, where someone would try to assert control over a topic using an elaborate "setting of terms"--but it improved steadily from there. I loved one panelist's passionate defense that there is nothing wrong with letting language be dictated by a love of sound, reaching back to childhood enthusiasms for "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers."

Annie Finch made a focused and convincing effort at reconciling "Avant Garde" formalism with historical formalism, for contrast pointing out that while both of these modes use restraints and constructs with a sincere desire to occupy the form, "New" or "Neo" formalism invokes forms for the express purpose of breaking or resisting them. She used the exemplar of two villanelles by the same author: one which allowed the formal repetition to fracture language in an expressive way (the "Avant Garde" variation), one which offered more traditional syntactic AND emotional closure, but only because the author had bent the rules of the form
(a nod at New Formalism). She tripped herself up a little bit in later discussion of these poems (it might have been better if she'd used two different authors, to create a clearer comparison). But there's the kernel of a really useful idea here, something that could be used to bring "radical" formalism (her preferred term to "Avant Garde") to a wider audience. Personally, I walked away much more open to giving those poems a chance.

Best behind-the-scenes: The night before, riding up in the same elevator as Annie, who clutched a book and moaned to her friends "WHAT am I going to say about these poems?"

Best reading: The Greensboro Review 40th Anniversary Reading. When things kick off with Natasha Trethewey, you know you're in good hands. Usually fiction is a lull in a long reading, but Kevin Wilson had a hilarious short story about "The Screaming Baby." Patrick Phillips was also extraordinary--I honestly think he''ll be recognized as a master of metaphor amidst the next generation of poets.

Moment of strangeness: Realizing that Carly, my fellow DC poet and amazing AWP roommate, is a total product diva! Our bathroom was swimming in gels and lotions, and she even had one of those little silky face masks for sleeping. This was actually a wonderful thing, because it meant that I had a partner in crime for ordering breakfast room service.

Moment of internal grin: Running into Cornelius Eady and Greg Orr at the same time, in the Hilton lobby. Throwing my arms around Cornelius. Hearing Greg say "See, you got the first hug."

Best off-site event: The reading for Switchback Books, which included finally meeting Kristy Odelius--an amazing Chicago poet--and telling her that I had fought to publish one of her poems in a literary journal I edited a few years ago.

Best authentic cuisine: A tie between the creamed corn/"pot likker" sides at Mary Mac's and the ribs at Django Cafe.

Local hero: Bruce Covey, who made sure I got to Rita's reading at Emory on Wednesday night, and then drove me to the Pussipo reading. His "Flattery" poem (part of the No Tell marathon) was a highlight of the Saturday night reading at Apache Cafe; he also spoke very convincingly on behalf of Coconut at the panel on online literary journals. A few months ago I heard someone call Bruce "the nicest guy in poetry," and I think she was right.

No-shows: Cavankerry, one of my favorite small presses, did not have a table or a presence at the conference. Maybe one too many times ending up in a random, distant corner? Ted Genoways was A) sick and B) hard at work on his Whitman dissertation, but "The Southern Poet/The Southern Journal" panel really missed his presence. Major Jackson was also a major no-show, but he had the best reason of all--he had to walk down a red carpet for the NAACP Image Awards. (Sadly, he lost the poetry award to...yes...Maya Angelou.)

Poet I could listen to (/stare at) for hours: Terrance Hayes. He stole the show from Charles Wright.

Best marketing: Those "Hello, My Name is _Michael Martone_" tags.

Revealing moment: Hearing Jason Bredle's work for the first time. This past year, Jason's first book Standing in Line for the Beast won the New Issues Poetry Prize, for which I was a finalist. Usually, when I finally hear/read the winning work, there's a protective response of "oh, how could S/HE have won?" But the reality was that Jason's poems were intelligent, fresh, and very very funny. Listening to him read about the capybara's potential as a snack food (!), I found myself thinking "This book needed to be out...and it needed to come out now." I'm relieved that I can still feel genuinely happy for someone who gets an opportunity that I wanted; it means I haven't burned out just yet. = )

Most overrated moment: Making it into the top floor lounge, Nikolai's Roof. Smoky, crowded, a lot of neck-craning in hopes of finding someone "important" to talk to. Drinks were free but watery--I was happy to have my flask of scotch. Finally settled at a table with Dave Lucas (UVA) and some other low-key folks, which was a relief, but hard to believe that in past years I envied the VIP party as some mecca shindig.

Next year...New York. I'm proposing a panel. It is going to be crazy. And note to the organizers: make sure fresh oxygen gets pumped into the book fair room, okay?


J.D. Smith said...

On the basis of moderating one panel, I can say that the whole exercise is a lot like having a dog: really chaotic and ultimately a pleasure.

carly said...

Har, har, har. You should see all the product I left at home!

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Thanks for the report. I'm sorry I missed it.

newzoopoet said...

You had a flask of scotch? LOLOL