An AWP Wrap-Up and a Few Random Notes
I took the train to Chicago on Wednesday morning, traveling down with Sue William Silverman and the poet Pablo Peschiera. Sue and I always laugh about the fact that, though we live in a small town with a non-existent "writing community," the only times we ever see each other are at the Post Office or at AWP. Pablo and I walked from Union Station to the Hilton to register, and then went out for lunch. Because sushi is impossible to find in Grand Haven, that's what I went for. I thought the Tamarind (I think that was the name of it) just around the corner from the Hilton, was pretty decent, sushi-wise.
I enjoyed the panels, particularly when it was apparent that the presenters had actually prepared. Too many people seemed to be "winging it" in Chicago. The only disconcerting moment was when an audience member at the panel on writing about illness made a lengthy statement about how the panel was "failing" the audience by not recognizing that people were suffering and...well, uhmmm, ...I am not entirely sure what her point was. I do think the panel moderator handled the situation gracefully.
One of the most interesting presentations I went to––and this surprised me––was the poetry pedagogy forum. I went only because friends Mike Theune and Todd Davis were both presenting papers. If you haven't gone to one of these at the AWP Conference, I strongly encourage you to go. The presentations were great and the format--sitting in a circle of six to eight people and trading ideas--is strangely effective.
On Thursday, I had lunch with the poet and playwright Barbara Lau, a good friend from our Warren Wilson days. I hope to see her again in June when I am in Iowa at the Summer Writing Festival (Barbara lives near Iowa City), and also in Michigan, where there is a good chance one of her plays will soon be staged. On Friday, I had long and wonderful lunch with poets Todd Davis and David Shumate.
I stayed at the Hotel Blake on South Dearborn, which was formerly the Hyatt at Printers' Row. I love the Blake; a tiny––nearly boutique--hotel. The staff is friendly and unobtrusive, they recognize their guests by sight, the rates are decent, the rooms are very nice (though they could use refrigerators) and the neighborhood (kitty-corner from the Harold Washington Library) is quiet. Because I arrived in Chicago exhausted on several counts, I was asleep in my room before 9 each night. I didn't go to any of the evening events, completely missed the Warren Wilson party, and even excused myself from a post-panel dinner because of a crashing post-panel headache.
I sometimes wonder whether it might be possible to hold an occasional non-alcohol-fueled social event at the AWP Conference; perhaps an afternoon tea. For several reasons––some obvious, some not––I completely avoided the party-scene in Chicago. I suppose I am old and boring, but I do the best I can.
I probably should have gone to a meeting.
The Book Fair was large, interesting and confusing––am I the only person who had a difficult time telling the "Southwest Hall" from the "Southeast Hall"? Only occasionally could I find my way back to the appropriate tables after making a mental checklist of what I wanted to purchase. I did, however, manage quite a haul of new books, and will be writing about them here in the near future. I made a special point to look for fellow bloggers, and was very pleased to meet Anne Haines, Christine Hamm, and John Gallaher. I also had a chance to catch up with the amazing Matt Hart (a friend from our Warren Wilson days). I saw the beautiful and elusive Mary Biddinger from a distance (the second installment of Barn Owl Review is fabulous, by the way), said hello to my friends at the University of Arkansas Press, and several fellow Michigan poets, including Philip Sterling, Rob Haight, Kathleen McGookey, Joe Matuzak, Josie Kearns, Christine Rhein, Julie Stotz-Ghosh, and David Dodd Lee. I bought Robert VanderMolen's new book, Water from Michigan State University Press, but somehow missed his signing, which was Friday at 10 a.m., not Friday at noon. My apologies, Robert!
My train didn't leave until late in the afternoon on Sunday, so I went to the Art Institute to see the Edvard Munch show. No, they did not actually have "The Scream," (my guess is that the Norwegians, since getting the painting back, don't want to let it out of the country) but the show did include several of my other Munch favorites. If you like the work of Edvard Munch (what poet doesn't?) the exhibit is worth a special trip to Chicago. Quite by fortunate accident, I had lunch at the Institute with the poet Gail Peck (another Warren Wilson friend); it was a perfect coda to my trip to the AWP.
And our presentation? I thought our panel, Bad Poems by Great Poets: Where They Went Awry, What We Can Learn went very well. We had a capacity crowd (though we were in one of the smaller rooms on the 8th floor of the Hilton) and didn't lose much of our audience during the proceedings. Everyone was articulate and well-prepared, if I say so myself. There were also some good questions and comments after we were finished. I am hoping we can have the same team ( Roy Jacobstein, Laura Kasischke, Margaret Rabb, Robert Thomas and myself) put a proposal together for the Conference next year in Denver. It was also good to see so many friends in the audience, including the poets Karla Huston and Rick Bursky.
The painting is Night in St. Cloud (1890) by Edvard Munch.