Tuesday, February 17, 2009

AWP: the short summary version

The conference was great!

I heard poets Paul Muldoon (reading + conversation about growing up in Ireland with all these crazy Irish poets), Donald Hall, and Nick Flynn (whom I'd heard at my undergrad and read his memoir) read poetry. Donald Hall has a collection of poems that are memoir and really cute because he's writing about being a little boy back in the day and some of it is compared to being an old man now. "When you're a little boy your socks slip down, and someone tells you 'Donny, pull up your socks' ... when you're an old man your socks slip down, but no one tells you to pull them up" -- I'm probably not doing it justice but it was lovely. He's also got this poof of crazy white hair that looks like it hasn't been brushed this side of the millennium. He's a character.

Art Spiegelman gave the keynote address. It encompassed a brief history of comics that explained his life, his influences and his eventual production of MAUS. It really got me interested in "comix" -- the term he likes because of its "mix" of mediums -- and caused me to listen to a panel of poets writing about superheroes the next day. They called to my attention the notion of comic book superheroes being the modern form of myth making. That right now we might not have a culture that understands references to Achilles but we understand them to Superman. This interested me because I've been thinking about that kind of myth-making in modern society, but I had only thought of it in terms of the boom of the fantasy and sci-fi genres in the decline of fairy tales and folk lore. Now I have another piece of the puzzle to consider and I'm anxious to do so.

I went to a literary 'rock n roll' reading with ZZ Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere), Joe Meno (Hairstyles of the Damned), and Dorothy Alison (Bastard Out of Carolina) -- Alison gave an amazing! reading. She said when she was younger she wanted to be Janis Joplin; she's totally done it.

Robert Olen Butler and the wonderful Ron Carlson read flash fic/prose poems and then went head to head about what differentiates one form from the other. Which was amusing to listen to even if they didn't come to any consensus.

The NPR show Selected Shorts did a recording Saturday night. Actors read three short stories including Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" read by B D Wong (who's currently acting on Law & Order) and it was a WONDERFUL reading of the short story. I hadn't ever read "Cathedral" before and felt a little like I was the only one in the extremely literate audience who hadn't. I'm always a little annoyed with reading anything that people have put into the canon, so having it read to me by a good actor was a happy way of approaching it.

Then there were oodles of panels on theory, pedagogy, tips, jobs in academia, workshop in academia, comic books in literature and lots lots more. In fact, there were about 15 panels going on simultaneously every 90 minutes. And I got a bunch of free lit journals/books of poetry and one really off the wall sci-fi where women turn into dogs, dogs turn into women and men turn into rats ... I think.

But it wasn't all just literary heavyweights wandering around. I also ran into my undergraduate advisor, a kid I graduated college with, another professor from undergrad and a few familiar faces from Kenyon workshop. And then they all gave me their germs.

I'll spend the week recovering and unpacking some of the thoughts sparked by these panel discussions.

Highly Recommended