Posts Tagged ‘AWP’

Rane, everywhere

February 9, 2011

The only event of AWP that I, and the g/f,  felt was a necessity for us to attend was the tribute to Rane Arroyo. He wasn’t in our lives long. She met him in a class in her fall semester, where Rane had to miss a couple of weeks and was covered by his partner Glen. I met him a couple of semesters later in another class where, about three-quarters of the way through the semester, he pulled me off to the side during the ten minute break and encouraged me to go after an MFA. It’s a piece of advice, and a belief in me, that I still carry around.

Before talking about the tribute itself, I feel like I need to mention that Rane seemed to pop up throughout the conference in some way. Maybe we were just looking for him, but I don’t think so. I bought at least one book of poetry because of their resemblance to his Roswell poems. At another table, we received a free copy of Water Stone Review and found Rane’s name on the back among the contributors. We ran into other people who knew Rane throughout the conference. And there was a distinct feeling that maybe we wouldn’t have been there at all if it wasn’t for him. For us, at least, the place reverberated with his presence, with the possibility he had instilled in us, with what I can only think of as the sheer elastic joy of him.

The tribute was put together by Glenn Sheldon and consisted of twenty or so readers, each reading one poem of Rane’s that touched them, that impacted them, or reading a poem about him, remembering. It was touching, it was painful, I think I cried a couple of times. It was good to hear Rane’s words spoken aloud.  It’s something I may never hear again, at least in this type of setting and it’s something I needed.

For the event, Glenn produced a tribute chapbook with remembrances by the readers along with re-prints of the poems they read. Interspersed throughout the book are sketches, drawings and photos of and by Rane. I hate to pick favorites from it, they are all beautiful, but I found the poem by Luis Alberto Urrea to be particularly heart rending.

On the back of the chapbook is a picture of Rane, with that little Rane smile, that smile that’s trying to be straight faced but is bent with that elastic joy. At the end, Glenn stood up and said that something Rane said was, “cry, but the tears are not for me, they are for you. Afterward, when you laugh, that will be for me.” I laugh occasionally, but I’m not quite past the crying stage yet. I miss him and the world is a bit worse off for his having departed it. But somewhere got a good deal brighter with him having arrived. Rest in peace, my friend, knowing that I am one of many who still carry you around.

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what I wish was a drunken conversation in a McDonald’s at AWP

February 8, 2011

The g/f and I went to one off-site event while we were at AWP, at The Asylum, where we watched some poets read, munched some vegan appetizers (which were incredible, despite their non-animalness)(not awesome enough to make me give up my animal tasty treats for good, though) and where I got the beginnings of a headache and tired of some personal space intrusion. This was still at the time I was having to do a TON of grading for the courses I teach, so I wasn’t in the best mood to begin with.

So, we left after the readings and struck out for the convention again, hoping to catch the last bit of the Jhumpa Lahiri keynote address. Instead, we wandered into a basement McDonald’s and griped about the state of poetry and the faint of heart, spotlight shunning writers who just don’t stomp the terra firma, to borrow and, likely, butcher a quote from Hunter Thompson.

First, I should say, I’m not a huge poetry fan right now. There just isn’t a lot out there that interests me and a lot of it sounds pretty similar. This isn’t to say it’s not good, I just don’t find a lot of it catching or interesting. It seems a lot of what is said is said to work in a slam environment though not necessarily on the page or even in your own head. Again, this isn’t to say it’s not good, it just feels like everyone is doing the same thing right now. And none of them really say a whole helluva lot.

And part of the problem seems to be this odd anti-intellectualism that permeates poetry (and, truth be told, fiction). This isn’t to say they’re dumb, or ignorant, just that I have continually witnessed an aversion to research and reading something that isn’t fiction or poetry.  I’ve griped before about this idea that the work is sparked by some muse and comes from on-high, which is another way of saying what I often heard repeated, that “you don’t think about it, you just write it and it’s THERE.” Which I disagree with too a fair extent, despite how many well written poems I’ve read that chronicle the depths of your despair in the eyes of a puppy on a sunny day.

Which, in a roundabout but perfectly logical (at the time) way, took me to Allen Ginsberg and my declaration that he was the last poet that I could genuinely respect and admire as a Great (capital G) Poet (capital P) because he not only wrote great poetry but, by all appearances, had a meaning and purpose behind what and how he was writing. I’ve liked poets since him, sure, I really enjoy Bukowski, but respect him as a writer? As an artist? Maybe not so much.

And what sort of disgusted myself with this declaration is that it’s sort of like bringing Hitler or the Nazis into an internet argument – it’s just so over the top inarguable, that it’s pointless to bring it up. I mean, is there anyone who is going to argue that there was a bigger, more influential and flat out better poet after Ginsberg in the last half of the Twentieth century? I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, unless we begin pulling in guys like Bob Dylan into the argument, or try to argue that filmmakers are poets in a visual medium.

And what disgusts me a bit now is that I know, and have known, other poets who are very good, who are dedicated to their craft, and who I stupidly insulted. But, at the same time, I still have this nagging feeling of having still been right, to a certain degree. There have been poets since Ginsberg who entered our social consciousness, who found themselves or made themselves part of our national fabric, but none of them have carried the weight of Ginsberg, none of them have cast his shadow. None of them have stomped the land.

Anyway, that’s my off-handed gripe/post. Take it with the grain of salt it was written with.

AWP round-up

February 7, 2011

Alright, I’m finally home, the conference is over, and I don’t have to get right back on the road to drive to Michigan and back to pick up the kid from the grandparents. I’ve also caught up on my grading so, for the first time in a couple of weeks, I have genuinely free time to sit down and work. So instead of doing that, I’m going to blog.

It was fun.  I went with the g/f and a couple of people from her program. We rode the metro for a few days, I wandered around the book fair(which was HUGE), saw a couple of sights, and went to all of two sessions, one of which I’ve already blogged and complained about.  First, I don’t see how this thing was all that stressful, but I’m also not a CW prof or an MFA student, so maybe I was necessarily out of the loop on that one.  I found the book fair enjoyable, engaging and fun. I bought WAY too many books, while also not buying enough.

I can’t help it. I feel like I, and everybody, needs to support these places when they can. If you don’t support them, they’re going to go out of business and that’s going to hurt all of us. However, I’m also not a huge poetry fan, so I don’t like buying a lot of lit mags because, well, they’re crammed full of poetry. So, instead, I bought books, including at least one book of poetry, largely because it reminded me of Rane Arroyo’s Roswell Poems and I got a free bendy alien with it. Awesome.

Speaking of swag, the g/f and I got a lot of pins, some pens, at least one notebook and a ton of little chocolate candies walking around the thing. Everyone is giving away something. Now we’re trying to figure out what to do with it all.

Before I sign off on this post, I do have some suggestions for anyone attending future AWPs. One, get a hotel either at the convention or right by a metro stop. It will make life FAR easier for you. Through sheer chance we stayed at a hotel that was a block and a half from a metro station and our lives were made easy because of it. We bought metro cards the first day and we got back and forth for everything the entire time we were there. Public transit is a godsend, take advantage of it and don’t bother with a car.

Two, go with a group. I couldn’t imagine making this trip (at least in a car) without at least a couple of other people going along. It’s fun, it’s lively, and there’s just so much crap to do, you need someone to do it with.

Three, if you have a job outside of writing, or something that doesn’t necessarily make room for things like massive writer conferences, do your best not to take any (or much) work with you. Through some events outside of our control, I was saddled with gobs of grading to do while I was there, and it just killed my schedule. While there were not a lot of sessions that peaked my interest, I would have had a difficult time going to them even if they did just  because of the massive amount of work that I had to get done. It also killed my chances at socializing. In fact, I think I irritated more than one person who plucked down in  a seat next to me when I continued to be bent over my laptop, correcting subject/verb disagreements rather than striking up conversation with them.

Fourth, pick your off-site events carefully. I’m not a huge fan of readings, especially in crowded, loud little bars. This just happened to be the only off-site event I went to.

Last, talk to people. That’s why you’re there. Talk talk talk. You might feel awkward at first but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And, if you don’t want to talk, just say “no, I’m not” when they ask if you’re a writer. You’ll get a weird look and that weird look is your chance to skirt away to some free hershey chocolates in the booth across the aisle.

I’m at AWP

February 3, 2011

Well, I’m there. I made it to AWP this year. For those who don’t know, and I certainly wouldn’t have until my girlfriend asked me, “Hey, you want to go to AWP?” it’s where’s a bunch of writers and writers/professors and writers/whateverers gather to talk about writing. There are a bunch of different little sessions where four or five writers get together and do a presentation on a theme or idea that they’re interested in, usually followed by a little Q&A. This morning, I went to a session that was basically about monsters and their prevalence/use/possibly abuse in fiction. Hannah Tinti was awesome. She was quick, she was insightful, she was engaging. And she had trouble with this little projector thing, which introduced a welcomed bit of levity and everydayness that should have set the tone for the rest of the session.

I wasn’t a fan of Laura van den Berg’s short story collection, but I thought she did well here. As she guessed, she would have people disagreeing with her over Murakami’s work being his After the Quake collection (for my money, it’s still  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or, maybe, Kafka on the Shore) and with her description of Murakami having a lot of “zaniness” in his work, but it was still entertaining.

I don’t really want to get into a review of the whole thing, largely because I don’t also want to be critical of any of the presenters . What they are doing is difficult, and I know they are doing the best they can. By and large, the session was fun and informative and, in the end, I think that’s what counts. What I do want to say, though, is that I have a feeling what I feared about these sessions will come true – writers talking about writing isn’t always the most entertaining thing and they aren’t always the best at it. As one of the presenters said, writers like to write because they’re better at that than talking. And he might have been right. From the start I was thinking that this might have been a more engaging experience if it was a group of lit professors up there, plying their trade (which is really what the writers were doing =- trying to be lit professors). While I was engaged by the discussion, I can’t say I learned much. I wonder what some legitimate lit professors would have said up there, what they would have focused on, and what I might have learned. This isn’t to knock the group who were up there, or the event, it’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s entertaining. But, so far, it’s also been a bit hollow. I’m not looking at putting together a session heavy schedule (I really would like to see all of the touristy crap, I can’t help it, I AM a tourist here for god’s sake), so I don’t plan on having a lot of little posts about this, but I do plan on having a few. So…until the next literary thing pops up…