Wednesday, February 16, 2011

AWP 2011, an itemized list

1. Walking a nearly deserted sidewalk near the Washington Monument a day before the conference starts, a man approaches and asks, “Are you here for AWP?” Wasn’t aware we were attired in AWP uniforms.

2. Lunch at Kramerbooks. I see a man who looks like Maurice, a chef I worked with in Salt Lake City in a former life. So much so that when he leaves I approach and ask, “Are you Maurice?” No, he’s not, he’s Eugene.

3. Reminded, at the Sackler, that I love the books section of museum gift shops, buying a copy of Lena Herzog’s photo essay on pilgrimage to Mt Kailais.

4. Judith Barrington, Nancy Lord, Valerie Miner, Sherry Simpson and friends discuss the narrative stance in memoir, or “the glory of an achieved persona” (Gornick) to a sitting-in-the-aisles crowd of devotees. Once again reminded how lucky we are at UAA to be surrounded by such brilliance.

5. Out of the rain and into happy hour at the Russia House: Baltica # 5 served in clear 20 ounce bottles and a large bowl of borsch served by a beautiful short-skirted over-powdered young Russian woman.

6. At the book fair I’m talking with a guy at the Cutbank table remembering I have had a piece there for a long time, mentioning it to him. When I check my email that night the piece has been rejected.

7. I meet Julie Paegle whose time at Utah did not quite overlap with mine. However, she was briefly married to a good friend of mine who now lives in Fairbanks. Her lovely book of poetry, Torch Song Tango Choir recently published to wide, and well-deserved, acclaim.

8. Do we or do we not teach the books we most love? Brock Clark reminds us that Denis Johnson wept when students did not like the book he most loved: Under the Volcano.

9. The Department of Education has enacted a law making it difficult to “deliver off campus instruction across state lines.” This educational Mann Act comes from the “Office of Integrity.”

10. Michael McGurl, author of a somewhat controversial book of scholarship on the rise of creative writing programs describes himself as a “museless pedant.” Also: the NY Times as “idiots” and acknowledges what we all know: that “there is a sadly limited amount of attention for writing today.”

11. What does it mean that the average age of the persons in the 500 vendor book fair is about 27? Or, more tellingly: what does it mean that almost no one in the room makes an actual living from writing, editing, or publishing?

12. Dana Gioia says that if Rilke wrote a grocery list it would be seraphic. And notes that John Haines writes in that same tradition.

13. I saw three of my former WIU students, two finishing PhD programs this year and one just starting after his MFA. Praying that I played a not-very-large role in their career decisions.

14. When I see at the book fair, other magazines where I have work out: Dzanc and Orion, I don’t mention this fact. And, I re-meet Eugene-not-Maurice, who turns out to be a poet from San Francisco currently exiled to the Midwest.

15. Michael Griffith leads a conversation, asking what sorts of literary ambition leads to awards? Three smart, passionate and generous people speak about the books they love: Brock Clark on Henderson the Rain King, Steve Almond on Mrs. Bridge, and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum on Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones. What is good about the good? Is there a better question to ask?

16. Sitting at the bar at the Tabard Inn watching the bartender, Chantal Tseung, gracefully mix two different drinks simultaneously. Drinking a glass of Laphroaig. I feel distant from everyday life.