Monday, April 13, 2015

My Cabinet of Wonders: a Report from AWP '15


A Wunderkammer is literally a cabinet of wonders, kept, in this case—a special show at the Minnesota Art Museum--by one of the Habsburg emperors. It housed collections, starting with, but not limited to, natural objects.  The Habsburg’s included, for example, Montezuma’s crown (bastards).  The Habsburgs ruled Europe for 600 years. Wunderkammers were precursors to museums.  I too am partial to things. I collect fountain pens, black and white photographs, but mostly books.  I collect words, but in a certain order.  Welcome to my Wunderkammer.
While at AWP in Minneapolis I saw two three-legged dogs in one day.
I saw a scraggly grey-bearded man playing Don Mclean’s Vincent on his accordion on the Stone Arch Bridge.  A song that in and of itself will break your heart but particularly so if you don’t have any cash to drop in the man’s bucket, which I didn’t. 
Later that day we went to the art museum where I stood in front of Van Gogh’s The Olive Trees and, once more entranced by his universe, which so seldom seems ours without his help.  And Aisha told me that physicists discovered that Van Gogh’s swirls and eddies match the famous Kolmogorov statistical model of turbulence, generally considered the last unsolved mystery of classical physics.
Reading with Alaskans, feeling like a fraud (again).  Our friend Peggy reads our friend Eva’s poems because Eva is too sick to travel.  Somehow Peggy’s reading them drove home Eva’s absence, Eva’s illness, everyone in the room struggling to hear her words and not think about her health. Dance from dancer.
My student, now a professor, introduces me to her students thusly: “This is person who has been important in my life.”  I see two other students from my past who hold PhDs but don’t have full-time work. May God forgive me.
I chatted with Francine Prose who I haven’t seen since taking a class with her in 1987.  Thanked her for some advice she gave me.  About life, not writing.
I wasn’t going to buy any books.  Then I was only going to buy as many books as the number of my own that were sold.  Then I just started buying books, despite earlier convictions.  See Works Acquired.
I bought Mike White’s Travels in Vermeer and began reading it.  That same day I went to the museum where I was stunned to see Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  It was a one painting exhibit with the stature of a religious shrine.  Vermeer who left 35 paintings, 11 children and a bankrupted household when he died suddenly at the age of 44 in 1675.
Aisha and I were out to dinner at a very upscale French restaurant.  During dinner we received a phone call with unexpectedly wonderful news.  The kind of news that is intensely private and one can only pray for with no expectations of success.  We ordered dessert and my wife’s plate had a beet on it, which seemed odd.  The waiter would inform us that this was a pear marinated in red wine and trilled, “You thought it was a beet!?”
I won a book in a drawing at the bookfair.  The book is called Scattershot by Amy L Eggert and each of the books has been shot, literally, several times with a .22 caliber rifle. 
During the conference I walked across the Mississippi River six times.
This is sentence from Erika T. Wurth’s Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend: “He sewed into my skin with his delicate freckled hands, reminding me of a time my auntie, Jakes’ mom, had taught me to peyote stitch beads, before his family had become born again.” Woman. Can. Write.
The photography collection was amazing and included the Shomei Tomatsu photograph of a watch dial stopped at 11:02 when the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.  The dial is centered in the frame, the only image in the picture.  Imagine a quarter on an 18 inch by 18 inch off white background.
Three moments from the reception.  1) A woman arrives with the friend of Jeremy’s.  An acquaintance, Jeremy corrects me.  When the woman discovers we are mostly from Alaska she asks if we know Liz Bradfield.  You just missed her, I said.  They are poets in Provincetown who once read together.  Liz is a beautiful human, she says.  True.  2) The end of the party is always the most fun: Alysse re-enacting her star-struckedness when face-to-face with the awesomeness that is Anne Carson.  3) Then, when it was only Sherry and Aisha and me, I read aloud from Samantha Irby’s Meaty until the tears from laughing so hard blinded me and we were all convulsed in laughter and crawling on the floor. Seriously, that’s how funny Irby is.
Networking is verb I find particularly unappealing.  Couldn’t the Germans (Wunderkammer!) have a word for meeting with old friends from different periods of your life and taking great pleasure in seeing them?

Works Acquired
Monica Berlin & Beth Marzoni, No Shape Bends the River So Long (Free Verse Editions)
Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (Knopf)
Jane L. Carman, Tangled in Motion (Lit Fest Press)
Samantha Irby, Meaty (Curbside Splendor)
Amy L Eggert, Scattershot (Lit Fest Press)
Debra Monroe, On the Outskirts of Normal (Engine Books)
Jeremy Patacky, Overwinter (University of Alaska Press)
Andrea Spofford, Everything Combustible (dancing girl press)
Michael White, Travels in Vermeer (Persea)
Michael White, Vermeer in Hell (Persea)
Erika T. Wurth, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend (Curbside Splendor)

Photograph by Cinthya Soto in the Minneapolis Museum of Art