Friday, March 10, 2006

AWP: Day 2

Friday, March 10, 2006


There's a 1,500-gallon aquarium with at least fifty African cichlids in the lobby of the Radisson. Think they've all got poetry books to hawk, too?

Interesting Fact for the Day:
What a dichotomous day: I woke up with a pounding headache---not enough sleep---and with head seemingly in a compression vise, drove my publisher to the drugstore south of downtown; she's got a nasty cold, unfortunately. What a pair. But by afternoon, and eight Advil over an eight-hour period, I felt great, and still do. Unfortunately, though, Jessie is still quite ill.

Other Bloggers Seen:
Deborah Ager and the elusive Gina Franco. I was also hoping to see Cynthia Huntington at the Vermont College 25th anniversary reading (see below), but she didn't make it.

Today's Impression:
Poets are people too. By that I mean, nearly every writer I've met and talked to has been cool, or at least not snobbish, as I feared. Of course, by tomorrow we'll all be your best friend if you'll just please please please by my book!

Best Find:
I attended the Camino del Sol (A Latina/Latino Literary Series) reading presented by The University of Arizona, and for the first time heard and heard of Ray Gonzalez, who read prose poems and flash fictions from his new collect, The Religion of Hands. I was fairly blown away, and scampered down to purchase two Gonzalez books (the other: Turtle Pictures, the two being the first two parts of the Turtle Pictures Trilogy).

Hit multiple readings and panel discussions today, despite the slow start this morning:

  • Camino del Sol: University Presses and Latino Voices (Ray Gonzalez, Maria Melendez, Virgial Suarez (absent), and Gina Franco). As mentioned above, greatly moved by Gonzalez, and good to hear Gina read, as well. Overall grade: Excellent.
  • Moving Beyond Coyote and Cacti: A New Approach to Writing About Place in the Southwest (Leslie Fox, E. Dianne Bechtel, John Bess, Valerie Kinsey). Doesn't that title sound awesome? Well, the session stunk. Sorry, but this was very disappointing. Is it asking too much for readers to actually prepare before reading? And I've got nothing against MFA students---heck, I'll be one in four and a half short months---but people on panels should be more widely published than that. Otherwise, where's the validity?
  • Vermont College 25th Anniversary Reading (Alison Hawthorne Deming, David Harris Ebenbach, Wally Lamb, Bret Lott, David Mura, and Jack Myers). Wow! What a great session all the way through. Sorry that Cynthia wasn't a part of it, too, but her replacement did very well, and I especially enjoyed the short fiction by David Harris Ebenbach, whose first book is Between Camelots (U. of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). I don't read much fiction like this (unless sent to for review, and even then, well...), but I'm definitely interested in picking this one up.

Excellent dinner at the South American restaurant Dona Emilia's, on the corner of San Jocinta and Cesar Chavez, with fellow Salmon poet Phil Fried and his lovely bride, photographer Lynn Saville. The sea bass was absolutely perfect, as was everything else, including the recommended Columbian amber ale. As good as the food was, the company was even better.

Evening Events:
Two superb showcase readings tonight: Donald Hall paired with Jane Hirschfield early, and Naomi Shihab Nye with Tony Hoagland late. Hall, though certainly an icon, is getting up there in age and nearly mumbled his reading, but the others were quite articulate. I especially enjoyed Hirschfield and Nye, purchasing their books, as well as a book by Hoagland. Turns out I really dig the political poetry.

Parting Thoughts:
In the small oak street trees planted around our hotel and the convention center, there are these birds, some kind of blackbirds or cowbirds perhaps, that have the loudest, wildest calls, all times of day and night. It's totally bizarre, like bogus recordings coming from the trees---except you can see the birds shooting through the branches. My mission: to find out what those birds are. Too bad, really, that I don't have a recorder. I mean, they are just completely wacko. And it's awesome!


Suzanne said...

Grackels! (sp?)

A. D. said...

these recaps are great. i can almost pretend i'm there.

is there a lot of waiting in line at awp? (i've never been, and can't stand to wait in line or in traffic.)

anyway, i have a close friend who's considering an offer from arizona's mfa program. i'm going to point her to your blog.

cheers. have fun today.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

S: Yes, Grackles it is! Wow, I am very, very tempted to go out and buy a recorder to record them. Thanks!

AD: Hey, thanks! The only lines at all are at the concessions stands (though bearable) and at book signings by the biggies. Otherwise, no lines at all. They said earlier today that there are 5,000 attendees, but the events are so dispersed that I would have only guessed maybe 1,500 people.

Insofar as the MFA, I'm doing the creative non-fiction genre, with Alison Hawthorne Deming and Richard Shelton. Overall, regardless of genre, it's a top 10 program, and I'm sure you're friend will love Tucson (as long as he/she doesn't mind blow-dryer heat). He/she can contact me directly at sb at riverfall - com, as well.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Sorry... yes, SHE is certainly welcome to peek in here and contact me, etc. We've lived in Tucson six years now, so know the area very well.

Billie said...

This is almost like having you at home! Miss you. YLW

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Billie. Hmmm, that seems familiar...!

32poems said...

Hi Simmons,

I'm also interested in sustainable development. It's possible!


Anonymous said...

This is Dianne Bechtel the "unprepared" reader at the AWP session (with the cool title) that "stunk."

I am a serious MFA canidate and do not agree with your assessment of MFA students as well as your self-deprecating admission that you will join the ranks (???)

I do heartily apologize for providing a reading that was so very disappointing to you. As a serious writer, I try very hard to make the reading a "performance" and that day, I guess I was very nervous and lost my place. I can't remember anything else about it, other than I did try to read with plenty of tonal inflection and each character's perona in mind. I though I did a good job at that,espceciall when an editor can up to us afterward and was interested in ALL of our stoires. So, Imagine my surpirse at finding my self singled out for a very unflattering comment. It stung.

But please let me say that AWP is not just for professionals as you assume; the silly MFA's are there to learn through particpation, and that was my heartfelt goal. Please, if you revisit this page, let me know how I could have improved my contribution. It is just as possbile to give postive encouragement to the less talented as it is to criticize them.

A proud and hard-working MFA nut,
Dianne B./UNM

Simmons B. Buntin said...


I cannot recall, some ten months later, the reading itself, but I stand by my comments. Clearly, it seemed to this audience member at least that you and your cohorts were unprepared. Regardless of the number of MFAers who attend AWP, my opinion also stands: panels should be by folks who are beyond that stage, who have published widely, unless of course there is some overlap (an MFA student who has published a book or significant set of work). The quality of your particular panel---the verbal delivery of the work itself---compared to all the others I saw validates this position, regardless of whether a particular editor was impressed by the your work. Reading aloud is an art in and of itself, and as writers we must master that, as well.

Dianne Bechtel said...

Mr. Buntin,

Thank you for your further honest comments. No, indeed, no one on our panel was publsihed, let alone widely. What do you think AWP is doing in allowing these sorts of shenanigans? Clearly, if conferences are only for the "already-arrived" as you believe, why isn't AWP just a massive book tour? [Its not.] I think your opinion is very UNgenerous and stilted, perhaps even smug. That, I guess, is the prerogative of the superior. I am glad that you have arrived, but still and all, the golden rule always works best on this planet; if you could offer something other than "standing" by your harsh judgments, offer some constructive critiscism, it might open you up for a new and better approach to your own work. Being widely published in this OVERLY-published world is not necessarily the credential of talent or the exclcusive license for being heard.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Dianne, we could argue into the long blue horizon over this, but what's the point? As an audience member, I was clearly disappointed, for two reasons: 1) I didn't feel the readings lived up to or, for that matter, really related to the great panel title: "Moving Beyond Coyote and Cacti: A New Approach to Writing About Place in the Southwest;" 2) I thought those who read, or at least you, judging from my comments (as I said previously, I don't recall it now at all), were not adequately prepared. I'd wager a good many others in the audience would agree; but it's all history now, so let's move on, please. Have you never been to a bad reading? It happens. If the quality of your reading isn't based on your preparedness to read aloud (as I perhaps incorrectly assumed), then I'm sorry to say that I just didn't enjoy how you read. No worries, there are others whom I don't think read aloud particularly well, and no doubt folks who don't enjoy hearing me read aloud. So it goes.

Second, your argument that I'm assuming AWP is only for those who have published is flawed. I'm saying that panel participants should be published widely, should be professionals as it were. The conference itself, of course, is for writers, writing programs, and publishers at all levels, as it should be. Whether you agree or not, being published by a respected press lends a certain amount of validity to the writer. Doesn't mean the writer is someone you enjoy, but it does mean it's someone who has been through a lot more hoops, has a lot more publishing experience and therefore insight, than someone who has not. Do you disagree?

And please do not confuse that position on AWP (and other writing) panels with a disrespect for the work and passion of those who have not published a book or otherwise published widely. I very much admire and support new writers at all levels, not just because I have to as an editor of a small journal ( but because that is the lifeblood of writing both as art and, eventually, as profession.

So keep working, keep writing, keep reading aloud, keep coming to AWP. But I urge you also to take criticism that isn't, admittedly, as constructive as it could have been in a less defensive manner. Maybe a grain of salt or two. It's just one person's opinion, on one person's blog. Everyone's a critic, often ruthlessly, when it comes to writing, reading performances, and art in general.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

And I see I have not directly answered your request: I cannot offer specific feedback, specific constructive criticism now, because I simply cannot recall the reading. Did you lose your place a few times? Don't do that. As with any reading, practice, practice, practice. A cliche, it's true, but cliche's usually are.

Dianne Bechtel said...

A response, long in coming, due to a dissertation defense. No pun intended as I see that in your wide experience you have judged my past respnse to your assessments as "defensive." I did not mean to be or sound defensive, but rather to encourage you to be a bit nicer as these electronic trails do affect people's lives and sometimes their livlihoods. Just be careful. I may have simply had a bad day (on the day in question). YES, in fact, I did lose my place in my reading that day. It was not my best performance (neither my first nor my last). I am indeed a good reader most of the time, but sometimes we humans produce the shit when we are after the shinola. It happens. I understand your words about the buratlity of critique and my opening myself up to it through public performance is but a step in the process of dealing with success and well as failure. Thanks for your advice.
Dianne B., MFA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!