Saturday, March 11, 2006

AWP: Day 3

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Building & Birds:

Frost Bank Tower, with trees.
This is the Frost Bank Building, the most visible building in downtown Austin day and, as here, night. And, in the foreground, these are the trees that host the grackles that call, click, whirr, wheez, sing, cluck, and altogether make the dandiest music!
. . . .

Frost Bank Tower.
From this angle, doesn't the top of the building look kind of like an angry face? Like one of those microbot toys that turned from machine to robot and back?
. . . .

Interesting Fact for the Day:
More a fact for the month.... Austin, as you may know, is a bat haven. The bridge that is only a stone's throw from this hotel (the Radisson) and which spans 'Town Lake' on Congress Street is home to thousands of bats that, at dusk, swarm up above the water and sloping riverbanks in their search for flying insects. That, however, doesn't start until mid-April. Note to Austin conference organizers: Plan your event to coincide with the bats. It's a real shame to miss this natural urban phenomenon.

Today's Impression:
We're all tired, and the bookfair mostly cleared out by early afternoon. But it's that uncommonly delightful, fulfilling exhaustion. No, not from the stale hotel and convention center air, but from the amazing energy of all of these writers, and from their words and spirit, both social and political. In the end, it's still a bit overwhelming, but fully worthwhile. Next year (or next time), though, I'd definitely get a table for and produce some higher quality flyers and such than the quickie copies I made and placed at various strategic locations.

Best Find:
David Gessner, editor-in-chief of Ecotone, which I mentioned the other day. I'm sitting in a panel session (see below) and I'm looking at this guy and thinking: I know him. Where do I know him from? And then it came to me: David and I were in a small, graduate-level environmental essay workshop together at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1996. It was taught by Linda Hogan. Since that time, he has published three books (creative non-fiction: "nature writing") and created a fine print journal. Since that time I have published one book (poetry) and created a fine online journal. I re-introduced myself and we caught up just a bit, but of course time was short. Small world, indeed.

Another set of excellent sessions today, with nothing regrettable to speak of:

  • Two Angles: The Writer as Editor and Editor as Writer (Michael Czyzniejewski, Mid-American Review, Nancy Zafris, Kenyon Review, Hilda Raz, Prairie Schooner, and T.R. Hummer, The Georgia Review). Interesting panel where the moderator, also from MAR, posed questions to the panel (which they had previously seen and responded to), followed by good questions from the audience. Topics varied widely, and Terry Hummer's responses were, I thought, especially insightful.
  • The Butterfly in the Envelope: What the Mail Brings Us of Nature (Phil Condon, Camas: The Nature of the West, Christopher Cokinos, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, David Gessner, Ecotone: Reimagining Place, and Bill Roorbach, author of many books, the newest being Temple Stream). Each of the three editors discussed their journals and talked, in some cases very specifically, about what they do and do not want to publish. Good insights. Bill told a story of a faculty writing workshop he's teaching, getting physicists, astronomers, and the like to write in a more literary style, for more general audiences. The title comes from an ending line in an Alison Hawthorne Deming poem. She was in the audience (though surprisingly, not acknowledged---perhaps the panelists didn't recognize her).
  • In the Desert, You Can Remember Your Name: Writers Confront the Vanishing Natural World (Camille T. Dungy, Douglas Thorpe, Jim Peterson, and Eloise Cline-Heely(sp.?)). This was a mixed bag, not in quality but in 'presentation style,' where Doug Thorpe gave a very interesting and highly academic discussion of languaging place, but the rest gave readings, sometimes with asides. Afterwards, I purchased Dungy's book of poems, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison.
  • Joy Harjo and Friends (Joy Harjo, Sharon Oard Warner, Pamela Uschuk, William Pitt Root, Leanne Howe, Craig Womach, and a handful of Harjo's current MFA students, who read a poem each). This was hands-down the most eclectic session, as it began and ended with Joy Harjo playing saxophone. In between, she also read prose and poetry, sang a song without musical backup, and did some Muskogee chants. There were other readings, and a jazz guitar/piano ensemble. Pretty cool stuff, though people trickled out of the session throughout when it wasn't what they expected. Afterwards, being the poetry slut you know I am, I gave Ms. Harjo a signed copy of my book. I know, I know....

I had dinner at a most excellent restaurant tucked behind the convention center called Moonshine. I dined with former teacher/mentor R.T. Smith. Well, he wasn't actually there, but since I was dining solo, I took an issue of Isotope and read a short story of his in it. Good company and one of the best steaks---a Texas flank steak with blue cheese butter---I've ever had. I don't eat much red meat, but this was divine! Of course, spending $42 for one person for dinner isn't a common practice where I come from, either.

Evening Events:
Attended the Academy of American Poets Poetry Extravaganza, with Mark Jarman, Marilyn Nelson, B.H. Fairchild, and Marie Howe. I was especially moved by Howe's poems, which mostly involved children and, having little girls of my own, almost brought tears to my eyes because they were so beautiful. Look for "Pablo" in a forthcoming issue of Ms. magazine. It's good something powerful. Then I walked around a wee bit and took photos like those above. Note about the almost-tears: Yes, I'm a sensitive and at times sappy bastard ever since having kids. Just am.

The Haul:
It seems remiss to end this series without a comprehensive list of all the crap... er, books and other items I either purchased or got for free. But let's just go with the books:

  • Francisco X. Alarcon, From the Other Side of Night / Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (The University of Arizona Press)
  • Marck L. Beggs, Libido Cafe (Salmon Poetry)
  • Camille T. Dungy, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press)
  • Philip Fried, Big Men Speaking to Little Men (Salmon Poetry)
  • Ray Gonzalez, The Religion of Hands: Prose Poems and Flash Fictions (The University of Arizona Press)
  • Ray Gonzalez, Turtle Pictures (The University of Arizona Press)
  • Jane Hirshfield, After (HarperCollins)
  • Tony Hoagland, What Narcissism Meant to Me (Graywolf Press)
  • Ben Howard, Dark Pool (Salmon Poetry)
  • Marie Howe, What the Living Do (W.W. Norton)
  • Thomas Krampf, Taking Time Out: Poems in Remembrance of Madness (Salmon Poetry)
  • Naomi Shihab Nye, You & Yours (BOA Editions)

Wow, that's a lot. At least all the Salmon Poetry books were greatly discounted (since I'm a Salmon poet), the Alarcon book was free, and the rest were discounted for AWP. I also picked up a number of other free magazines and journals, plus a free Salmon Poetry t-shirt. Here's hoping I'll have time to even look through all these pubs, let alone actually read them!

Parting Thoughts:
Unless I had specific financing, a new publication to promote, or other support for, I don't think I'd go to AWP every year, though probably every other year. But if you think you're not missing something, you definitely are: the AWP Austin 2006 program alone is 273 pages; there were more than 400 vendors at the bookfair (primarily presses, journals, and MFA programs); about 5,000 attendees (including 1,000 students); 286 official AWP sessions/panels/readings, and numerous unaffiliated readings and gatherings. Plus, of course, I was here!

AWP 2007 is in Atlanta, February 28-March 3 at the Hilton Atlanta.

Special Thanks:
I'd like to acknowledge the Tucson Pima Arts Council for so generously funding a portion of my travel expenses to attend AWP this year. Thanks!

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