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Monday, April 19, 2010

What Happened After That (AWP Wrap-up)

Wrapped up, indeed. An hour after my last post, I called a cab and headed out the door. Noticed another woman standing around waiting, presumably, for a cab, so asked if we might double up when one showed up (cabs, we soon learned, were in short supply). This other woman turned out to be Elizabeth Treadwell. We waited a half an hour, happily getting better acquainted (I'd *known* her for years, but never met her in person) and wondering if we'd make it to the WILLA reading on time. Thankfully, the cab arrived and, after a few tries of explaining where the Denver Press Club was, we were soon seated at a small bar in what must've been a men's only establishment up until the 1970s (at least?).

Elizabeth wanted a Cosmo, but the bartender didn't know what a Cosmo was, so she ordered a rum and Coke, while I sipped a glass of Pinot Grigio. The room was soon packed, and soon the procession of two dozen or more readers (with tasteful burlesque-dancing interludes between each of three sets) began. Except for a few ridiculous guy-folk who took it upon themselves to be sexist assholes, the reading and performances were a delight. I had never seen a burlesque performance, and I am here to report that I appreciated the way it celebrated female form without devolving into smuttiness. There was a certain innocence in the grand-finale star-shaped, glittery-green pasties, is what I am trying to say. [Were these burlesquers sex workers? Are they being exploited? Should the jeering men have been asked to leave? Did their jeering spoil the relative innocence and unadulterated beauty of her performance? Would the burlesquers be disappointed if I told them I found their performances innocent? Did they, in fact, enjoy the jeering? I am not sure, but it is questions like these that remind me that I am educated in a way and move through a literary circle that demands these sorts of questions, like it or not. [When women started to share with me that they were uncomfortable at this event, I immediately felt like I might be a female sheep or lemming, the equivalent of one of those student turned Nazis, who, when the authorities told them to, began torturing their subjects.]

Then back to the motel, then sleep, then missing the 9 am panel I really wanted to attend (Hot/Not) because I needed to teach (I brought my classes to Denver, virtually, that is), then blowing off the entire rest of the conference so I could (1) have brunch with a bunch of really cool ladies and (2) visit the Denver Art Museum.

Then the Starting Today reading, which was completely and utterly wonderful, and then raced off back to the Convention Center to hear the tail end of Barbara Ras's reading, and all of Robert Hass's (rock and ROLL!).

Then taxi, then pack, then bed, then Super Shuttle leaving me in the dust 5 minutes earlier than they said, then $60 Swanky Car Service, then scrambled eggs with tomatoes, then having to fork over my bottle of Beautiful in the Mouth Chardonnay (Keetje Kuiper's new book and a special wine label to match--sigh) then sitting next to the mother of a synchronized skater (Canadian), then $2.25 to take the light rail back to my beautiful Seattle home.

My kids knocked me over with hugs and kisses.

I threw my suitcase down and didn't touch it for two days. In the meantime I hugged them and hugged them, cooked them lentil stew, baked them their favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

But one glance at the floor beside my overflowing bookshelves reveals just how many magazines and books I bought in Denver (more than I can read in 6 months), and I filled an entire notebook with thoughts, quotes, ideas, reactions, and other random scribblings.

Oh, and I really liked downtown Denver, and the DAM rocked.

I am so glad I went.


Sandra said...

I started with DAM, rather than ending with it--and I agree, it rocked. I can't believe I missed you in Denver, especially given we were both at the WILLA reading! I was seated waaay down in front, though. Next time, my dear, whether east coast or west....

seana said...

Martha, I meant to respond to your last post, but this is probably better. I went to the NYC AWP conference with my sister, and though I had very complicated feelings about it, it was all in all a great experience. Well, a lot of the great part was the part that didn't take place in the conference itself, but I liked many aspects of the conference. In retrospect I do think it's the total trip that matters. You don't really know why you're going and it's only by doing it that you find out. Glad to hear your reportage on it.

Martha Silano said...

Sandra: I can't believe I didn't see you at WILLA. I meant to come see you during your book signing (hope it went well!), but I got caught in the book fair deluge. My loss. Congrats on the new book, the Poetry Daily poem, and all the recent rest!

Seana: I was in NYC in 2008, too. Loved that time too, but I was staying right in the Hilton, so it was relatively less time consuming to navigate.

seana said...

Hmm, I wonder if we were at any of the same events. I did go to a couple of the poetry events. Did you by any chance get to the Ilya Kaminsky reading? It was incredible and that was true even though I couldn't understand half of what he was saying where I was sitting.

I also liked the launch of an anthology of Vietnamese poets in translation.

Martha Silano said...


When I think back on AWP 2008, the first thing that comes to mind is the Edson panel with Robert Bly and James Tate and one other very famous white male prose poem specialist. What comes to mind is Tate's reading and interview on stage, which was absolutely incredible. I could go on and on for half an hour just about that interview. Another huge highlight was hearing Robert Olen Butler and Julianna Baggott at a panel about the short-short. UM-AY-ZING. Sharon Olds. Bly. Kinnell. Simic. Plus being back in NYC was the best.

seana said...

I didn't see the panel, but I did see the James Tate interview, and felt that Tate and the young interviewer were really not on the same page. Be curious to know what your impression was.

You remind me that there was just some nonstop incredible stuff going on there. Three ring circus at least.

Martha Silano said...

Tate and the young interviewer "not on the same page"? Indeed. I suppose I got a huge burst-of-adrenalin thrill watching Wise Poet kick Young Poet's butt. I mean, that poor interviewer. Tate mulled over each of his comments as if they were some mysteriously placed object on his front porch that, after much sussing out, turned out to be dinosaur dung.

And then he walloped the poor guy. Repeatedly. For putting the damn dung on his porch.

I. loved. it.

seana said...

The odd thing is that I can't remember where I fell out on this, because my sister saw the whole thing from another part of the room, and we met afterwards and had completely different takes on it. I know I had some sympathy for the kid, but I think at some point I felt like someone should have gone up there and put him out of his misery.

I love Tate's poems though--I'm not unclear about that.

Martha Silano said...

It did seem to me like the poor "kid" needed the hook, but when I mentioned this to another poet friend who was in the audience, she reassured me that he was fine, a well-known editor (at, eek, jubilat?), and that it wasn't "the kid's" fault but Tate being difficult. And man, was he ever difficult. He took such pleasure in parsing this guy's every word, and not only that, listening to his questions, sitting silent for 30 seconds or more, and then saying "no." If I'd been that poor guy, I would have been praying for a huge trap door to take me far, far away, and very quickly. But instead, he did a really good job playing his part so Tate could play his. It made for an excellent show.

seana said...

Right. It was a bit like a staged thing, although I don't think it was. We all interpreted what happened on stage through our own lens. And I think your friend was right, the 'kid' was somebody, and probably got over it pretty fast. It's just a bit unfortunate to have to talk to your heroes when they are in a pissy mood. In public. On stage. At a writer's conference. In New York City.

Martha Silano said...

Yeah, all of that exposure, hundreds of writers seeing you trip and fall and fall again over your own damn banana peels, but the more I think of it, maybe Tate didn't look so great himself. "Pick on somebody your own size" kind of thing, you know? Unless, like you suggest, it was staged.

Kathleen said...

Great to hear your follow-up account of current AWP and also to read the back-and-forth in your comments, recalling past AWPs!

I continue to ponder the sexworker dilemma you mention. I understand the innocence. For me, anything a woman truly chooses and loves to do is fine, and I hope no one (man or woman) devalues or demeans her for her choice. If she has not chosen it freely, or if her choice is compromised by circumstances that mean her freedom was changed long ago, then I hope she can find a way to something that brings her joy and true freedom. As the whole history of women is here--the compromise of freedom--it feels like we are all in this together.

As for me, nothing I do demeans me, as long as I see value and purpose in the act, and choose it, and know why, but I notice that others may try to demean me, say, for working as a maid rather than a professor, according to their value system--valuing one needed service over another. Or letting their value system be ruled by money. I've done a number of things in life, like Barbara Ehrenreich, doing her research for Nickel and Dimed, to learn this, and I am still learning and reflecting. Thank you for reflecting, too.

Martha Silano said...

Kathleen--choosing freely your profession or pleasures seems to be at the crux of it for women. It is surely a privilege to be able to choose freely (so many young women are unable to even get this far), but I am thankful that more women (at least in 1st world countries) are able to attend schools, earn degrees, and generally work their way up whatever ladder pleases them, glass ceiling be damned.

For many years I worked as a secretary to pay for my poetry habit, then for a stint as a house cleaner. "Teacher" is so much easier to say, but secretary was equally demanding, and harder, so much harder, in other ways, as attention to detail was excruciatingly important, plus there was very little creativity. I am glad to have worked in a law firm for little pay and doing things I hated (filing!!) because it taught me to be grateful.

Kathleen said...

Yes, I've done a similar array of work, and loved especially my stints in libraries and my current one, in a bookstore! May teach college again, if I find the right opportunity. For now, glad to leave the teaching opportunity to another woman (or man) who needs that job. Like you, I am very grateful for the educational and employment opportunities that have opened to women during even my short time on earth!

seana said...

Kathleen, thank you for bringing this up to the present again, as I was feeling a bit guilty about taking the comments back to an old AWP when those of you who attended must be eager to compare notes on the new.

As for the Tate interview, it's one of those Rashomon moments that I think is fascinating to reflect on.

I have just been reading the biography of Zora Neale Hurston, and though I knew she died in poverty, I did not know that she had worked for a short time as a maid at the end of her life. The woman who hired her didn't even know who she was and learned of her famous writer status only by accident. Although we might be appalled by the fact that she was forced into these circumstances, in fact, she seemed to take it in stride. Probably not her favorite job, but she didn't seem to think of it as anything but honorable. And she was right to think so. A day job is only a day job.

Kathleen said...

I just wrote about Zora recently in my book blog!

I love that see loved herself. Even though she died in poverty, unknown after some glorious times, I'm going to trust that she loved herself through it somehow.

seana said...

Kathleen, I read your blog post and didn't know whether to respond here or there. I've been working on a project about Hurston so I was very happy to read your post. I actually just posted about Valerie Boyd's biography of Hurston, which, if you're so inclined, you can find here.