You know you have been at AWP too long when you think you see Dinty Moore at the hotel bar – no, not the hotel bar where the conference hotel, but at another hotel bar on your long journey back home from the world where everyone is a writer to the real life you find yourself immersed in on a daily basis. I, for one, thoroughly enjoy the emersion that AWP offers. From the time I stepped off the plane in Chicago, I was braided up in situations and conversations with writers from across the US. A travel writer guided me to the subway and we rolled slowly into Chicago from O’Hare. Then, the windy city opened up before me. I ate deep dish pizza, dodged winds that screeched like red tailed hawks., but otherwise was happily encased in the the Hilton hotel.
Tree of trees!
What does it mean to be islanded in a sea of writers? Today, just before I made the rash decision to bail out early and catch a cab to my airport hotel, I sat across the room from Alice Notely while she drank a cup of coffee. Call me a stalker, but, sitting there exhausted, I was filled with glee just to be sitting across from one of my favorite poets. Sure, I’d seen her panel and had her sign the new books I’d bought. I’d blabbered like a groupie about how once, so many years ago, I’d been a 24 year-old grad student sitting across from her in her Paris apartment asking her questions for an interview I’d later publish in our school lit mag. She graciously said she remembered, then smiled and turned to the next in line. But, sitting there just a day later, I felt it all rushing back. The joy and awe it is to be a young writer and to bump up against the humanity of your favorite writers. And that's just what AWP offers. That, and the laberinthian book fair.
On Saturday, I had the distinct honor of being on a panel with three poets I admire: Phyllis Meshulam, Gywnn O'Gara and Tobey Kaplan. We spoke about the joy of teaching poetry recitation to high school students through Poetry Out Loud. Later this month, we'll be heading to Sacramento to hear our county winner compete at the state level. She'll be reciting "The Room" by Conrad Aiken, a difficult, but wonderful poem (see below). My talk was on how teaching students the art of close reading enables them to better connect with and therefore recite their poems.
One of the highlights of the conference was hearing my former teacher Jean Valentine speak about the recently deceased, Eleanor Ross Taylor. Taylor was an extradinary poet and Jean was an extraordinary teacher. (More on this panel later...)
Okay, now it's back to real life. The laundry, picking up the kids from school, but isn't it lovely that always in the background I'll have memories of this past weekend reeling in my mind?
The Room By Conrad Aiken
Through that window — all else being extinct
Except itself and me — I saw the struggle
Of darkness against darkness. Within the room
It turned and turned, dived downward. Then I saw
How order might — if chaos wished — become:
And saw the darkness crush upon itself,
Contracting powerfully; it was as if
It killed itself: slowly: and with much pain.
Pain. The scene was pain, and nothing but pain.
What else, when chaos draws all forces inward
To shape a single leaf? . . .
For the leaf came,
Alone and shining in the empty room;
After a while the twig shot downward from it;
And from the twig a bough; and then the trunk,
Massive and coarse; and last the one black root.
The black root cracked the walls. Boughs burst the window:
The great tree took possession.
Tree of trees!
Remember (when time comes) how chaos died
To shape the shining leaf. Then turn, have courage,
Wrap arms and roots together, be convulsed
With grief, and bring back chaos out of shape.
I will be watching then as I watch now.
I will praise darkness now, but then the leaf.