It snowed on our way down, that thick clumpy sort, the kind that belongs to December drives into Wisconsin. We made it through the night, sleeping in shifts, our backs curled against windows and doors and arrived as the sun did, our hotel generously allowing us into our room so we could continue our night's sleep.
Day one was: exploring the conference hall, falling in love with big blue polar bears, registering, finding a Chipotle, picking up friends at the airport, delivering boxes of dislocate issues, going to Casa Bonita to watch the "cliff" divers and eat the most plastic Mexican food money can buy, (oh Velveeta and bellow-gut).
Day two: two morning shifts at the dislocate booth, a visitation on a panel on the politics of birth and motherhood, a tour of the book floor and a heavy bag to bring home, a visit to Bull and Bush brewery (we have since fallen in love with avocado in all its wonderful forms), and an evening reading where I surreptitiously took a photograph of audience member Anne Waldman.
Ryan and the boys went to play pool, where they met a woman they called "Shalom," who stumbled and ordered four more whiskeys, who tried to distract Dan by shouting, "Blow you, Dave!" The rest of the weekend and later, on one another's Facebook pages, we've written that, or the alternative: "I'm an elk!" responded with "I'm a sasquatch!" in imitation of Ryan's adorable summation of Mike's Idaho woods story. There are hand gestures too, if you must know, so if you tell me that you are an elk, then I will expect the Rudolf antler-thing, and if you tell me that you are a sasquatch, I'll expect you to more be imitating an T-rex.
Day three: Today was meant to be a nine am to midnight sprint through panels and readings with only fifteen minutes between each block, no room for even dinner, but I woke up feeling so flatteningly unwell I had to wait, to hibernate, to pause and have a true breakfast, and when I finally did emerge from my cocoon of unrest, I attended a reading and interview of Rita Dove and I feel instantly in love. My notes, translated:
- Dove was a professionally trained cellist.
- She watched Immortal Beloved and noticed an African American standing in the background of one scene. A search later and she discovered George Bridgetower.
Q regarding connections of Bridgetower and Beulah.
- Dove didn't think of Beulah at the time. She stated that the work reveals more about the person at the time--often more autobiography than autobiography (as well all lie).
- "I feel like when I was writing these poems, it was me. Or the line between us--there was no difference.
Q regarding expectations placed upon her because she is African-American, writing through the Black Arts movement--interviewer states we are in a post-racial society
- Spoke of American Smooth (which is a type of ballroom dancing), another established poet told interviewer "no one wants to read a poem about ballroom dancing"
- "It's facetious to say we don't notice the difference, but we need to get rid of that fear."
Q What's at stake when we craft toward audience? Need to understand context--poems that could only be written by a woman, someone who is black, etc.
- "Yes, OK--" and poems that only someone who knows music or the streets of Vienna. The experience of writing from what you know. But--then you need to explain if you are not in the majority. So how much do you want to explain to the audience? The key is to make the words so crucial that those who know, will nod and those that don't, will think it's beautiful. It's also the case with historical novels, etc., but because race and gender are so fraught with guilt and anger, it becomes complicated. You have to realize, without rancor, that if you want to send your work into the mainstream, it's something you need to consider.
Q regarding the value of the MFA
- remarkable validation
- learning how your voices stretch, not a time for you to polish but to make things ragged because it's the last free time you've got--
- people's need for approval
- what does being on top matter if you don't like what you are writing? priority is to be satisfied with your own writing
- (Also "the worst time in her life--Sorry, Iowa!")
Last Q: Life after the MFA. Many awards, etc. How do you feel about the prize systems right now? (recognition or replication) Dove is rarely a judge.
- will boost jobs and publications
- all contests look for remarkable work
- contests are a business
- concern for younger writers who write toward the prize and not writing the work that they need to write
- always asks to see all the manuscripts--discovered top 25 in some contests were all uniform--asked to see more
(note: Rita Dove bits are cross-posted on my joint blog, in conversation)
We went to Wynkoop, had Patty's Chile Beer, vegetarian chili and vegan "chicken" wraps, gazed out over the hall filled with pool tables.
Day four: Perhaps the sweetest moment of this day was when my friend Amanda came back to our hotel room, hopping around after getting her books signed by various poets she adores. Dinner was an Italian restaurant Mike found: mushroom ravioli and a pair of raspberry lemonades (with vodka).
Day five: Our long drive begins after we return to the Rocky Mountain Diner. I've had a bad morning; my sour attitude is something I regret, though it flashed and was gone by the evening, with me dancing in my seat, listening to music late into the night as I drove across Nebraska, Iowa, the bit of Minnesota that belongs to us.
My AWP set of photographs is so humble this year in comparison to last, but the full set is here.