Tuesday, 5 February 2008

AWP, Day 2 Panels (1 February '08)

On Friday, 1 February, I attended two outstanding panels. The first was the Graywolf Press reading. Ron Carlson was first and read a refreshingly straightforward excerpt from his book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, tracing the development of a single story in minute detail. I doubt I'll forget his joke about why not to use one's name in a title, as his acquaintances have teased him by remarking on his actions thus: "Ron Carlson Gets His Mail," etc. The youngish Benjamin Percy read next from the title story of his collection, Refresh Refresh. I'm keen to buy and read the whole, as the excerpt was masterful and completely engaging. The works by Terese Svoboda (Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI's Secret from Post-War Japan) and Tracy K. Smith ("Like a god, I believe in nothing") were also strong, yet the highlight for me was Mary Jo Bang's reading from her outstanding new book, Elegy (focused on the death of her son at age 37), and from a new collection in progress, The Bride of E. Reading Elegy over the time of the conference, I copied 5 1/2 pages of quotations into my journal--there were so many strong passages. Here are a few:

Memory is deeply not alive; it's a mock-up
And this renders it hateful. Yet, it is not a fiction,
Is a truth, indeed a sad and monstrous truth.
I was assigned to you, together we were
A beautiful and melancholic picture.
This last picture is the realization
Of the overwhelming moment
In which the acute eye perceives you as a now
That is over. A now that is now fixed
In the swept past.

(from "September Is")

The lights close their stupid white eyes
On the cruel inaccuracy of an end that was meant
To happen much later but didn't. It happened soon
After when the held danger broke like light

On water churning over someone going under.

(from "The Watch")

How changed we are.
Otherwise no longer exists.
There is only stasis, continually
Granting ceremony to the moment.

(from "Evidence")

The second panel of my day (at other times I was manning the Bath Spa stall at the bookfair) was "Crafting an Eco-Poetics," with Forrest Gander, Cecilia Vicuña, Jonathan Skinner, Marcella Durand, and Rochelle Tobias. The panoply of perspectives was impressive. Gander began with an impressive overview of the state of eco-poetics, then Rochelle Tobias delivered her intriguing paper, "Aster Disaster: The Nature of Names," looking at how the name of the flower aster affected its use in poetry. Next Marcelle Durand addressed the issue of "false colour views," the common use of astronomical photography that is distorted or "massaged" in some way, to demonstrate a particular scientific understanding, to differentiate among an object's features, to create a more attractive image, etc.

In his paper "Thoughts on Things: Poetics of the Third Landscape," Jonathan Skinner defined the third landscape as that landscape which is neither cultivated nor preserved; he usefully discussed instances in Peter Larkin's Leaves of Field, James Thomas Stevens's "A Half-Breed's Guide to the Use of Native Plants," and Maggie O'Sullivan's "Starlings." At the end, time running out,
Vicuña essentially provided an overview of the panel by presenting a kind of poem of phrases from different papers, starting with Skinner's and working back; it was a poem that could not be understood rightly, I suspect, without wide use of textual formatting to indicate how she used her voice, from whisper to patter to hoarse enunciation to the evocation of a little girl's voice--and more. An unexpected, fitting conclusion. I'm eager to learn more about eco-poetics, particularly in how it has emerged and developed in the US and UK--reading recommendations on this subject are most welcome.

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