48 hours at the AWP conference isn’t enough. But I was lucky enough to pick good places to be and good people to be with. Both mornings I went downstairs to the Palmer House lobby and wrote. That felt luxurious and crazy because I’m usually running back and forth from the living room to the kitchen getting Ambrose more apple juice, and cereal, and packing his lunch, checking my school bag, and trying not to step on our fat black cat who insists on walking between my legs. Instead, for 48 hours, I was surrounded by this:
There is a massive Louis Pierre Rigal fresco on the ceiling which is dotted with giant medallions of Renaissance-inspired naked/sometimes half-clothed women. It was painted in the late 1800’s, which gives it an odd out-of-time feeling. When the mural was first unveiled, a journalist called it “a wonderful protest of romance against the everydayness of life.” It’s definitely over the top in the massive splendor category. I found myself staring for quite some time.
I saw some old friends, met some fine people, and drank enough to know I was at AWP but not so much that I was confused. I came home with a bagful of books and somehow I will find time to read them. Being an only parent isn’t very conducive to a writing life, but I’m fighting to figure it out.
I went to some readings and some panels. The panel I enjoyed the most was titled “Political Poetry: America and Abroad” with Matthea Harvey, Tom Sleigh, Nick Lantz, and Jeff Yang. The thing I enjoyed most about it was how differently the panelists interacted and changed political material without a narrow agenda, or even a clear sense of what was going to happen when they embarked on their projects. I have always had difficulty trusting the place of politics in my own work, particularly as a mid-western writer who hasn’t travelled much internationally and who didn’t grow up near anyone who had. There’s some lens that I always felt I was missing but was unsure of how to produce. Yet, politics comes in whether I invite it to or not, and, in the past few years, with greater frequency. This panel was a moment of invitation for me to keep confronting my own insecurities about this– I don’t need to totally understand and I don’t need to totally control these political moments, but rather I need to let them filter through. After the panelists spoke, they briefly read from their work, and Nick Lantz’ reading of “Will There Be More Than One ‘Questioner’?” was riveting, almost unbearably so. I’ll end with a link to the poem and, if I could, a moment of silence. The link includes a brief explanation of the material Lantz was working with, a 1983 declassified CIA document for interrogators. The poem appears in his 2010 book We Don’t Know We Don’t Know: