Saturday, February 5, 2011

AWP is on! Day 2/3

Couldn't blog at all yesterday as my wife needed our computer for some sessions, and, besides, the internet was down at the conference hotel. Bad news when you've got a bunch of computer-hungry writers around. On the whole it was a good day, though, despite opening up my portable hard drive at one point and not seeing the file of the novel I completed in my Novel Writing workshop last semester. (See former posts about this subject.) I had planned on doing some editing, and it was nowhere to be found. Later, however, I discovered the problem.

Went to an interesting, and fairly angry (maybe I should say urgent) session called The Future of Creative Writing at the Academy. The subtitle could have been, "Or how do we get these idiot administrators off our backs?" The most troubled speakers were two women from University of Central Florida, where drastic administrative intrusion is forcing them to make very hard decisions. Like teaching workshops with 35 students in them. Yes, that's right. And running enormous lecture courses with 150 students. To their credit, they are trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to still do right by their students (which is more than one can say for their administrators), but it sounds like quite a battle. As usual, the voice of serenity and careful planning was Philip Gerard from UNC-Wilmington, whose program is as thoughtfully put together--and functionally autonomous--as any in the country. Sounds like a little bit of creative writing heaven.

At lunch, I took my own advice and drafted a couple poems, playing around with some of the words in the songs piping through the radio at the sandwich place where I ate. The songs were "Don't you love me, baby?" and "Piano Man." I know. I can hear the cringing. Too bad. It was a poetic word game, and I enjoyed it. It also gave me something to tinker with later as I sat at the Toad Suck Review booth, waiting to snare stragglers with our sales pitch.

I went to one other session yesterday, this one on the Long Poem. I'm toying with the idea of proposing a Topics in Creative Writing class at my school on this subject, so I was curious to hear what the speakers had to say. There were a great many contemporary long poems referenced, and a number of practical aesthetic points discussed, but what sticks in my craw from this session has nothing to do with its subject matter. This was yet another one of those typical AWP sessions in which no time was afforded for audience questions, mainly because one of the panelists just couldn't bring herself to edit down her clearly too long paper. She must have spoken for at least a half hour. Not only did the audience not get a chance to speak, but one of the panelists never did either! What is wrong with these people? Why can AWP not insist on a ten or twelve minute time limit per panel speaker? Why can't these speakers simply time themselves in advance and--hey, amazing idea--edit their darn papers if they have to to fit the time frame? Talk about blithe arrogance, talk about self involvement to the point of myopia--which unfortunately is a characteristic of the whole AWP organization. Heck, talk about disrespecting your audience. The people who attend this conference are smart people; their questions, and the responses they evoke, are often the best aspect of a session. Yet maybe half the sessions at an AWP leave time for such questions, even though every single session claims it will.

As I mentioned, I also hung out a bit more in AWP's gigantic Book Fair, which in the end may be more valuable to writers than the sessions are. The most interesting figure in the room was writer Davis Schneiderman, who came dressed as a mime, white face and all. And then he acted like one, freaking out a number of dumbfounded writers. We are a blockheaded group, aren't we? (See previous comments about myopia.) Since Davis visited UCA last year, I'm familiar with his inventive gamesmanship. I loved it. And as a contributor to the new Toad Suck Review, he dropped by our table and did his mime routine, at least until I realized who he was and then we started chatting. I've discovered a few interesting new journals at the Book Fair (or at least new to me) and have heard about some intriguing format changes in other ones. Seattle Review, for instance, has completely remade itself into a journal committed to longer forms; that is, the long poem, the novella, and the long essay. How convenient to find this out just as I'm thinking of proposing a Long Poem course. And there's no doubt that the most underrepresented forms in the marketplace of literary journals are the longer forms. There's almost no place to send them, which is ridiculous and culturally stifling. Congrats to Seattle Review for being forward thinking.

Bit more of the conference today, and then I meet my mother and sister for a visit to the Phillips Collection--not far from our hotel--and a dinner in DC. It's great to be back in this city again, where I lived and worked several years ago. On one hand it hasn't changed a bit. It's still elegant and upbeat and remarkably multi-cultural. On the other hand, it's easy to see plenty of little changes. But nothing fundamental. Like all great cities, it abides.

1 comment:

  1. John, sorry we didn't get a chance to talk in DC. I completely agree with your observation about the lack of moderation on AWP panels. In fact, in Atlanta, I was on a panel and it was the moderator who decided he got to present as well, which wasn't planned, and then held our panel over while other people were arriving for the next session. He never looked up and read with a relentless drive. No chance for us to interrupt. Total disaster and completely rude.

    On a more positive note: glad you had a good conference. Mine was shortened but wonderful. Liked your rules of conduct as well.