Heard at AWP 2018

The meaning of life: I don’t know and I don’t care. Bells don’t ask questions…When you’re old you have fewer questions about the nitty-gritty of poems. There are bigger fish to fry. Dying fish.               -Mary Ruefle in “Hell’s Bells,” a talk on tone

You cannot trust the sea.           -Ishion Hutchinson, plenary reading

On the days after the election, I had nothing to say, nothing to write.    -Virgil Suárez, plenary reading

Was was what we were.         -Diane Seuss, panel on persona poetry

African-American writers and other writers of the African diaspora–we don’t feel the sovereignty to write in the personal I, much of the time.   –Vievee Francis, panel on persona poetry

As soon as I put the I on the page I am abstracting myself. I can never be on the page…even the notion we can pin down a dialect seems kind of offensive to me.                   -Gregory Pardlo, panel on persona poetry

Forgive me, but you have such amazingly thick hair! Sorry, that was inappropriate.            -very nice editor (with thinning hair) to me, in the bookfair, when I bent down to pull out a business card

Above are some high points from a conference filled with literary geniuses. I can also give you the most awesome Q&A reply ever, useful for all kinds of occasions, courtesy of Mary Ruefle: “That is such a beautiful question I won’t spoil it with an answer.” You’re welcome.

There were low points, too, involving aching feet and feeling cosmically inconsequential, despite my super-elite board-member chartreuse lanyard (preserved in the picture below, since next year I’ll wear civilian colors again). I always find AWP exhausting but paradoxically nourishing, too, both because of literary riches and the presence of friends I rarely see. I was moved especially this year by how many women, old friends and strangers, touched my arm and said kind words, in low voices, about my Claudia Emerson essay, “Women Stay Put.” Sometimes you ring a bell and the sound seems to vanish; other times it resonates back to you. I’m so grateful when the tone returns.

I’ll be working to keep the good vibrations going as I fly back to Virginia today. To echo Diane Seuss and Ann E. Michael: is is what I’ll endeavor to be.



7 thoughts on “Heard at AWP 2018

  1. I love this: ” Sometimes you ring a bell and the sound seems to vanish; other times it resonates back to you. I’m so grateful when the tone returns.”
    Hard won inspiration sounds like a good outcome for a conference.


  2. You are so consequential–not seeing you is one of the things I regret most about missing AWP. I’m thankful for this report, and a little shook by whose words you’ve shared from Tampa, since I’ve spent this week reading Forest Primeval and My Private Property (such great books)….And your essay, “Women Stay Put,” is so moving, so powerful. Consider this my hand on your arm, and my thanks for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The ivy climbs and spreads and is appropriately green to serve as metaphor for your thoughts on life death life. You never fail to surprise me standing as strong as a stone wall. I’d have expected something light and pink. But you are a woman of surprises and images and insights to withstand the worst gales. A life does matter. No matter its origin.

    Liked by 1 person

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