Information about the Desert City Poetry Series, contemporary poetry & poetics, and poetry readings & events in central North Carolina.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Key Bridge & AWP

(I probably screwed up the spelling of a lot of people's names, so I'm sorry for that. I've got to go to bed now though, so I'll fix it tomorrow, okay?)

I got up at 3am Friday morning and drove to Atlanta for AWP. When I got there (after finding a way around the security guards perched at the escalators), I walked through the bright box of light planted firmly between the tables piled with books and the holey ceiling tiles. Lots of other people walked in streams up and down the aisles with their heads cocked down about forty five degrees to read the cards that identified each table. The people behind the table watched the people walk by to catch the moment when a walked would look up for a moment. I saw Tanya, my friend and board member for Carolina Wren, at a table near the bathroom, and when I got to the table, I saw my book! For the very first time! Wow. What fun. The rest of the weekend was pretty great as well.

I spent most of that day sitting at the table, talking with the folks that came by, being startled everytime I saw my face on the back of the book, and worrying about what to write when people asked me to sign their books (I later had a conversation with Zach Schomberg about it -- he doesn't write "dear," so far I do. I think that is the only difference between he and I actually.) Our table was pretty popular and close to the bathroom, so we saw a lot of people. I saw Brent Cunningham who was wearing very fancy shoes. Later on I called him "bitches." He objected to my use of the plural. At one point, a woman came up and said "a-ha, this is the book I've been looking for." And she picked up my book! I was pretty dumbfounded actually. Did people really know I had a book out? Aside from me? Hadn't my recent hermitage more or less wiped the memory of me from the rippling water of fame? Indeed it had, but thankfully, Carly Sachs had told this woman, a woman who taught at GW with her, that I had written a book all about Washington, DC (I did, and it's my first book, and it's called Key Bridge though that's all probably obvious information by now.) This woman, Mary, was a fourth generation Washingtonian and delightfully sharp. So we talked for quite a while about DC history, politics, graffiti, etc. Then I saw Camille Dungy who I hadn't seen in a while, and she was full of sunshine and happy to see me. We hugged and talked and then she bought my book. I signed that one (my first) and did an awful job of it. I think I wrote something like:



Camille kindly recommended that I come up with like a one or two word back up message. She would not relinquish her exclusive claim to "Joy!" So I think I'm going with "Oy!" (Later, Zach wrote in his Man Suit and said that he loved me. I think people might get creeped out by that though or at least think I was being insincere.)

I also met Matt O'Donell who had a sweet little rig set up to show off his From the Fishhouse audio webmagazine. I was happy to meet him becuase he published one of my Ms. Lonelyhearts letters that I wrote to President Bush.

I also saw Randy Prunty (not for the last time.) Randy had also avoided the guards perched at the elevators. Randy was giving out cards for the reading he, Bill Lavender, John Lowther, and the Atlanta Poets' Group had organized. They had organized the reading, but as became clear later, no one could tame that reading. I was exctited about the reading because a lot of my favorite poets were going to be there, and I was going to read, too.

Then I met Mairead Byrne and watched her daughter do the "god, mom, let's go, why on earth do you think TALKING is so fun?!" Mairead was really nice and had a lovely Donegal (northwest Ireland) accent. I asked her if she was from Donegal, but she wasn't; she grew up in Dublin, and her parents were from Donegal.

Mathias Svalina came by also. I'd never met him but exchanged a couple emails with him. He turned out to be one of the nicest, most enthusiastic, and generally warm people I met the whole weekend. He has a chapbook coming out, he publishes stuff with Zach through various Octupus ventures. It's true that they are many-armed. I liked Mathias pretty much immediately. He was also full of sunshine with some shade, too.

I saw Sebastian Matthews, and we talked about how weird it was to see people who we hadn't seen in a long time (I'd seen Sebastian the week before in Asheville at a Lucipo reading at the Black Mountain College Center.) Sebastian said, "Yeah, people around here keep saying 'I remember when you were just ten years old!'" His dad is the famous poet William Matthews.

I also met Derek White who was selling his Calamari Press books -- they're good looking books, the giant squids of the micro-press world. We talked about Christian Peet though Christian Peet wasn't there.

I walked around and saw my old professors Clint McCown and John Rosenwald from afar. Clint eluded me -- purposefully? -- the whole time.

I ran into Adam Clay who was wearing stripes. He said that his table was "over there," and I said "follow the hipsters, right?" He and I later agreed to just sign our names on each others' books. All that needed to be said between us was said in the way we keep leap frogging each other in our strolls through the book fair aisles. A tether of fascination would not let us stray far from each other apparently. Or maybe it was my plantar fasceitis for which I was wearing my new running shoes even though I don't like wearing running shoes for just walking around. They are called running shoes. Adam's stride was unhindered.

I found their table, and talked briefly with Matt Henrikson and with the editor of Black Ocean books which published Zach's book and did a very nice job. It's a book that fits easily in the hand and feels good there like a stone that maybe you liked and kept for a while.

I might have met other people; I know I met other people. Some of them didn't tell me who they were. I didn't know Andrea when she came up later in the afternoon to relieve Tanya. Tanya kept saying, "and this is the author, Ken Rumble, sitting right here" when people looked at my book. Most of the people checked the picture before, apparently, accepting her statement.

I also waited for a long time in a line to get a cuban sandwich. I waited with my old professor Robin Becker who only wanted a diet coke. It was a long wait for a sandwich and longer for a diet coke. Not that the time was different just that the payoff was less. Robin and I talked about all the strange things people had done since leaving Penn State; it was like we were billiards on a pool table designed by M.C. Escher.

Later I would see Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, and we would remark to each other about the same phenomenon. She is beautiful and like bamboo with a gentle dark fountain coming from the top of her head.

I think that is the last of the people that I met that day at the conference. I checked into my hotel room about 6 o'clock to lie down for a few minutes before dinner. I held my book for a little while and kept opening it and quickly shutting it. I couldn't really read anything in it. I would start reading then quickly have to stop.

I wasn't really late to meet Andrea, Anita, and Tanya. We went to Six Feet Under which is across the street from a graveyard. They serve a lot of seafood. It is not far from the Eyedrum gallery where the reading randy & company organized was going to take place. I'd eaten at Six Feet Under with Brian Howe, Marcus Slease, David Need, and Randall Williams about a year and a half before when we were in ATL to give a Lucipo reading at Eyedrum. I ate the oyster po' boy with avocados again. It was good again.

We talked about going to AWP@NYC. Andrea's mom owns a brownstone in Manhattan. We talked about having a keg party. Tanya was very excited about the conference and generally enthusiastic. It was fun to talk to her and feel her energy about the whole thing. I thought that it was because she'd never seen so many writers and poets all in the same place before -- unless you've been to AWP or a big book festival (though even the book fests don't really compare to AWP) most of the time you just don't really see that many writers in one place. One of the emotions that the experience can cause is joy like "wow, I'm not the only guppy who chews sand!"

So we had a hard time finding a table but eventually bellied up to the bar and ate there. After all, as Andrea said, we didn't have our children with us.

I regreted several times that I didn't have a digital camera.

We finished and went over to Eyedrum and parked unnecessarily far away. John Lowther met us at the entrance. He was wearing a dapper cap tilted at a jaunty angle and looked pleased. I was happy to see him and gave him a hug. I walked in and the place was dark and about 3/4ths filled. Someone was reading. For the next four and a half hours, someone was reading. Some of the people that were reading were Peter Gizzi, Liz Willis, Rae Armantrout, Amy King, randy prunty, Joseph Makkos, Laura Mullen, Christian Bok, Alice Notley but I missed her (damn!), Jed Rasula, Bill Lavender, Jena Osman, Mairead Byrne, Evie Shockley, Lee Ann Brown, and more many many more.

Everyone read well and the audience flowed back and forth. I saw Evie for the first time and hugged her. She hadn't slept but a few hours in about three days, so I did not quiz her on state capitals. I was happy to see her, and after she read later on, the crowd cheered and hooted, and I did, too. I said hello to Christian Bok who I'd met at the last Carrboro Poetry Festival. He later read the poem about superman dying -- ka-POW! -- and I told him his performance had had a big influence on me. Later he said he wanted to steal a line that'd I'd read: "seizure suit." Then he said he was just going to steal it.

Lee Ann Brown sang a beautiful song about turning swords to ploughs. It struck me that she is a brave woman. She read a poem that meditated on New Orleans after Katrina.

Bill Lavender also read some poems about Katrina. The poems helped me imagine the terror, anger, and just sort of weird dumbness of the whole thing. Like here we are in the middle of a flooded hurricane bashed city floating around on a blow-up mattress to get from one place to another, and it's scary and sad and tragic, but also just stupid. Are we really this dumb to have not been able to do something better than this for such a huge disaster, for all these people? His poems seemed to ask. Yes, we are this dumb. And despite the dumbness of so many people on the outside of that disaster, many of the people inside that disaster survived on marvelous, necessary ingenuity.

John Lowther read a very funny piece and had a light show. It was illuminating. Yes, that just happened. I laughed a lot during John's piece. He said that it wasn't his real poetry that he was reading, but I think he was lying. What he meant was that he wasn't the real John Lowther; the poetry was not the imposter.

Joseph Makkos later gave me grief for waffling out of a fellowship at the Poetry Farm last fall. I did waffle out of the poetry farm last fall. It was a waffling time, and I was getting paid by the hour without vacation. Those are excuses; the truth is I waffled. Jospeh Makkos also made me laugh a lot during his reading -- it was crazy and chaotic and involved two microphones, voice effects, video, and music. I think if Joseph could have filled the room with a body temperature, breathable liquid that could smell like different things so that he could communicate to the human observer through every sensory threshhold then he would have.

I also saw Joe Donahue in the lobby before leaving for dinner. I was happy to see him.

I had a hard time paying attention to the poems some people were reading; these one's that I can remember fairly clearly and describe were the ones that bashed me in the head. They bashed me in a good way, and everyone else read well, but I don't remember everyone else's readings as clearly. There were 40 some poets reading that night; I hope I can be forgiven.

Amy King introduced me to Janet Holmes. This may sound infantilizing, but it is not meant to be so: Janet Holmes is really cute and little. It was only a brief meeting unfortunately, but that is what struck me very clearly about her, she's really attractive and really little. She had a lovely warm smile and seemed as if she contained an internal power plant. Energy bristled off of her. I stopped by the Asahta table a few times to try to see her again and to meet Kate Greenstreet, but I didn't see Kate at all or Janet again.

When I heard Laura Mullen's name called, I became excited because I like her poems and had exchanged some nice correspondence with her from time to time. We'd never met, but there she was wearing a knock-out of a white coat with a jagged pattern of dark lines that made patches of white sort of like the way a lake bed breaks up when the water drains away and it is hot under the sun. Later I saw her and said "Laura Mullen! I'm Ken Rumble." And she smiled and said "Ken! it's good to meet you!" (I might be making that part up) and then the separate groups that we were in pulled us apart and into the waiting taxis that took us home.

Bruce Covey read some funny poems, too. And he read on Saturday night, too, and both nights he said some really funny things and lots of people laughed, and I did, too. Bruce is really tall and when he stands at the microphone -- most of which are too short for him -- his body sort of curves to his right into this slight C shape. One of the things Bruce said was "fertilator." He said it in front of a big room full of poets and most of us hurriedly scribbled it down.

I read the first section of 24 Hour Breakfast and people laughed. Jill Alexander Essbaum, I later learned, was the one laughing at the inappropriate parts. I was very happy that someone laughed at the inappropriate parts. I had a lot of fun reading from the Breakfast.

Mairead also said something to me that I very much appreciated. She said she was impressed (I don't exactly remember if that was the word but I think something in that vicinity) that I had removed people from the Lucipo list. She said that in the US everyone talked about freedom and choices and free speech and how we were supposed to do what we wanted in the US, but that most people didn't really actually take advantage of that freedom. She said she thought that I had taken that freedom when I changed the list around. That made me feel pretty good.

I also met Max Winter at the reading; I'd gotten his book The Pictures and was happy to hear him talk about the book and read from it.

I also ran into Reb Livingston at some point; we traded witty banter and flatteries. She was winding her way through the crowd like a movie star that was just a little tired of being so famous, ahh the weight of the crown, but all with that Pittsburgh grace and iron city vinegar that makes her such a spit-fire. I would see more of her.

Miranda Lee Reality Torn slept on a nest of blankets as poet after poet took Eyedrum's stage. I was number 36 of 39. Laura Carter was last; she is a good poet. The last time I had seen her was at the Lucipo reading in Atlanta when many of us lay on John Lowther's futon at about 4am, stared at the ceiling, and laughed and laughed and pointed at the funny mountains that textured the walls.

I went home and watched the end of The Eraser; at the end of the film, there is a scene where Arnold watches a train crush the bad guys in a car. It's a simple thing -- he just stands there -- but it looks like a double or CGI. Then I watched the beginning of Bandits which is a movie I like.


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