Like some of the diligent who attend AWP, some who know this may be one of the few times off-leash, so to speak, I used the online planner to plot out my three days. And, as has happened the last two years, everything diverted in strange ways--I wedged in a trip to the Field Museum rather than attend a much-needed panel on first books, etc. Sometimes it's worth it. I was many selves at AWP: mama, wife, friend, editor, poet, feminist.
The first panel I attended was called Troubling the Label: When Does a Text Become Feminist?, which was moderated by Arielle Greenberg and the journal So to Speak. In her introduction, Greenberg spoke of how she thinks about her projects in terms of feminism and called herself a "radical homemaker" (I like this and must steal, especially after cringing at the form-popular "homemaker"). Cate Marvin shared the VIDA count, and spoke of her work with the "stealth poem" that employs feminist topics but uses the male apparatus; she referenced coding much of what she was writing. Marvin is a single mother by choice, an experience my friend Holly wrote about occasionally on a now-defunct blog, and CM cited feeling emasculated while pushing a stroller on a college campus, stating she "had actually gone around thinking I was a man." She realized how disparaging fellow professors could be: why would you want that? Professors who would ignore her daughter, an impossibility to ignore, in her space-devouring stroller. Marvin had to discover a new community, and she said she learned to collaborate for the first time in her life with VIDA, which arose: "Let's just count it instead of being irrational or hysterical." Those pie charts are alarming. There was an emphasis on the term "non-hierarchical," and the panel was mostly introductions and discussion with the audience--each question turned back to the attendees before the panelists might explore. Toward the end, one woman spoke of dismantling the institution, mentioning tools such as collaboration and hybridity as methods. This, in light of my own collaborative project, made me quiet content.
Post-museum, I scooted to the Conversation with Alice Notley panel. My fellow Seven Stitches Poetry Collective girls adore Notley, so I was happy to tag along and soak in some of the swooning. Notley was introduced in phrases: more circuitous than time and story, she writes the epic of her voice, epic not in terms of scale, thickened at all points and all times, the other of voision, of dreaming, mysteries of small houses. Notley said, "Somebody said The Culture of One was prose poems, but I think they forgot to read it."
She read, and I skittered snippets: the epic of guilty mesh, what do you know except for this haunt I am, can you find a center in an echo, this is your internal corona, here's the expel story in my head
She was asked about her ghouls. For her, ghouls represent the need for justice. "I'm making it for them; I'm instructing their city... Dido founded a city, she founded Carthage, and then Virgil wrote his beautiful, stupid poem... These were women who founded things and they've been turned into wimpy suicides and evil women (Medea)... I'm becoming a still woman with all of time around me."
She was asked: there is a laziness associated with the New York School, and in a move away from Frank O'Hara and Berryman with clock-time, calendrical-time, a kind of secular time, a move into mythic time. "I don't know why we have bodies. It creates so much time and fuss."
Notley spoke of how she became Mercy, the Goddess with a thousand arms. She found herself there and couldn't go back. She spoke of how she attended art museums--"canoes and statues of women with vulvas. Wood carvings and Asian masks." The goddess: "There's nothing to do but have arms and touch."
How does she write? She often edits down at the same time as generating: new material is written in the morning. "I don't have a lyric voice any more, but I do have the possibility of inhabiting all of these voices."
Fragmentation of voice, of self. A joke told (Meryl Streep), a writer blushing.
Cate Marvin's campus shunning and the babies in carriers, along with my Balancing the Tide project and my daughter were very much on my mind. A few readers later, I wrote this in my notebook:
Mother-poets are everywhere and are still a rarity: Karen's husband carries their son in the hallway around the theatre and the reader following debates the choices in an epistemological poem to Eileen Myles. Her husband is back in the hotel room, and she asks us to think good toddler thoughts, so he will sleep and she can stay longer at the reading. I am attuned to motherhood. I cannot forget; my breasts pang in fullness. Pang to the elevator's arrival. Pan to the slip of bags to the floor. I'm busy thinking my own good toddler thoughts as Maya wakes from her nap and begins terrorizing the curtains, calls out from the 15th floor. Her lips fish-kiss the glass.
Vidoes on YouTube: (The video quality is terrible, as I only had my cell phone and we were towards the back of the auditorium, but you get the sense of the reading--Karen at the podium, reading her gorgeous poems. She also has audio of her poems on her website, which likely do much better justice to her well-paced and gentle reading voice.)
Karen Rigby reads from her first book of poems, Chinoiserie, which won the 2011 Sawtooth Prize from Ahsahta Books at an off-site AWP reading. http://www.karenrigby.com/
"In the Lizard Dark, No Fire in the Orchid"