I was worried, rightfully so, that I would be both overwhelmed and aesthetically undernourished this past weekend at AWP in Chicago. To begin with, I have always made a point to attend readings, even if I know that I may leave not only unsatisfied with what I’ve heard (as further in pang upon the delivery of one’s words), but also spangled with questions as to where contemporary poetry stands. I saw between fifty and one-hundred poets read over the weekend and I would say that I enjoyed maybe ten of those. Here I am going to try and break this down, and as to why.
To begin with, many of the poets I had not heard of yet seemed to pose upon either side of a pendulum I so often feel repelled by: this is the poet who either enters a context with political intentions, or, when nothing can be said upon said investigation, writhes in pulmonary chuckles, choicing their words in a vein that is complacently satirical and no more than anecdotal stew. Don’t get me wrong, I can entertain the turn of a pun and laugh indiscreetly at many words when run alongside one another, but this is usually with one other person (if not just self) in the room and never as the magnet toward a poetic finish line. I am perplexed by this and why it is so often an emblem of what is published by the many journals we encounter. I believe part of this has to do with the falsely layered definitions of poetry, such as hybrid, that somehow coax the underlings (here I use this term loosely, as I myself would be an underling) into believing they should abide by a force only terminology owns, a school that pins something down as to say that a past and a future are not enough.
Hopefully I shall develop some more opinions on this front, as I would love to discuss it with anyone. Despite many disappointments, I was thrilled to hear the following poets: Shane McCrae, Sara Veglahn, Arda Collins, Richard Meier, Joel Brouwer, Lisa Fishman, Lily Brown, Ish Klein, Nick Twemlow, Jen Hofer, Johannes Goransson, Laura Solórzano, Cole Swensen, Forrest Gander. There may be a few more, as I am now realizing the ratio of enjoyment to indifference to distaste was around 1-3-5.
Books I am sitting down with tonight:
Amy Gerstler’s Crown of Weeds
The Elements of Style: an encyclopedia of Interior Architectural details from 1485 to the Present
two films by Herzog: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Even Dwarfs Started Small