Monday, February 16, 2009

AWP & Virginia

I'm in a motel room in Vienna, Virginia armed with Whole Foods snacks, having spent the day at Arden Courts, Fairfax, with my mother. As I'm not big on small talk and she does not talk much at all, it was a visit mainly of sitting side by side, sometimes watching an odd film called _Mesmerized_, a kind of Australian western with Jodie Foster in it. The film must have restarted itself, because it went on hour after hour. Foster brandished scissors, read from a medical text to her broad accented husband, walked the beach with another man; I walked out of the room when the husband was having teeth pulled in 19th century fashion, no pain killers.

_Dementia Blog_ will have no sequel, because Alzheimer's has none. There are many new residents, and several I miss because, as the staff says, they "have passed" or been moved (in the case of the woman with the remarkably devoted husband whom I saw every previous time I visited). But the behaviors and the conversations sound remarkably the same. One newer resident plucks invisible stuff off the carpet; he handed some of it to my mother, who opened her hand and accepted it. Another speaks in a kind of stutter; she says the same word several times in a row and then moves to the next (repetition within sentences like the repetitions of the disease itself). So she says, "no no no" followed by "yes yes yes" and refused to eat, though she kept chopping at the gravied turkey. Her son waited behind the wall because he didn't want to interrupt her lunch. Another woman chants nursery rhymes, sings about how hard it is to get up in the morning, and burst forth with a song in what I'm pretty sure was Yiddish.

I spoke with members of the staff, including the new marketing person who went to a high school reunion and met an old friend from Alexandria (blonde Irish) who lives in Mililani works in the fire department and sends his daughter to Kamehameha (the pronunciations were left to me). We talked about Hawai'i's racial politics and Obama. She had visited Hawai'i and wondered if there were any black people there (the staff at Arden Courts, including her, is almost all African American or African immigrant), Lots of Obama stickers in northern VA and one I saw that referred to Operation Quagmire. Another new member of the staff said she had not attended school as a child in Somalia because of the civil war, but that a wonderful teacher in Alexandria had helped her when she was plunked down in an intermediate school classroom.

AWP was for me mostly the book fair, the Tinfish table and much wandering. Saw some good friends and met a new Cards fan; soon we'll have quite an AWP interest group. Jade Sunouchi and Meg Withers held the fort often, and we were sandwiched between Craig Perez and Jennifer Reimer on the one side, and Bill and Lise Howe on the other. A staggering number of presses engaged in an inventory of glut, which met the economy of recession with some discomfort.

I "moderated" the _Multiformalisms_ panel, which was (un)planned as a discussion and quickly became contentious. There was much talk of form as violence, or any new use of form as a form of violence, which may not have done justice either to form or to violence. We spoke alternately of form as activity and as content. I contradicted myself terribly on the question of hybridity, or perhaps offered a strange hybrid answer to the question of the multiple uses of form. Dick Allen of the grand anthology asked a question in which he commented that when he sends poems in different forms to journals, he's never certain which poems will be accepted, whether the sonnets or the free verse. Hank Lazer and Kasey Mohammad were not keen on this, nor was I, though I found myself talking about documentary poetry instead and opining that journals that publish various forms are fine, while people who write them are not. Or something. Will have to think more on that, and probably drop the judgmental tone that I heard emanating from my moderating voice.

I also attended two evenings of readings at Links Hall, which were a mixed bag centered around a lot of presses. The Tinfish reading featured Meg and Craig. I had heard Craig before in person, but not Meg, and I very much liked the way she read her sad/funny drag queen prose poems. When I taught them this past summer, many students didn't seem to hear all the voices in the prose blocks, so I asked them to perform them outloud, on the roof and in the small roof room we workshopped in. What they found in the poems was what Meg also offered at Links Hall. Voices. Paul Naylor says the poems remind him of Berryman. I don't quite "get" the connection, but I like it. While Meg's are not sonnets, they offer distinct voices. Life, friends, is boring, they might say, as they drank a rum and coke.

And now Virginia, which seems so different now, though I think it's as much this subject as it is that object. The view is different after almost 19 years away, and staying in a motel also changes the frame considerably. I'll see my mother again tomorrow, then leave on a very early flight out of BWI on Wednesday.

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