Heard at AWP

Chicago Public Library at night

“Electronic literature might also be called born-direct literature.”

“I love the messiness of digital space.”

“Blogs and online magazines with comments best embody the literary anarchy of the web — a literature without gatekeepers.”

“I’m sorry, I like gatekeepers. I don’t have the time to decide what to read.”

“A kind of hypertextual tunneling.”

“It’s emblematic of our societal discomfort with poetry that so many blurbs for poetry books use the word ‘unflinching.’ Actually, I think poets should flinch. We need to get better at flinching.”

“I practice a pedagogy of emergency.”


“The Seminary Bookstore at Hyde Park is the best bookstore in the world. I was jilted by Powell’s.”

“To give a poetry reading is to feel the phantom limb of the musician’s audience.”

“I make 40 to 50 thousand dollars a year traveling around playing the fiddle and reading poetry.”

“If you funk up a cliché, it becomes genius.”

“I was a whore at the poetry bordello.”

“She ripped the cigarette out of his mouth, broke it in half, and jabbed the lit end into his cheek.”

“Not many parks, but lots of feral space.”

“Just because you know how to write doesn’t mean you know how to read.”

with Susan Elbe
With poet and Chicago native Susan Elbe

16 Replies to “Heard at AWP”

    1. Well, I’m sure there are many more complete reviews of AWP than mine! But since next year’s is in the northeast (Boston), I hope you’ll be able to meet me there. I’ll probably go regardless of whether I’m on a panel or working in the book fair.

    1. Oh good. Yes, that really happened. Twitter poet and blogger Maureen Evans was there and told me about it. It was a very dadaist event, so you’d think the young hipster would be forgiven for thinking his transgression — lighting up indoors — might be permissible.

  1. “I practice a pedagogy of emergency.”

    — my daily planning style!

    “Actually, I think poets should flinch. We need to get better at flinching.”

    — “I chain-smoked through the night, / learning to flinch / at the flash of the match light.” – Robert Lowell, “Eye and Tooth”

    “Just because you know how to write doesn’t mean you know how to read.”

    — I gotta think about that one.

  2. So you heard about the Seminary Coop from an independent source, and still did not visit? Fie, sir. Absolutely, positively: mark on calendar for next Chicago visit.

    I am surprised that Peter did not immediately endorse the “just because you know how to write” comment. Have I been led astray by the anecdotals? Writing and reading always have seemed like siblings. Sometimes your sister is so obviously of your gene set as to be obvious to strangers. Other times, she is Joseph Stalin.

    1. Julia, I didn’t think it would be much fun to visit an amazing bookstore with my budget already blown on travel, lodging, and a new laptop. And of course I wasn’t able to get through the book fair without spending an additional $50 or so.

    2. Julie! I was last in Chicago forty-one years ago last summer, but when I get back, I’m visiting the bookstore.

      I like to think that all my favorite writers are close readers, so adopting this line (wrenched as it is from its natural habitat) would mean wading into some freethinking.

  3. I love the comments! Kwame Dawes’ “funking up” the cliche is brilliant & true.

    Also overheard:
    “I find myself attracted to all these panels on trauma and disaster. Is life just shit?”
    “The task of language and imagination is to unveil the spiritual.”
    “Reading is an inherently shifting and unstable model of processing.”
    “The peril lies in thinking you know what evil is. Each of us has one toe in that tarny bog, and it is morally perilous to assign evil to others, even in fiction.” (That one was Marilynne Robinson)
    “We have to accept our humanity and our shabbiness.” (…and that was Ha Jin)

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