Monday, April 04, 2005

Back from AWP

I’m back from AWP and my memories are a blur of Vancouver rain. I vaguely remember walking down a path strewn with cherry blossoms and magnolia leaves in Stanley Park. I also remember the divine morning pastries at Sen5es. I’ve never found such literally melt-in-your-mouth croissants anywhere in San Francisco.

As far as poetry highlights, as I said, it’s all a blur, but I will say that Anne Carson’s reading was amazing. It ranged from new translations of Catullus to an oratorio “in the style of Gertrude Stein.” I think she has a new book coming out later this year (Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera), and I can’t wait. A couple other new books I recommend are Kevin Prufer’s Fallen From a Chariot, which I read on the flight back to San Francisco; Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, probably the best first book I’ve read in a long, long time; Brendan Galvin’s Habitat: New And Selected Poems, 1965-2005 (about time for a selected poems by Galvin!); and Enid Shomer’s Stars at Noon: Poems from the Life of Jacqueline Cochran. I haven’t read this last but definitely want to after hearing her read a couple of poems in Vancouver. And yes, I do notice that for some bizarre reason (based on my interest in Calvocoressi’s and Shomer’s books), my taste seems to be attracted to the aviatrix theme lately. Actually Kevin Prufer’s book also strangely fits with aviation. Galvin’s, however, is almost religiously earthbound.

The best parts of AWP are the serendipitous encounters, though, not the readings or books. I was chatting with some friends of friends in a loud bar on Friday night, and finally caught the name of one of them, Mary Cornish. Well … a couple of years ago when I had a chance to nominate some poems for a Pushcart Prize, there was one—only one!—poem I had read over the year that made such a strong impression on me that I nominated it, a poem I’d seen in New England Review, “Restoration” by Mary Cornish. I had had absolutely no idea who she was, and suddenly I found myself having dinner with her and her friends.

As one last memory, I’ll also mention W.S. Merwin, who read with Anne Carson. I think Merwin’s poems are inconsistent, but I found myself deeply moved by some of his poems. Maybe I’m a sentimental fool, but after he read “Search Party,” a poem about the disappearance and reappearance of his dog, I found myself trying to pretend that the tears in my eyes were from allergies. I’ll copy the poem below so you can see what you think. I’m stealing it from another website so I don’t promise it’s 100% accurate. It brings up the interesting question of whether it’s a better poem if you hear Merwin tell the dog story as he introduces it or if you read it on its own and have no idea who or what Maoli is.

Search Party

By now I know most of the faces
that will appear beside me as
long as there are still images
I know at last what I would choose
the next time if there ever was
a time again I know the days
that open in the dark like this
I do not know where Maoli is

I know the summer surfaces
of bodies and the tips of voices
like stars out of their distances
and where the music turns to noise
I know the bargains in the news
rules whole languages formulas
wisdom that I will never use
I do not know where Maoli is

I know whatever one may lose
somebody will be there who says
what it will be all right to miss
and what is verging on excess
I know the shadows of the house
routes that lead out to no traces
many of his empty places
I do not know where Maoli is

You that see now with your own eyes
all that there is as you suppose
though I could stare through broken glass
and show you where the morning goes
though I could follow to their close
the sparks of an exploding species
and see where the world ends in ice
I would not know where Maoli is

—W. S. Merwin


Jennifer said...

Robert, it was great to meet you at the Asian American Anthology reading; me with my "I think you're the guy whose poems I read online and really admired". Smooth. Well, I checked, and you are that guy whose poems I admired. So you can turn a contingent compliment into a genuine one. Welcome to the blogiverse. Speaking of aviatrix poems, have you read Linda Bierds' "Latitude"?

Robert said...

Thanks, Jennifer, it was good to meet you too! I don't know "Latitude," but I will look for it. I've been a fan of Linda Bierds ever since I heard her read at last year's AWP.

Diane K. Martin said...

We all know it wouldn't be allergies if I were in the audience for Merwin's dog poem, even if the story did have a happy ending...

Diane (dog is my copilot) Martin