Pleasant surprises yesterday as I braved some panels (panelists actually wrote papers!). There were quite a few queer-oriented panels this year, and I popped into “Who’s Yer Daddy: Gay Poets and the Inherited Present” as moderated by Jim Elledge. I missed Brian Teare’s presentation but arrived in the middle of David Groff’s which was all sorts of lovely tongue-in-cheek, especially the bit about the clusterfuck of voices in his head, of his “daddies” and “brothers” who all shape him, competing to be heard, crescendoing into an orgy of sorts. Loved Mark Bibbins’s romp through Gertrude Stein and not only his poet influences but his musical ones too, like Siouxsie Sioux (he also would like to rename the “taint”–a certain area on the male anatomy–the “boy band”). Peter Covino’s was good…a little dry at times, but interesting nonetheless with its exploration of language, in particular Italian and Latin and words we inherited and words that didn’t make it into English. It was a nice shift to consider non-American influences and get past the familiar names that come to mind. He gave mad props to Tory Dent’s work too.
After that I found my friends Ray McDaniel and Emily Rosko to attend the “Poets of American Hybrid” reading. American Hybrid is a new anthology out from Norton that announces the death of poetic “schools” and showcases how contemporary American poetry continues to blur those poetic school lines more and more. We wanted to see Alice Fulton read, who was listed on the schedule, but alas she was replaced with Mary Jo Bang, whose name I had heard but have yet to read in bulk. I think I loved her reading the most of the four (Ralph Angel, Rae Armantrout, Peter Gizzi also read with introductions from David St. John and Cole Swenson who edited the anthology).
I missed the Graywolf Press reading (where I heard D. A. Powell knocked it out of the park) to attend a tribute “The Poetry of Thom Gunn” which was moderated by James Sitar and featured Randall Mann, Tom Sleigh, Joshua Weiner and I believe Craig Arnold who was a late addition to the panel. Randall gave a very moving personal reflection of his seeing and then meeting Gunn in SF along with his experience of reading Gunn’s work, from a young boy dreaming of escaping Florida to landing in SF with all his newfound sexual freedom. I really want Randy’s new book Breakfast With Thom Gunn, but every time I stopped by the U. of Chicago Press table they were still sold out. Tom Sleigh gave a very insightful talk about Gunn’s ability to make a stable and fulfilling domestic life (his co-op home where he lived with the same friends for 30-odd years) coexist with the many men of his sexual desire pursued outside the home he built for himself and how that was reflected in his work like in no other poet’s. It was also refreshing to see Gunn through a straight friend’s eyes (which helped lend humor as Sleigh researched the gay world Gunn gave him glimpses of). I’m jumping into Craig’s quick talk (Josh’s was a presentation of all the research he’s been doing, and he warned us it would be nerdy…some interesting bits such as the formal concerns and shifts in Gunn’s work but a bit dry and it went on a bit too long) where he discussed how Gunn was an embodied poet, one who took pleasure and delight in his body and the bodies of other men, how he taught him to be a dude and how for many male poets emerging in the late 80s their role models were dead and/or disembodied males, leaving the female poets as sources of inspiration which is problematic given the differences between a female-bodied experience and a male one. There were many other areas touched on in the Q&A, such as the badass image of Gunn in his leather jacket, etc. hanging out in leather bars, and yet he was writing these very Elizabethan/Jacobian lyrics with a sex and drugs and rock and roll subject matter; also how the misguided New Formalists were trying to claim him as their own, etc.
Tried to sit through a panel on “Poetry and Comix” but as one of the panelists noted, it probably should have been called “Poetry and Superheroes” as the discussion had little to do with formal innovation between poetry and sequential panels and everything to do with the obvious: yes, we can use pop culture references in our poems (I thought Frank O’Hara established this for us last century) and the superhero is one; they can be mythological reference points like the Greek myths were for poets of yesteryear. Interesting to others, perhaps groundbreaking for someone who isn’t versed in comix or thought about this before, but it just seemed so…obvious.
Anyway, paneled-out I returned to the book fair and caught up with many more people such as Stephen Motika from Poets House, Rebecca Morgan Frank from Memorious (still producing an amazing journal and they had a whole table this year! compared to previous years where they were set-up on a corner of Grub Street’s). Two funny moments: finally got to meet Sharon Dolin who made me blush by saying I was even cuter in person. We’re going to get some coffee and chat once we’re back in NYC. And I met another poet from the online world, Mary Biddinger, who called out my name and appeared to swoon. She joked she didn’t know what she was going to do if she ran into both Charles Jensen and me at the same time. Blushed again.
Grabbed a drink and bite to eat with Emily and Anton and went to the UM MFA alum reception where I got to catch-up with some of the new peeps such as Marcos Pagan and friends from my time there: Jeremy Chamberlin–check out the Fiction Writers Review where he is Assoc. Ed.; Natalie Bakopoulos, Elizabeth Ames Staudt and her handsome man Lowell; Brent and Hui Hui and A and many more.
I’m done with the conference now. Met up with Lori after the reception and caught the end of a screening, Kim Longinotto’s Gaea Girls from 2000 which documents the sport of female wrestling in Japan. It was good and the discussion period was fun except for this horrid woman who felt as if she had to ‘teach’ the audience about female wrestling, arguing with the facilitator about how it’s fake and choreographed (when that’s only partly true) and when she was corrected and cornered launched into some grand lecture on the place of fame these women have in their culture, etc. Of course she was white and filled #20 on the “Stuff White People Like” list perfectly. I had fantasies of asking her if she were done listening to herself talk since she seemed to like the sound of her voice so much.
Got some gigantic slices of pizza on our way home (the streets are LONG in Chicago and go on forever but are pretty when it’s snowing) and then passed out on the couch. Today I do Chicago with Lori and Adam as tour guides and back to New York tonight!