Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm back, with far too much to report. The symposium on Saturday was a great success. After my buddy Sam Frederick presented his paper on Oswald Egger, six of us grad student types did short presentations. I said I would post what I said, but I'm writing this from the Bookery and don't have the texts with me—maybe later. We went in alphabetical order and it was marvelous how, without much prior consultation, the different pieces seemd to be in conversation with each other. One of the most spectacular was a kind of live collage Cathleen Drake made of Sam's paper, Watten's Bad History, and Rosemarie Waldrop's Blindsight. It was a thrill to meet Rosemarie, incidentally, though I didn't get to talk with her much. I did give her a copy of my book, though. (Watten and Lee Ann Brown also got books; I debated giving one to Carla Harryman and then decided that since she and Watten are partners, one was enough. The etiquette for giving away books as yet eludes me.) After our thing, Waldrop, Egger, and Watten gave terrific, unparaphraseable presentations. Rosemarie talked about translation; Egger performed what seemed to be a piece on hesitation hesitatingly; Barrett talked about Leningrad and addressed the Izenberg article tool. He took issue with Izenberg's understanding of linguistics, and during the last panel German Studies prof. Peter Gilgen took issue with Watten's understanding of them; I have no understanding of linguistics whatsoever and therefore couldn't judge. I did have the sinking feeling, however, that it was time to break into a copy of Aspects of Syntax at the very least.

The party wasn't over because after the symposium broke up and I force-fed myself a frozen pizza I headed on over to Gimme! coffee (check out their new store in Williamsburg; it's not on their web page but nonetheless watch this space) to catch the poetry stylings of India Radfar, Jonathan Skinner, and Lisa Forrest. I was a little too tired to give them the attention they deserved; Skinner's reading stood out because he began by reading from a chapbook called The Little Dictionary of Sounds and prefaced each reading by playing a recording of the sound in question: rain, a train going by, chewing and swallowing, etc. Went and had beers afterwards, which turned out to be practice for yesterday. Ah, yesterday.

Yesterday Emily and I arose at an un-Sundaylike hour and were on the road by eight. By noon, crabby and hungry, we were in Brooklyn; after lunch we felt much better and we headed over to Soft Skull Shortwave, where I met the charming Shanna Compton, the formidable Richard Nash, and my co-reader, the charming and formidable Colum McCann. My father, despite a head cold and having seen me in New Jersey last week, was there with my stepmother, and the tiny space was otherwise appropriately crammed with Brooklyn literati and some of Emily's friends who live in the city. I was especially especially delighted to see Gary and Nada, who I'd been too shy to invite except in the broadest, most hinting way. The reading part went very well: I started with some poems from the book, then read a couple from the manuscript that is more or less a companjion piece to Selah, The Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I followed that with three Severance Songs and ended with two poems from the last section of Selah. I'm getting more comfortable with picking poems on the fly, which keeps me responsive to the audience. It's funny how you can tell what's going over with them and what's simply going over them, even though there are usually few visible or audible responses to what you read.

Colum is a gripping, fiercely lyrical writer: he read part of a short story, one of the first he ever published (he says he's tired of reading from Dancer; I've been looking at it here in the Bookery and it may be the first new novel I decide to purchase in months. He followed that with part of a work in progress about a Polish Gypsy poet, based on a true story; both works featured hyperperceptive young women with tendencies toward self-mutilation—tendencies which seem to have concrete bases in the sickness of their respective societies (70s Ireland and 50s Poland, respectively). He's a born storyteller; unfortunately I missed part of the one about Van Morrison's body odor because, back at the Brooklyn Inn (a beautiful bar; if I lived in Brooklyn I'd spend all my time there; it's probably just as well) my childhood friend Evan Kurowski, who I hadn't seen for more than ten years, showed up, and we did a lot of drinking and reminiscing. Emily and her friends (they'd been doing some non-alcoholic reminiscing of their own) came by and picked me up around six, and we all had dinner at a brick-walled restaurant somewhere in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It was a great day, but the exhausting culmination of an exhausting weekend, and it's still not over. After a hungover drive home this afternoon, I've got to work here and teach tomorrow morning. Then it's back in the car (with the dog) to drive out to Hyannis and catch a ferry to Nantucket, where we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with Emily's mother, brother, and his wife and two daughters. Phew. Phew again.

Lots of stuff percolating under the surface from all this stimulation, I just know it. Real intellectual type stuff. But tonight it's all I can do to tell you just what the hell happened. Not sure when I'll get to this blog again, so Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Right here, right now.

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