Uncategorized | March 21, 2006

I had a great time at AWP this year. Usually AWP makes me feel as if I’ve stumbled into purgatory, but this year I met some people who really touched me. Derek Mong, our young contest winner, came up and introduced himself at our table, and I discovered that he grew up in my hometown of Cleveland. Ah, a fellow sufferer, I thought, I wonder if he likes the Indians? I also found out Derek was applying for a job at my high school–where his contact was my former advisor and freshman English teacher, Bill O’Neil. This took me way back. Roy Jacobstein stopped by the table several times to see me while I wasn’t there, prompting my co-workers to say, “Jason, this crazy guy keeps coming by the table to see you–he says we’re going to publish him.” I said, “We are going to publish him, a little respect, people!” Roy finally came by while I was there, and sat down right next to me, promoting the magazine. He gave me a copy of his new chapbook, Tourniquet, featuring a truly terrific long poem about his experience as a contestant on Jeopardy, and chatted excitedly about his forthcoming collection, A Form of Optimism. Jason Bredle, one of my favorite poets, stopped by to “meet” me–we’d met a long time ago in Houston, through Marc McKee (our poet liaison), but at the time didn’t have much to say to each other except “Hey” and “Kenneth Koch.” We talked about the Koch tribute panel we’d seen the previous day, and then Neil Shepard of Green Mountains Review stopped by to say hello. Jason said, “Hey, you’ve published me in your journal,” at which point he started having problems with his left eye. He rubbed it for a while then suddenly stooped over. His contact popped out. I saw it sticking to the fingernail of his left index finger. For some reason this was a very powerful image for me. Neil, perhaps freaked out by all the sudden contact lens drama, departed. Jason turned to me and said, “Well, I guess I screwed that up.”

I met David Hernandez in the hotel bar with his wife Lisa Glatt. They were drinking red cocktails in martini glasses which they stressed were not cosmopolitans. David published some great poems in TMR last year, and has just published his second full-length collection, Always Danger. He is a very funny guy. He asked me, “Do you have any tragic stories you can tell in under a minute?” I said, “No, all mine are epics. What about you?” He said, “Yeah, this one time I got a hickey on my forehead.” I said, “How did that happen?” He said, “I stuck a Nerf basketball hoop to my forehead and tried to make baskets.”

Rebecca Black I met at the Horseshoe Lounge, a typical Steve Gerhke haunt. Rebecca published her first book, Cottonlandia, last year with University of Massachusetts press. Over the next few nights I kept running into her and having more drinks, which is perhaps the only way writers really ever get to know each other. Rebecca told me that when she lived in Paris she used to go for swims in the afternoon then return to her apartment to write–and eat gummi bears. I found this incredibly endearing; I have a soft spot for gummi bears. Later she accused me of being “really sarcastic” (which was true) and asking her “Elimidate questions” (also true).

I truly enjoyed meeting all of these poets, and many others I don’t have space to mention. Hopefully next year in Atlanta will be just as fun.

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